Pakistan is once again in the spotlight. This time it is not in focus, for being ‘the most dangerous country in the world’ but for getting ‘stabilizing as a democracy.’ The civilian government completing full term in office and announcing dates for new elections did put many speculations about the future of democracy in the country at rest and generated a new optimism. The conspiracy theorists apprehensive of military interference bit their own nails when the military leadership not only repeated their disinterest in interfering with elections but also remained away from the process.
Pakistan is fast shedding the image that was slapped on it by a ‘vocal segment of the international media as said by Geral Stang, ‘the upcoming elections serve as another indication that Pakistan can be approached as a ‘normal’ partner rather than as a crisis state.’
Notwithstanding, a lot of enthusiasm in Pakistan over the May 2013 elections there is some scepticism in a section of Kashmir leadership about the after poll political scenario in Pakistan and policies of new dispensation towards Kashmir. Some Kashmir leaders in Islamabad and Muzzafarbad representing two factions of the Hurriyat Conference and AJK parties have been meeting top leaders of various Pakistan political parties. Moreover, pleading for a clear-cut policy on Kashmir. These leaders have been looking for Kashmir finding its way into electoral politics of the country and regaining the primacy it had in Pakistan domestic politics in the past to undo the common belief that Kashmir has been blue penciled from political narrative of Pakistan. Some on this side of the LoC disheartened with Islamabad’s policies have been subtly suggesting deleting Pakistan from Kashmir narrative and looking for a solution independent of it . Many an academia and NGO holding conferences and seminars in KU and outside have been insisting on expunging references to the past, more particularly to 1947 from Kashmir narratives. In support of their argument, they quote the changed think in Pakistan elite and establishment.
On Thursday, Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari told a delegation of Kashmir leaders that Kashmir was ‘cornerstone’ of Pakistan’s foreign policy’. ‘Expressing concern over current situation in Kashmir, he demanded returning of mortal remains of Muhammad Afzal Guru and Muhammad Maqbool Bhat to their relatives’. The statement was seen of no consequences. Most of the newspaper in Srinagar ignored it. Had the same statement come from some other leader of Pakistan in the past it would have been major news at Srinagar and New Delhi. Did this statement fail to evoke any interest for the PPP government putting Kashmir on back burner during its four years in office or it being just an election gimmick or Asif Zardari being merely a lame duck? Commenting on the statement of Asif Zardari, a Pakistani newspaper Nation in its editorial on Saturday March 30, opined, “he seems to be rubbing salt on the wounds of the Kashmiris who have been surprised to see the PPP bending over backwards to placate New Delhi, even giving it the MFN status. Kashmir had always been one of the linchpins of Pakistan’s foreign policy but that reality changed ever since the rulers compromised on their conscience. Successive governments for instance, have been gradually conceding ground to New Delhi, which has begun to assume that we are not quite serious about the issue.”
There can be no denying that Kashmir has been a part of the narrative of the Muslim League decades before adoption of Pakistan resolution in Lahore and the birth of the country. On March 21, 1931, in his Presidential address to the All India Muslim Conference in Lahore Allama Iqbal apprised delegates attending the session in detail about the Kashmir situation and told them it ‘claims our immediate attention and concern.’ Kashmir after the departure of British has been central to India and Pakistan relations and perhaps the only contributing factor to military buildup in the two countries. Right to self-determination as contained on UN resolutions has been fulcrum of Pakistan’s Kashmir policy during the civilian and military rule. It has been so even after the 1972 Simla Agreement that talked about resolution of Kashmir problem through peaceful negotiations in its article 2 but article 1 of the agreement states, ‘the principal of the charter of UN resolution shall govern relation between the two countries.” Notwithstanding New Delhi, insisting Kashmir was bilateral issue Islamabad’s stand after 1972 has been, there is no question of the UN resolution or the role of the UN having been undermined because of the Simla agreement.’
On 17 December 2003, Islamabad changed its Kashmir policy radically after President Musharraf publicly announced that ‘even though we are for United Nations Security Council resolutions…now we have left that aside’ and dropped Pakistan’s long standing demand of UN-mandated plebiscite for resolution of Kashmir.’ Many in two capitals believed that ‘Musharraf created much needed space for New Delhi to substantively engage with Islamabad for finding a workable solution to Kashmir dispute.’ Fact is many Kashmir related CBMs were initiated, ironically most of these smacked as moves for maintaining statuesque, rephrased as ‘non-territorial solution’. The hype about two countries having agreed on an out of box solution for Kashmir died with a whimper after the end of Musharraf government.
There were no takers for the ‘out of box solution’ for Kashmir even during 2008 Pakistan elections- in fact unlike during some previous elections Kashmir was missing from the election campaign. After assumption of office, the PPP government made it clear that it wanted to improve economic and cultural relations with New Delhi and leave Kashmir for the future generations. In delinking Kashmir from its relations with New Delhi, it in fact failed to understand that ‘negotiations pursued from a position of weakness cannot yield fair results. In its bid to improve relations with India the Zardari government tailored, its policies to the wishes of New Delhi.
The relation between two countries despite Pakistan granting an MNF status to India and having signed an agreement to relax visa regime were brought to a naught because of routine skirmish on the LOC. This not only speaks fragility of relations between the two but also of primacy of Kashmir to their relations and need for its resolution for bringing lasting peace in the region.
The PPP led government’s four year India policy is seen as a big flop show by many in the neighboring country. It remains to be seen if Kashmir regains its centrality in the relations of two countries and becomes part of electoral politics in Pakistan.