For years now, people in Pakistan celebrate Kashmir Solidarity Day on February 5 in a bid to reflect their continuing commitment to the people of Kashmir. But if truth be told, it has become more of a ritual than anything effective. Every year, our leaders and people go through the usual motions without realising that they are not helping the Kashmir cause much with their rhetoric, not to mention that most of this ‘solidarity drive’ is confined by and large to Azad Kashmir, the northern areas and Punjab. The rest of Pakistan – Balochistan, Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa – have little interest in this cause. The reason is that people in these parts of Pakistan are themselves fighting for their own rights. It was a bit disconcerting to see President Asif Ali Zardari asking India to give up the disputed territory of Kashmir. With due respect to the president, this is not realistic. Dialogue with India on Kashmir, among other issues, is the right thing to do, but to envisage India giving up Kashmir is a pipedream.
The problem with both Pakistan and India’s approach to the Kashmir issue is discounting the most important factor, i.e. the Kashmiris themselves. When it is convenient, both India and Pakistan play the UN Resolutions card. Those resolutions though restrict the Kashmiris’ right to self-determination through a plebiscite for “accession of Jammu and Kashmir to India or Pakistan”. There is no third option there – a circumscribing of the right to independence. Neither Pakistan nor India are willing to contemplate an independent Kashmir as it would mean that Pakistan would have to give up Azad Kashmir and possibly Gilgit-Baltistan while India would have to bid adieu to Indian-held Kashmir (IHK).
In the early 80s, the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) asked for independence but later there was a split in the party after its leader Yasin Malik gave up the armed struggle in 1994. On the other hand, Pakistan-based jihadi groups like the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT) and Hizbul Mujahideen weakened the genuine case of the Kashmiris due to their terrorist activities during the 80s and the 90s, particularly after the 1989 uprising in IHK triggered off by rigged elections. Jihadist groups not only drove out the Kashmiri Pundits from Jammu but also alienated many Kashmiri Muslims. A recent example of this is the murder of two teenage sisters by the LeT militants in Sopore as a result of ‘moral policing’. After 9/11, our military had its hands full. The Kashmir militancy was put on the backburner. General (retd) Pervez Musharraf’s plan of demilitarisation on both sides of Kashmir was something that did not go down well with the militants who carried on with their activities, albeit irregular, without overt support of Pakistan’s military establishment.
Last summer there was an indigenous uprising in Kashmir against the brutalities of the Indian army, demanding demilitarisation and just rights. Deaths of innocent Kashmiris at the hands of the Indian army go unchecked to date. Even though the Indian government has, on the face of it, tried to neutralise the situation by sending in a team of independent interlocutors but that too seemed like a face-saving exercise and did not bear any fruit. The Kashmiris on the other side of the border want a repeal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) and less military presence on their soil.
Neither the people of Azad Kashmir nor those in IHK are happy with their situation. It is time for both Pakistan and India to understand that the independence of Kashmir is an idea that has increasingly found resonance in the streets and mountains of Kashmir.