Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Pakistan will continue to support Kashmir

Pakistan will continue to support Kashmir

Real Democracy’: Pakistan’s Post-Musharraf Kashmir Policy
Murtaza Shibli ‘Era of real democracy has begun in the country.’

The recently concluded elections in Pakistan have led to the decline in the fortunes of the General-turned- President Pervez Musharraf. Although he is still hanging onto power thanks to open American support, his influence on the country’s political decision making has weakened significantly. Much before the new government headed by Prime Minister Makhdoom Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani took over; Musharraf’s much publicised Kashmir Policy was on the wane. There seems to be a consensus evolving among the leading politicians and the Army about the unsuitability of the current Kashmir policy that saw Pakistan retreating from its support for the UN Resolutions and right to self determination. Even Musharraf’s former political partners and colleagues from the Pakistan Muslim League (Q) have taken umbrage with the beleaguered President on the issue.

Sensing the mood, the pro-Musharraf Kashmiri groups and activists have gone on defensive; shifting their allegiances in order to stay relevant in the new political milieu. Some of them have apologised for their support to Musharraf or criticized him for his ‘failed’ Kashmir policy. Although pro-Pakistan and anti-Musharraf Kashmiri leaders, including the Hurriyat Conference (G) leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani, are jubilant over the developments, Kashmiris are watching with caution.Pakistani politicians like Asif Zardari, Mian Nawaz Sharif and others have issued some statements that smack of traditional rhetoric, while the new Army Chief General Pervez Ashfaq Kayani has also hinted at the policy shift. Despite all this, there isn’t much Pakistan can do with regards to Kashmir; given its current internal crisis and unprecedented American pressure. Pakistan cannot afford to cease the ‘peace process’, but it might gradually retreat to its traditional position; increase its diplomatic efforts and seek international mediation and offer limited but symbolic support for the Kashmiri resistance. The progress on the issue can only be achieved if India is willing to shift from its maximalist position and offer some concrete and sensible options for the solution of the problem. Otherwise, the thaw that was achieved during the last few years in India-Pakistan relations cannot be sustained for long and, as in the past, Kashmir could vitiate the atmosphere with dangerous consequences.


In the aftermath of 9/11, when Pervez Musharraf announced a U-turn on his country’s Kashmir policy, he was met with resistance and open hostility both at home and in Kashmir. However, supported by the US and covert Indian blessing, he propped up ‘yes men’ by buying the loyalty of some Kashmiri leaders through his intelligence agencies. As a result, the Pakistani government recognised the Hurriyat Conference faction led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq while sidelining the most senior Kashmiri resistance leader Syed Ali Geelani, whose rival faction of the Hurriyat Conference was previously declared as the ‘true representative of Kashmiris’ by the Pakistani government. Directed by Pakistan, the Hurriyat Conference (M) started unconditional dialogue with the Indian government ‘within the ambit of the Indian Constitution’ .

Around the same time in 2003, Pakistani intelligence agencies propped up Kashmir Centres in Belgium, London and Washington with the covert aim of promoting Musharraf and his ‘formulas’ on Kashmir. These Centres, in conjunction with the Hurriyat Conference (M) and other splinter groups formed the core group of Musharraf loyalists who promoted his ‘out-of-box’ thinking without any appreciation to its political merits or application. Thus began an unprecedented understanding between India and Pakistan - the bitter rivals who now directed the Kashmiri politicians for a mutual goal of burying the issue for all times to come. The Indian intelligence agencies allowed free flow of the Hurriyat Conference (M) leaders from Srinagar to Islamabad as well as mutual exchange of cultural groups, intellectuals following traditional conflict pacification exercises.

The Kashmir Centres formed the main plank of Musharraf as they promoted him through annual ‘international conferences’ and other such events. Although these centres were never able to inculcate any good faith among Kashmiris and raised nothing but suspicion, they became important tools in the game. Apparently, their utility and function was presented in such an exaggerated form that in September 2006, General Musharraf broke all the protocol and attended the Third Global Discourse on Kashmir 2006 held by the Kashmir Centre, Brussels. Welcoming him to the Discourse held at the European Parliament, Executive Director of the Centre, Barrister Majid Tramboo called Musharraf’s participation as a demonstration of his “love and affection towards Kashmiri people” and commended him “wholeheartedly. .. for … [his] courage and wisdom to offer new and creative thoughts.” In response Musharraf said that it was “indeed a pleasure, unique honour and a privilege to be in this gathering of the Global Discourse on Kashmir.”

In Azad Jammu and Kashmir, the Muslim Conference run by Sardar Abdul Qayoom Khan and his protégé son and the current Prime Minister Sardar Attique Ahmad Khan also allied with General Musharraf to perpetuate the family grip on power. The veteran Sardar Qayoom who credits himself for being Mujah-e-Awwal or first warrior for his claims to have fired the first bullet in rebellion against the autocratic rule of Maharaja Hari Singh in 1947, supported Musharraf’s Kashmir policy and declared the ‘end of Jihad’ in Kashmir claiming its futility. As a representative of the Musharraf government, Khan on Sunday, September 25, 2005 while speaking at a function in New Delhi declared: “Jihad was terrorism and the mujahideen were saboteurs of peace in the region.”

