Category Archives: Foreign Policvy

Pakistan’s Limited Opportunities in Afghanistan

Syed Sharfuddin*

A lot has been written about the strategic milestones in the history of Pakistan concerning the events of 1948, 1962, 1965, 1971, 1988, 1999 and 2019 involving the disputed status of Indian occupied Kashmir and relations with the US, China, India and Afghanistan. Some say that there were many lost opportunities in these events which could have benefited the country immensely had there been a serious and united effort to play them wisely. The other view is that Pakistan should have kept its head down and invested in the economy in order to become a strong power before playing a role above its weight in foreign and regional affairs. There can be books written on both viewpoints and indeed a majority of commentators are found strongly wedded to either the first or the second view, with few willing to hold the middle ground.

The withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan in 2021 is both good and bad news for those who are directly affected by Washington’s decision to no longer continue to underwrite US dollar cheques for the long Afghan war. The reason why Washington seems to have lost the will to continue to fund this war is because it reached a dead end making it necessary to turn back or else face more troop losses. The US backed the wrong horse in Afghanistan right from the start and abandoned the Taliban who may not have been the good guys in its view, but they represented the will of the Afghan people not to be brushed away as a rag tag fringe of Pashtun tribesmen reflecting a high degree of independence and perseverance. Washington’s mistake was to liken Taliban with Al-Qaeda and treat them like ISIS or Boko Haram. The Afghan Taliban did not subscribe to the ideology of those extreme terrorist groups. They wanted to be left alone in their country without any outside power imposing its non-Islamic ideology on their beliefs. They were and remain a force to reckon with. Any country ignoring or refusing to deal with them as serious interlocutors in the Afghan peace process will be repeating the same mistake the US made causing it to lose a war for the second time after Vietnam in the 1970s.

Pakistan cannot isolate itself from Afghanistan’s uncertain future. It cannot afford to let other countries or groups fill in the vacuum created by the withdrawal of US forces in Afghanistan and foment instability in the region. A superpower has lost Afghanistan. Period. It does not mean Pakistan should lose Afghanistan too. But Pakistan’s options in Afghanistan are limited. They are also tightly time bound. If Pakistan does not act in time it may miss the window of opportunity it now has before others get in Afghanistan first to bridge the gap. No one has greater interest than Pakistan in ensuring that precious lives are not lost in Afghanistan and lasting peace prevails in South West Asia. This is not just hope but an achievable objective, provided effort is made to take advantage of the opportunity knocking at the door. Ignore it once and the knock will be gone away to another door.

It is only possible when a government in Afghanistan, indigenously represented and popularly elected with Pashtun majority is friendly to Pakistan and does not allow any third power or proxy to threaten Pakistan from across the border. If a civil war breaks out in Afghanistan between the Taliban on one side and the Afghan government forces on the other side, Pakistan should not be a silent spectator waiting to deal with its ugly consequences in the form of refugees and other proxies pursuing their own agendas in the conflict. If such a situation evolves, Pakistani troops should cross the international border on humanitarian grounds to prevent a blood bath of brother by brother in Afghanistan in an absolutely unnecessary civil war.

People often get scared whenever the word invasion is mentioned. It is true that invasion and occupation are F words in international politics, but this is ultimately what works to fix problems. Otherwise they liger on to become protracted conflicts like Syria, South Sudan, Iraq or Somalia causing untold misery for the people of these lands. How else one should call an intervention carried out to defend your vital security and national interest. This is what India would do if there was bloody unrest and divided militias in Nepal, Sikkim or Bhutan. They already invaded East Pakistan in 1971 on the pretext of humanitarian intervention. At that time, the major powers and the UN stood silent watching India violate the international norms of non-interference in the internal affairs of another country. This is what Russia would do in Ukraine. This is what was done in Bosnia and Kosovo while the UN stood helpless. This is what the US did in the Bay of Piggs under Kennedy, in Grenada under Reagan and will do again in any Latin American country which falls under its zone of influence if US interests are threatened there. This is why Iraq was invaded when the West was worried about the so called WMDs. This is what Israel would do today in Jordan or Lebanon or Egypt if things went bad there for Israel. A humanitarian military intervention is justified in international law if there are no options left to prevent bloodshed in a conflict state and establish stability and peace other than the use of force.

There are some important shot term objectives Pakistan should have on the plans before taking a timely humanitarian step, if necessary.

The first objective should be that the present government of Afghanistan must go. It has lost legitimacy after its backers have packed up and left, providing sufficient reason for fresh elections to be called in Afghanistan in the next three to six months. These elections should be conducted under a neutral caretaker government of national unity. In the new elections, all Afghans parties and groups, including the Taliban should be allowed to participate without any restrictions. Pakistan has good experience of caretaker governments. It can assist the Afghan electoral commission by providing technical assistance and security through its armed forces. Those in power in Kabul will not like such help but they know too well that they will not be able to form the next government if the next Afghan elections are free and fair and allow Taliban to participate in them. The current Afghan government may prefer instead to fight the Taliban head on. If this happens, Afghanistan could well become Libya with a weak government fighting a stronger military force for its survival at the cost of the people and the country.

A serious consequence of such development will be that this weak government could invite India to send troops to Kabul and other government-controlled cities to provide enhanced security to its buildings and security installations, thereby making it possible for India to do what it has not been able to do during the presence of US the troops, i.e. establish its military presence in Afghanistan just as it did in Kashmir 1948 and in East Pakistan in 1971. While it is true that the Taliban will not allow India to replace the US in Afghanistan, nothing could be done internationally if a government requests another country for military help to defeat what it calls internal insurgency. Turkey is providing military help to the government of Libya which is recognised internationally but it is so weak that it cannot defend its own territory against the military forces of General Haftar who has his own supporters and arms suppliers internationally. The result is a prolonged miserable period of death and uncertainty for the people of Libya and the regular influx of refugees heading to the EU from the North African region.

It has been a long drawn plan of India to squeeze Pakistan in a pincer movement from the East and West militarily in order to fast track its agenda of destabilising Pakistan by organising terrorist activities in Pakistan and actively manipulating separatist outfits in Baluchistan, including reviving the old Pashtunistan stunt on the basis that that the Durand Line Agreement signed between Sir Mortimore Durand, Foreign Secretary of British India and Amir Abdur Rehman of Afghanistan in 1893 which established the border between the two states is a colonial arrangement which does not represent the international border and should be renegotiated to take into consideration territory which included Afghanistan’s old expanded border in West Asia. If this happens, Pakistan will simply be a sitting duck in a reactive mode instead of shaping events and leading fresh initiatives. In fact, there is a real prospect of such a scenario playing out in the event of a civil war in Afghanistan breaking out, which will provide India more space in shaping events. Not doing anything about it now to prevent such a scenario will be the costliest missed opportunity so far in the political history of Pakistan.

There are rumours that the Afghan government and its supporters have approached Turkey for military help to fight the Taliban. It is a smart move. The US would be happy to see a NATO ally keep the status quo in Afghanistan without requiring US troops to be involved in peacekeeping. It would also neutralise Pakistan and prevent the Taliban achieved their aim of capturing Kabul sooner than anticipated. Pakistan has good relations with Turkey. It should advise Turkey that getting involved in Afghanistan to save the government in Kabul will not bring peace to an already volatile country. A peaceful solution lies in calling fresh elections under a neutral arrangement to allow the people of Afghanistan to choose their leaders without predetermined outcomes.

The second objective of Pakistan should be to openly back Taliban’s return to the peaceful political process and participation in the next elections in Afghanistan. They should get a fair share in the governance of the country in proportion to their representation in the population. Kabul’s current leadership does not trust Taliban. It also does not trust Pakistan. The present Administration in Kabul prefers to engage with India more closely, including in defence and economic fields. Pakistan’s natural ally in Afghanistan is Taliban. No one should be under the impression that a government in Afghanistan which does not include the Taliban will be stable or friendly to Pakistan.

The UN, NATO and US are aware that it is not easy to bring peace in Afghanistan. This is because they backed the wrong horse in Afghanistan and never admitted their mistake. This wrong horse was Taliban. Pakistan never considered Taliban as the wrong horse. They were a valuable force which could be trained and tamed. Pakistan should reap the benefit of building trust with the Taliban. It should openly support the Taliban because they don’t like India’s growing influence in Afghanistan. India will find ways to exploit the nationalistic feelings of Afghan Uzbeks, Tajiks and Hazaras, but it cannot win over the Taliban after openly supporting the foreign backed governments of Afghanistan against the Taliban for over a decade. It is true that India too has its Taliban mercenaries to clandestinely carryout terrorist operations in Pakistan, more so on the military, police and government installations, but India’s relationship with such elements is not ideological. It is linked with the chaos that prevails in Afghanistan and the purse that pays for their mercenary services. Once the ground and the money run out, India will not be able to recruit these mercenaries. India is aware of this handicap. That’s why India is firmly backing the present Afghan government against Taliban. This month India supplied two plane loads of ammunition to the puppet Afghan government to kill more Taliban. This will undoubtedly result in more Taliban deaths and their retaliation, causing further bloodshed.

Pakistan should also brace for a fresh wave of terrorist attacks from across its Western border. The objective of such attacks, which have already started to take place lately in Baluchistan and KPK is to keep the Pakistani military preoccupied with its security issues inside Pakistan, and also divert attention away from Afghanistan’s problems. Pakistan should deepen its exchange of intelligence information with China on all security threat. China’s interest in CPEC warrants that its personnel and investments committed to the infrastructure projects in Pakistan are safe and free from interruption.

India is looking for an excuse to side-line Pakistan’s influence in Afghanistan and either fill the governance vacuum itself or get the UN to declare an international mandate like in Palestine in 1947, in order to deny Afghan people their right to determine their destiny freely and peacefully by the ballot box. What an irony that the so-called world’s largest democracy is active to undermine the democratic process in Afghanistan to keep its interests alive there. There is also a lesson for Pakistan to learn in this irony.

