By Farooq Wani,
Since Pakistan claims to be championing the Kashmir cause, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi’s comments during a TV talk show that revocation of Article 370 is India’s “internal matter.” His statement set the cat amongst pigeons as it was construed as surrendering Pakistan’s historical stance that Kashmir is disputed territory. This statement drew such flak from opposition parties as well as his own PTI that he was forced to go into damage control mode and withdraw his statement unconditionally.
This is not the first time that Qureshi has courted controversy by putting his foot in his mouth. In August last year he antagonized Riyadh by saying casting aspersions on OIC by saying, “If you cannot convene it, then I’ll be compelled to ask Prime Minister Imran Khan to call a meeting of the Islamic countries that are ready to stand with us on the issue of Kashmir and support the oppressed Kashmiris.” Two days after his comment on abrogation of Article 370, Qureshi tweeted, “Let me be clear: Jammu & Kashmir is an internationally recognised dispute on the @UN Security Council agenda. Final settlement of the dispute lies in #UNSC resolution calling for free and impartial plebiscite under UN auspices.” Nobody, however, is ready to buy his overhauled argument.
While this drama was being played out at the domestic level, Imran Khan was facing a different kind of heat during his visit to Saudi Arabia. Though a long-time ally of Pakistan, Riyadh has in recent times shown a fair degree of disenchantment with Islamabad, especially so after the foreign minister’s anti OIC tirade mentioned above. In a bid to pacify Riyadh, Pakistan army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa air-dashed to meet Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman but he was not granted an audience. Consequently, an enraged Saudi Arabia demanded $1bn repayment of a $3bn loan given to cash-strapped Pakistan and didn’t renew its multi-billion-dollar oil credit facility to Islamabad which had expired.
So, Khan’s current visit to Riyadh was primarily focused on making amends and rebuilding the credit line with the cash rich Kingdom. He desperately needs money to prevent Pakistan’s near-bankrupt exchequer from collapsing now that China has also refused to extend any more loans. The Saudi leadership, however, was more interested in finding out how talks between Pakistan and India are progressing, in which it is serving as a facilitator along with the UAE. It mentioned the need for Pakistan’s reconciliation with India a number of times in the joint statement and, “emphasised the importance of dialogue between Pakistan and India to resolve the outstanding issues between the two countries, especially the Jammu and Kashmir dispute, to ensure peace and stability in the region.”
Saudi Arabia may have given some titbits to Pakistan as loan but is unwilling to reduce pressure so far as talks with India are concerned. Within days of the meeting the Saudi Foreign Minister, Prince Faisal said that Saudi Arabia will work to encourage reduction in tension between Pakistan and India. The situation has become politically awkward for Imran Khan due to domestic fundamentalists who he has allowed to flourish. In the wake of the statement by the Saudi foreign minister he has, on May 11, gone on record to say, “Unless India reverts its August 5, 2019 action, Pakistan will not hold talks.” In order to boost the sagging morale and credibility of his own beleaguered foreign minister, he lauded the role of the foreign office in leading a full-fledged campaign to highlight the Kashmir issue globally.
So, the Indo-Pakistan detente continues despite the pressure on Pakistan from the international community including leading players in the Islamic world. It is so because Imran Khan keeps wavering from one position to another and taking his famous ‘U turns’ in order to placate everybody and the balancing act is extremely difficult as it concerns domestic forces, like the army, fundamentalists, donor nations as well as the international community. He does not realise that he cannot hoodwink everybody with his anti-India bluster. For Pakistan, reconciliation with India is imperative, Imran Khan knows it and his closest aides like Qureshi knows it too!
(The author is Editor Brighter Kashmir. Columnist, TV Commentator, & Political Analyst. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org)