Azad Kashmir’s opposition alleged that it was due to this unfettered loyalty of Khan’s for Musharraf that the Pakistani intelligence rigged the 2006 elections in Azad Jammu and Kashmir and installed Sardar Attique Khan in power. In gratitude and to prove his pro-Musharraf credentials beyond doubt, Sardar Attique Khan on August 23, 2007 stated that “General Musharraf should remain the President of Pakistan as long as he was physically fit” adding “the role of military in the civilian affairs in Pakistan was unavoidable.”

These Kashmiri leaders, from the Hurriyat Conference (M), Muslim Conference led by Sardar Qayoom and the Executive Directors of the Kashmir Centres in the West, continued their train of sycophancy till late last year, not only misleading the President about the utility and acceptance of his policies vis-a-vis Kashmir but also for their own financial gain, as they were allegedly being paid hefty sums of money to run these centres. Even when his re-election as President was widely criticised in Pakistan, the activists of Hurriyat Conference (M) took out a procession in Srinagar and burst crackers to celebrate the victory of General Pervez Musharraf.

This symbiotic relationship went beyond political posturing when the Hurriyat Conference (M) openly supported the imposition of Emergency in Pakistan. Mirwaiz Umar Farooq was the first Kashmiri to lend his support to Musharraf, while the senior leader Professor Abdul Ghani Bhat criticised the deposed judges claiming “there has to be harmony among the three pillars of the state - the executive, the legislature and the judiciary.” Similar sentiments were expressed by a Western based Kashmiri leader when I asked him to comment on the crisis in November 2007 adding that the General Musharraf is the people of Pakistan. Commenting on the relationship of the Hurriyat Conference with General Musharraf, noted Indian columnist and former diplomat Kuldip Nayyar in one of his recent opinion pieces observed that the “Hurriyat [Mirwaiz group] ended up putting all its eggs in Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf’s basket.”

Kashmir Solidarity Day - Back to Basics

Following massive public outpouring and international criticism against his emergency rule, Musharraf was forced to give up the post of his Army Chief in November 2007. This effectively limited his ability to manoeuvre, interfere or exert pressure on political matters. As soon as General Pervez Ashfaq Kayani took over as Chief of Army Staff, voices against Musharraf’s Kashmir policy grew stronger and turned into an outpouring. As Musharraf’s fortunes started dwindling and his options ran out amidst growing public protest, he tried the age-old gambit that every Pakistani leader had tried successfully - Kashmir. On January 25 his government announced that it was preparing to observe ‘Kashmir Solidarity Day’ on February 5, a yearly celebration that had been virtually thrown into oblivion in the past few years, with ‘renewed commitment’. Musharraf’s Minister for Information and Broadcasting, Muhammad Ali Durrani said “Kashmir Solidarity Day would be observed with zeal and fervour and the entire Pakistani nation would stand shoulder-to- shoulder by their Kashmiri brethren”, adding that it “renews our commitment to the resolution of the long-standing dispute.” He could not hide his government’s intention of using the event as a public relations exercise for the beleaguered President when he claimed “the vision of President Pervez Musharraf on Kashmir dispute is very clear i.e. the resolution of Kashmir issue should be in line with the aspirations and wishes of the Kashmiri people.” Federal Minister for Kashmir Affairs, Tahir Iqbal expressed similar thoughts; “Kashmir Solidarity Day would be observed this year with renewed zest as the need for worldwide projection of Kashmir dispute has become imperative.” He too lavished praise on Musharraf claiming he had “adopted an optimistic approach towards the issue and .. succeeded in getting Kashmir issue globally recognized.” “On Solidarity Day”, he said, “Pakistan, through its planned events… would reassure its moral, diplomatic and political support to our Kashmiri brethren.” The immediate reaction to the official plans came from the Jama’at-e-Islami Pakistan when its Secretary General denounced the Interior Ministry saying it was ‘making a mockery of the Kashmir struggle’.

On February 5, Kashmir Solidarity Day was celebrated throughout Pakistan reminiscing the early 1990s - euphoric political rallies and ‘Jihad conferences’. Kashmir Solidarity was a public holiday and all the government, semi government offices, educational institutions, commercial centres and markets remained closed. Newspapers brought special supplements while Radio and TV channels aired special programmes and talks. In his ‘Kashmir Day’ message Pervez Musharraf tried to rattle the emotions of his nation as he thundered, “We (Pakistanis) cannot be kept away from the Kashmiris by the Ceasefire Line for much longer.” The leading Pakistani daily The Nation in its editorial termed this statement as a “hidden announcement of pugnacity” while accusing Musharraf of being “architect of the policy of supine acceptance of equating the Kashmiris’ just freedom struggle with terrorism.”