The non-Pushto speaking minority Afghan groups in Afghanistan think that Pakistan is responsible for the problems of their country. They have been fed this propaganda in Tajik, Uzbek, Persian and Hazara communities for over a decade. They have come to believe in this propaganda as a fact. By keeping the majority of Pashtun Talibans out of the political process, it is not possible to ensure lasting peace in their country. With the US troops gone, these groups will hopefully appreciate the value of democracy in which ethnic minorities have guaranteed rights under the constitution and can be part of the rich inclusive diversity of Afghanistan.

The view that after American withdrawal and end of foreign occupation in August, Afghanistan will be an independent and sovereign state and we should deal with that country as such is only as good as a pipe dream. It won’t be realised without working hard for it. If it were that easy, Afghanistan would have been a peaceful country long ago, given the engineering done by ISAF, NATO and the US in Afghanistan, reinforced by military and diplomatic activity and further talks in Doha, Tehran and other third countries. These passive and do-nothing views should be totally ignored while plans are drawn to take the required action.

The US troops withdrawal is still a month away. In this sensitive period Taliban need some good counsel at state level to start doing PR and image building in Afghanistan. They are doing the right thing filling up the military vacuum but they are not active on the political and diplomatic front to reassure public that they have changed since the days of their first controversial government in Afghanistan. They have not capitalised on their amnesty call. They have not given a roadmap of what a foreign troops free Afghanistan will be like. They have not issued a manifesto of what their government will do in the first 365 days. They should not come like a storm and upset everything like a tornado. They should learn a lesson from Muslim Brotherhood, the party of Mohammed Morsi which was big on celebrating the departure of Hosni Mubarak (who was ironically one of their own Egyptians) but it was short on confidence building with Egyptians. MB was too fast and too intimidating for its critics. The fire cracker ended soon after it was lighted. It was sound and fury signifying nothing. The Taliban should not repeat this in order to make Afghanistan a peaceful and free country after many decades.


Pakistan can also assist Afghanistan attain peace by actively assisting the new Afghan government, post-election, in disarmament, demobilisation and rehabilitation of ex-combatants in the Afghan society as useful citizens. Many generations of Afghans, including the Taliban have grown up under the shadow of improvised explosive devices, automatic machine guns and indiscriminately attacking drones. They need to be reintegrated back into the Afghan society and given useful skills to earn their living in dignity and peace. After peace is established thousands of ex-combatants would need psychological counselling and psychiatric treatment. Pakistan can help in this because its doctors speak Afghan languages. Pakistan can help create and train a strong Afghan defence force comprising all Afghan ethnic forces and offer them training courses in its institutions. Pakistan can also help Afghanistan in writing a new constitution for the new Islamic Republic and help with technical assistance for institution building in civil services and criminal justice system. The peace dividend will help both Afghanistan and Pakistan grow naturally without third parties eying their minerals and natural resources and finding excuses to foment trouble. Afghanistan’s future depends on the prosperity of Pakistan. An Afghanistan with expanded CPEC projects will have much more to offer to its own nationals than to the nationals of third countries. So far everyone has made quick silver in the name of Afghanistan, except the Afghans themselves. It is time for battle fatigued Afghans to write their own future in peace, with Pakistan standing by them as a friend in the same way as China stands with Pakistan in all weathers.



*The author Syed Sharfuddin is a former diplomat and a former Special Adviser for Political Affairs in the Commonwealth Secretariat, UK (2000-2006). He is also a former ex-officio board member of the Commonwealth Human Rights Commission, UK Chapter.

TLP protests and the power of state

Syed Sharfuddin

The past few days in the politics of Pakistan have been reminiscent of the sunset days of the PML-N era when suddenly a small interest group best classified as a non state actor held the government on tenterhooks leaving it undecided whether to use coercive means to end the widespread public protests or follow the path of compromise through negotiations which involved conceding and reversing the course of action earlier taken by the government to resolve the matter in the wider national interest of peace and tranquillity. The aim of this article is not to recount the development of the episode and its end, which is already covered in the media, but discuss four important issues to help the government in dealing with such issues in the future.

The four issues are: the power of government and the credibility of governors; the role of state institutions to regulate non-state actors within the ideological moorings of the state; balancing legitimate state authority versus people’s democratic right to protest; and, the role of government and political parties.

1) The power of government and the credibility of governors

The question why the power or writ of government is often flouted in Pakistan by non-state actors, including the opposition parties, is so well known that the state has no choice but to come hard on any incident where its authority is in question or is likely to be challenged with armed resistance. It is not an easy task because while the government has the authority to eve’s drop on personal communications, get search warrants for suspected persons and their residences and even arrest those suspected of disobedience to law, it cannot go beyond a certain point because of human rights considerations and the backlash of civil society which easily plays up internationally against the democratic credentials of the state. This delicate balance is also affected by how well prepared the government is in enforcing its political will and whether those tasked with the mandate to govern keep changing their positions every few days. Sometimes the cabinet is also not united on policy matters and the statement of one minister is contradictory to his statement made earlier or to the statement of another cabinet colleague made on the same issue the same day. The buck in parliamentary system for all such contradictions stops at the door of the Prime Minister who must be seen to be in-charge of his team and ahead of everyone’s game.

The PTI government may be given the credit for acting wisely in defusing the crisis and not showing full force of the state in silencing the TLP protests, but it has certainly failed on consistency of policy. For example it was ludicrous for the interior minister to rush to announce that his ministry had decided to approach the cabinet to ban the TLP as a political party without due process, which did happen the next morning, and yet two days later the interior minister agreed to attend a meeting with TLP leaders and reached an agreement with them to end the protests peacefully. It was also embarrassing that the Prime Minister, who is so rightly against the dishonouring of Prophet Mohammad, peace be upon him, who made a historic speech at the UN General Assembly about Islamophobia, made no hard hitting statement, nor took any action last year when the French government officially supported the reprinting of the offensive cartoons by a French magazine in the name of freedom of speech. On the TLP crisis, the Prime Minister said one thing in his speech to the nation holding firm on not giving in to the key demand of the TLP but the very next day he appreciated his interior minister sitting down with the TLP elders to sign an agreement accepting that in return for TLP ending the protests, the government would send their demand about the French ambassador’s return to France to parliament for a debate.

The question of government credibility goes further than domestic audience. Once international community starts to suspect that a country’s leader cannot be trusted for his word, then there is noting left for the government machinery under that leader to convince the world that they are serious about a matter of importance. Pakistan has been through this before and we know that many previous US government officials have publicly said that they didn’t trust Pakistan on its commitments.

Unlike the Turkish President who is unequivocal on the question of blasphemy against the Prophet in the non-Muslim world, the Pakistani leadership has, through its unprepared actions and perhaps contrary to its real intentions, conveyed to France and the EU the wrong message that its previous stand against the blasphemous cartoons was meant only to appease the Mullas domestically. In conveying this message the Prime Minister is not alone. he is joined by the whole caboodle of liberal politicians, many of whom, are represented in the PPP, ANP, BAP, and also to a certain extent in PML-N. Pakistani social media also shows this ideological divide. One the one side is the liberal civil society, media and bureaucracy who couldn’t care less what French magazines print about the Prophet or French lawmakers rule in regard to banning Hijab for French Muslim girls; and on the other are those Pakistanis who genuinely think raising voice against Islamophobia is right, even though the timing to do so now is not right because they have missed the boat. These protests should have come about last year when the magazine published the rude cartoons.

The TLP demand for sending he French Ambassador home makes no diplomatic sense because he is only an official of his government. His function is not to make or change French policy but to act as a conveyor of French government’s foreign policy as it applies to Pakistan. He is but a dignified messenger representing his side between the two governments. Sending him home or breaking diplomatic relations with France can serve no purpose except to remove the official messenger of his government and leave the communication line exposed to third countries and media to add their own spice into your messages. The government should never have agreed to this demand to take it to parliament.

In any case, defence, foreign affairs and printing currency are federal subjects and no federating unit, let alone a political party or religious group has any authority to start dictating heir terms in these areas. The government keeps a specialised department whose job as Ministry of Foreign Affairs is to advise the government through its envoys what is best and possible in the interest of the country. But now that the matter has been referred to parliament, I hope that the parliament will not make the poor ambassador a lamb at the altar, but instead agree that nothing should be done about his staying or returning which is a matter only for the French government to decide. However, the parliament should mandate the PM to make a policy statement through his high podium condemning any foreign government in advance if they continue to back their ‘intellectual terrorists’ in the future to cause anger and violence in the Muslim world through blasphemy against the Prophet and hate speech against Islam, Pakistan would consider it as an unacceptable act against its friendship and bilateral relations. The PM’s speech should also say that Pakistan will not hesitate to draw up a list of such Islamophobia promoting countries for starting an official campaign against them through the Organisation of Islamic Conference and other relevant international official and unofficial platforms of Muslim countries to react reasonable and proportionately. This may include such action as boycott their products; stop attending conferences held in these countries, stop accepting tenders and aid, refuse to send their students to their universities and suspend sporting activities with them.


2) Role of state institutions to regulate non-state actors within the ideological moorings of the state

This issue has been publicly debated at every forum in the last ten years. However, what is new is that when the state has a constitution, which declares Islam as the state religion of Pakistan; when the elected leader of the country is a practicing Muslim and talks about making the country a welfare state modelled after the State of Madina, and when the state broadcaster dubs and airs for two years a Turkish TV play Dirilish Ertugrul which is half history and half fiction but it takes the entire country, as well as the Muslim Ummah all over the world by a public following never witnessed before, then you are obviously talking about a nation that is not prepared to ignore blasphemy against its Prophet, as well as its religious icons, and that its people expect their government to react strongly if the government of a country where the blasphemous act has occurred wilfully to hurt or infuriate Muslims, does not condemn such act or refuses to take action to stop it.

We live in a funny world. Governments and humanists who were so loud in condemning the destruction of the ancient Buddhist icons in the Bamian province of Afghanistan during the Taliban rule are not bothered with the insults hurled at the Prophet of Islam from their lands. The long conflict in Syria for and against the incumbent Asad regime has resulted in the destruction of a rich historical heritage common to the adherents of three great Abrahamic faiths. No one bemoans this great loss. The West has no problem with the whole humanity wearing facemasks to protect against the spread of Covid-19, but it has issues with innocent young Muslim girls wearing Hijab in deference to their beliefs. No one should be allowed to get away with blasphemy of the Prophet of Islam whose name, when recited in public, results in billions of hands rising to touch their hearts as a mark of deep respect for Muhammad, peace be upon him.

