Kashmir and Afghanistan: Pakistan’s Choices and Options

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan
Pakistani PM Imran Khan (Wikimedia Commons / Irfan Ahson)

India’s unilateral and illegal decision to annex Kashmir has immediate, medium and long term motives, and interestingly, all its objectives are directly or indirectly linked with Afghanistan. India has long been trying to tag Pakistan as a “state sponsor of terrorism”, and has struggled to isolate the country. In the face of Pakistan successfully countering the extremist narrative and improving conditions internally, and its image internationally, India has resorted to laying siege to Kashmir. India, through its actions and refusal to engage in meaningful dialogue on Kashmir, is attempting to bait Pakistan by leaving it with no option other than supporting freedom groups in Kashmir, who India will in turn label as terrorist or extremist groups. This would help India label Pakistan as a state sponsor of terror and sanction the country under regimes like Financial Action Task Force (FATF). 

If Pakistan takes the bait, it would not only affect the country’s thriving image which it has gained by facilitating the Afghan peace process but also help India to tag the Taliban as terrorists, as in the past the Afghan insurgents were involved in Kashmir’s armed freedom movement. In this way, the prospects of Pakistan-friendly Taliban’s mainstreaming and holding some form of legitimate power remain in limbo, which in turn, would help India aiding a government in Afghanistan hostile to Pakistan. India’s strategic agreement with the Afghan government, and its support to Kabul both militarily and economically has led Afghan President, Ashraf Ghani and the Kabul Administration  to support the Indian narrative vis-à-vis Pakistan. Reports also suggest that Afghan forces orchestrating cross border attacks on Pakistani troops fencing the Durand Line. The Afghan government’s explicit support to India was evidenced when Kabul did not condemned Modi’s illegal annexation of Kashmir on August 5, 2019. Interestingly, Ghani continues to accuse Pakistan of wrong policies vis-a-vis countering terror. The allegations seem ironic when Pakistan has been curbing extremist ideology and organisations internally, and trying to extricate the world from the Afghanistan quagmire by facilitating dialogue with the Taliban; and when Pakistan remains committed to fence the Durand Line to monitor and halt any kind of illegal movement of terrorists.

More interestingly, three months into New Delhi’s attempt to formally annex India-held Kashmir, the Modi Administration issued new political maps showing Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) and Azad Kashmir (AK) in its territories. Few days before this move, India formally revoked Kashmir’s constitutional autonomy and split it into two federal territories: one Jammu and Kashmir, and the other, Ladakh. In the new map, GB has been included in Ladakh and AK in Jammu and Kashmir. The violation of recognized boundaries by manifesting Indian expansionist objectives, ensure New-Delhi’s direct access to Afghanistan and Central Asia. The move also makes AK and GB extremely vulnerable to Indian adventurism any time soon. Any kind of Indian misadventure may result in a nuclear catastrophe and destroy hundreds of thousands of square kilometers of glacier ice stretching across GB. India’s long held dream of becoming a great power and Modi’s bellicosity make it pretty predictable that the country, in the medium or long run, would make an attempt to access Afghanistan and Central Asia by skipping Pakistan.

In the light of India’s August 5 decision to revoke Kashmir’s autonomous status, Pakistan did take certain measures. Islamabad out-rightly condemned the decision and downgraded diplomatic ties with India by expelling  the Indian High Commissioner and calling its envoy back. In addition, Pakistan closed its airspace to India and suspended bilateral trade. Pakistan Army Chief, Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa also reaffirmed the commitment to go to any extent to ensure the right of self-determination of Kashmiri people. Most significantly, PM Khan who has long been calling for negotiations, indicated that Pakistan would no longer seek dialogue with India.

Nevertheless, escalation leading to war is not viable, neither the above taken measures by Pakistan yielded significant results as India continues its coercive posture. Pakistan must look into ways of improving its economic condition using indigenous resources and simultaneously translating it into political gains by extending its benefits to Afghanistan. It is imperative for Pakistan to improve relations with the war torn country by ensuring economic benefits through joint and shared developments. Today, India enjoys greater sway in Kabul due to extension of economic and military aid. 

The China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) remains to be one of the ventures where Pakistan may capitalize in improving its relations with Afghanistan. Both Pakistan and China intend to extend the mega project to Afghanistan through set of six sub-projects. However, the non-recognition of the CPEC on part of the United States of America (US) and India on the basis of the project running through the disputed GB, creates doubts in Kabul. Owing to that, Pakistan must look into the option of making GB its constitutional part. Doing so would primarily authenticate the CPEC, which in turn, ensure its full benefits to the authorities in Kabul. It might also convince the US and other European countries to recognize and invest in the CPEC. 

Secondly, due to the disputed status of GB, Pakistan has not been able to persuade international donors to invest in its hydro power generation capacity, minerals and tourism industry. According to the latest reports, GB possesses the capacity to generate 90,000 Megawatts of environmentally friendly hydroelectric energy. The production of even half of the existing capacity would not only resolve Pakistan’s energy crisis, but the surplus energy could be exported to Afghanistan. World powers must acknowledge that one of the key problems plaguing Afghanistan is that the majority of the country lacks basic necessities. According to the World Bank, more than seventy percent of the population has no access to electricity. 

Most glaciers which feed the main rivers of Pakistan and Afghanistan are the same and are found in the Hindukush-Himalaya range. Interestingly, while most glaciers in the region are depleting, some glaciers over Pakistan and Afghanistan are either stable or expanding. This presents an opportunity for both countries to capitalize on this resource to overcome their water and energy problems and ultimately improve bilateral relations

India has repeatedly revealed its intention to deprive Pakistan of water by controlling the rivers which flow from Kashmir to Pakistan. Modi has time and again threatened to undertake such measures. Pakistan can overcome this threat by storing water from melting glaciers in GB. The high cost of big dams to store billions of dollars worth of water could only be achieved by attracting international donors. Once Pakistan makes clear the legal and constitutional status of GB, international donors would certainly be convinced to invest in the region.

Lastly and most importantly, improving upon the status of GB would politically emancipate its people. The region has consistently called for the integration of GB as a province of Pakistan. This would allow Pakistan to increase its security related activities in GB. For instance, raising a new infantry regiment (GB regiment) would remain as a formidable threat for India. GB’s history and strategic culture highlights a people that have fought and defeated the forces of then Dogra ruler, and announced their accession with Pakistan. 

By and large, it’s high time for Pakistan to take a calculated political decision vis-à-vis the territories of GB and AK in order to put the ball back in India’s court. Issuance of the same political map showing Ladakh in GB and Jammu and Kashmir in AK after making these two territories constitutional part of Pakistan would certainly put India on the back foot. Additionally, the move would allow Pakistan to undertake all the economic activities in GB which not only help improve the country’s economic condition but assist to enhance its relations with neighbouring war torn country. By improving relations with Afghanistan through strengthened economic ties, Pakistan can then focus its attention on Indian adventurisms elsewhere. The question that changing the status of these territories affect Pakistan’s very argument that India, by acting unilaterally, has violated international law holds little or no weight as the cost of keeping these territories disputed supersedes benefits Pakistan could yield politically, economically and strategically. More importantly, the disputed nature of GB and AK make them more vulnerable to an Indian aggression.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those only of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Geopolitics or the editorial board.