Pakistan Muslim League-Q (PML-Q) which shared power with Musharraf also held a seminar in Lahore where the speakers “expressed a common view that Kashmir would be liberated only through force” adding that “their party was upholding and continuing the struggle for Kashmir liberation right according to the idea perceived by Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah.” They reiterated that after the failure of peaceful dialogue with India “now the solution needs settlement by using force.”

Mushahid Hussain Syed, Secretary General of the PML-Q pledged to make a “national Kashmir strategy with all political parties on board if his party came into power.” Speaking at a seminar on Kashmir Day, Syed called for a review of his own government’s Kashmir policy adding “we honestly believe that the United Nations Resolution[s] on Kashmir is a roadmap for solving the issue.”Similar functions were held in Sindh and at its capital Karachi, the stronghold of Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) that was part of the previous pro-Musharraf government. “A number of organizations took out rallies and held seminars to show their solidarity with the people of Kashmir and vowed to extend full support to them to help ensure their right of franchise.”

This exhibit of official sentiment for Kashmir was drowned under the mass of unofficial functions of the opposition that condemned Musharraf’s Kashmir policy amid renewing calls of support for their ‘Kashmiri brethren’. In Lahore, a number of Pakistani and Kashmiri political and social organisations arranged rallies, seminars and symposia. Among these were PML-N, Jama’at-e-Islami, Khaksar Tehrik, Jamiat Mashaikh, Peoples Muslim League J&K, Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front, Kashmir Action Committee and extremist organisation Jamat-ud-Dawah etc.

The strongest message emanated from the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) headed by the former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharief whose party PML-N emerged as the second biggest party in the recent elections. President of the party, Mian Shahbaz Sharif accused the Musharraf government of making a U-turn on Kashmir calling it treachery and “vowed that after coming into power, PML-N would liberate the Kashmiris from the cruel clutches of India and restore the dignity of Army.” Another leader of the party, Dr. Azim-ud-Din Zahid blamed the government that it had “provided an opportunity to India to affix barbed wire along the Line of Control after taking U-turn on Kashmir issue.” The Islamist party, Jama’at-e-Islami Pakistan that boycotted the recent election also held various public functions. In one of its largest public functions in Lahore, one of its senior leaders and former senator Liaquat Baloch said that Kashmir issue can only be resolved through the UN Resolutions, claiming that “solutions proposed by Musharraf are aimed at allowing India to strengthen its grip over the state.” Secretary-General of the party, Syed Munawwar Hasan said “Musharraf lacked the legitimacy and mandate to rule the country … [and as such he] did not have any moral authority or influence to alter the Pakistan’s principled policy and stance over Kashmir.” Head of the party in Karachi, Muhammad Hussain Mahanti said “the success of the Kashmir Day solidarity rally had once again proved that the people were ready to take to streets to support the cause of Kashmiris in their fight for freedom from oppression and pressurise the rulers not to change the Pakistan’s decades-old and time-tested stance over Kashmir.”

General Musharraf could not even escape criticism from his own ilk. A group of former Generals - Mirza Aslam Baig; former Army Chief, Faiz Ali Chishti, Hameed Gul; former head of ISI, Jamshaid Gulzar Kiyani, Asad Durrani, Sardar Anwar Khan; former President of Azad Jammu and Kashmir, Abdul Qayyum and Ali Quli Khan; former Army Chief - gathered at a seminar in Rawalpindi, the military nerve centre. They criticised Musharraf for his ‘faulty policies on Kashmir’ claiming he ‘had moved the Kashmir issue to the backburner’. Former General Abdul Qayyum claimed “Kashmir could only be liberated by waging Jihad” while the former ISI chief General Hameed Gul said “Srinagar is just as important as Islamabad for Pakistanis,” adding “we have relationship with Kashmiris on the basis of life and death.”

Winds of Change

As the situation unfolded, the pro-Musharraf Kashmiris slowly started shifting their postures. In December 2007, the Hurriyat Conference (M) Chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq not only admitted that talks with India had been un-productive but also blamed New Delhi of engaging Kashmiri leadership “in talks not for the solution of Kashmir … but for stop gap arrangements.” Ultimately, the Mirwaiz led Hurriyat Conference pulled out of talks with the Indian government less than three weeks before the 18 February elections in Pakistan. Speaking to reporters in Srinagar, Mirwaiz said that his group was pulling out of the four-year old dialogue process as it did not yield anything. Admitting the unpopularity of dialogue with New Delhi, senior Hurriyat leader Nayeem Ahmad Khan said “the dialogue process had affected their credibility among the Kashmiri people.”