The TLP protests did not fall under the category of a non-state actor challenging the power of the state. Unlike the opposition dharnas they did not call for this government to resign. TLP is a registered political party in Pakistan, or was so until it was shut down arbitrarily without involving the election commission or invoking a due process by the interior ministry. They still have a chance of this decision reserving to status quo ante after a successful legal challenge. TLP has two elected representatives in a provincial assembly. Even the Prime Minister said that his government’s goal is the same as the goal of the TLP except that they differ on approach. TLP protests came not as an isolated event after a long time. TLP had staged similar protests earlier pursuing the same matter, but the government did not take action despite promising to do so. In between their two protests, there was a series of dharnas organised by the opposition parties against the government demanding new elections. A lot of dirty language was used in those dharnas, including verbal attacks on the state’s constitutionally protected institutions. Against the high tempers and the fluid political background of the country, the TLP episode was only a small jolt in the present uncertain situation. It could well be a sleeping volcano but it was not an earthquake.

What is surprising, however, is that the government has not fully used the existing state institutions and government apparatus, such as the Council of Islamic Ideology or the Ministry of Religious Affairs to bring about an understanding between the state and the religious parties (not just political parties) on issues that have caused confusion and distrust between the clergy and the state. Not too long ago, a federal Minister of this government with no religious background attacked the Ruet Hilal Committee for being out of times for sighting the Ramadan and Eid moon and caused more harm than good in bringing upon goodwill between the clergy and the state.

The issues where the government needs to work hard include inclusive reform of the madrassas and their state financing, incorporating Imams and Muezzins in its state employee structure and drawing TORs for their recruitment, employment and retirement and delivering uniform Friday sermons approved by the Ministry of Religious Affairs. This will be possible only if the clergy sees these government institutions promoting Islam and finding common ground, and which are run by officials who are not corrupt and who could be trusted with the religious knowledge and services they provide. The government also needs to address issues around application of blasphemy laws in relation to cases brought against poor and uneducated minority citizens, the status of witnesses who are called to testify and the way FIRs are drafted by police; the insistence of Ahmadis to call themselves Muslims in Pakistan and their boycott of electoral rolls, which result in adverse reaction from the clergy against their community; and now the more recent question of blasphemy of the Prophet globally by provocateurs who clearly have an agenda to foment hatred and violence in the Muslim communities and countries and who are officially protected by their governments for carrying out such racist and divisive acts.

3) Balancing legitimate state authority versus democratic right to protest

Organising protests is an essential feature of democracy and defines the political space in which the government and opposition parties operate. In a representative democracy, protests are not the right of political parties alone. Any interest group or gathering of citizens has the right to start or join a public protest in a democracy. In western countries protests are staged against the policies of the government on issues the protestors do not agree with. Sometimes their demands are ignored and at other times these are accepted and result in change of policy. Unfortunately, in countries where democracy is nascent or has repeatedly suffered from authoritarian rules, protests have not evolved into an established form of political expression. The Arab Spring resulted in premature revolutions in countries, which were not prepared for post revolution governance, resulting in great loss of life, instability of state, and damage to the economic well being of their people. In Pakistan, protests do not take place to convey a message of dissent to government. They sound more like a clarion call for a people’s revolution that luckily never happens. The protesting side believes that the government has to bow down to its demands or else go home. The long history of political protests in Pakistan shows that these have been used to bring down a weak government through violence or by creating unstable conditions, which force the military to intervene and restore peace and stability. This is how Ayub Khan’s rule was ended in 1969 and how the lawyers’ movement forced General Musharraf to convene multi-party elections in 2008. Since 2013, a good understanding has been reached between political parties that a regime change through public protests is not the best thing for democracy. However they have yet to develop the understanding that the place to protest and make political noise is parliament and not the street or social media or the country’s TV screens.

It is to the government’s credit that it showed flexibility and agreed to listen to the demands of TLP to end their dharna in the long hot days of Ramadan. Although the interior minister’s U turn so soon after a tough administrative action against the party was a surprise for the country, it was in retrospect a good thing in clearing the position of the TLP as a party which has no hand in terrorist activities. The Sarina Hotel bombing in Quetta on 21 March, only a day after the successful talks between the government and TLP, is evidence of how foreign enemy planned to exploit the TLP dharna to destabilise Pakistan and achieve multiple aims. However, planning and executing a terrorist act from overseas using local sleepers does not happen quickly, and that’s why the enemy failed to anticipate how quickly the TLP dharna ended and could not fast track the terrorist act earlier than it happened. Another lesson for the government is that if public protests on religious questions are allowed to continue without taking urgent and reconciliatory prudent action, Pakistan’s enemies will try to take advantage of it and make the situation worse.

4) Role of government and political parties

There are justifiable questions on the performance of government for not finding a permanent solution to the irritating religious issues resurfacing frequently despite its best intentions to make Pakistan a moderate Islamic state. However, the silence of other political parties, as well as role of other religious parties during the peak of the TLP crisis was most unfortunate and unacceptable. As the country’s opposition they have a responsibility to set aside politics when it comes to issues like Kashmir, Palestine, respect for the honour and character of the prophet, and defence of Pakistan. The opposition and other religious parties failed to meet this expectation leaving the government and the TLP to sort this out between them. It was most unfortunate that some security personnel lost their lives and public property was torched and in retaliation many protestors who were probably fasting were beaten and arrested for disturbing peace. The role of PPP was in particular pathetic when it continued to play politics and boycotted the parliamentary session in which it could have made all the right statements about the incompetent way the government dealt with the matter. That the PPP chose to air its criticism of the government on TV talk shows instead of raising these from the floor of the parliament, shows their seriousness about the blasphemy of the Prophet in countries, which have traditionally been supportive of PPP governments in the past due to their secular ideology and hatred for the Mulla.

5. What’s Next

The government may have crossed the delicate bridge on this crisis and moved on after referring the matter to the parliament. But it must learn to make contingency plans on matters of utmost importance to the country where public sentiment cannot be ignored. It must learn how to create space for public protests and draw up a modus operandi for their organisation and acknowledgement and ensure that it will deal with them not by force but through flexible yet firm hand. On the question of protecting Islamic icons, values and traditions, there will always be a difference between the orthodox and liberal Pakistanis. This difference must be respected and nurtured as part of Pakistan’s rich diversity. However, if the country’s constitution envisages Pakistan to be an Islamic state and be guided by the holy Quran and Sunnah in its affairs, then the state should use its mandate, resources and institutions to bring about a new ‘entente cordiale’ between the clergy and the state to work for the common objective together, and not as mutually exclusive forces. The mischievous question: which Islam Pakistan should follow? is an old red herring and there will be no gain trying to answer this question and forget the constructive things that need to be done first in the interest of the country and its people.

The Commonwealth in Conundrum

By Syed Sharfuddin

This month the Commonwealth celebrated the return of Maldives to the organisation taking its membership tally to 54 sovereign states. However, against the tranquil background of colourful flags and welcome speeches, there were also grey clouds looming over the future of the organisation, and in particular the performance of the current Commonwealth Secretary-General who is completing her first term of office next month. According to Commonwealth convention, the Secretary-General of the organisation is automatically eligible for a second term, subject to confirmation by Heads of Government at their next meeting, called CHOGM in Commonwealth parlance. But it seems that the current Secretary-General may be the first to be denied a second term due to poor performance. The next CHOGM will be held in Kigali, Rwanda in June 2020.

The Rt Hon Baroness Patricia Scotland QC was elected Secretary-General at the Malta CHOGM in 2015, defeating two other candidates – Sir Ronald Sanders of Antigua & Barbuda and Ms Mmasekgoa Masire-Mwamba of Botswana. There was another African candidate in the race but his nomination was withdrawn by his Head of Government a week before the CHOGM.

At the end of the term of Mr Kamalesh Sharma in 2016, it was the turn of the Caribbean region to nominate a candidate for the position of the Secretary-General. In the event, two candidates were nominated from the region – Sir Ronald Sanders from Antigua & Barbuda and Baroness Patricia Scotland from Dominica. Sir Ronald secured the support of 10 of the 12 countries from the Caribbean region, but Baroness Scotland had the backing of the UK, the country of her residence, career and nationality. From Africa, the two candidates were a former Commonwealth Deputy Secretary-General from Botswana, and a former Foreign Minister from Tanzania. Like the Caribbean region, the African region was also divided over their regional candidate for the post of Secretary-General.

Baroness Patricia Scotland  was born in Dominica (West Indies) but grew up in the UK and was trained as a successful barrister. In 1997 she was nominated by Prime Minister Tony Blair as a Labour peer in the House of Lords. At the Malta CHOGM two rounds of elections were held in which Sir Ronald lost the first round, and Mmasekgoa Masire-Mwamba lost the second round. The vote was so close in the second round that Botswana demanded that a third round be held to decide a clear winner but the CHOGM Chairperson (Malta) declared Baroness Patricia Scotland to succeed Kamalesh Sharma as the next Secretary-General.

The appointment of Baroness Patricia Scotland changed the power balance in the Commonwealth and tilted it heavily in favour of UK, which had previously made way for other member states to occupy the top position at the Secretariat. Although she was originally a Caribbean candidate, she was and remains for all practical purposes a British Secretary-General having UK nationality and UK Peerage. According to the founding documents of the Modern Commonwealth adopted in 1949, the Monarch of Great Britain & Northern Ireland, as well as other Dominions and Realms is the Head of the Commonwealth. The Headquarters of the Commonwealth is located in London. In 2018 the UK also became the Chairperson of CHOGM by virtue of hosting the last Commonwealth Summit in London. The UK currently has four positions in the Commonwealth: the Head of the Commonwealth, the Head of the Secretariat, the HQ of the Secretariat and the Chairmanship of CHOGM.

