24 October: Emphasize the identity of Kashmir

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Umair Pervez Khan;
Kashmir conflict has been the bone of contention between two nuclear rivals since their inception. Both India and Pakistan have fought several wars on it and are in constant state of rigorousness due to the said dispute. India has been calling it as the integral part of the state and have recently abolished the so called autonomy given to occupied Kashmir state assembly and had made two union territories out of the internationally recognized disputed region which is not only against the UN resolutions but also against its own constitution. On the other hand, Pakistan has historically backed the principle of right to self-determination of Kashmiri people as promised to them by United Nations and both India and Pakistan. For the last 74 years Pakistan has been on the high moral ground and the narrative pushed by all governments of Pakistan was based on the internationally recognized principle of right to choose. However, after the unprecedented move made by Modi’s government on 5 August 2019, to erode the identity of the disputed state of Jammu and Kashmir by abrogating the articles giving special status to so called “Jammu and Kashmir’s state” assembly had left poli y makers of Pakistan with great anguish and less on options. The contemporary government tried its diplomatic options and had been initially succeeded to get support from countries like Turkey, Malaysia and China. It was the result of the diplomatic efforts that Kashmir case was again discussed in Security Council (though in camera) after a long delay of 50 years. The kind of follow up that was needed in these special circumstances was unfortunately not provided to counter the crisis that Kashmir had seen in its long history of conflict. After the diplomatic options got limited, the government of Pakistan tried to find the solution in changing the map of the country to counter the India’s move of making the occupied region as its part. The map issued by government of Pakistan showed occupied region as part and parcel of Pakistan which was not a good exercise, having no diplomatic advantage but attracted the criticism from different quarters by seeing it as the same move that India did on August 5 2019 but obviously with certain “legal” process. The said map could not be presented in UN nor it could get approval of Kashmiris or the legal constitutional backing from the parliament of Pakistan. Furthermore, on the completion of one year of illegal move of India, Pakistan tried to give a “strong” message of showing solidarity with the people of Kashmir by renaming the “Kashmir Highway” in the center of its capital to “Srinagar Highway”.

This was unnecessary and illogical to change the already existing highway’s name representing the whole “Kashmir” and limiting it to Srinagar, reflects the short sightedness of the policy makers or the policy of Pakistan being shifted from its principle stance of having plebiscite in total area of Kashmir to just limit the claim to valley of Kashmir: Srinagar. This is also worthy to mention that the formula of making Srinagar as part of Pakistan and rest (Jammu and Ladakh) to India has been discussed several times through back door channels.

This symbolic act strengthened the suspicions of any compromise being made by Pakistan on its long-lasting narrative. Additionally, there has been a debate initiated regarding the status of Gilgit Baltistan (GB). The government of Pakistan intended to make the region as its fifth province. No doubt that majority of the people of GB have always considered themselves as the part and parcel of Pakistan. Their reservations regarding their constitutional status are also genuine and they must be given due constitutional rights but not on the cost of the Kashmir movement. A lot of improvement in the constitutional status of GB has been seen in recent years through Empowerment and Self-Governance order 2009 and more recently a new Gilgit Baltistan order passed in July 2018, but they must be given more autonomy without compromising the international stance and UN resolutions of Kashmir case. A representative body (Senate) of both regions GB and AJK with one president and one supreme court of both regions could be one of the options that could be deliberated on. On the contrary, if the GB region is made the constitutional fifth province of Pakistan, Pakistan will not only go against the UN resolutions (most notably of March 1950 and 1957) but will also lose the high moral ground of its 74-year-old narrative.

Moreover, it will also shake the trust of people of Kashmir in the state of Pakistan and it will lose sympathy of large segment of people of the larger state of Jammu and Kashmir, specially Azad Kashmir. Secondly, according to the Karachi agreement of 28 April 1949 between Azad Kashmir government and Pakistan government, GB is given under temporary administrative control of Pakistan till the plebiscite happens. If any unilateral move is made without the consultation of the AJK assembly that has already passed resolution against making GB as the constitutional province of Pakistan, this act will be considered same as of India that did on 5 th of August 2019. If Pakistan will breach the Karachi agreement, then AJK government will not be bound to fulfill other clauses of the agreement which could also bring a severe constitutional crisis in the region. The need of the hour is that instead of having any kind of misadventure the government of Pakistan must assert the identity of whole state of Jammu and Kashmir nationally as well as internationally so that a clear message could be sent to the concerned quarters regarding the long standing moral high ground of Pakistan. The recent series of steps that Pakistan has taken are not in favor of Pakistan itself and the Kashmir movement as well. The 73 rd foundation day of AJK government i.e. 24 October, the day when the local Kashmiris under the resident leadership of Sardar Muhammad Ibrahim Khan overthrew the government of Maharja Hari Singh and proclaimed revolutionary government in the area now called as Azad Jammu and Kashmir, must be highlighted and any small act which asserts the identity of Kashmir state will do good to the cause and will counter the Indian propaganda. The policy maker must understand that in limited options this is one of the most important cards to counter the Indian design to eradicate the identity of Kashmir. If Pakistan itself will be involved in abolishing or maligning the identity of Kashmir, though it be symbolical or geographical, it will not be in the interest of both Kashmir and Pakistan.

(-The writer is an MPhil graduate in International Relations who is currently pursuing his Ph.D. from Turkey. )

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