Frustrated and dejected, many pro-Musharraf Kashmiri loyalists were boosting their sagging morale with spurious forecasts they were receiving from their pro-Musharraf contacts in Pakistan. Only a couple of months before the elections, one of the senior Kashmiri ‘leaders’ warned me about the futility of my writings against Musharraf’s imposition of Emergency, prophesying that Musharraf’s supported party PML-Q was definitely winning the elections and that the new Prime Minister would be Mushahid Hussain Syed. Similar information was perhaps passed to a noted Srinagar based columnist, Zahid Ghulam Muhammad, who attended the Kashmir Centre, London sponsored, 3rd International Kashmir Peace Conference on 28th and 29th of November in London. A week prior to the elections, he predicted in his weekly column, Punchline in Srinagar based daily Greater Kashmir: “In the given scenario there seems better chance for the Muslim League (Q) and other allied parties for coming to power in Pakistan.” He went further to complete the puzzle; “If the ability to understand the nuances of the domestic politics and to gauge the pulse of international politics are the criteria for the new Prime Minister then there is every likelihood of Pakistan Muslim League (Q) Mushaid Hussain Syed becoming the next Prime Minister of Pakistan.”

‘Naya Kashmir’

After fiddling with many ‘out-of-box’ ideas and ‘formulas’, Pervez Musharraf’s government was to implement a new and fast action plan for Kashmir - pro-Musharraf Kashmiri leaders will participate in the elections and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq will take over as Chief Minister, a la Showkat Aziz or Hamid Karzai and his faction of the Hurriyat Conference will call for the resistance militants to disarm with similar calls from Azad Kashmir Government and other pro-Musharraf Kashmiri activists, effectively ending the resistance movement repeating Sheikh Abdullah’s disbanding of Mahaz-e-Rai Shumari or Plebiscite Front in 1974 after he was given the position of Chief Minister-ship without even contesting elections.

Although the background preparatory work had been in full swing for more than last two years, some public functions were planned for favourable symbolic value that could soften the public opinion and thus lessen any public outrage or reaction. This also included a comprehensive ‘media plan’ – buying out the journalists and newspapers in order to stop negative media coverage. One such alleged public function was the 3rd International Kashmir Peace Conference held at London on 28-29 November 2007 where the Hurriyat Conference (M) Chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and pro-India National Conference President Omar Abdullah were invited among other Kashmiri leaders. Allegedly, the two leaders were to address a joint press conference calling for peaceful solution of the Kashmir problem and launch a joint communiqué to work together for the peace and resolution of Kashmir. Had this followed according to the plan, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Omar Abdullah might have joined forces and launched a joint election campaign by now. However, the conference received unprecedented opposition for its organiser Professor Nazir Ahmad Shawl could not handle the operation and raised suspicions. This created public concerns amid condemnations and a rival conference in the British Parliament. There was a general feeling that the Conference was offering a platform to Omar Abdullah and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq for their future electoral alliance. A leader of the UK based All Party Kashmir Coordination Committee while opposing the conference claimed that it “was a joint game plan of both the countries and aims to create harmony between pro-India and pro-Pakistan groups for the sake of coming elections in the Indian side of Kashmir.” Due to massive public outcry, the conference aims could not be achieved and the planned joint communiqué was abandoned. In addition, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq had to publicly deny any pre-election equation with Omar Abdullah.

This failure was so upsetting that only a week later when Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Inamul Haq visited New Delhi, he did not meet any Kashmiri leaders, a departure from Pakistan’s practice “perhaps for the first time in the last two decades.” During his three day stay in New Delhi, Haq did not invite any Kashmiri leaders for any formal or informal interaction perhaps to avoid questions from Hurriyat Conference (G) which had planned a strong protest with the visiting dignitary about Pakistan’s ’shameful’ role. The Kashmir Peace Conference created such an embarrassment for the Musharraf regime that any public communiqués or interactions between pro-Musharraf Hurriyat leaders and pro-India Kashmiri politicians were suspended, at least in public.

However, the Musharraf regime continued to work with its Indian counterparts to further the plan. According to a news report by a leading Pakistani journalist, Hamid Mir, only days before 18 February 2008 elections, Musharraf’s advisor Tariq Aziz, Srinagar based Hurriyat leaders and Indian officials met in Dubai to discuss the Naya Kashmir Plan exploring various options on Kashmir after the elections. According to informed sources, the meeting was attended by many Hurriyat leaders including Mirwaiz Umar Farooq along with Indian and Pakistani diplomats and intelligence officials. But the Pakistan election results left these plans in tatters with the pro-Musharraf Kashmiri leaders searching for a new cause and identity.

New Army chief, New Thinking

Pervez Musharraf sealed his fate the day he handed over the reins of powerful Army to his new Chief General Pervez Ashfaq Kayani. Soon after his takeover, Kayani set out his priority to repair the image of his Army. He gradually distanced the Army and the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) from political activities; thus tilting the balance against Musharraf loyalists. This was precisely due to the new Army Chief that the elections could not be rigged as Musharraf had done in 2002.

In order to restore confidence among the public, General Kayani, earlier this year issued directives barring army personnel from holding civilian offices. He showed determination to curtail any public perception of the Army’s involvement in politics and sent a ‘note of displeasure’ to the Corps Commander Lt. General Shafaatullah Shah for holding an unauthorised meeting with the caretaker Prime Minister Muhammadmian Soomro. Lt. General Shah was one of the most favourite Corps Commanders of President General Musharraf.