This is not to say that the UK’s responsibilities are not commensurate with the high status it enjoys in the Commonwealth by virtue of its position as the linchpin of the organisation. The UK’s contribution to the annual budget of the Commonwealth Secretariat is one third of its total budget; the UK charges no rent for housing the Secretariat at Marlborough House in the heart of central London, including its security, furnishings and maintenance which runs into thousands of GBP each month. The UK Government provides diplomatic immunity and tax exemptions to Commonwealth Secretariat staff serving as international civil servants. Other major contributors to the Commonwealth Secretariat budget are Australia, Canada and New Zealand, followed by other middle-income countries.

The Memorandum establishing the Commonwealth Secretariat in 1965 envisaged a Secretary-General who would be a Senior High Commissioner. However, in practice only two out of the six Secretaries-General elected so far were senior diplomats – Sir Arnold Smith from Canada (1965-75) and Kamalesh Sharma from India (2008-16). The other four Secretaries-General were a former Foreign Minister of Guyana, Sir Shridath Ramphal (1975-1990), a former Foreign Minister of Nigeria, Chief Emeka Anyaoku (1990-2000), a former Deputy Prime Minister of New Zealand, The Rt Hon Don Mckinnon (2000-08) and a former Peer and Attorney General from the UK, Baroness Patricia Scotland (2016).

The Commonwealth Secretariat suffered a great deal during the tenure of Mr Kamalesh Sharma (2008-16). He was a great diplomat but lacked the management skills to run a large organisation whose members have diverse and often conflicting interests. They are also not easily given to compromise or consensus. Mr Sharma also did not have the clout and political profile to reach out to a President or Prime Minister over the phone and get their approval on an issue at hand. It was during Sharma’s time that Canada stopped its voluntary contribution to the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Cooperation (CFTC) resulting in drastic cuts in the Secretariat’s development and technical assistance programmes. During Sharma’s two terms, on the whole the Commonwealth was marred by mistrust and loss of confidence. The Commonwealth’s advocacy and advisory programmes declined considerably and human rights concerns in member countries became a sharp reminder of the fundamental values, which the Commonwealth is committed to uphold in its Charter.

In 2016 Baroness Patricia Scotland took over a fractured Secretariat and a financially challenged organisation. The Board of Governors of the Secretariat, comprising Commonwealth High Commissioners in London, as well as the small but influential Finance Committee of the Secretariat, comprising representatives of selected High Commissions, had high expectations from the new Secretary-General to fix the problems and turn the Commonwealth around like in the old days before it went sliding down under Sharma’s administration. The new Secretary-General unfortunately failed to meet these expectations and landed the organisation in deeper mess and controversy even though she executed these steps with all the good intentions in mind for achieving cost efficiencies and enhanced performance.

The new Secretary-General annoyed many senior staff by concentrating decision making in her office. She virtually rendered her senior management team out of work by reaching out to the third tier of staff and decided not to renew the contracts of the three Deputy Secretaries-General when their terms expired. This was a fundamental mistake as these deputies represented different regions and voices of the organisation. She also undermined the democracy and good offices work of the Secretariat by merging the political affairs directorate with the more technical, legal and governance directorate of the Secretariat and kept the post of director political vacant for over a year.

The result was a number of staff departures. Those who stayed were scared, overworked and demoralised. The primary complaint against her is that after assuming charge she discarded the previous reports on the restructuring of the Secretariat and awarded an external contract to review the programmes and management roles of the organisation to a former Labour colleague Lord Patel of Bradford on her personal recommendation by waiving the requirement of calling an open tender. At the time of getting the contract, Lord Patel’s firm KYA Global had assets of £971 and debts of £48,762. His firm received over £250,000 as fees for the review of the Secretariat. Her  critics, who include among others, Australia, Britain, Canada and New Zealand, point out that this was not only against the Secretariat rules but also a clear conflict of interest. A KPMG audit later identified “significant weaknesses” in the Secretariat’s procurement procedures. Baroness Patricia Scotland’s supporters who comprise mostly the Caribbean countries, Nigeria and Namibia have said that she is being targeted by the old Anglo Saxon Commonwealth because she is ‘black’ and that the Secretariat did not break any rules and obtained value for money in the contract awarded to KYA Global to recommend measures to modernise the Secretariat.

However, the audit report was only the last straw on the camel’s back. A lot of criticism had piled up against the current Secretary-General in her first term. In January 2017 the BBC reported that officials at the British Department for International Development (DfID) were unhappy with her poor leadership. To support the Secretary-General the FCO appointed an acting chief operating officer at the Secretariat whose salary came from the British treasury. In December 2018 an employment tribunal awarded compensation to a Deputy Secretary-General who accused the Secretary-General of breaching her employment contract and terminating her after two years. Earlier in the year, a staff member posted in the Secretary-General’s office had also won compensation for unfair dismissal. He was hired by Kamalesh Sharma but was relieved of his duties after Baroness Patricia Scotland took over from Sharma. Commonwealth’s major donors see these payouts as a serious governance issue because this money, if saved, could have gone to fund some of the development projects of the Commonwealth.  The current Secretary-General is also accused of self-projection and concentration of authority. Her visits to member countries have been unnecessarily long and often without senior staff. Recently, the Secretary-General visited India for five days to attend the annual strategy conference of the Observer Research Foundation. She also visited Swaziland for four days.

It appears that there are twice as many countries that are not in favour of the current Secretary-General getting a second term compared to the one third who may wish her to carry on for another four years. Australia, the UK, Canada and New Zealand have decided to stop their contributions to the Commonwealth Secretariat pending the publication of the independent auditor’s report and until they secure the assurance that she will step down after June 2020.

This is not the first time an incumbent Secretary-General has received opposition from member countries for a second term. In 1979 Secretary-General Sir Shridath Ramphal was threatened by India when his first term came to an end but the opposition did not gain momentum and he was re-elected to a second (and indeed third) term unopposed. At the 2003 Abuja CHOGM, Commonwealth Secretary-General Don Mckinnon actually had a Minister level candidate from Sri Lanka officially stand against him in the election. Even though many African Heads who were angry with Mckinnon over Zimbabwe voted for Sri Lanka’s candidate, Don Mckinnon managed to get a clear majority for a second term. Unless Baroness Patricia Scotland resigns from office, she is likely to relive the experience of Don Mckinnon at the Kigali CHOGM in 2020, but the odds are very much against her.

The Conservative government of Prime Minister Boris Johnson has no love remaining for a Labour Peer who has regrettably proved to be divisive for the organisation at a time when the UK needs reliable trading partners in the Commonwealth following its exit from the EU. The UK also realises that even if the majority of developing countries from the Caribbean and African regions back Baroness Patricia Scotland for a second term, she will not be able to receive much cooperation from the old Commonwealth who control the funding of most Commonwealth programmes, including Commonwealth’s technical assistance and economic development projects. The UK government is likely to advise the current Secretary-General to step down if it can find a suitable replacement for her. But the challenge is to find a person who is both capable of steering the organisation out of troubled waters and is also well known internationally to secure the agreement of Commonwealth Heads at the next CHOGM in June 2020. A quiet head hunting is currently ongoing and some names have been mentioned, including that of the Foreign Minister of Kenya, who may be in a position to become Baroness Patricia’s replacement.

It cannot be ruled out that the old Commonwealth group’s criticism of Baroness Patricia Scotland would be seen by some African countries in the prism of racism, as hinted at a Board of Governors’ meeting in London last week by the High Commissioners of Nigeria and Namibia. But let us not forget that in 2003 some African countries had challenged the second term of a ‘white’ Secretary-General. At Kigali, African Heads may use the advantage of a CHOGM being hosted by an African country to claim that it is Africa’s turn to fill the Secretary-General’s post if Baroness Patricia Scotland cannot continue for a second term. It is ironic that it was African countries themselves who breached the precedent of regional rotation by supporting an African candidate in 2015 when it was the turn of the Caribbean to have its Secretary-General. Interestingly, Baroness Scotland combines three regions in one person. She is non-white by descent (African), Caribbean by her country of birth (Dominica) and European by her nationality (British). The rotation principle is therefore completely out of the window for the position of the new Secretary-General. The race is open for any capable person who has the capacity to comprehend and manage the finances and programmes of the organisation for its members and who possesses the political clout and intellectual ability to restore the lost place of the Commonwealth at the global stage.

It cannot be left unsaid that many of the Commonwealth’s current problems are rooted in the unwillingness of donors to provide enough funds for the Commonwealth to retain staff expertise and implement its development projects across the diverse regions of the Commonwealth. An example is the election monitoring function of the Commonwealth for which funds are always found but there is little or no provision in the Commonwealth budget to support member countries’ poverty alleviation programmes or livelihood support projects. With a modest budget, the Commonwealth’s bigger and ambitious mission cannot be achieved.

At their next CHOGM, Heads may elect Jeff Bezos or Bill Gates to run the Commonwealth but unless governments are willing to provide sufficient resources to the new Secretary-General, not much would change. To repopulate a jungle and bring back its lions, elephants, buffaloes and flora and fauna to the dried waterholes, it is important to preserve the rainwater and stop land encroachment. But if countries contribute peanuts and expect to see lions, they will only get monkeys.

London: 9 February 2020

* Mr Syed Sharfuddin is a political analyst. He served as a Special Adviser in the Political Affairs Division of the Commonwealth Secretariat from 2000-2006.

Kashmir’s Instrument of Accession: Separating Myth from Reality

Syed Sharfuddin

This paper examines the chronology of accession of Kashmir with a view to finding answers about the timing and authenticity of the instrument of accession signed by the ruler of the State of Jammu & Kashmir on 26 October 1947, which is the date of accession according to official Indian account. Some scholars have refuted this stand and relied on the evidence that the Maharajah of Kashmir signed the instrument of accession after Indian troops landed in Srinagar on the morning of 27 October 1947. This leads to the question would such accession be valid in law if it were extracted through blackmail and duress.

On the eve of the partition, there were 565 officially recognised princely states in British India, which covered 40% of land and 23% population of the Colony. The Government of India Act 1935 had provided the establishment of an all India federation, subject to 50% of the princely states joining it to be effective. In the event, the princely states did not join and the federation never materialised.

Subsequently, in January 1946, provincial elections were held in British India to ascertain the wishes of the people in regard to the creation of the new successor dominions of India and Pakistan. Princely states did not take part in these elections.

