Pakistan’s phony ‘solidarity’ with Jammu & Kashmir put in perspective
Just as it has been doing each year since 1990, Pakistan observed what it calls ‘Kashmir Solidarity Day’ on 5 February this year too. This year’s event, as in all recent years, again turned out to be a damp squib. The murky origins of this event, which actually has no historical significance for the people of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K), can be traced back to the narrow political wrangling between political rivals Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif that characterized this period of Pakistan’s political history, and to a suggestion by Amir Qazi Hussain Ahmed, the head of the Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI), to Prime Minister Bhutto. The JeI in J&K was at that time preparing to launch its own terrorist outfit, and Hussain Ahmed was keen to demonstrate Pakistani ‘solidarity’ with the militants as also draw international attention to J&K.
Significantly, the stated ‘solidarity’ that Pakistan seeks to express on 5 February is specifically with the Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley. It takes no cognizance of the Hindu-majority Jammu region and the Buddhist dominated Ladakh region, which together with the Kashmir Valley constitute Indian-Administered J&K. Since 1990, a perfunctory set of functions are organized on 5 February each year in Pakistan and Pakistani diplomatic missions abroad. Interest in the event, however, has petered out over the years to the extent that the Pakistani Daily Times found it fit to write in an editorial last year that “Every year, we go through the motions of Kashmir Solidarity Day…yet nothing really changes”. The Express Tribune also observed that while Pakistan was relentlessly telling the Kashmiris that it stood with them against India, in reality “It is like signing a cheque of an account that has no money or strenuously offering lunch to a visiting guest during Ramazan”. Some discerning Pakistani and Kashmiri journalists have argued that despite all the resolutions, conferences and demonstrations organized by the Pakistani State on 5 February, ‘Kashmir Solidarity Day’ has over the years been just another day latticed on the Pakistani propaganda model still stuck in the 1990s. There is no audience for it, whether in Kashmir or abroad, and it has had no impact on the ground reality. Why, then, has Pakistan persisted with a tradition that quite evidently has little real meaning today, and exactly how has Pakistani ‘solidarity’ impacted the average resident of J&K, are questions that merit some attention.
Any neutral, clear headed and reasonably intelligent resident of J&K who reminisces on how Pakistan’s ‘solidarity’ has translated for the people of J&K will, with little doubt, have a tragically woeful tale to tell. Pakistan has been claiming to be the savior, albeit uninvited, of Kashmiris since much before 1990. As had been brought out in the EFSAS Commentary of 16-10-2020 titled 22 October 1947: The darkest day in the history of Jammu & Kashmir, after the British colonial rulers departed in 1947, the Princely State of J&K had the option of joining either India or Pakistan, or remaining independent. Even as Maharaja Hari Singh, the ruler of J&K, was mulling over his options, Pakistan invaded J&K on 22 October 1947 using Pashtun tribesmen and irregulars. As the marauding tribesmen went on a rampage in J&K, killing, raping and looting its residents, Maharaja Hari Singh, who had been increasingly inclined towards taking the independent J&K route, opted to accede to India and sought Indian assistance in driving out the Pakistani invaders. India came to the Maharaja’s assistance and drove out the intruders, but was unable to vacate the entire J&K and about one third of the territory of the Princely State remained under forcible Pakistani control. J&K was divided, as were its people, who are to this day suffering on account of this early legacy of Pakistani ‘solidarity’ towards them.
At the ‘Kashmir Solidarity Day’ function in Kotli in Pakistan-Administered J&K this year, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said, “God willing, Pakistan will give the right to Kashmiri people to decide whether they want to remain independent or become part of Pakistan”. In the Pakistani PM’s view, J&K becoming a part of India was not in the equation despite India holding the legal title to the whole of the territory of the erstwhile Princely State. Perhaps Khan had also forgotten that it was Pakistan that in 1948-49 had objected at the United Nations (UN) to any notion of independence for J&K. Khan had also not drawn the relevant lessons from the experience of his predecessor as Pakistani PM, Nawaz Sharif, who in 1991 had told an Iranian journalist during a visit to Teheran that Pakistan was willing to consider the option of an independent J&K if India were to rescind its position that Kashmir’s status was non-negotiable. Sharif had come under such immediate and forceful pressure from the Pakistani military establishment, which zealously controls the country’s India policy, that he backed off from his statement within 24 hours of making it.
Another expression of Pakistan’s ‘solidarity’ with Kashmir came after the country initiated a war against India over Kashmir in 1965. The hiding that the Pakistani Army received from the Indian forces had such an impact that the Pakistani General Ayub Khan, who had forcibly assumed the presidency after staging a coup d’état in 1958, pledged after the war ended that Pakistan would never again “risk 100 million Pakistanis for five million Kashmiris”. If this did not accurately and adequately communicate the brittle and self-serving nature of Pakistan’s so called empathy with the people of J&K, the ceding of the Shakshgam Valley, a strategically located territory that constituted an integral part of the Princely State of J&K, by Pakistan to China in 1963, said all that remained to be said on the matter.