On 25th March, only a few hours after the New Prime Minister took over, General Kayani announced a major reshuffle in the army appointing new corps commanders at Mangla and Lahore, “triggering off speculation that Musharraf’s authority is being undermined.”He also removed President Musharraf’s favourite Corps Commander Lt. General Shafaatullah Shah. The News in its editorial: A clear message, (26 March 2008), called it a major reshuffle and commented “it is now obvious that the support structure in the administration which President Pervez Musharraf was ordering around has collapsed and the centre of power has shifted.”

Elections and Beyond

On the election date on 18 February 2008, acting chairman of the Hurriyat Conference (G), Ghulam Nabi Sumji predicted that the polls in Pakistan would end the rule of President Musharraf who, according to him, is responsible for the mess in Pakistan as well as in Kashmir. The election defeat of Musharraf loyalists was widely hailed both in Pakistan and Kashmir. The Kashmiri leaders opposed to Musharraf’s policies welcomed the result with Syed Ali Shah Geelani leading the group. In his first reaction, Geelani called it a good sign for the future of Pakistan and for the ‘Kashmiri freedom movement’ accusing Musharraf that “with the support of his handpicked stooges they compromised … on the Kashmir issue.” He also accused that Musharraf “yielded much ground to India on the Kashmir issue despite enormous sacrifices rendered both by Pakistan and people of Kashmir during the past 60 years.” Terming the election results as defeat of Musharraf and rejection of his ‘apologetic Kashmir policy’, he also hoped that the new government will “stick to… traditional stand on Kashmir.” Asiya Andrabi, leader of the woman’s organisation, Dukhtaran-e- Millat, expressed similar sentiments saying “anybody who comes to power will be better than Musharraf”, who according to her “betrayed ideology [of]… Pakistan … and … the Kashmir cause.”

The immediate reaction of the pro-Musharraf Hurrriyat Conference was that of frustration and desperation. Senior leader of the group, Shabir Shah hoped that “whosoever comes to power… will support our cause in future” while apologetically admitting that his group had made mistakes in the past like “celebrating Pervez Musharraf’s re-election as the President when the Hurriyat activists burst crackers in Srinagar.” A splinter group of JKLF led by Barrister Majid Tramboo came out with the strongest statement against General Musharraf, saying that “the people of Pakistan have rejected the negative approach of their President Gen Pervez Musharraf regarding the solution of Kashmir issue”. A senior leader of the party, Farooq Ahmad Dar, termed the election results as “clear answer to the four point formula of Musharraf.” It is worth mentioning that not long ago, in September 2007 (24-25) Barrister Tramboo’s Kashmir Centre sponsored a two day Geneva Convention on Kashmir that supported Musharraf’s Four Point Formula. Not strange, the first theme of the Convention discussed on 24th September was titled: The challenging times – a review of President Musharraf’s four point formula, wherein the speakers commended General Musharraf for his ‘vision and leadership’.

The election results have created a mood of indignation in India about a possible policy change with a growing feeling in New Delhi that it may not now be possible to settle Kashmir on the Indian terms as accepted and agreed by General Musharraf. The pro-India National Conference leader Omar Abdullah, who had met with General Musharraf in Pakistan in 2006, said that India has missed the ‘golden opportunity’ to settle Kashmir while Musharraf was in power.Many Kashmiri analysts have made similar observations. New Delhi based Kashmiri journalist Iftikhar Gilani was of the opinion that the poll results will impact the situation in Kashmir.

Athar Parvaiz, a Kashmir Times writer opined that Pakistan’s Kashmir policy was bound to undergo a lot of transformation adding that Pakistan might not give accordance to pro-India Kashmiri leaders and may go into “old time revulsion towards them thanks to the return of a truly popular government”. The author was of the view that, “whatever the new dispensation in Pakistan, Pakistan’s policy about Kashmir issue is bound to witness a transformation”, observing that “defeats suffered by most of the ministers in the former Musharraf-led government, can be traced, among other reasons, to Pakistan’s renewed policy about Kashmir in recent years.”Sensing change, senior pro-India politician and leader of National Conference Ali Mohammad Sagar said “New Government in Pakistan can have a different Kashmir policy and for [the] time being it seems that the dialogue process between India and Pakistan would get delayed.”

Asif Ali Zardari: Boomerang Effect

While the negotiations for the new government were full on, Asif Ali Zardari was being courted by the American diplomats on daily basis trying to influence him to stay away from Nawaz Sharif and accept a deal with Musharraf on the basis of a working relationship.The Americans also reportedly wanted his assurances on the India-Pakistan ‘peace process’ and that the future government will continue with Musharraf’s Kashmir policy. Under intense US pressure, Asif Asif Ali Zardari, in a television interview made a statement calling for freezing the Kashmir issue for future generations in order to continue trade and dialogue with India. Zardari, while speaking to a leading Indian journalist Karan Thapar on CNN-IBN’s Devil’s Advocate programme, said that “Kashmir issue should be left aside for future generations to solve and right now India and Pakistan should focus on improving the bilateral relations by strengthening trade and economic ties.” He also opined that “normalisation of relations between the two countries should not become hostage to the Kashmir issue.”