The British government had introduced the concept of Paramountcy in the governance of princely states which established the authority of the ruler over his subjects. Princely states were excluded from the partition of British India. Their rulers were given the option to accede to the successor dominions of either India or Pakistan. Unlike the Government of India Act 1935, the option of claiming independence was not explicitly given to the princely states in 1947.

The Paramountcy principle ran contrary to the democratic principle of the 1946 provincial elections of British India. According to this principle, the ruler was supreme in deciding the fate of his state. Vallabhbhai Patel opposed this principle because he feared that after the British left India, the rulers of princely states would declare independence instead of joining the successor dominions. It is, however, ironic that while India benefited from the Paramountcy principle in Kashmir, it opposed its application in Junagadh and Hyderabad. In Kashmir, what suited India was the Paramountcy of the ruler but in the other two states India chose instead, the Paramountcy of “popular interests and welfare.”

This explains the motif behind India’s annexation of those princely states which opted to remain independent against the wishes of the Indian Viceroy Lord Mountbatten and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. The states, which were subsequently taken by India, were: Hyderabad (annexed in 1948 along with Junagadh), Pondicherry (1951), Goa, Daman & Diu (1961), Sikkim (1975) and occupied Jammu & Kashmir (2019). The only exception was Bhutan but to remain independent it had to surrender part of its sovereignty to India in the Indo-Bhutan Treaty of Friendship 1948.

In July 1947 the Indian States Department despatched a draft Standstill Agreement to all the rulers of princely states in India suggesting its finalisation at a conference to be held in Delhi on 25 July 1947. The Standstill Agreement provided for the continuation, for the time being, of all existing agreements and administrative arrangements in matters of common concern between the acceding state and the successor dominion. The Government of India made the acceptance of Standstill Agreement conditional on accession by the concerned states.

At the July 1947 meeting, which was chaired by the Viceroy, Lord Mountbatten, a proforma draft Instrument of Accession was also distributed and agreed by the rulers. Most rulers agreed to the Standstill Agreement. They also agreed to accede to the successor Indian dominion on 15 August 1947.

The Hyderabad police action, carried out on the direction of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel with the knowledge of Nehru (II) resulted in the deaths of 40,000 Muslims.

The fighting in Kashmir cost an estimated 100,000 Muslims dead and refugees in the Jammu massacres and about 20,000 Hindus and Sikhs in the Mirpur massacres.

These numbers are far greater than the murder of 2000 Muslims in the Gujarat riots in 2002 and the earlier killings of 3000 Sikhs in the 1984 Delhi riots.

Maharajah Hari Singh’s State of Jammu & Kashmir was not a stable political entity. Long before partition, he had lost control of Gilgit Agency and Northern areas, which were leased out to the British from 1935 to 1947. Maharajah Hari Singh’s writ in Poonch, Bhimber and Mirpur was marred by popular dissent and hatred, caused due to his discriminatory treatment of his subjects, high taxes and humiliating treatment of the descendants of his grandfather’s family of Dhian Singh. His subjects in these areas did not consider Hari Singh as the “spiritual heir” to his predecessor Maharajah Pratap Singh who died issueless and without a son. Maharaja Hari Singh’s loyal subjects were concentrated in Kashmir, Jammu and Laddakh. In the Srinagar valley most of his subjects were Muslims who were supporters of either National Conference of Sheikh Abdullah or Muslim Conference of Chaudhry Ghulam Abbas.

Faced with these circumstances, the Maharajah needed time to decide the future of his state. In a telegram sent to the successor dominions of India and Pakistan on 12 August 1947, Prime Minister Ram Chandar Kak wrote: “Jammu & Kashmir Government would welcome Standstill Agreements with India/Pakistan on all matters on which these exist at present moment with outgoing British India Government. It is suggested that existing arrangements should continue pending settlement of details.” Pakistan agreed to sign the Standstill Agreement in the hope that the Maharajah will make the popular choice of acceding to Pakistan. India invited the Prime Minister to visit Delhi to negotiate the agreement. In October 1947, Maharajah Hari Singh replaced Ram Chandar Kak with Mehr Chand Mahajan. The Standstill Agreement was never signed by India.

There were two reasons which made Pakistan hopeful that the Maharajah, if he could not keep Kashmir as an independent state, might join Pakistan: the Maharajah distrusted Congress leaders, including Nehru and Patel and felt no Hindu affinity toward India because he was himself a non-practicing Hindu. He had also placed Sheikh Abdullah in jail. (VI). Hari Singh’s sole interest was to save his position and his state.

Indian historians have stated that Pakistan violated the Standstill Agreement by sending tribal militias to Kashmir, thereby provoking India to react in the manner it did on 27 October 1947. But in reality, Jinnah had no information about the tribal rebellion(VII).

What was happening in the State of Jammu & Kashmir following the partition of India was an internal struggle for power, which involved only Maharajah’s subjects. The governments of Pakistan was not involved. In fact Pakistan was so careful in maintaining its neutrality in Kashmir that when Major William Brown sent a cable to his commanding officer in Rawalpindi informing him that Gilgit had acceded to Pakistan, Col Iskandar Mirza wanted him disciplined for stepping out of his responsibilities as CO of Gilgit Scouts. How Gilgit and Baltistan got out of Kashmir is another story we will discuss on some other occasion. The Government of Pakistan also kept quiet on the requests of accession of Hunza and Nagar for weeks until Liaqat Ali Khan was told that if Pakistan did not accept their accession they would seriously consider joining Russia.

The command of the Indian and Pakistani army in the early days of the independence was in the hands of British military officers who were under strict orders from their Supreme Commander, Field Marshal Sir Claude Auchenleck not to commit their officers in any situation. The people in Poonch, Gilgit and the North West were outside the control of the Pakistan state.

When M A Jinnah leant about the Indian intervention, he made a radio broadcast on 28 October and declared that “the Government of Pakistan cannot recognise accession of Kashmir to India, achieved as it has been by fraud and violence”.

While things were deteriorating in Kashmir,

I have come across criticism that while things were deteriorating in Kashmir,Muslim League leaders in Pakistan made no effort to cultivate Sheikh Abdullah or the Maharajah. (VIII).  But it is a fact that Pakistan made attempts to engage with Maharajah Hari Singh over the question of accession. But his Prime Minister gave cold shoulder to the envoy of M A Jinnah, Major A S B Shah who visited Kashmir in October 1947 to negotiate the terms of Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan. Maharajah’s officials not only refused to give Major Shah a meeting with the Maharajah but also told him to get lost.

But India was busy sending wireless equipment, arms and ammunition to the Jammu & Kashmir State to bolster Maharaja’s fighting capacity. In September 1947 India also sent a military Adviser to Jammu & Kashmir State. He was a serving member of the Indian army. The new Prime Minister of Maharajah Hari Singh, Mehr Chand Mahajan was a friend of India. He was also a member of the Punjab Commission whose Chairman Sir Cyril Radcliffe connected Kashmir to the Indian Punjab by awarding Batala and Gurdaspur to India which according to the partition formula of June 1947, should have come to Pakistan. According to Professor Pervaiz Iqbal Cheema, Lord Mountbatten was concerned about India remaining in the Commonwealth after independence, and therefore he influenced Sir Cyril to provide India access to Kashmir through Punjab.

It is said that Maharajah Hari Singh would not have rushed to accede his State to India, had there been no large scale Muslim tribal invasion of his State from the west. This is only party true. The Maharajah had already made up his mind to join India and not Pakistan, unless he found a way out to remain independent. He was gradually losing control over his State so much so that by October 1947 he was sure Srinagar would fall, forcing him to flee to Jammu.

The Poonch uprising had its roots in the historical hatred of the locals toward the Maharajah. A similar uprising had taken place in Poonch in 1830 during the reign of his grandfather Gulab Singh. In the NWFP, the tribal Pathan advance toward Kashmir was in retaliation for the death of thousands of Kashmiri Muslims in Jammu at the hands of Dogra army on the eve of the partition.(IX)

Chronology of Accession

The chronology of the instrument of accession revolves around four days – from 24 to 27 October 1947.

24 October 1947

On 24 October Maharaja Hari Singh sent his Deputy Prime Minister R L Batra to Delhi to discuss his terms for conditional accession. On the same day, the tribals cleared many road blockades to continue their advance toward Srinagar. Hari Singh fled in panic to Jammu.

Lord Mountbatten felt that if Kashmir fell, a large tract of territory, which he thought ought to go to India would end up in the lap of Pakistan. Mountbatten did not like M A Jinnah and did not want him to appear victorious over Kashmir

25 October 1947

The next day, on 25 October 1947, Indian Defence Committee met and concluded that if nothing was done, Srinagar will fall to the rebels and Kashmir will be lost to Pakistan.

Lord Mountbatten felt that if Kashmir fell, a large tract of territory, which he thought ought to go to India would end up in the lap of Pakistan. Mountbatten did not like M A Jinnah and did not want him to appear victorious over Kashmir. Moreover, he did not want Nehru to be thrown to the hawks in the Congress such as Vallabhbhai Patel who had been saying all along that Kashmir should be taken by India in the same way as they took Hyderabad.

Nehru played his cards smartly. On 25 October he sent a telegram to Prime Minister Clement Attlee in London, highlighting the geo-political implications of a lost Kashmir for India, and by implication, for Britain and the Western world. The telegram read: “Kashmir’s northern frontiers … run in common with those of three countries – Afghanistan, the Soviet Union and China. The security of Kashmir … is vital to the security of India”. By referring to the great game politics of the region, Nehru ensured British acceptance of the military action India was going to take to stop the advance of Azad Kashmiri militia for liberating Kashmir. It also satisfied Mountbatten who was concerned about the safety of about 450 British subjects living in Kashmir.

On 25 October, Secretary V P Menon flew to Srinagar to meet the Maharaja and other Kashmiri Pandits such as D P Dhar and Dwarkanath Kachru. He returned to Delhi with Kashmir’s Prime Minister Mehr Singh Mahajan and a couple of Indian army and air force officers who had done their recce of the Valley to finalise Indian counterattack in Kashmir. Sheikh Abdullah also flew to Delhi and stayed at the residence of Jawaharlal Nehru.

