Kashmir has long been Pakistan’s strongest diplomatic weapon against India on the international stage, unsheathed and deployed frequently to create trouble. A persistent talking point for Pakistani officials, the "Kashmir problem" also helps counter an increasingly dark vision of their country in the western mind.
So when faced with a different version of the Kashmir story, they feel rattled and see it as a foreign policy debacle for Pakistan. A draft report submitted last month to the European Parliament by Baroness Emma Nicholson of Britain was just that—for it demolished Pakistan’s claims on and about Kashmir almost entirely. And it asked tough questions about the plight of the people in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir who have no "meaningful democratic representation" and enjoy only "minimal rights." They are doubly victimised in the aftermath of the earthquake.
For the first time, an official western report named China for controlling a part of the "former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir". The name game is fraught with delicious implications because Beijing, which has enjoyed watching India tangled up in Kashmir, may now find how the shoe pinches. Any future settlement can theoretically involve surrender of Chinese-controlled territory.
"China’s place in the region and ownership of part of the territory is very important. I will be holding a series of workshops on the border issues in the region," Nicholson declared in a telephone interview from Beirut. A Liberal Democrat member of the European Parliament (MEP), she visited both parts of Kashmir this summer as the EU rapporteur and vice chairwoman of the foreign affairs committee. The report is a serious effort to go beyond the facile and into the jungle of Pakistani claims. It looks at the role and impact of the Pakistani administration in POK instead of merely condemning India for human rights abuses. It raps the Pakistani army for its initial slow response to the earthquake, which allowed militant groups to fill the vacuum and gain legitimacy.
"Kashmir: Present Situation and Future Prospects" is a 10-page nightmare for Pakistan and a near-complete vindication of India’s position. The report rejects demands for a plebiscite, calling them "wholly out of step", condemns the lack of democracy, justice and human rights in POK, the absence of Kashmiri representation in Pakistan National Assembly, calls Pakistani efforts to shut down terrorist camps on its territory half-hearted and clearly links demilitarisation on the Indian side to a reduction of terrorist violence. It condemns the "repugnant Hudood laws" and even mentions the persecution of homosexuals.
Pakistan’s ambassador to the EU, Saeed Khalid, shot off an angry four-page letter to Nicholson, calling the report "fundamentally flawed" and an "unquestioning endorsement of the Indian standpoint." He even threatened the report would "prove detrimental to the peace process between Pakistan and India" in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by Outlook. He resents the "emphasis on international terrorism in the context of Jammu and Kashmir," and says the report "completely overlooks the history of the dispute." By dismissing calls for a plebiscite, "the fundamentals" can’t be altered, the letter warns.
Nicholson said her critics were "mistaken" and that she looked forward to a series of discussions with them. "Reports are produced for the benefit of European members to implement EU-wide policies. They are not produced to please or displease governments," she told Outlook. While the EU has not been invited to mediate in Kashmir, it has given a large amount of aid to Pakistan for the earthquake victims. "It is only proper we look at the situation." A Life Peer and voted "MEP of the Year" in 2002, the Baroness is on solid ground.
She replied to Khalid’s letter Nov. 28, a day after receiving it and rebutted his charges methodically, specially the one about her declining to meet Huriyat leaders in India. "Despite at least four telephone calls, my staff and I were unable to interest Huriyat in a meeting," Nicholson said in her letter. The letter reminds the ambassador that her job as the rapporteur was not to regurgitate history but to look at pertinent issues for the future. "It was not part of the Rapporteur's remit to revisit in the text all the familiar history of the past 60 years. Relevant UN Security Council resolutions do feature in the report," the letter said.
Khalid declined to comment, saying the report was only a "draft" that still had to go through the "process"— meaning beware the power of the pro-Pakistan lobby to try to tear it to pieces. The Kashmir Centre in Brussels, said to be a Pakistan-funded outfit like its clone Kashmiri American Council in Washington, and the London-based Kashmir Coordination Committee are already working overtime to denounce the report. Majid Tramboo, who heads the Kashmir Centre, is shuttling between London and Brussels trying to meet all 83 members of the foreign affairs committee of the European Parliament to try to amend, dilute and rewrite the report. The deadline for offering amendments is Jan. 10, the discussion set for Jan. 24-25 and adoption by the committee on Jan. 30.
London will be a key battlefield where the Pakistani community will use its political muscle to water down the report through like-minded British MEPs. Pakistan is also activating the 20-member All Party Group on Kashmir in the British Parliament. A dubious statement denouncing the report has already been issued on the group’s behalf through the "Kashmir Media Service," a propagandist outfit. The statement sounds eerily similar to Pakistan ambassador’s letter.
The report may yet evolve but the MEPs will have to decide whether they want to take a realistic look at the problem or follow the old script. Nicholson has criticised the Indian army for human rights abuses and noted a few other areas for address but she consistently found Indian Kashmir faring better on almost every front than POK. Pakistan might find it hard to counter the support India currently enjoys in Europe. India is EU’s strategic partner with a growing trade relationship. "You can’t castigate a country like India which shares your values to side with a country which spells trouble," said a Brussels-based analyst. "Support for India in the EP cuts across party lines."
But that doesn’t mean India can be complacent. Indian missions in Europe have already received instructions—to be vigilant and work to retain the original report. But India may already have suffered a tactical loss. Nina Gill, a British Labour MEP and leader of the South Asia delegation, one of those who asked to delay the original deadline of Dec. 5 set by Nicholson for offering amendments. Gill, who is not a member of the foreign affairs committee, argued that she was going to Pakistan and wanted her "findings" to be part of the record. But going only to one country is likely to give her a one-sided view.
December will be a month of hard labour not Christmas parties for many who will be working the EU corridors. The stakes are higher for Pakistan because the narrative is changing. Slowly but surely.