For Pakistan’s People and Parties, Kashmir a Non-Issue in Election
The same Kashmir, which Shahbaz Sharif vowed to make Pakistan’s, found exiguous mention in his party manifesto.
On 8 April, Shahbaz Sharif, the then chief minister of Punjab Province and current president of the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) or PML-N, pledged to make Kashmir a “part of Pakistan”.
The junior Sharif launched a trenchant attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saying that "seeing the barbarism and brutalities Modi is enforcing in Jammu and Kashmir, our blood boils."
Fast forward to 11 July – just two weeks before the general election in the country – Shahbaz's party released its manifesto. The same Kashmir, which he vowed to make Pakistan's, found little mention in it.
What Do Their Manifestos Say?
Political leaders, including former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan, have often invoked the Kashmir dispute, feigning affinity for the state and its people.
However, a glance at the manifestos of the three principal political parties in Pakistan – PML-N, PTI and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) – reveals that electorally Kashmir is “a non-issue”.
Imran Khan's PTI, the last of the three parties to unveil its manifesto, seeks “cooperation with India” and a solution to the Kashmir issue within "the parameters of UNSC resolutions".
Already on a sticky wicket due to the disqualification and arrest of Nawaz Sharif and his 10-year jail term, the PML-N makes a rare reference to Kashmir in its manifesto, expressing “solidarity” with it alongside Rohingyas and Palestinians.
Bilawal Bhutto-led PPP declares that it is determined towards "normalising" relations with its neighbour India, but relegates Kashmir to the margins.
'Kashmir Non-issue for People of Pakistan'
Veteran journalist and security expert Qamar Agha says that Kashmir is not a huge issue for the people of Pakistan. "There are bigger issues that concern the Pakistan electorate, and the containment of militancy and cordial relations with India feature among the top," Agha told The Quint.
Jammu and Kashmir, Agha says, remains important only among conservative parties such as Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan.
"The youth of Pakistan has seen a change. They have seen too many killings. Now, they want development and democratic rights," says Agha, reasoning why Kashmir appears sparingly on the manifestos of political parties.
‘Kashmir Only an Issue for Pakistan Army’
Another senior journalist and political analyst Ved Prakash Vaidik, who has been attending political rallies in Pakistan since the 1997 elections, says that leaders, including Nawaz Sharif and late Benazir Bhutto, wouldn't even utter Kashmir in front of people.
"The people of Pakistan think that the issue of Kashmir has somewhere kept them stranded," he says, adding that Kashmir is an issue just for the Pakistan Army.
"It has inculcated this 'fear of India' among the masses, for it allows the army to dominate political space as well," says Vaidik, adding that Pakistan Army's existence depends largely on this fear only.
Pakistan goes to polls on 25 July, and the Imran Khan-led PTI and Shahbaz Sharif-led PML (N) are said to be the top contenders, followed by the Bilawal-led PPP, which is trying to come back to power after 5 years.
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