Islamabad 31 Dec: If the government’s purpose in inviting the APHC delegation to Pakistan was to remove the misgivings of the Kashmiris over the impact of the gathering pace of the ‘peace process’ with India on Pakistan’s support for the Kashmir freedom movement, the visit can hardly be said to have achieved its aim. All the government could offer to the Hurriyat delegation led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq were some tired old platitudes. The foreign minister assured the delegation of Pakistan’s “unflinching and unwavering support” to the Kashmir cause. For his part, the prime minister cited the appointment of ‘veteran political leader’ Fazalur Rehman as chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Kashmir as proof of the political consensus in the country on the issue. It is not surprising that these grandiose words did nothing to allay the apprehension of the APHC leaders that Pakistan has acquiesced in consigning the Kashmir issue to the backburner in its dialogue with India.
But the visit served another unintended purpose. It laid bare the complete disarray in which Pakistan’s Kashmir policy has fallen in recent years, a situation for which both the government and major political parties of the country bear responsibility. In his speech at the Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad (ISSI), Mirwaiz characterised it politely as lack of ‘clarity’ in Pakistan’s policy. There was, he said, “confusion in Pakistan on how to move forward.” He was equally forthright in describing the negative effects of Pakistan’s changed stance on the Kashmiri sentiment. “We are confused where Pakistan stands today,” Mirwaiz said bluntly. If he had been less diplomatic, he would have called it a feeling of betrayal. This was also the theme he took up in his meetings with Pakistani leaders during the visit.
The other faction of the APHC, led by Syed Ali Shah Geelani, has already rejected the Pakistani approach publicly. He warned in September that the focus in the bilateral dialogue on trade and travel would help India consolidate the status quo in Kashmir. To signal his frustration at Pakistan’s stance, Geelani also politely turned down the invitation to visit the country with the APHC delegation. Another veteran Kashmiri leader, Shabir Ahmad Shah, also did not join the delegation, saying he had not been consulted by the leaders of the group.
Mirwaiz Umar Farooq was more diplomatic than Geelani but no less unambiguous in voicing the misgivings of the Kashmiris. As he signalled in his speech at the ISSI, they wanted to know how Pakistan’s promises of support to the Kashmiris would be translated into policy. They would also like Pakistan to move the process of its dialogue with India forward for the fulfilment of Kashmiri aspirations for freedom and self-determination. Mirwaiz also recalled with regret that the spontaneous unarmed uprisings of the Kashmiris in 2008 and 2010 against Indian rule had not been supported by Pakistan. As a result, he said, the freedom movement had not been able to consolidate these gains and the wave of peaceful protest had petered out.
These are not petty grouses that can be lightly shrugged off but should be food for thought for our policymakers. We should be in no doubt that the disillusionment of the Kashmiri freedom fighters with Pakistan’s policies could weaken the movement for azadi and give a boost to India’s patient efforts to pursue an internal dialogue with the Kashmiris to work out an arrangement within the framework of the Indian constitution. Mirwaiz alluded to this eventuality in his speech when he said that India had been willing to address Kashmiri ‘grievances’ rather than their aspiration for freedom. He did not say so, but India’s hope is that, as Pakistan’s support for the Kashmiri people’s right to self-determination is scaled down, the Kashmiris would settle for a removal of these ‘grievances’ as the fulfilment of their aspirations.
Besides conveying its reservations on Pakistan’s current Kashmir policy, the APHC delegation also bought some concrete ideas and suggestions for the Pakistani government.
First, the APHC is not against the resumption of trade and the easing of travel restrictions between Pakistan and India. In fact, it supports these steps. But at the same time, there is the danger that Pakistan’s recent decision to embrace the ‘incremental’ approach long favoured by India would result in placing the Kashmir issue on the backburner. Lasting peace and stability in the region will only come with a resolution of the Kashmir dispute.
Second, Kashmir is a trilateral dispute and can only be resolved through tripartite talks between the three sides: Pakistan, India and the Kashmiris. Pakistan should do more to devise a mechanism enabling the Kashmiris to come to the table.
Third, Kashmir is primarily a political issue of the right of Kashmiris’ to self-determination. Nevertheless, cross-LoC confidence-building measures can help ease the pressure on the Kashmiris living under Indian occupation. These measures should be taken in consultation with Kashmiris. The APHC also shared with Pakistani leaders some new proposals for cross-LoC trade and movement of Kashmiri state subjects.
The reservations and proposals conveyed by the APHC have a lot of weight and the government would do well to heed them. The least the government should be doing is to link the pace of further steps in opening trade with India with the demilitarisation of Occupied Kashmir and the dismantling of the repressive system India has built up in the territory to suppress the freedom movement. In his ISSI speech, Mirwaiz named some of those steps that Pakistan should be pressing for in its dialogue with India. Among them are the following: the release of Kashmiri political prisoners in Indian jails; the removal of Indian army bunkers, watch towers and barriers; and the repeal of measures such as AFSPA giving unlimited powers to the Indian occupation forces to terrorise the civilian population. India would of course turn them down, but it could be made to pay a price by having to forgo the strategic benefits it hankers after from the opening of trade, and ultimately of transit routes, through Pakistan to Afghanistan and Central Asia.
The underlying problem on our side lies in the ‘confusion’ of policy that Mirwaiz alluded to in his speech. The seeds of that confusion were sown by Musharraf in December 2003 when he announced, out of the blue and without any popular mandate, that Pakistan had “left aside” its 55-year old demand for the implementation of the UN Security Council resolutions which form the main basis under international law of Pakistan’s stand on Kashmir. This was followed in 2005 by the commencement of a backchannel dialogue with India which produced Musharraf’s infamous four-point formula for a resolution of the Kashmir dispute. Like the Kargil adventure, these decisions were taken by a small coterie of Pakistani generals behind closed doors without any public debate and then presented to the nation as an accomplished fact.
After Musharraf’s 2003 decision to kiss goodbye to the UN resolutions, it took nine years before a Pakistani leader again called at the UN for a Kashmir solution on the basis of these resolutions. Strange as it is, that honour fell to Zardari at his speech to the UN General Assembly in September. Given his record of downplaying the importance of Kashmir, this statement surprised most diplomatic observers. The then Indian foreign minister said publicly that he had not expected Zardari to make the reference to Kashmir. But Zardari’s statement was welcomed by Kashmiris. An Indian newspaper noted that “(by) raking up Kashmir at the UN General Assembly, Zardari has revived the flagging spirits of the separatist groups in the Valley.” Not so surprisingly, in another sign of policy confusion, Zardari has since then not once publicly uttered the K-word.
The writer is a former member of the Pakistan Foreign Service.