Is Kashmir Still A Political Hot Button In Pakistan?
25 September 2014
: NO was the resounding response from my friends working as journalists in Pakistan. According to them, there is a significant disconnect between the sentiments of the people of Kashmir and the citizens of Pakistan. As issues like law and order, corruption & the economy take centre stage in Pakistani politics, Kashmir has disintegrated into a political non-issue for a majority of Pakistani citizens. If we look at the Pakistan general elections last year, the manifestos of Nawaz Sharif's PML-N, Bhutto's PPP and Imran Khan's PTI all had just one line each on Kashmir, saying they want to resolve the dispute and seek better relations with India. Even last year at the United Nations, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif only said one line that his government wanted the Kashmir issue to be resolved bilaterally. This being the political reality, Bilawal Bhutto's statement that his party would claim every inch of Kashmir is not a message to India or even the people of Pakistan. His hoarse yet impassioned speech at former Pakistan PM Gilani's residence to PPP workers was a clear attempt to mould himself in the image of his grandfather and PPP founder Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Bhutto made a dramatic speech on Kashmir at the United Nations Security Council in 1965 - saying Pakistan will fight a 1000-year battle with India to take control of the region. Bilawal Bhutto seeks to contest the general elections in 2018 and this seems like his attempt to tune his image into a leader in accordance with the dynastic dynamics of his party. While all Indian parties were united in condemning Bilawal Bhutto's statement, no Pakistani party took on the PPP patron-in-chief; probably because they didn't want to risk alienating the marginal 'Anti-India - Pro-Kashmir' electorate. But along with the mockery that erupted on social media - the Pakistani media laughed off Bilawal's statement. My favourite headline was by the Express Tribune, which said - 'Baby Bhutto, the Kashmir issue is way out of your league'. However, even though Bilawal's statement is not being taken seriously by anyone beyond the PPP cadre, his statement's disconnect from political reality has in fact damaged Pakistan's argument for Kashmir, pushing it more towards the right wing. In addition to engaging with separatists, and ceasefire violations, these statements do not encourage or sustain the promise of substantial dialogue with India. Moreover, this month UN observers and Kashmiri activists held a major meeting at the United Nations in Geneva to discuss human rights violations in Pakistan occupied Kashmir. The 'Human Rights in South Asia' summit found that despite a democratic process, Pakistan had imposed a proxy government in the region and had clamped down on journalists, human rights activists and academics from speaking out against the government. All of these issues continue to make Pakistan look like the aggressor in the Kashmir dispute. Moreover, the inconsistencies in the stances among the major political parties - one calling for total action and the other for dialogue - give the impression of a fractured domestic campaign for Kashmir. To a great extent it seems more like a foreign policy ploy without any domestic roots making it a weaker and weaker card to play. Bilawal Bhutto's statement is just a political pitch to his party cadre, a somewhat coming of age address. The world may not take it seriously, and may even frown on its reactionary tone - but coming from the leader of a major political party - it damages the seriousness of Pakistan's Kashmir stance and moreover, strengthens India's case. With PM Nawaz Sharif set to address the UN General Assembly soon, the Kashmir dispute like last year will probably just remain a footnote in his speech. If this status quo continues, Pakistan's stance and demands on Kashmir may also just remain a footnote in geopolitics.