Old Issue, new Narratives

Kashmir has not only been a core issue for successive governments in Pakistan but also, it has remained close to the hearts of its people. Almost in every major city of Pakistan, roads, streets and business establishments are named after Kashmir. After Ali Mohammad Jinnah and Sir Mohammad Iqbal, it is Kashmir that dominates the surroundings. This can simply be termed as an obsession. And this sense has been ruling the minds of state apparatus and the people right from 1947.



Kashmir being ‘the jugular vein of Pakistan’ as maintained by Jinnah has been virtually ‘running in the blood of Pakistanis, as, echoed by former President Parvez Musharraf once. That is why the people still greet a visitor from Jammu and Kashmir with unflinching warmth. When thousands of Kashmiris crossed over to Pakistan Administered Kashmir (PaK) in early 1990, the people, am told, threw the doors of their homes wide open. This continued for long time as batches after batches were dispatched back to fight the “Indian occupation”.
Today, Kashmir, which remains in the hearts of people in Pakistan, is largely missing in the lexicons of their rulers, as the country faces its worst challenge since 1971. Some call it a strategy and some a fatigue, while others call for a multi-focal approach to tackle their biggest neighbour- India. Some even ask for approaching Indian public directly to seek a resolution of 60-year old dispute. Whatever the nuances, Pakistan’s Kashmir policy stands on crossroads.

Serious stock-taking by the government, opinion makers, civil society and even the Army has led to a change in narrative about Kashmir. This change has been reflected in Pakistan government’s handling over past few years. After getting embroiled into the worst security situation after September 11 attacks, the thinking is now done on the basis of gains and losses. For this the struggle to ‘liberate’ Kashmir has become the baseline for the argument. Many people who are on this path are blaming Kashmir for bringing destruction to Pakistan. “We are suffering because of Kashmir as India has been taking revenge from us in different directions. We lost a part in 1971 and now this situation,” a senior Pakistani editor confided to this writer. The Editor is known for being a staunch supporter of Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan. “That does not mean we should surrender but we need to rethink how we can do it,” he added. This actually is reflection of a thought process with which a sizeable number of elite in Pakistan are involved. Looking back at the losses Pakistan has suffered, they point out three wars and the continued support of “external forces” to the extremists to destabilise the country. If not in public but in private the wrong policies over Kashmir are discussed intensely.

At people’s level, however, the love for Kashmir has not died down. But today there is no open fund raising for ‘Jihad in Kashmir’ outside mosques nor one can see young men publicly brandishing weapons to vow to ‘liberate’ Kashmir as they used to do ten years ago. While the Kashmir obsession has been confined to Punjab, other provinces have been indifferent towards this issue, though in 1947 the tribal raiders came from the North Western Frontier province only.

With Pakistan deep in trouble, its discourse has surely seen a shift. This has come to the fore umpteenth times. The ‘out-of-box’ business started during Parvez Musharraf’s rule, when he talked about putting UN Resolutions into cold storage, thus diluting the stated position of Islamabad over Kashmir issue. Analysts are of the view that Kashmir issue was virtually put ‘in the box’ in 2004 though other noises were allowed to continue not to give an inkling to India that all was over. The current regime led by Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has also shown flexibility in diluting Kashmir issue to the extent of granting Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status to India and opening up for a wider trade. Earlier Kashmir issue used to be a condition for such forward movement. It is pertinent to mention that Punjabi lobby in Pakistan has always been vociferous in pursuing Kashmir and that is why the Rawalpindi Chamber of Commerce was always against such a concession to India. During Commerce Ministers meeting earlier this year, the Chamber did not touch the issue and went ahead with trade related talks, raising the eyebrows over changing situation.

Pakistan is guarded in its approach towards the issues, which could threaten the relations with India. Silence over Ajmal Kasab’s hanging is an example in this direction. Kashmir has been relegated to ‘one of the issues’ status in Pakistan’s foreign policy and the ongoing discussions, though at unofficial level, organized by Times of India and Jang Group are on Sir Creek and Siachen. The Aman Ki Asha, initiative is for soft issues and that obviously has the blessings of both the countries. Pakistan government has publicly admitted that it was in favour of reviving its Kashmir policy. A day before foreign minister level talks in Islamabad on September 8, 2012, Pakistan Foreign Minister, Hina Rabbani Khar outlined same to DNA’s Iftikhar Gilani in an interview. "On the issue of Kashmir, we have to see if our efforts and our strategy in the past have produced desired results. Now the question is, the attitude and formulation we adopted over past 60 years, if we continue sticking to them, will they give us a resolution even after next 65 years? The answer to that is a resounding no. When I say we did not succeed, I mean to say both countries," she emphasised.

In this process of thinking, the support to keep Kashmir alive through Confidence Building Measures and soft talking is increasing in these sections. Hardline is the preposition that is out rightly rejected at this stage.
This moment of flexibility, however, does not suggest that the mindset in Pakistan security establishment has changed to any significant extent. Apart from hardline groups in Pakistan, a strong section in Army and rest of the security establishment still harps on the violent path to wrest Kashmir from India. This level is not that insignificant to be ignored. But at this stage, many believe that they are also dormant due to the pressures emanating from domestic exigency. It will, however, largely depend upon the withdrawal of Americans from Afghanistan in 2014. Analysts are of the view that Pakistan’s security establishment is passing through a breathing time as the pressure from Washington continues to mount. The withdrawal is all set to change the dynamics of situation in Pakistan, which will further shape the policy on ‘critical’ issue like Kashmir.

At this stage Pakistan’s K-policy is under fire from hardliners but the political parties such as PPP and Nawaz Sharief led Muslim League have some kind of agreement on going slow over Kashmir. There is, however, a possibility that it may be raked up during election campaigning to address a particular constituency, but the internal situation and economy will be the dominating discourse in the elections. While Islamabad has put the K-issue on backburner, India must not see it as an opportunity to close the window. In Kashmir, the peace is fragile irrespective of what Pakistan thinks about it.

TAIL PIECE: In many shops in Lahore and Rawalpindi one can see announcement like this “Kashmir Ki Azadi tak Udhar Band (No credit till Kashmir is free)”. Many interpret it as “they know it (Azadi) will never be possible”, though in lighter vein.

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