The reaction that followed was unprecedented and gave a strong indication of pent up anger that Musharraf’s Kashmir policy had created. Zardari’s statement led to strong condemnation from all the Kashmiri groups – pro-freedom, pro-India and resistance militant groups alike. Even those who were die-hard supporters of Musharraf only days ago lent their support to the growing condemnation indicating that they can’t remain oblivious to the new political realities.

The United Jihad Council (UJC), conglomerate of 13 militant outfits termed Zardari’s statement as “political immaturity’ accusing him of being ‘unaware about the history and ignorant about the Kashmir issue.” Giving an indication about the change in Pakistan’s policy, Muzzaffarabad based spokesman of the UJC, Syed Sadaqat Hussain said that Zardari “does not know anything about his country’s policies.” The chairman of the Hurriyat conference (G) Syed Ali Shah Geelani said that Zaradari’s statement will have no affect on the disputed nature of Kashmir. “He can talk whatever he wants, who cares,” Geelani told Rising Kashmir. Pro-Musharraf Hurriyat leader Shabir Ahmad Shah termed the statement irrelevant while Abbas Ansari said “till Kashmir issue is solved, the distances [between India and Pakistan] would not vanish.” Later the Hurriyat Conference (M) called its Executive Council meeting which expressed deep concerns over Zardari’s statement and said that Zardari’s statement “was not in line with the Pakistan Peoples Party’s Kashmir policy.” Pro-Musharraf JKLF led by Majid Tramboo strongly condemned Zardari’s unrealistic statement. Commenting on Zardari’s statement, the spokesman of the group said that it “gives an indication about his political bankruptcy. We have not given him any mandate on Kashmir issue [so] he should mind his own business.”

Zardari even drew flak from the pro-India politicians. Chairman of the Peoples’ Conference Sajad Gani Lone called it an “idealistic statement”, urging “the people to protest.” Leader of the opposition in the pro-India Kashmiri Assembly and the National Conference senior functionary, Abdul Rahim Rather told Kashmir Times that his party was “pretty upset”. Elaborating, he said, “how else can we react to such a statement when our people are getting killed because of the non-resolution of the Kashmir issue between India and Pakistan?” Omar Abdullah, President of National Conference “warned that freezing Kashmir without finding a solution would prove dangerous not only for India but for Pakistan as well.”Another prominent pro-India politician and chairperson of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Mehbooba Mufti questioned the need for issuing such statements saying that the resolution of Kashmir needs to be carried forward rather than putting in cold storage.

Sardar Qayoom Khan, the octogenarian Azad Kashmiri politician and former Prime Minister, who is known for making U-turns also lashed out at Zardari. Khan who had joined Musharraf’s Kashmir policy ditching his old avatar of Mujahid-e-Awwal had previously condemned Kashmiri militants and declared ‘end of Jihad’ in Kashmir, calling it a futile exercise. Under the new political order, Sardar Qayoom took strong exception to Zardari’s statement warning that “friendly relations between India and Pakistan would always be short-lived and unpredictable until the root cause of all problems – Kashmir issue was resolved.” Qayoom went further and justified the need for militant resistance saying: “militancy… should remain … a force to reckon with for forcing India to agree on a negotiated settlement of the issue.”

Asif Zardari couldn’t resist the barrage of criticism and had to ‘clarify’ his position. Retracting from his old statement, he described Kashmir “as an integral part of Pakistan and said that he would never betray the sacrifices of those who had given their lives for Kashmir.” He called Kashmir issue as the reason for the founding of the PPP by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto; “I started my political mission from Shaheed Benazir Bhutto’s grave at Garhi Khuda Bhuksh. If I have to keep her trust, how can I betray the trust of 90,000 other martyrs who have lost their lives in Kashmir?”

Zardari made subsequent clarifications to assuage the tempers. He revealed that his father Hakim Ali Zardari fought as a volunteer in the 1948 war to liberate Kashmir and was proud of that. The public pressure that forced powerful Zardari to issue ‘clarification’ indicates that Kashmir policy is certainly shifting from Musharraf’s so-called pro-India policy directed by the US. The Executive Director of Kashmir Centre Washington, Dr. Ghulam Nabi Fai ‘expressed satisfaction over the statement saying “the clarification by the PPP … has been viewed as reassuring by the general public in Pakistan as well as in Kashmir.” Dr. Fai, who is well known for his caution and conformism, was surprisingly firm and advised Pakistani leaders “in responsible positions … to exercise discretion when issuing statements that may undermine Kashmiri aspiration.” In his press statement he called upon the leaders for “a more nuanced approach to such a sensitive and emotive issue as freedom struggle of the people of Kashmir [which] will help lessen the public’s distrust of politicians” and demanded that the Kashmir conflict must be resolved prognosticating that any “attempts at conflict management will never succeed.”

