Many people might be rejoicing over the passage of the Pakistan National Assembly’s recent resolution, which condemns the execution of Afzal Guru and demands the return of his mortal remains to his family. This parting short by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) led government has not done any service to their Kashmir “cause”. It has, in fact, opened up Pandora’s box and further threatened the already derailed peace process between India and Pakistan, thus adding to the miseries of the Kashmiri people.
On the face of it, the PNA’s resolution seems ill conceived. It came out of the blue from a situation in which Pakistan had pushed the Kashmir issue to the back burner in its bid to reach out to India. Over the past few years, the political and security situation has unfolded in Pakistan in such a way that its diplomatic space around the world has squeezed, thus giving India more power to maneuver over Kashmir. New Delhi’s increasing proximity to United States and Pakistan’s highly disturbed internal stability have become mixed up, making Islamabad weak. In January this year I was attending SAFMA conference in Lahore and the theme was how regional co-operation could be achieved in South Asia. Pakistan Prime Minister Raja Parvez Ashraf and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharief were two important leaders who spoke to around 300 delegates from SAARC countries. It is a known fact that regional co-operation in South Asia is hostage to Kashmir issue as well. But both of them chose not to mention Kashmir even once in their long speeches. It was obviously to please New Delhi to buy peace.
The first casualty in this changing scenario has obviously been Kashmir, which Pakistan has been inextricably involved with for long time. As terrorism has become somewhat synonymous with Pakistan, it has caused enormous damage to an otherwise simply political issue in Kashmir. The denial of political rights to the people of Jammu and Kashmir and the sham democracy New Delhi has practiced here had opened a much bigger window for Pakistan to lure youth to become part an armed struggle that started in 1989. However, it is no secret that Pakistan pleading the case for “the right to self-determination” has been full of follies. This has perhaps forced them to abandon the cause, and instead look back on their own cases of gains and losses, especially since 9/11. With more than 50,000 people killed in the past decade, Pakistanis have been pushed to the wall and everything related to terrorism has been linked to that country.
Pakistan is a party of the dispute and its role cannot be ignored in the final resolution of Kashmir. However, it has done much harm for the Kashmiri issue by positioning itself differently as tides change.
As for the Afzal Guru resolution like his hanging appears to have been a political decision by India, this is backed by “political exigencies” of the outgoing regime facing the election in next few months. To whip out the “Kashmir card” during election time was perhaps the best they could do. However, it is a strong contradiction if the issue of hanging was a matter of concern for the ruling party in Pakistan. Pakistan has always denied its hand in terrorism in India, and as far as Kashmir is concerned, it has never owned the armed struggle. The biggest irony relates to its own citizen, Ajmal Kasab, who was hanged on November 21 in Tihar Jail. The Pakistani government has refused even to acknowledge communication from Indian High Commission. They completely disowned him, maintained silence and the question of condemnation never arose. Furthermore, the government of India was keen to hand over Kasab’s body to Pakistan just to get their acknowledgement against the “act of terror” in Mumbai, but in the case of Guru, they even denied the customary last meeting with his family. Though, it is true that Pakistan can’t keep itself aloof from whatever happens on Srinagar streets, the current resolution lacked diplomatic acumen. It should have confined itself to human rights abuses and endless curfews rather venturing into eulogizing Afzal, thus closing the option of return of his mortal remains and even indirectly confirming its hand in highly suspicious parliament attack.
Drawing parallels between the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front founder Maqbool Butt and Afzal Guru has been another wrong premise, upon which the Pakistani government and its intelligentsia have grounded its case; perhaps even the reason they pushed the resolution in PNA. However, this does not fit into the scheme of Afzal’s case. Butt was an ideologue who believed in an organized struggle to “liberate Kashmir”. He was a “fighter” by choice, and he became an inspiration for thousands of Kashmiri youth who saw the sabotage of democratic processes unpalatable. He had chosen his own path, and unlike Guru, his goal was well determined.
By passing a resolution in its National Assembly, Pakistan has seemingly vindicated the Indian stand that the attack on its parliament was planned and orchestrated in Pakistan. On the contrary, questions have been raised in numerous Indian publications about the motive behind this. Afzal, if at all involved directly in the parliament attack was victim of circumstances. He was a typical Kashmiri youth who found himself at the cross roads of the situation. Enamoured by the slogan of “Azadi”, he went across as member of JKLF, got trained as a militant, surrendered and then wanted to lead a normal life. He wanted to wriggle himself out of a situation in which most average Kashmiri youth were caught. While being continuously harassed by the police and other security agencies, as reported in interviews, he was perhaps trapped in a predicament. The people, particularly the youth, are angry. It’s not difficult to see why: they see themselves as part of the same chain of circumstances. The current perception in Kashmir is that Guru was not given fair trial and he was hanged just because he was a Kashmiri. His hanging in New Delhi made a significant statement about Kashmir, which reflects its arrogance and shows it could take any risk in Kashmir without addressing the political issue.
It is difficult to say whether all the stakeholders in Pakistan were on board while this resolution was conceived. Today, Pakistan’s power structure is divided into an extremist element, the army, and the political leadership; unanimity could be possible. Pakistan’s outgoing government has provoked India to pass another resolution in the parliament by passing this resolution, perhaps in an effort to sympathize with Kashmiris. Calling “Jammu and Kashmir including the part occupied by Pakistan” an “integral part of India”, serves as a reminder of similar resolution passed in 1994. The PNA has failed to recognize the power of Kashmiris to fight their own battle. They have shown in 2008, 2009 and 2010 that they have the potential to fight for their cause without the help from of anyone else. This transition from violence to non-violence has made the fight more indigenous, which is a reality that both India and Pakistan must acknowledge. However, the way the suicide attacks have reappeared shows Pakistan’s intention to re-ignite trouble on these lines.
Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf hinted at the revival of militancy in Kashmir in the post-Afghanistan withdrawal times. If that is the case it won’t help any party to works towards a solution on Kashmir. Making Kashmir yet another battlefield for actors such as the Taliban is not in the interest of people of Kashmir and both countries should desist from doing so.
While Pakistan should play a constructive role in being a peace builder vis-à-vis a solution to Kashmir and desist from tactics like passing the useless resolution, New Delhi should also see the writing on the wall. It should not push Kashmiri youth to violence and by continuously denying a space to articulate aspirations it is not democratizing a process. A resurgence of violence should not be seen by the vested interests as an opportunity in Kashmir, but has all the potential to doom the region. Without playing Kashmir as a card in the elections, both India and Pakistan must continue the efforts to re-energize reconciliation and peace. In order to resolve the contentious issue, this should be done alongside Kashmiris. Political gimmicks will not open a road to resolution but will make change difficult to move.