“If India attacks Pakistan, if the conventional war is going against us, we would have two choices. One would be to act like Bahadur Shah Zafar and give up without a fight. The other would be learn from Tipu Sultan and fight till the last drop. And if we fight till the end, nobody will win the war and the entire world will face the consequences.”
That was Imran Khan, the prime minister of Pakistan, speaking in his country’s Assembly a day after India stripped Jammu and Kashmir of its special status.
Read the operative part again: “Nobody will win the war, the entire world will face the consequences.” It doesn’t take a genius to understand the importance of Khan’s words. But, in case it does, Khan himself explained it: “I know people would say I am resorting to nuclear blackmail. I am not. My point is: hope for the best, be ready for the worst.”
What is it about Kashmir that makes Pakistan want to die fighting like Tipu Sultan? Why exactly is Pakistan overcome with the desire for Armageddon on the issue of the Valley?
For, when it comes to Kashmir, Pakistan is neither Zafar nor the Sultan of Mysore. Its status is primarily that of the proverbial Abdullah, who, as a popular Indian saying goes, is going crazy in a stranger’s wedding.
On Kashmir, it is very clear, Pakistan doesn’t have any locus standi. It is a matter that is to be sorted out between India and the people of Kashmir.
When the British left India, the princely states were given three choices — join India, become a part of Pakistan, or remain independent. Hari Singh, the Dogra ruler of Kashmir, a Muslim-majority state that had contiguous borders with both India and Pakistan, couldn’t make up his mind before the countries became independent, swayed by dreams of becoming the Switzerland — an independent tourist haven — of the subcontinent.
For a while, it seemed that Kashmir would accede to Pakistan, primarily under the influence of its prime minister, Ramchandra Kak. But, when communal tension flared up in some parts of his kingdom, Singh appeared inclined to join India, in case his independence was threatened.
In this backdrop, Pakistan ordered ‘Operation Gulmarg’, a tribal invasion of Kashmir led by its army regulars on leave. Finding the Pakistanis at his doorsteps, Singh acceded to India. The accession, though, was conditional: It had to be approved by the people of Kashmir as soon as the conditions favoured a plebiscite.
So, here is the thing: What exactly is Pakistan’s stake in Kashmir? In the end, the issue is about the promise made by India to Kashmiris that till their opinion is taken, the accession would be considered temporary. Yet, Pakistan continues to dream — like Mohammad Ali Jinnah who once believed he would spend the autumn of 1947 in Srinagar — of staking claim to the Valley.
The problem with Pakistan is that it doesn’t understand, many of its decisions pushed Kashmir towards India. Its haste in wooing the Maharaja of Jodhpur — a Hindu ruler of a Hindu majority state — weakened its argument that a state with a predominantly Muslim population can’t accede to India. Its decision to allow the Nawab of Junagarh — a state deep inside India with nearly 80 per cent Hindus — to merge his kingdom with Pakistan countered its own theory that rulers from minority communities could not take such decisions. And, its refusal to withdraw its forces from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, a pre-condition for plebiscite, denied Kashmiris the right to determine their destiny.
Pakistan should only kick itself for the self-goal on Kashmir.
Kashmir is, of course, an emotional issue for Pakistan. Soon after the British agreed to divide India, Jinnah had assumed that Kashmir would be the ‘K’ in Pakistan and that he would spend the final days of his life looking at the Chinar leaves falling on the lawns of the Shalimar garden, or drinking from the pristine fountains at Chashm-e-Shahi. But, no Pakistani premier could ever set foot on Kashmir.
The problem with Pakistan is that with the passage of time, its dream of making Kashmir part of its territory has become more and more distant. The international community, as its own leaders lamented in the national assembly, listen to Pakistan’s complaints with one ear and forget with the other.
Its old ploy of waging a proxy war has become more and more unviable because it has been put on the grey list of the Financial Action Task Force, a global body that monitors financial crimes, like providing monetary aid to terror outfits. Under no circumstances can Pakistan now be seen supporting terror activities in Kashmir.
Its other problem is that India has already challenged Pakistan’s nuclear bluff once with air strikes on Balakot. Since Pakistan refused to escalate the issue, India became convinced that Pakistan is more Bahadur Shah Zafar and less Tipu Sultan.
Pakistan can, of course, console itself with decisions like ending diplomatic ties with India and halting the bilateral trade — a paltry $2 billion as compared to nearly $90 billion with China. But, such steps are unlikely to make India fret much.
Imran Khan would know that Zafar wrote some soul-stirring poetry. One of his famous couplets could be the perfect metaphor for Pakistan’s current plight vis-a-vis India and Kashmir: “Tum ne kiyā na yaad kabhī bhuul kar hameñ, ham ne tumhārī yaad meñ sab kuchh bhulā diyā.” (You didn’t remember us even once, but we forgot everything else in your memory).