The American ‘meddling’

The proverbial trio of Pakistan’s politics – Allah, Army and America seems to have been reconfigured in reverse order with the Americans enjoying on the top. The US influence is so powerful that they virtually seem to be running every aspect of Pakistani life as allowed by Musharraf in his last eight years of rule. They are said to have unacknowledged military basis, secret prisons and torture centres with powers to detain Pakistani citizens and thousands of secret agents running around in the country without any legal or bureaucratic fetters. This is the main reason that the Americans are against the reinstatement of Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhary who was adamant in upholding the law and wanted to know the fate of thousands that have gone missing in Musharraf’s regime with many of them ending up in secret American prisons and torture cells. The majority of the Pakistanis see the US and its War on Terror the main reason for problems in the tribal areas and resultant suicide bombings. Speaking at a Kashmir rally on 5 February in Lahore, Jama’at-e-Islami leader Liaqat Baloch “castigated President Musharraf for acting as a tool in the hands of Washington to make Pakistan a failed state as per US agenda.” Many also blame US pressure for Musharraf’s U-turn on Kashmir. Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leader, Dr Azim ud Din Zahid while speaking at a meeting to commemorate Kashmir Solidarity Day said “on the direction of the US administration, moral and financial help to Kashmiris was stopped”.

The American support for Musharraf - from sacking of the judges to the imposition of Emergency and tacit approval for his crackdown on the secular civil society has given rise to massive anger against the US. Such sentiments are no more confined to the Islamist fringe groups. As the first election results were out, former Army Chief General Mirza Aslam Beg called it a decision against America in his comment on Pakistani television channel Geo TV, saying that the next Prime Minister will be elected by the people of Pakistan and not by the US. Buoyed by the election results, when the calls for Musharraf’s resignation grew louder, the US Secretary of the State Condoleezza Rice openly came to the rescue of General Musharraf; “The President of Pakistan is Pervez Musharraf … And so, of course, we will deal with him. We will continue to pursue the American interests, which are for a stable and democratic Pakistan.”

Since the elections, the American influence in Pakistan has become more pronounced, open and corrosive. Soon after the results, it was a strange scene to see the American diplomats literally taking charge for the formation of the new government as well as trying to block potential political alliances. The American Ambassador in Islamabad, Anne W Patterson openly held meetings with the Pakistani politicians suggesting future role for Musharraf. On 25 March, the day the new Prime Minister Makhdoom Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani was sworn in, the American presence in Islamabad was felt very strongly and raised a lot of suspicion that they are trying to hijack the democratic government. When the Pakistani politicians were busy in forming the new government, the US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte along with Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Richard Boucher held meetings with Pervez Musharraf, Chief of the Army Staff and top politicians of the new coalition government including Prime Minister Gilani, Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif. Former Pakistani Foreign Secretary Riaz Khokhar called it ‘crude diplomacy’. In his comments with the leading Pakistani anchor Kamran Khan in Aaj Kamran Khan Ke Sath he accused the Americans of arm twisting. In the same programme, Pakistani analyst Shafqat Mehmood commented that Americans are showing the power and influence they have got in Pakistan. Frustrated by this brazen behaviour, Kamran Khan threw a general question at the Pakistani audience; “Where is our honour and dignity?”

Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif could not tolerate the US pressure on the Musharraf issue and he told the US delegation that he “considered Musharraf an unconstitutional and illegal head of state.” Sharif later told a press conference that the “new government would review Pakistan’s role in the War on Terror after holding a debate in the parliament and that Pakistan will not play in the US hands.”The timing of this visit by the US envoys caused outrage with the newspapers decrying the visit as ‘American meddling’. “Protestors in at least three cities burned the US flags and waved banners demanding the envoys to go home.” Leading English daily The Dawn titled its editorial about the visit as American Impatience terming the arrival of the US envoys “in indecent haste”, not “in keeping with diplomatic propriety” and calling its objective as “undesirable”. Another leading newspaper, The News urged the US officials to “restrain themselves in further meddling in Pakistan’s affairs.”

Given the US influence, its strong presence in the region and its closest ties with India, the new government would be severely restricted and limited in any approach that tries to deal with the Kashmir issue differently from the previous government, knowing the fact that the US is committed to pursue Pakistan to abandon Kashmir in totality.

‘National Consensus’ - The Balancing Act

As the anti-Musharraf political forces moved to centre stage, the Army Chief, who was considered a Musharraf ally also started to make more pronounced statements indicating a move from his predecessor’s policies. Therefore, when General Pervez Ashfaq Kiyani made open references to ‘National Consensus’ on Kashmir, it was seen as an indication of a possible shift. During his visit to a forward location near the Line of Control (LoC) in Azad Kashmir on 12 February, General Kayani while addressing Army officers highlighted the ‘national consensus’ that exists on Kashmir and “reaffirmed commitment of Pakistan Army to the Kashmir cause, in line with aspirations of Pakistani nation.”

