Pakistan wants Saudi Arabia to defuse Kashmir situation

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By Rasul Bakhsh Rais

Pakistan has always turned to Saudi Arabia, the UAE and China, its neighbor and time-tested strategic partner, for diplomatic and material assistance in troubled times.
Last month, when India unilaterally revoked Article 370, which gave Kashmir special legal status, Pakistan made first contact with the leaders of these countries to apprise them of human rights violations in the region.
In its every interaction with world leaders, Pakistan has also brought into focus the real dangers of the escalation of a conflict that could become a nuclear flashpoint. To allay fears, Prime Minister Imran Khan has categorically stated that Pakistan will not be the first to resort to force. His statements came in the wake of rising pressures from within the country, particularly from right-wing parties and groups that have been associated with militancy in the past.
Islamabad has relentlessly brought the matter up at world forums and managed a hearing by the UN Security Council —  a rare diplomatic triumph — but without practical value. India still continues to reject any third party intervention on the issue, and its refusal to negotiate the settlement of the dispute bilaterally leaves Pakistan with only two other options—political and diplomatic support to the people of Kashmir, and internationalizing the issue.
Though India’s ruling party, the Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), has long spoken about revoking Article 370, the decision came as a big diplomatic and political shock to Pakistan.
Pakistan found itself caught in an unprecedented crisis, as pro-Kashmiri sentiment runs deep in Pakistani society across party lines, and no government can afford to ignore it. Pakistan’s PTI government faces a crisis over Kashmir at a very difficult time; when the economy is weak, politics polarized and many challenges at hand on the domestic as well as external front.

Pakistanis generally live with an emotional, romanticized ideal that the Muslim world will all stand with the people of Kashmir, and for this reason, the country has expected leaders of Muslim states to play a bigger role in the current conflict than they so far have.
Pakistanis have a passionate affinity with Saudi Arabia, most notably for its royal family, as the custodians of the holy sites, and their many favors and generosity toward Pakistan. The same is true of the UAE.
There is thus, expectation in Pakistan that our traditional Arab allies can do more.
But side by side, there is also the realization that India has become a very important trade partner for the Middle East with billions at stake, and a huge market for investment.
In a world redefining itself by pure interests, the religious and emotional ties that generally define the political psyche of ordinary Pakistanis, are too weak to influence modern-day diplomacy and international relations. Being a common friend of both India and Pakistan, Saudi Arabia can play a constructive role, perhaps openly, but certainly behind the scenes to help alleviate the human rights situation in Indian-administered Kashmir.
Right now, when the entire population of the Kashmir valley has been on virtual lock-down for more than a month, the immediate issue is that of reportedly human rights violations at the hands of Indian security forces. Pakistan wants the world, especially its friends, to take notice and do whatever they can. And some world leaders, like Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Senator Bernie Sanders have taken the lead in condemning the situation.
A major focus in Pakistan was the agenda of talks with the recently visiting State Minister of Foreign Affairs, Adel Al-Jubair of Saudi Arabia and Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the UAE, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan.
Pakistan believes that Saudi Arabia and the UAE, two countries have the leverage to influence India over the current situation in Kashmir.

(Rasul Bakhsh Rais is Professor of Political Science in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, LUMS, Lahore. His latest book is “Islam, Ethnicity and Power Politics: Constructing Pakistan’s National Identity” (Oxford University Press, 2017).
Twitter: @RasulRais)