Why Delhi’s Kashmir act hasn’t got the world worked up

Paran Balakrishnan | Updated on August 10, 2019

With no soft-power weapons in its arsenal to counter India, this is making Islamabad jittery

If India is going to get the global thumbs-down for its moves on Kashmir, it doesn’t seem about to happen anytime soon. While Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s been vehemently denouncing revocation of Kashmir’s special status, insisting he’ll take the issue to the UN, reaction in other world capitals seems, at most, to be a yawn.

For now, it’s clear Pakistan doesn’t have any soft-power weapons in its arsenal to counter India. In desperation, Khan’s fallen back on the well-worn diplomatic tactic of downgrading ties and dispatching India’s ambassador home. But it’s business as usual at a different level. For instance, the Pakistanis haven’t stalled work on the Kartarpur Corridor.

Even China, Pakistan’s closest ally, focussed on Ladakh where it has territorial claims and occasionally skirmishes with Indian troops. China issued two statements, one saying: “China is always opposed to India’s inclusion of the Chinese Territory in the western sector of the China-India boundary into its administrative jurisdiction.” But when it came to backing Pakistan, Beijing was distinctly droopy-handed, saying, “China is seriously concerned about the current situation in Jammu and Kashmir.” It added mildly India shouldn’t do anything to escalate tensions and urged “dialogue and consultation.”

Even if the Chinese weren’t going to lift a finger to help, Khan might have been justified in casting a hopeful eye towards Washington. After all, he’d just made a successful visit to the US where President Donald Trump had lavished praise on him, along with making a surprise offer to mediate between India and Pakistan. But there too, there wasn’t any move to tick off India.

In the UK, where a reaction might have been expected because the South Asian vote counts in many constituencies, the government’s too busy with its own Brexit imbroglio.

So, the British only said: “We are following the developments closely and support calls for the situation to remain calm.” The UN Secretary-General meanwhile, appealed for “maximum restraint”.

What about Pakistan’s friends in the Islamic world? Here too, it’s clear nobody’s keen on getting mixed up. Take Saudi Arabia, which a few months ago agreed to offer Pakistan a $6-billion loan to tide it over tough times. On Kashmir, Saudi Arabia fell back on pro-forma language and urged both sides to maintain peace and stability and respect the interests of the region’s people.

The UAE, which has strong India economic ties, contented itself with suggesting both sides “overcome this crisis through communication and constructive dialogue.” In fact, the UAE’s India ambassador went so far as to say: “We expect the changes would improve social justice and security and confidence of the people in the local governance and will encourage further stability and peace.”

Behind all this is undoubtedly that India is now a growing power on the world stage. The UAE and India have been building ties and Crown Prince Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan was the 2017 Republic Day chief guest. Prime Minister Modi was even given the UAE’s highest civilian honour, the Zayed medal, this year.

Losing friends fast

Pakistan, by contrast, is a country losing friends at high velocity despite its eminently strategic location. Ever since 9/11, the world’s tolerance levels for jihadis have dropped steeply. Even the Americans are painfully aware their so-called ally Pakistan has been playing a double-game, harbouring jihadi groups who launch regular attacks in Afghanistan.

But if it was game, set and match to India at the government level, it was a different story in the Western media. The New York Times published a vituperative piece by Pakistani author Mohammad Hanif in which, amongst other things, he said: “The cheerleaders for Prime Minister Narendra Modi are cheering for partition redux, a world-class massacre, ethnic cleansing.” The Guardian in an editorial called New Delhi’s action “abrupt and ruthless” and potentially “incendiary” in the region.

Also, there’s no ignoring the fact details about Kashmir reported in the Western media create poor optics. Leading outlets have reported Internet and phone lines have been down for the week and the top leaders are under arrest, including two ex-chief ministers.

Ever since the Kargil attack, India has taken the moral high ground, keeping world opinion firmly on its side. Kargil was followed in 2002 by the attack on Parliament and finally the Mumbai attack in 2008.

But Pakistan has been making a concerted public-relations drive ever since Khan took office. For months, he’s been painting himself as a peacemaker being turned down by a belligerent Indian government. It wouldn’t be smart for India to lose the PR war.

Published on August 10, 2019

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