All that was left now, was to get the Maharajah to sign the instrument of accession. His Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister were in Delhi to conduct negotiations.

In principle, Mountbatten did not want India to send troops in Kashmir without the signed letter of accession by the Maharajah. But the gravity of the situation forced him to approve Indian deployment prior to receiving the signed instrument.

26 October 1947

On 26 October 1947, several sets of negotiations took place in Delhi involving Sheikh Abdullah, Mehr Chand Mahajan, V P Menon, Lord Mountbatten, Jawaharlal Nehru and Baldev Singh, Minister of defence. The agenda of these meetings was India’s military action, future relationship between the State of Jammu & Kashmir and the Indian Union and relations between Hari Singh, Sheikh Abdullah and Mehr Chand Mahajan.

Mehr Chand Mahajan demanded from Nehru unconditional Indian military help. In return, Nehru wanted concessions from the Maharajah comprising a signed instrument of accession and Sheikh Abdullah becoming the Chief Minister of the State. Mahajan said if Indian army did not help, he would go to Lahore and seek help from Jinnah. The agreement did not take long to reach but it was subject to the approval of the Defence Committee.

The Maharajah who was in Jammu was unaware of the bargain his Prime Minister had made in seeking Indian military help in return for inclusion of the National Conference of Sheikh Abdullah in the governance of the State.

Later that day, the Indian Defence Committee met and received a report from V P Menon on the advance of the rebels. Menon reported that things were so bad that the rebels could reach Srinagar in the next 12 hours and there could be a bloodbath in the Valley involving Muslims and Hindus and Sikhs. Lord Mountbatten was extremely angry. He felt that Jinnah masterminded this advance to get Kashmir for Pakistan.(X)

In principle, Mountbatten did not want India to send troops in Kashmir without the signed letter of accession by the Maharajah. But the gravity of the situation forced him to approve Indian deployment prior to receiving the signed instrument.

Nehru asked Mehr Chand Mahajan and V P Menon to fly to Jammu and inform the Maharajah what had been agreed, and obtain his signature on the instrument of accession. Mahajan refused to leave until if was confirmed to him from his sources in Srinagar that Indian troops had landed in Kashmir. In his estimation, Mahajan had accomplished what Maharajah had instructed; get India’s help without the signature of the Maharajah on the instrument of accession.(XI)

In his memoirs, V P Menon claims that he travelled from Delhi to Jammu on 26 October and returned with the instrument of accession signed by Hari Singh. But according to another record, V P Menon told the British Deputy High Commissioner in Delhi on 26 October that he will fly to Jammu next day. From three other sources, namely, Nehru’s letter to Maharaja dated 27 October, Mehr Chand Mahajan’s autobiography and Maniben Patel’s memoirs it is confirmed that Menon did not arrive in Jammu before 27 October well after the start of the Indian military operation in Srinagar. (XII)

From these documents, it is clearly established that in the night of 26 October when arrangements were being finalised for Sikh soldiers to reach Srinagar by the break of dawn, there was no letter of accession in the custody of India. At a dinner with the English reporter of the Calcutta Statesman, Lord Mountbatten also confirmed that: “the Maharajah’s formal letter of accession was [still being] finalised”.(XIII)

According to Indian records, Hari Singh wrote a letter to Lord Mountbatten on 26 October 1947 with which the signed instrument of accession was attached. This was probably the letter V P Menon drafted for the Maharajah in Delhi on 26 October and got him to sign it on 27 October. Alastair Lamb finds it hard to believe that the Maharajah, having fled from Srinagar in a hurry and worried about his future, would have retained his wits to write such a letter himself on 26 October. The letter said: “it was my intention to set up an interim government and ask Sheikh Abdullah to carry out the responsibilities in this emergency with my Prime Minister”. Alastair Lamb questions as to how the Maharajah could have accepted Sheikh Abdullah, who he had imprisoned until a month ago, to be involved with the setting up of the interim government in Jammu & Kashmir. Lamb also points out that for many years the Government of India did not make public the signed instrument of accession, which was “attached” to Maharaja’s letter.(XIV)

It is possible that Mountbatten was aware that the instrument of accession and the cover letter which bore the date 26 October 1947 was eventually going to be signed by the Maharajah on 27 October, irrespective of whether it preceded or followed the Indian military deployment in Srinagar on the day. What was important for all sides at that time – India, Maharajah, Sheikh Abdullah and Mountbatten – was to save Srinagar before it was run over by the desperate bands of the Pathan tribes and soldiers of Major Khurshid Anwar and Colonel Akbar Khan.

27 October 1947

There are various Indian accounts about the signing of the instrument of accession on 27 October. Alastair lamb writes that the first Indian batch of Sikh soldiers landed in Srinagar at 9:00 am. According to one account, the Maharajah signed the instrument of accession before the Indian troops landed in Srinagar. Another account says the instrument was signed at “first light” on the morning of 27 October.(XV)

The India White Paper on Jammu & Kashmir says that on 25 October 1947 the Government of India directed the preparation of plans for sending troops to Kashmir but troops were sent on 27 October following the signing of the instrument of accession. (XVI)

Neither the proposal for  going to the UN nor holding a plebiscite in Kashmir came from Pakistan.

28 October 194

Lord Mountbatten could not envisage a truncated India, which depended on Pakistan for the source of its riparian waters. He went along with the false Indian narrative of “troops deployment following the accession” knowing that Pakistan could react in retaliation and a situation of an inter-dominion conflict could arise in the Commonwealth resulting in a major crisis, involving King George VI as Head of the Commonwealth. In fact when M A Jinnah leant about the Indian intervention, he made a radio broadcast on 28 October and declared that “the Government of Pakistan cannot recognise accession of Kashmir to India, achieved as it has been by fraud and violence”.

Jinnah proposed sending Pakistani soldiers to Kashmir, but he was prevented from doing so by Field Marshal Sir Claude Auchinleck. Auchinleck suggested that if Jinnah insisted on this course of action, he would ask General Gracey to withdraw all British officers from Pakistan armed forces.

On 28 October 1947, Lord Mountbatten replied to the Maharaja’s letter of 26 October 1947 which said: “it is my government’s wish that as soon as the law and order have been restored in Kashmir and her soil cleaned of the invaders, the question of the State’s accession should be settled by a reference to the people”.

Following Mountbatten’s suggestion, Prime Minister Clement Attlee wrote to Prime Minister Nehru on 30 October 1947 proposing a detailed plebiscite plan for Kashmir.

On 1 & 2 November 1947, Jinnah and Sheikh Abdullah accepted the plebiscite idea. Nehru also said that his government was committed to organising a plebiscite in Kashmir (XVII)

On two occasions, following the accession of Kashmir, Nehru avoided a direct contact with Jinnah in order not to commit himself to the mechanism and date of the plebiscite. (XVIII)

Part of the blame for the Kashmir tragedy goes also to the leaders of two main Kashmiri political parties. On the question of accession, there was no interaction between Sheikh Abdullah of National Congress and Chaudhary Ghulam Abbas of Muslim Congress.

The British government made 7 attempts to mediate in the Kashmir conflict but Nehru managed to stay away from any meaningful discussion on any proposal.

On 1 January 1948, India took the Kashmir issue to the UN Security Council appearing before the world body as the victim of aggression by Pakistan. The same policy seems to be directing India’s present foreign policy on Kashmir: to present itself to the international community as the victim of attacks by Pakistan based terrorists.

Conclusion

Accession of Kashmir to India was achieved by fraud and violence and, as such, was illegal and unacceptable. The letter of accession has never been made officially public by India. In 1971 it appeared in the printed letters of Vallabhbhai Patel in 1971. In 2016 an Indian researcher Venkatesh Nayak posted true images of the signed copy of the instrument of accession kept in the National Archives of India [https://thewire.in/history/public-first-time-jammu-kashmirs-instrument-accession-india/amp/].

Indian military action in Kashmir on 27 October 1947 preceded the signing of the instrument of accession which made its status in Kashmir one of occupying force. There is no information available until now about the conditionalities attached to Maharajah Hari Singh’s signed instrument of accession. The Maharajah signed the same proforma instrument, which other rulers signed when acceding to India. Therefore, it does not stand to reason why Kashmir was treated differently from Hyderabad or other former princely states? Was Sheik Abdullah bribed to accept accession in return for the special status of Kashmir provided in Articles 35A and 370 of the Indian Constitution which lasted 70 years. And if those statutory protections are now gone, doesn’t Kashmir get back falling in the same position as existed on 26 October 1947. These are questions arising out of India’s own record on Kashmir.

If the process of accession was complete in the case of Kashmir, as claimed by India, it is not understood why Lord Mountbatten, only a day after the Indian intervention in Kashmir called for the “question of accession to be settled by a reference to the people”. Prime Minister Clement Attlee also supported the plebiscite.

Part of the blame for the Kashmir tragedy goes also to the leaders of two main Kashmiri political parties. On the question of accession, there was no interaction between Sheikh Abdullah of National Congress and Chaudhary Ghulam Abbas of Muslim Congress. The lack of trust between them encouraged V. P. Menon to paint a grim picture of Srinagar and claim that it was sliding toward a civil war. This influenced Mountbatten to review his earlier stance that ‘accession should precede intervention’ in order to authorise the despatch of Indian troops to Srinagar on the morning of 27 October 1947 to avert a bloodbath of the civilians.

It should be realised that while going to the UN and calling for a plebiscite in Kashmir may keep the Kashmir dispute alive internationally, none of the two options is ever going to materialise.

Neither the idea of going to the UN nor holding a plebiscite in Kashmir came from Pakistan. However, while the initiators of these ideas (India and Britain) have abandoned their support for these options, Pakistan has strongly clung to them as possible solutions for the Kashmir problem. It should be realised that while going to the UN and calling for a plebiscite in Kashmir may keep the Kashmir dispute alive internationally, none of the two options is ever going to materialise. The UN will never be able to force India to accept international mediation on Kashmir. Similarly, there will never be a plebiscite in Kashmir because the preconditions for its conduct will remain controversial and never be met by either country fully.

A solution will need to be found in establishing Pakistan’s own historical, constitutional and political claim on Kashmir.

