‘Kashmir Day’: What Explains Pakistan’s ‘Hold’ Over J&K Narrative?
“Here’s one of the many ironies that dot the ‘Kashmir story’ that Pakistan showcases,” writes Dr Tara Kartha.
Recently, the Pakistani government celebrated ‘Kashmir Day’ with rallies, speeches and the inevitable seminars. Top leaders of the country vied with each other to show their ‘solidarity’ with the Kashmiris. With the Army watching, that’s a wise plan. But in the midst of the solemn speeches and chest-beating, there was enough to make the whole show a parody.
Particularly hilarious was the sight of a President of Pakistan holding aloft a banner for Kashmiri freedom in so-called ‘Azad Kashmir’, alongside its ‘prime minister’ who was just recently charged with treason and disloyalty to Pakistan, by the very authorities in Islamabad who declare that he and his territory are independent. It’s just one of the many ironies that dot the ‘Kashmir story’ that Pakistan showcases, and it gets particularly funny around this time of the year.
5 Feb and the First Anomaly
A little about these celebrations. This is a yearly event every 5 February, when the country’s army, bureaucracies and politicians launch themselves into a sea of diatribe against India, both within the country and outside. On just this one day of the year, the local folk of Muzaffarabad, which is the focus of the whole thing, are treated to the sight of the great people of the (Pakistani) land parading on their roads with banners, flags, and bunting, after which they disappear — not to be seen again.
The rest of the year, they send terrorists to create violence that eventually hurts Kashmiris the most. That’s the first anomaly. And its not just on the Indians.
Jihadis, with their camps in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (which includes Gilgit Baltistan), have long created law and order problems for the locals, leading to protests including in Geneva.
In addition, the constant cross-border shelling has led to loss of lives on both sides of Kashmir. And on 5 February, this climbs to add to the over 5000 ceasefire violations reported in 2020. That’s how Islamabad shows ‘solidarity’ — by killing as many Kashmiris as possible.
Anomaly 2: The Mirage of a Plebiscite
Then there’s the second anomaly, which is particularly ironic. Prime Minister Imran Khan is at his best when speaking on Kashmir and India. On everything else he is either lambasted by an increasingly vocal opposition, or has to defer to the army before he expresses an opinion. But this year he was even more than quixotic. Pakistan, he said, “will allow Kashmiris to decide between choosing to join Pakistan or remaining independent even after they vote in favour of Pakistan in a future plebiscite”. That’s an extremely convenient statement to make.
There never will be a plebiscite in the whole of Kashmir ( including POK) because Islamabad will never allow it, and never has despite the UN Security Council’s demands.
Here’s what the SC resolution 47 of 1948 says word for word: The Government of Pakistan should “secure the withdrawal from the State of Jammu and Kashmir of tribesmen and Pakistani nationals not normally resident therein who have entered the State for the purpose of fighting and to prevent any intrusion into the State of such elements and any furnishing of material aid to those fighting in the State …” .
India was, however, required to maintain a minimum force for law and order, and thereafter a plebiscite was to be held. Pakistan not only did not withdraw, it has never stopped ‘furnishing material aid’ to anyone at all willing to fight. For sheer two-facedness, there’s little in international politics to beat this.
Anomaly 3: Independence — But For Whom?
Then there is the fact that this generous offer of independence for Kashmir is being made straight faced in a part of Pakistan that is ostensibly independent. The reality is that ‘Azad’ Kashmir is completely a the mercy of the Minister of Kashmir Affairs in Islamabad with even the Secretariat of its all powerful upper house — ‘The Council’ —based in Islamabad. That’s not surprising.
The head of the council is the Prime Minister of Pakistan. The Legislative Assembly is a mere rubber stamp. In 2018, Raja Farooq Haider, the ‘prime minister’ of the area, tried to reverse this. The POK ‘parliament’ quietly approved the Thirteenth Amendment at the tail end of Nawaz Sharif’s term, that virtually took away Islamabad’s powers and transferred it to the Parliament.
Imran Khan’s government not just erased this whole legal amendment, but transferred all powers directly to the prime minister — of Pakistan.
Worse, in October 2020, an FIR was lodged against Prime Minister Haider for conspiring against Pakistan, when he attended a virtual meeting with members of the Sharif family. In other words, a prime minister of a supposedly independent part of Kashmir was booked for treason against another country. Someone somewhere however realised the disaster this was. The next day the Punjab Police struck his name off, not before, however, striking terror in the heart of the valiant politician who dared to differ.
Anomaly 5: The Unkindest Cut Of All
Amid all this talk and flag waving on 5 February, there’s been no mention at all of Gilgit Baltistan, the staggeringly beautiful mountains and valleys which always were part of the Kingdom of the last Maharaja, Hari Singh. Gilgit Baltistan is neither a constitutional part of Pakistan nor part of ‘Azad Kashmir’.
At various times its people have begged to be part of either, but been spurned by even the Pakistan Supreme Court as recently as 17 January 2020, when it refused to consider its residents demand to be ruled by their own chosen representatives.
Strangely, the learned judges ruled that as a disputed territory, its status could not be changed by the Pakistani government, but then confused itself and everybody else by another order allowing Islamabad to hold elections there.
Pre-elections, the ruling party decided it would be a good idea to offer complete provincial status to the area. Simply put, that would have meant that the Kashmir dispute was effectively over, with a large part of the Line of Control becoming the border. Imran didn’t, however, want that, and therefore referred the whole to a Committee directed to ensure the Kashmir dispute us kept alive, even while annexing an entirely foreign territory to itself. This is beyond irony — it’s farcical.
How such a mish-mash of policy ever stood without wilting under the spotlight of international attention is a mystery.
It’s even more of a mystery as to why the legislators in the otherwise intelligent New York State Assembly passed a resolution asking Governor Andrew Cuomo to declare 5 February as ‘Kashmir American Day’. This and other such initiatives like Congressional hearings weighed against India are a testimony to government indifference, lack of research or freely available data on the actual situation in Kashmir as a whole, particularly on the other side of the LoC.
Say what you will — but due credit has to be given to the Pakistanis for sustaining this soap opera for more than four decades, and putting the Indians on the defensive.
Pakistanis shouting about Kashmir are all over; the Indians are nowhere at all. That’s the long and short of it.
(Dr Tara Kartha was Director, National Security Council Secretariat. She is now a Distinguished Fellow at IPCS. She tweets at @kartha_tara. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses, nor is responsible for them.)
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