Yet worse was to come. That Pakistan coveted only the territory of J&K but cared little for its people became obvious when after having failed to annex J&K by force in the several wars initiated by it against India, and following yet another crushing military defeat at India’s hands in the 1971 war that led to the dismemberment of Pakistan and the creation of Bangladesh, Pakistan’s military establishment moved towards a policy of using Islamic militants as an instrument of regional influence. The experience that the Pakistani military, and especially its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), had gathered in guiding and supporting militants during the anti-Soviet resistance in Afghanistan from 1979 to 1988 was promptly redirected to the J&K theatre from 1989 onwards. Pakistan started by encouraging youth from within J&K to take up insurgency, and over a decade inducted committed Islamists from its own territory and from other Islamic countries into the Kashmir Valley. It continues to support and sponsor terrorist groups of all hues in J&K to this day.
Thousands of Kashmiris, civilians, security personnel and militants alike have been killed in the Pakistan-orchestrated insurgency in J&K since 1989, and hundreds of Kashmiri women have been subjected to rape. Tens of thousands of residents of the Kashmir Valley, including a sizeable proportion of Kashmiri Pandits, have been compelled to emigrate as a result of the violence. The architecture of Kashmiri society, as also its ethos, were put under the severest test due to the insurgency. While the division of J&K in 1947 dealt the first blow to the vibrant economy of J&K and to its close-knit, largely secular society based on Kashmiriyat (Kashmiri-ness), three decades of mindless violence and insecurity have transformed the situation into a hopeless mess. Kashmiriyat and religious inclusiveness have become a thing of the past, and have given way to stricter interpretations of both the practice of religion and to the norms that guide social interactions. Developmental projects have come to a near standstill, manufacturing industries are not allowed to take root, tourism has dried out, trade and commerce have suffered, and insecurity and shut downs have affected everything, educational institutions included. Avenues for entertainment for the youth and the elderly alike have disappeared, with sporting facilities, cinemas, shopping centers, and lakeside promenades, all having shut down and gone into decay.
The most recent contribution of Pakistan’s ‘solidarity’ with the people of J&K came in the form of the 5 August 2019 decision of the Indian government to dilute the autonomy that Indian-Administered J&K had enjoyed ever since independence in 1947. The state was also, humiliatingly for the people of J&K, bifurcated into smaller units. The single most important factor that nudged the Indian government in the direction of taking such hard decisions was its exasperation and frustration at having to deal constantly with the insecurity and disruptiveness that Pakistan-backed militants were unleashing.
With the nature and the implications of Pakistan’s ‘solidarity’ with the people of J&K having been brought out thus far, the reasons behind Pakistan’s persistence with the ‘Kashmir Solidarity Day’ also needs to be put in perspective. Nothing, absolutely nothing, that Pakistan has done vis-à-vis J&K has been intended to benefit the people of the State. Had that been the intention, at least the people of Pakistan-Administered J&K would today be an empowered, happy lot. Alas, the opposite holds true. They are oppressed, voiceless, denied even basic human rights, and their natural resources are being exploited jointly with foreign powers such as China.
Pakistan’s ‘solidarity’ with Kashmir is, without question, purely in pursuit of its own selfish interests. This was made clear by none other than Pakistan’s first Foreign Minister, Muhammad Zafarulla Khan, who opined at the UN in the late 1940s that India “does not require Kashmir from the point of view of any necessities. The possession of Kashmir can add nothing to the economy of India. On the other hand, it is vital for Pakistan. If Kashmir should accede to India, Pakistan might as well, from both the economic and the strategic points of view, become a feudatory of India or cease to exist as an independent sovereign State”. To summarize, J&K was important for Pakistan solely as a means to ensure its own survival. Another perspective was added by Yossef Bodansky, the Director of the United States Congress Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare, when he underlined in 1995 that “For Islamabad, the liberation of Kashmir is a sacred mission, the only task unfulfilled since Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s days. Moreover, a crisis in Kashmir constitutes an excellent outlet for the frustration at home, an instrument for the mobilisation of the masses, as well as gaining the support of the Islamist parties and primarily their loyalists in the military and the ISI”.
None of this is even remotely related to the welfare or well being of Kashmiris. The ‘Kashmir Solidarity Day’ is, similarly, a cruel joke on the people of J&K and is meant to benefit certain sections of Pakistani society. The average Pakistani has no interest in observing such meaningless events, as a poll by a leading Pakistani English language daily, Dawn, showed in 2016. The poll revealed that almost 85% of Pakistanis did not believe in observing ‘Kashmir Solidarity Day’. In contrast, the Pakistani military establishment, the political class and the officialdom have always been keen on marking the day. They are the ones who get to dip into the sizeable budget that is allocated for organizing ‘Kashmir Solidarity Day’ functions across Pakistan and abroad. The dismal attendance at most of these events suggests that not the entire budget is used for the purpose for which it is allocated. Pakistani shopkeepers are another section that make merry. They have been observed offering discounts to customers on that day, thereby increasing their profits in the name of Kashmir.
The neutral, clear headed and reasonably intelligent resident of J&K, after pondering long and hard, would sigh and conclude the obvious – with Pakistan constantly offering him such ‘solidarity’, did he really need any other enemy?