Historically, Pakistan should use the formula of partition, which took into account the principle of majority view when determining the accession of the princely states, notably in the case of Junagadh, Hyderabad and Kashmir. On the basis of this principle, Kashmir belongs to Pakistan and not India.

Constitutionally, Pakistan needs to amend the 1973 Constitution in regard to Kashmir and change Articles 1 and 257 by two third majority of the constituent assembly to establish its claim on Kashmir in law.

Politically, Pakistan should integrate Gilgit-Baltistan, Azad Kashmir and the Occupied Kashmir as the 5th, 6th & 7th provinces in the federation. The 7th province should be inducted when conditions are conducive for its inclusion in the federation of Pakistan.

Let me also make a reference to a sensitive subject, which no one wants to touch for the time being. It is the option of Independence for Kashmir. Lord Mountbatten and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru were both opposed to the option of independence of princely states. The states, which did not join India on the eve of partition and instead opted for independence did not remain independent for long and were sooner or later annexed with India. Therefore the question of accession to be settled by a reference to the people of Kashmir, if it is ever allowed, will be to either to join with India or Pakistan. The third option does not exist in the context of the historical precedence of princely states.

London: 1 October 2019

About the author:  Mr Syed Sharfuddin is a former diplomat and a former Special Adviser in the Commonwealth Secretariat, London. He specialises in South Asian politics, conflict resolution and election observation.

Notes:

i. Alastair Lamb, Kashmir: Birth of a Tragedy 1947, Roxford Books, UK 1994; Andrew Whitehead, A Mission in Kashmir, Chapter 5, Penguin India, 2008; Mr Abdul Majid Zargar, Kashmir Accession Document Shrouded in False Myths, zargar271013.hm, www.countercurrents.org; Dr Abdul Ahad, Kashmir: Triumph and Tragedies, Chapter 23, Gulshan Books, India, 2012.
ii. According to the Sunderlal Committee’s report, which was not released until 2013, the number of Muslims who died during or after police action in Nizam’s State ranged between 27-40,000. According to another report, the number was 40,000. Pankaj Mishra, India at 70: The Passing of Another Allusion. New York Times, 11 August 2017.
iii. Christopher Snedden, Understanding Kashmir and Kashmiris, Oxford University Press, 2015.
iv. Das Gupta and Jyoti Bhusan, Kashmir and Kashmiris, Springer 2012.
v. Hari Singh’s love of western clothes and a liberal lifestyle was one of the reasons why Maharajah Pratap Singh, who was a devout Hindu, did not name Hari Singh (his nephew) as heir to the throne of Jammu & Kashmir. Instead, Maharajah Pratap Singh named Jagat Dev Singh from the Dhian Singh’s family line from his grandfather side as his “spiritual heir”. The British Indian States Department, however, overruled Pratap Singh’s Will and appointed Hari Singh as the Maharajah of Jammu & Kashmir, possibly because they could exploit his weaknesses about which they had ample information during his student period in London.
vi. Neither the Northern tribesmen nor the Gilgit Scouts were under Pakistan’s control, although, according to the Governor of NWFP, Sir George Cunningham, the officials of the Pakistan government were of two minds – either to turn a blind eye to the developments, or to express concern that this will precipitate the Maharajah to act in panic and join India.
vii. Safeer Ahmad Bhat, Jammu and Kashmir on the Eve of Partition- A Study of Political Conditions, South Asian Studies: Vol. 32, No. 2, July – December 2017, pp.285 – 295-
viii. Ibid
ix. Ian Stephens, Pakistan, London 1963.
x. M C Mahajan, Looking Back, London 1963.
xi. V P Menon, The Story of the Integration of Indian States, 1956.
xii. V P Menon, Ibid; LP&S/13/1845b,ff 283-95-India office records; M C Mahajan page 154, op cit; Nehru’s letter of 27 October to Maharajah Hari Singh, India office records; Ian Stephens, op cit; and Noorani-Frontline 24th March 1995.
xiii. An instrument of accession bearing the signatures of the Maharajah and Mountbatten was included in the collected correspondence of Sardar Patel. The text of instrument is the same as was approved for all princely states in the meeting of rulers on 25 July 1947. Sardar Patel’s Correspondence 1945-50 Vol I, Durgadas, New Light on Kashmir, Ahmedabad, 1971.
xiv. J Korbel, Danger in Kashmir, Princeton 1966.
xv. India White Paper on Jammu & Kashmir, New Delhi, 1948
xvi. The idea of plebiscite first came from Nehru on 30 September in the context of Junagadh whose Muslim leader had acceded to Pakistan.
xvii. Nehru did not accept Jinnah’s proposal to convene a special conference on Kashmir in Lahore on 29 May even though Mountbatten had agreed to it. Criticising Nehru, Sardar Patel said: “for the Indian PM to go crawling to Jinnah when we are the stronger side and in the right, would never be forgiven by the people of India.” Mountbatten tried again by joining the meeting with the meeting of the Defence Committee in Lahore on 1 November but Nehru again stayed away feigning this time, diplomatic illness. At this meeting, Mountbatten tried to assure Jinnah that the Maharajah had signed the letter of accession to India but His Majesty’s government wanted the people to decide the fate of the state through a plebiscite.

Also see:
https://www.countercurrents.org/zargar271013.htm
https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/32578917.pdf
https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-1-349-11556-3_10
https://www.academia.edu/385642/HISTORICIZING_PAKISTAN_S_KASHMIR_POLICY
https://thewire.in/history/public-first-time-jammu-kashmirs-instrument-accession-india

Did Imran Khan miss his CMC moment and lose Kashmir?

By Syed Sharfuddin*

If the 1999 Kargil war was the botched Bay of Pigs invasion for Islamabad, the unprecedented step taken by New Delhi on 5 August 2019 to annex and divide the occupied state of Jammu and Kashmir was no less than the U2 plane discovery about USSR placing nuclear missiles inside Cuba in 1962 only 150 miles away from the US mainland.

For a change let us place the current Indo-Pakistan tensions in the setting of the cold war years of 1960s between two nuclear rivals, the US and the former USSR, each of which embraced the doctrine of mutually assured destruction wholeheartedly in the belief that this was the only mad way to avoid the annihilation of human race the world should never see. In that uncertain decade, both countries jealously guarded their respective zones of influence: the US in South America and the former USSR in Central Asia. Both countries also courted other countries, especially in Eastern and Western Europe respectively and the newly independent former colonies as a measure of their foreign policy success.

If the 1999 Kargil war was the botched Bay of Pigs invasion for Islamabad, when Pakistan’s military command failed to recapture the territory lost to India in the 1971 war, the unprecedented political step taken by New Delhi on 5 August 2019 to annex and divide the occupied state of Jammu and Kashmir was no less than the U2 plane discovery that USSR was placing nuclear missiles inside Cuba to bring its attack capability only 150 miles away from the US state of Florida.

Back then in 1962, it was a decisive event in the history of the US-USSR relations. President John F Kennedy had to take the tough decision to either allow it to happen but with a strong diplomatic protest and UN and international pressure to keep Moscow away from any misadventure, or call Nikita Khrushchev’s bluff by threatening to go to any extent, including the prospect of a nuclear war against the USSR. In this nerve wrecking display of brinkmanship backed by military will and a determination not to give up, the USSR blinked first and agreed to remove its missiles from Cuba, provided the US did not attack Cuba. Nikita Khrushchev also demanded that the US withdraw its nuclear missiles from Turkey, which posed a threat to the USSR. The Kennedy administration agreed to the first Soviet condition publicly, but decided to meet their second condition quietly. The world breathed a sigh of relief that the crisis, which started on 16 October was over after 13 breath holding days on 28 October 1962.

Could it be that India’s far reaching measure in the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir on 5 August 2019 was no less than the Cuban Missile Crisis (CMC) moment for Prime Minister Imran Khan, which tested his ability to act decisively in times of extreme crisis and also checked out if Pakistan had the resilience and courage to challenge India in the same tone and manner as the US had done the USSR in 1962?

Could it be that India’s far reaching measure in the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir on 5 August 2019 was no less than the Cuban Missile Crisis (CMC) moment for Prime Minister Imran Khan, which tested his ability to act decisively in times of extreme crisis and also checked out if Pakistan had the resilience and courage to challenge India in the same tone and manner as the US had done the USSR in 1962? The reaction time for this response was short, lasting only few days when Indian political opposition, as well as Indian public opinion was deeply divided on the BJP government’s surprise action in Kashmir. The jailed and house-arrested J&K National Conference leadership, which had since 1947 consented to stay with India as part of the accession agreement, signed by Maharaja Hari Singh on 26 October 1947 with reservations, was regretting its decision to have discarded the two-nation theory. The world anxiously waited to see how Pakistan would react to this development in a disputed territory with India on which it has never compromised both diplomatically and in the battlefield. Even within the BJP leadership there were fears that this action was too precarious and may start a war with Pakistan, coming soon after the show of nerves in the aftermath of the downing of two IAF planes by PAF on 27 February and the return of the captured Indian officer on 1 March as a gesture of goodwill by Pakistan.

There were clear messages on social media pointing to India’s action on Kashmir following the 2018 tweet of Subramanian Swamy, which was re-tweeted by Indo-Israel Friendship Association.

As days passed, it became clear that India’s fears were misplaced. Pakistan did not read the signs of what was to come on 5 August and that the annexation of J&K was going to become a reality. Pakistan also did not have a contingency plan which could be unrolled hours after the ordinance was signed by the President of India revoking the special status of the disputed state of J&K guaranteed under Articles 35-A and 370 of the Indian Constitution for 69 years. Pakistan was also unprepared to call India’s bluff with a hard call of going to any extent on Kashmir and demanding a roll back of India’s action. Prime Minister Imran Khan and his Foreign Minister were late in the joint session of the Pakistan parliament to condemn the Indian move, which was a tell tale sign that they were busy in emergency meetings convened to discuss how to react to the new development.

The Prime Minister was overheard in parliament asking the opposition leader: “what do you want me to do?” “Should I declare war against India”? This said everything about what Pakistan was going to do about the illegal annexation of Kashmir by India – anything but war.

