Every time a Pakistani President or Prime Minister – almost by rote – brings up the Kashmir issue at the annual United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) session, the Indian media collectively goes: “Not again!”
Not one to disappoint on that tradition, President Asif Ali Zardari, yesterday, raked up the issue of Kashmir once again at the 67th session of the UNGA currently on in New York. In his speech to the General Assembly, he called Kashmir a symbol of failures rather than strengths of the United Nations.
As one who has covered many a UNGA session, I can tell you, it’s like déjà vu for the more than 100 member Indian contingent – including the Prime Minister or the External Affairs Minister, the accompanying delegation of ministers and cabinet secretaries, the diplomats and the Indian media – who routinely fly out to New York to be part of the annual diplomatic jamboree. They wait expectantly for the Pakistani representative to deliver the Kashmir rhetoric, and then rush to dish out their own rhetoric about the Kashmir dispute being an internal issue and that no third party can interfere.
Popular opinion in India – among those interested – tends to suggest that Kashmir is the pet flog for Pakistani leaders whenever they try to cover up or divert attention from some domestic matter.
I wouldn’t hazard suggesting that Zardari is deflecting attention from unconfirmed and unverified news that his spunky, young and married foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar wants to get divorced and marry his son Bilawal. Admittedly, the hilarity of such a situation makes one indulge in a guilty smirk, but no, I wouldn’t give credence to tabloid gossip.
The last couple of years saw much progress in implementing some of the confidence building measures (CBMs) between the two countries. Diplomatic exchanges have expanded, trade relations are picking up, and some visa norms have been eased. Only last month, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met with President Zardari in Tehran on the sidelines of the Non-Alignment Movement Summit. Definitely not signs of a brewing friendship, but signs of easing of political tensions between the two neighbors.
Bringing up Kashmir then comes as an apology to the hardliners in Pakistan for the inescapability of having to acknowledge the positive developments between the two countries.
So apart from India, is anyone else at the UNGA really listening to Pakistan harp obsessively about Kashmir? I doubt it, partly because most UN members suffer unfriendly neighbors anyway.
The periodic hurling of rhetoric is simply a cat and mouse game that India and Pakistan have perfected. Geographically, they know they are stuck with each other. So it’s like – you don’t have to take a pasta casserole to your neighbor if you don’t want to, but you don’t dump your trash on their lawn either.
(Note: This is not to trivialize the suffering of all those who have fallen victim to the many terror attacks in India, which have been traced to have originated in Pakistan.)