The Imran Khan government had been under pressure to respond to India’s decision as Kashmir remains a key issue for all political parties.
Pakistan on Wednesday announced a slew of retaliatory actions in response to India’s decision to strip Jammu and Kashmir of its special status, including the expulsion of the Indian envoy, suspension of bilateral trade and review of bilateral arrangements.
The development marked yet another downturn in bilateral ties following India’s move on August 5 to revoke Kashmir’s special status and to split the state into two union territories. The Imran Khan government had been under pressure to respond to India’s decision as Kashmir remains a key issue for all political parties.
The retaliatory actions were decided during a meeting of the National Security Committee (NSC) chaired by Prime Minister Khan and attended by foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, top military officials including army chief Gen Qamar Bajwa and Inter-Services Intelligence chief Lt Gen Faiz Hameed.
A statement from the Foreign Office said the Indian government had been “told to withdraw its high commissioner to Pakistan” in line with the NSC’s decision to downgrade diplomatic relations. “The Indian government has also been informed that Pakistan will not be sending its high commissioner-designate to India,” the statement added.
There was no immediate response from the Indian government, and it wasn’t clear whether New Delhi would take retaliatory actions of its own.
After discussing the situation arising from India’s “unilateral and illegal actions” and the situation in Jammu and Kashmir, the NSC decided to downgrade diplomatic relations with India, suspending bilateral trade, review bilateral arrangements, and take the Kashmir issue to the UN, including the Security Council, said an official statement.
The NSC also decided to observe Pakistan’s Independence Day on August 14 as a day of solidarity with Kashmiris and their struggle for the right of self-determination, and India’s Independence Day on August 15 as a “black day”.
Khan said all diplomatic channels should be activated to “expose brutal Indian racist regime, design and human rights violations”, and directed the armed forces to “continue vigilance”, the statement said.
Addressing Parliament after the NSC meeting, foreign minister Qureshi outlined the retaliatory actions and said: “Pakistan is immediately downgrading our diplomatic relations with India...The different bilateral arrangements will be reviewed one by one by (an official) committee.”
Qureshi said India had always talked about handling all issues and differences with Pakistan bilaterally, including when US President Donald Trump recently raised the issue of mediating on the Kashmir dispute. “The unilateral action of August 5 has damaged the spirit of the Simla Agreement, which states both sides will handle issues bilaterally,” he said.
Pakistan’s retaliatory measures are unlikely to have a significant impact, with the two sides not having had any formal or sustained dialogue on their differences for more than a decade since the 2008 Mumbai attacks. New Delhi has linked the resumption of dialogue to Islamabad ending support for anti-India terror groups based on Pakistani soil.
Islamabad’s high commissioner-designate Moin-ul-Haq was expected to arrive in New Delhi and experts said the absence of high commissioners in both capitals wouldn’t disrupt the minimal contacts maintained by the two sides.
Bilateral trade increased marginally from $2.27 billion dollars in 2016-17 to $2.41 billion in 2017-18 but the two sides conduct much more trade through third countries such as the United Arab Emirates. India had stripped Pakistan of the Most Favoured Nation-status after the February 14 suicide attack in Pulwama that was claimed by Jaish-e-Mohammed.
The review of bilateral arrangements, threatened by India in the past, was a more complicated issue and it is unlikely that either side would scrap pacts such as the Indus Waters Treaty that have survived three wars, observers said.
Pakistan has stepped up diplomatic consultations to shore up support for its stance on the Kashmir issue. Prime Minister Khan spoke to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman regarding India’s action on phone on Tuesday and foreign minister Qureshi told Parliament that “he might dash to Beijing to further consultations with the leadership of China”.
At a roundtable discussion organised by the Islamabad Policy Institute on Wednesday, former Pakistani diplomats and experts called for lowering diplomatic ties with India and credible measures to show seriousness about the Kashmir issue.
Former high commissioner Abdul Basit said he had forewarned in 2014 about the likely abrogation of Article 370 and stressed the need to evolve a political consensus on the Kashmir policy. Former envoy Ashraf Jahangir Qazi warned against having unrealistic expectations of support from China and the US and said Washington is likely to side with New Delhi.