The Prime Minister was also overheard in the parliamentary session asking the opposition leader: “what do you want me to do?” “Should I declare war against India”? This said everything about what Pakistan was going to do about the illegal annexation of Kashmir by India – anything but war. The meeting of the National Security Committee confirmed on 7 August that Pakistan will use diplomatic means, multilateral diplomacy, trade boycott and high pitched protests to react to the situation but it will do nothing practical to claim the entire state of J&K as Pakistan’s territory in its constitution, or use the nuclear card credibly to force India through the international community to reverse this step and find a bilateral means of resolving the dispute without changing he status quo of the state of J&K.

While Imran Khan weighed the economic cost of war for Pakistan, he ignored the fact that it was the only credible threat he could get away with internationally because Kashmir remains a flash point between India and Pakistan.

Exercising the CMC moment would have meant Prime Minister Imran Khan addressing the Parliament on 6 August and calling on India to immediately retract its steps in Kashmir or be ready for Pakistan to go to any extent, including the prospect of a nuclear war to restore status quo ante. This could have been followed by PAF resuming flight patrolling, movement of a couple of infantry divisions from the western to the eastern border, and Pakistan test-firing a long-range and a short-range missile capable of delivering nuclear payload. Such demonstrable steps would have resulted in all the major powers sending special envoys to Islamabad calling for restraint and forcing New Delhi to reverse its steps in Kashmir. The prospect of a mushroom cloud hovering over their tall business empires and commercial and tourism sites would have sent all the Gulf states in panic, preventing them from conferring any national awards to the Indian Prime Minister and suggesting that they back him on Kashmir.

Under these tense conditions, the UNSC would have acted loudly with a resolution on Kashmir calling on both India and Pakistan to resolve the Kashmir dispute peacefully, failing which they could themselves authorise the UN to intervene in Kashmir under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. In the negotiations brokered by an ever ambitious President Trump, India would have agreed to withdraw its troops presence from the state of J&K on the condition that Pakistan also do likewise from Azad Kashmir. A demilitarised conflict territory would then be amenable for a referendum to decide the future of the Kashmiri people by Kashmiris themselves. But that was not to be.

While Imran Khan weighed the economic cost of war for Pakistan, he ignored the fact that it was the only credible threat he could get away with internationally because Kashmir remains a flash point between India and Pakistan and the world is not ready for a nuclear war between the two enemy countries.

After three weeks of noisy media statements; hundreds of social media posts; a routine meeting of UNSC members on the situation in Kashmir, which released no statement and no call for another meeting; three international human rights organisations objecting to the gross human rights violations in Indian Held Kashmir but stopping short of questioning India’s occupation of the territory in violation of the UNSC resolutions; deep divisions within the OIC block in responding to Kashmir’s annexation; silence of the Commonwealth and G7 on the new development; and Pakistan’s own admission that Pakistan does not desire a war with India but will deliver full response in responding to an aggression, India is emerging more confident and assertive on Kashmir and might start the next phase of changing the social fabric of Kashmir by rounding off the Kashmiri opposition using electronic surveillance, relocating RSS cadres and continued armed repression in Kashmir.

What stopped the government from taking its own constitutional route to claiming the whole of J&K as Pakistan territory in defiance of the dubious instrument of accession of October 1947?

Some searching questions remain, including the title of this essay, which asks: Did Imran Khan miss his CMC moment and lose Kashmir? Are wars won with weapons and men or with strategy and good timing? Did his army chief tell the Prime Minister that Pakistan was not ready for a war on Indian held Kashmir? Was there an intelligence failure to foresee the action of 5 August 2019 and prepare contingency planning? There were clear messages on social media pointing to this action following the tweet of Subramanian Swamy, which was re-tweeted by Indo-Israel Friendship Association on 22 June 2018. What stopped the government from taking its own constitutional route to claiming the whole of J&K as Pakistan territory in defiance of the dubious instrument of accession of October 1947?

Or is it that Pakistan’s CMC moment will come only if the integrity of Azad Kashmir is threatened. Or it may never come because this is another time and another world-order in which economic interests overtake foreign and security policy, including principles, rule of international law and old historical records and unfulfilled international commitments.

London 27 August 2019

*Mr Syed Sharfuddin is a former diplomat and a former Special Adviser for Asia in the Political Affairs Division of the Commonwealth Secretariat, London, UK (2000-2006).

President Trump’s August 2017 speech on Afghanistan is a serious statement of US Administration’s new Afghanistan Policy. Well Done Sir!

President Trump’s address on Afghanistan delivered last night in front of the US service personnel in Fort Meyer, Virginia curiously coincided with the long full solar eclipse in the United States for over 99 years. Whether it is a good omen for the US and a bad omen for the Taliban we will know in about five years which is the normal time to see the results of a major policy initiative and also a good time to discuss the achievements of the President’s first term in office. The morning after, President Trump’s speech made major headlines, especially in countries directly concerned with the peace and stability of Afghanistan.

President Trump’s core campaign supporters, those belonging to the Steve Bannon camp were expecting him to announce a troop withdrawal in line with his campaign criticism of Obama’s policy of wasting America’s resources in fighting other nations’ wars. On the other hand, political and military observers who have access to official documents expected President Trump to announce an increase in US troops serving in Afghanistan. But he surprised both by siding with the current status quo and by not telling the exact US strategy to win this long drawn war in a country that is still far from stability despite millions of dollars spent by Washington on training Afghan security personnel and eliminating the Taliban threat to the US, not to mention an increase in their attacks on the politically fragile and highly corrupt and incompetent government members in Afghanistan.

The US President’s speech cannot be simply dismissed as Trump talk because it is, frankly speaking, the product of seven months of hard deliberations in the new US Administration, involving both civilian and military advisers. It is the 2017 policy statement of the President of the United States on Afghanistan. The US has made the right move by announcing that it has no intention of withdrawing from Afghanistan. A withdrawal would have created a vacuum which would have intensified the proxy war between India and Pakistan and encouraged Taliban and other local warlords to fill in the breach and reverse all the gains which have been made so far in eliminating terrorism from Afghanistan.

However a new twist in the fresh US Afghan policy is to rely more on Afghanistan, US’ NATO allies and the regional powers to pursue the scorched earth policy against Taliban in Afghanistan. But a greater reliance on India instead of Pakistan with a view to reducing the US liability of funding the stability and development of Afghanistan is the red herring in Mr Trump’s new jar of jellybeans. The US Administration earlier tried a military surge with the support of NATO led ISAF but did not succeed. It earlier tried to strengthen the Afghan security forces against the Taliban through training and capacity building but did not succeed. It earlier gave millions of Dollars to Pakistan in military and economic aid in the hope that Pakistan will eliminate the Taliban but it did not succeed. Now the US aims to play the India card to see if New Delhi can help bring stability to Afghanistan by using India’s economic muscle.

But unfortunately the US Administration will fail in its new approach because of four key factors. 1) India is not yet used to pumping millions of Dollars into economic aid of other countries like China and Russia and whatever development it will carry out in Afghanistan will be too small to make any substantial change in the lives of the poor Afghans and buy their loyalties. 2) the US will be ignoring the local militants who are not Taliban but their sympathisers for a host of other reasons. They will feel left out and will take to the hills again to join Taliban and continue to destabilise Afghanistan as they have done for the past many years. Theirs is a low maintenance militancy which requires modest means and is far less costly compared to the US servicemen and other foreign armed personnel deployed in Afghanistan. Russia and China will be only too pleased to see the Americans continue to drain their resources by remaining militarily preoccupied in Afghanistan. 3) The Taliban know that the US is completely stretched out in Iraq and Syria and has identified ISIS, Iran and DPRK as greater threats to global peace and stability. Its capacity to commit more resources in Afghanistan is much reduced; and 4), the US is making a strategic mistake by undermining the sacrifices of a key ally Pakistan in the Afghan equation.

The key to solving the problem of Taliban is with Pakistan and not with New Delhi. The US can use its aid muscle to obtain this key but it won’t be able to do so because of other choices available to Islamabad. As a BBC correspondent in Islamabad has noted, “Pakistan has grown increasingly closer to China, and has also experienced millions of Dollars withheld by the US for allegedly not taking enough action against the Taliban-allied Haqqani network”. The relationship is already sour and can’t be made worse by brow beating and finger pointing. Without Pakistan, neither the US nor India can make any progress in Afghanistan.

The Afghan government, besides cheering the US for its support is woefully inefficient and unable to govern a multi-ethnic and communally pluralistic Afghanistan. On its own it cannot keep all its ethnic communities united and satisfied. Pashtun Afghans from where the Taliban are largely drawn need to be made stakeholders in Afghanistan’s future decisions. Moreover, the people-to-people contacts on both sides of the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan are deep and unbreakable. External pressure, whether exerted through a carrot and stick approach or applied through direct military action led by drones and airborne strikes can hardly bring positive results. If anything, by pursuing an aggressive do more agenda, the US will draw Pakistan closer to China and Russia and erode its influence in Islamabad which it enjoys to this date, thanks to a pro-US bureaucracy and the military whether it be the product of their Western training or the result of the millions of Dollars of aid, which President Trump has mentioned as the fee America has paid to Islamabad for receiving its services in the past years. Islamabad’s reply to this kind of rhetoric is: “you gave us the money and we rounded up all the bad Arabs and gave them to you. Period.”

So where do we go from here. Will the US be able to persuade India to play a greater economic role in Afghanistan? Will Pakistan be happy to see the US ignore it in Afghanistan at the cost of India? Will Russia and China let the US bring peace in Afghanistan and keep their hands off from a country which offers so much business prospects in economic rebuilding and infrastructure development in the future? Will Taliban give up arms and become absorbed in the Afghan melting pot if they are not all blown off in Tora Bora mountains or lured with huge sums of money to change loyalties? The US Administration must have thought-through these scenarios before the speech was finalised and delivered yesterday but President Trump did not speculate anything in his speech for a good reason. He does not want the US to show its pack of cards on Afghanistan. He did say however: “The American people expect to see real reforms, real progress, and real results. Our patience is not unlimited”. But as far as speeches go, it was a brilliant piece of speech the President delivered yesterday. Thank you sir.

London 22 August 2017