Does Pakistan Acknowledge Kashmir As India’s ‘Internal Matter’ But Is Wary Of Admitting It?

Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi’s recent flip-flop on Kashmir once again raises questions about Islamabad’s seriousness towards the UAE-mediated peace process with India.

Two days ago, Qureshi told a private TV channel that revocation of Article 370 is an “internal matter of India and it meant nothing for Pakistan.” And on May 11, Qureshi retracted his statement maintaining that Kashmir is a “globally recognized dispute”.

In August 2019, India had removed Article 370 of its Constitution that gave special status to Jammu and Kashmir and bifurcated the state into two Union Territories or federally-administered regions — J&K and Ladakh.

Qureshi had emphasized that even many Indians did not see support New Delhi’s move, which has been challenged in India’s Supreme Court.

The statement sparked a massive backlash in Pakistan, prompting the foreign minister to take back his words.

“Let me be clear: Jammu & Kashmir is an internationally recognized dispute on the @UN Security Council agenda. Final settlement of the dispute lies in #UNSC resolution calling for free and impartial plebiscite under UN auspices,” he tweeted.

It seems like Qureshi is prone to slip of tongues, which might reflect his actual position. Last year he criticized Saudi Arabia’s refusal to take a firm stand on Kashmir through the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) and threatened to create an alternative grouping of Islamic nations.

It took a lot of backchannel efforts on Islamabad’s part to repair the damage caused by Qureshi’s remark to its ties with Riyadh.

And, there is also a chance that the UAE mediation might have led to Pakistan toning down its rhetoric against India, and hence Qureshi’s initial remark that Article 370 is India’s internal matter.

India, Pakistan Peace Process

The UAE’s ambassador to the US had confirmed last month that the Gulf country has been mediating between India and Pakistan “in bringing Kashmir escalation down and created a ceasefire, hopefully ultimately leading to restoring diplomats and getting the relationship back to a healthy level”.

But neither India nor Pakistan has officially acknowledged this development.

It began with meetings between top intelligence officials from both sides in January this year, according to Reuters. The ceasefire agreement of February 25 is believed to be a result of those talks.

This was followed by General Qamar Javed Bajwa’s statement that the two traditional rivals should “bury the past”.

The Prime Ministers also exchanged letters with Pakistan’s PM Imran Khan writing that “We are convinced that durable peace and stability in South Asia is contingent upon resolving all outstanding issues between India and Pakistan, in particular, the Jammu & Kashmir dispute.”

Bloomberg had also reported in March that UAE-brokered secret backchannel talks were happening between India and Pakistan.

Pakistan’s U-turn

By the end of March, the Pakistan government’s economic coordination committee had allowed imports of sugar, cotton, and wheat to combat rising inflation.

Pakistan Finance Minister Hammad Azhar who had just assumed office had called the move “in the interest of people.” But domestic pushback again made them halt the partial resumption of trade.

According to ThePrint, Islamabad had pushed for a meeting between the foreign ministers of India and Pakistan at the ‘Heart of Asia’ conference, which took place on March 30 in Tajikistan. But the meeting did not happen.

If secret backchannel talks are really happening, it will probably be better to keep them hidden. Criticism, especially from the opposition and domestic population, will likely derail such talks.