Kayani’s statement was widely hailed in Pakistan as well in Kashmir. Hurriyat Conference (G) Convenor “warmly welcomed the statement” and many Pakistani newspapers praised it in their editorials. The English daily Pakistan Observer in its editorial Kayani’s Solidarity with Kashmir Cause dated 14 February called his statement as reassuring “in the perspective of some statements in the recent past by certain political quarters which were disapproved by the people of Pakistan.” Observing that “the people of Pakistan and the armed forces during the last sixty years [have] had a strong commitment to the Kashmir cause”, it called the assurance by the COAS [Chief of the Army Staff] as “satisfying for the people of Pakistan as well as to the Kashmiris”, and hoped that “the new political leadership would keep the resolution of Kashmir issue as the top priority on its agenda while dealing on different issues with India.” Leading English daily The Nation in its editorial called the statement as heartening and “an index of the affinity all the jawans [soldiers] of our armed forces feel for the Kashmir cause.” The paper affirmed Kayani’s statement that there is a national consensus on the issue adding “all genuine political forces with mass appeal agree on the right of the people of Kashmir to choose their own destinies.”Criticizing Musharraf regime’s initiative of peace process, the newspaper observed; “All the miscalculated and overly conciliatory efforts of the regime have been met by Indian smugness and aggression every step of the way” and “sincerely hoped that these leaders can counter some of the damage done on this front by the previous leadership.” Another English daily The Post sought to link the Army Chief’s statement with the earlier statement of Asif Ali Zardari on Kashmir saying “General Kayani wished to set the record straight by reaffirming the army’s commitment to the Kashmir cause.”

The utility of General Kayani’s statement can be seen at multiple levels. There is a strong argument that because of the War on Terror and U-turn on Kashmir, the Army is unpopular and therefore it wants to get back into the good books of the people by latching on to Kashmir. Asserting the traditional stand on Kashmir, the Army could certainly help amend some of its tarnished image. There have been many public calls to the new Army Chief from various political and social quarters about many issues including Kashmir and the War on Terror. While General Kayani cannot afford to make a statement over the War on Terror, Kashmir remains the only plausible choice. This would certainly soften the image of army among the local people including Islamic fundamentalists who could thus be persuaded not to attack their own army. His statement could also be seen as a subtle rebuff to the US and an attempt to curtail their unwarranted and crude influence in the Pakistani affairs mainly Kashmir. By highlighting ‘consensus’, Kayani sought to place Kashmir in the centre of his nation’s conscience that cannot be bartered away under any outside pressure.

Another function of Kayani’s statement could be to re-assert the Army’s traditional role and authority on the matters of defence as well as Kashmir while the civilian government with a strong mandate has taken over. Previously, the Army has viewed any bonhomie of its politicians with India with suspicion. “Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was pilloried for being “pro-India” when she attempted to reach an understanding with her counterpart [Indian Prime Minister] Rajiv Gandhi in 1989. Her party was accused of being a “security risk” by the state’s intelligence agencies.” Similarly when “Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif … tried to reach out to his Indian counterpart Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 1999 … the [Pakistan Army] …was busy executing its disastrous Kargil Operation in Kashmir.”

General Pervez Kayani sent another subtle but strong message about his priorities and persuasions. On Pakistan Day, 23 March, he hosted a reception in honour of the retired Army officers who attended in a large number. Many of these retired officers have publicly criticised Musharraf’s Kashmir policy and called for his resignation. Speaking at the occasion, the Army Chief reiterated that the “Army will always live up to the expectations of the nation”, clearly giving a message of defiance against Musharraf while at the same time seeking reconciliation with his nation.

Kashmiri Response

Pakistan has always been an important factor in the survival and existence of the Kashmiri political struggle. Whether rightly or wrongly, Pakistan has fired the imagination of Kashmiri people and despite the lack of uniformity in its approach, Pakistan remains a major emotional force for Kashmiris that is deeply embedded in their psyche. Commenting upon the recent elections and its effect on Kashmir, pro-India politician Mehbooba Mufti acknowledged the role and function of the symbol of Pakistan in the Kashmir’s socio-political landscape; “We have a sentimental and geographical affinity with Pakistan.”

However, this ’sentimental’ relationship touched nadir during General Musharraf’s rule. In the aftermath of 9/11, he not only gave up support for the Kashmiris’ freedom and self-determination, but also branded Kashmiri resistance as terrorists.The change meant that the Kashmiri ‘freedom fighters’ in Pakistan and Azad Kashmir were hounded, tortured, arrested and even killed. In March 2006, the ISI arrested and threatened Syed Salahudin, the chief of Hizbul Mujahideen along with many other prominent Kashmiri resistance leaders who were protesting against Musharraf’s Kashmir policy.

[Murtaza Shibli is the Editor of Kashmir Affairs, London [www.kashmiraffairs .org]

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