Is the “Right to Self Determination’ Movement going Astray?

Islamabad has all the reasons to be happy. Firstly, the Hurriyat leadership descended on its High Commission in New Delhi en masse to attend Pakistan Day celebrations and the Indian government couldn’t do anything about it. Then, the Dukhtaran-e-Millat chief Ms Asiya Andrabi announced that she had unfurled Pakistan’s Flag and sung its national anthem on occasion of Pakistan Day and both the Central and State governments again couldn’t do anything. And lastly, crowds in Srinagar led by the recently released separatist leader Masarat Alam to welcome Hurriyat (G) Chairman SAS Geelani openly waved Pakistani flags. These developments must have also brought immense cheer to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who has become an ardent advocate for implementation of UN resolutions on Kashmir ever since New Delhi unilaterally called-off Foreign Secretary talks last year.

Islamabad’s unbounded glee on hearing Masrat Alam publically proclaiming "Kashmir banega Pakistan (Kashmir will become Pakistan)" and seeing its flag being waved in the heart of Srinagar and was more than evident from the very fact that Islamabad chose to issue an official statement on this incident. Its Foreign Office spokesperson Tasnim Aslam stated that "What we witnessed yesterday on the streets of Srinagar (waving of Pakistani flags) is the manifestation of the deep and lasting emotional bonds between the people of Kashmir and the people of Pakistan." Ms Aslam went on to say that "We believe that the charges against the Kashmiri leadership are bogus and illegal as India does not have any legal right to demand allegiance to India by the people of Kashmir who belong to a disputed territory and whose final settlement according to UN Security Council resolutions is yet to happen."

It seems that in its exuberance, Islamabad forgot that terming the waving of its flags and pro-Pakistan slogans as “the manifestation of the deep and lasting emotional bonds between the people of Kashmir and the people of Pakistan"was a major faux pas. This is because if one were to apply this logic, then India’s assertions that despite a boycott call given by the Hurriyat, the unprecedented voter turnout during the last elections was a clear sign that the people of Kashmir had “rejected” separatist philosophy too holds good! After all, as the old saying goes- ’what is good for the goose is good for the gander’! Islamabad should realise that in its obsession to settle scores with New Delhi, it should not harm the ‘right to self determination’ movement in Kashmir by making ill-considered statements! 

Moreover, by stating that New Delhi “does not have any legal right to demand allegiance to India by the people of Kashmir,” Islamabad has unnecessarily exposed its double standards as far as the people of Kashmir are concerned. Readers would recall that Clause 7(2) of The Azad Jammu and Kashmir (Pakistan administered Kashmir or PaK) Interim Constitution Act, 1974clearly stipulates that “No person or political party in Azad Jammu and Kashmir shall be permitted to propagate against, or take part in activities prejudicial or detrimental to, the ideology of the State’s accession to Pakistan.” Thus, by touching upon the ‘legality aspect’, Islamabad has unwittingly opened its own Pandora’s Box and made the separatists look like its stooges!

Soon after Islamabad hailed the separatists for chanting pro-Pakistan slogans, the Jama’at-ud-Dawa chief Hafiz Saeed too came out openly in their support. Deploring Masarat Alam’s arrest, Saeed publically stated that “there is a government in Pakistan and it has always taken the stand that it is the right of Kashmiris to attain freedom. I say what our army will do to secure the right of Kashmiris is jihad… we extend help to Kashmiris alongside the Pakistani government… we call this jihad.” This damning admission is bound to raise many questions in the minds of the international community, such as:

·         Does the “Kashmir banega Pakistan” slogan in Kashmir reflect the genuine desire of the majority population- or is it being orchestrated by Islamabad?

·         Is the Hurriyat’s demand that Indian administered Kashmir (IaK) should merge with Pakistan based on overwhelming public opinion, or are the separatist leaders only pursuing Islamabad’s self-serving agenda?

·         When UN resolutions on Kashmir require Pakistan to vacate PaK before a plebiscite can be held, why is the Hurriyat leadership not demanding that Pakistan must fulfill this mandatory pre-plebiscite commitment or calling for international intervention on this issue?

·         If Islamabad is so confident of “the deep and lasting emotional bonds between the people of Kashmir and the people of Pakistan,” then why is it not agreeing to withdraw its forces from PaK thereby clearing the way for a plebiscite?

·         If Islamabad really believes that the people of PaK are content after having ‘merged’ with Pakistan, then why does the PaK interim constitution have the draconian clause 7(2) which takes away their democratic rights to protest against this ‘merger’?

The movement for the ‘right to self determination’ is taking a heavy toll of young lives and the people in Kashmir have been undergoing severe privations for years. The separatist conglomerate claims to be working diligently for taking this movement forward and assuring us that considerable progress has been made in this regards. However, all one has been witnessing are hartals, rallies, chanting of pro-Pakistan slogans and pelting stones. This has been going along for just too long and when one hears our leaders exclaiming at every funeral of a killed Kashmiri that “the blood of our martyrs will not go waste”, it evokes more frustration rather than a sense of solidarity. When lives are being lost and people are enduring untold hardships, there has to be some accountability and mere rhetoric will not work!

So, while we must give due credit to Pakistan for espousing the ‘K’ cause, our leaders must not accept playing second fiddle to Islamabad and (in the UJC chief and Hizb supremo Syed Sallahudin’s words), “fight Pakistan’s war in Kashmir.” Neither should they become what General Mushharaf referred to as “a source” in Kashmir that only needs to be “instigated” for use against India. To put it bluntly, today the movement for the ‘right to self determination’ is being held hostage to Islamabad’s fight with India and it is primarily due to this that it is going astray. So, we must break free from this encumbrance and establish a ‘for, by and of’ the Kashmiris identity. However, asking Islamabad not to make the Kashmir movement a sacrificial goat anymore is no easy tasks and is fraught with obvious perils. Yet, if the separatist leaders have voluntarily taken up the onerous of leading us, then this is the inherent risk they will have to take.

Post Script:When Masarat Alam did not attend Pakistan Day celebrations in New Delhi citing indisposition, many thought that this was merely an excuse and by not attending the function, Alam wanted to make it clear to Islamabad that he was a leader with an independent mind who would not succumb to any extraneous pressure. However, recent events have proved that he is no different and so; one has no other option but to second Kashmir’s most renowned journalist Ved Bhasin’s seminal observation that “The separatists are weak but the Kashmir movement is strong!”