17 December 2006
The Times of India
New Delhi: The Kashmir dispute just got spicier. A few days ago, Pakistan president General Musharraf suggested on an Indian news channel that an independent Kashmir was a non-starter and plebiscite in the state an impractical proposal. A Pakistan foreign ministry spokesperson has gone a step further to say that Pakistan never claimed Kashmir as its territory. Her take is that it is up to Kashmiris to decide their future. She hoped that they would choose to join Pakistan in the event of a plebiscite. The contradictions here are obvious and many. Islamabad has always viewed the Kashmir issue as the unfinished agenda of Partition. The material and emotional support Kashmiri militants and jehadis find in Pakistan has been the logical outcome of Islamabad's professed claim on Kashmir. The Pakistani political and security establishment has adduced the Muslim identity of the majority of Kashmiris to demand the state's accession, whereas outfits like JKLF have mooted Kashmiriyat, a secular and syncretic identity, as the basis for a separate nation. The government in PoK may be headed by a president and a prime minister and not a governor and a chief minister as pointed out by the spokesperson, but the president and prime minister are handpicked by Islamabad. The PoK constitution demands that prospective candidates who contest elections in the region have to sign a declaration affirming the disputed region's accession to Pakistan. Pro-independence parties had boycotted elections in PoK when they were last held on this issue. Islamabad's new position on Kashmir has confounded Islamists in Pakistan and Kashmir. The United Jehad Council, an apex body of terror outfits based in Pakistan, and the Geelani faction of Hurriyat have condemned General Musharraf's proposals. Monday's developments would further confuse them. It is possible that the pronouncements are part of an elaborate PR exercise by the Musharraf administration. There is considerable unease in the US over Islamabad's dealings with the Taliban. Despite doing Washington's bidding in the war on terror, Islamabad has lost out to New Delhi in gaining favours from the US. The world opinion on Kashmir has been gradually shifting in India's favour. Post-9-11, Islamist struggles have lost the support of western powers. Islamabad could be hoping that New Delhi would maintain its intransigence on Kashmir and highlight that to blame India for the impasse. Whatever be Islamabad's intentions, New Delhi should seize the moment to push for peace in Jammu and Kashmir.