Zardaris statement on Kashmir fuels controversy
3 March 2008
The News International
ISLAMABAD: Eyebrows were raised over PPP Co-chairperson Asif Ali Zardari's remarks to an Indian television station in which he stated that relations between India and Pakistan would not be made hostage to the Kashmir issue and this in turn had invited severe criticism from the pro-liberation parties in Kashmir. The Hurriyat in held Kashmir, has convened a meeting to discuss the issue. 'Kashmir issue should be left aside for future generations to solve and right now India and Pakistan should focus on improving bilateral relations by strengthening trade and economic ties,' Zardari had remarked. Reaction has been strong also in Pakistan because like for the Kashmiris this is not only a deep U-turn but a sense of betrayal from the only country in the world which champions their cause worldwide. Those involved in framing Pakistan's Kashmir policy put it thus, 'You never show all your cards. Even for the sake of argument this is what Pakistan ultimately has in mind, you have damaged your bargaining position.' 'He (Zardari) has spoken out of mindset and the mindset of his party. And this is not going to sideline the Kashmir issue, which has the firm strength of hundreds of thousands of sacrifices offered by our youth. Pakistani people still support our cause, so Zardari's statement is not going to affect the Kashmir cause,' chairman of the hardline faction of the Hurriyat Conference, Syed Ali Gilani, was quoted as saying. Senior officials that The News contacted said that neither the PPP nor late Benazir Bhutto had ever articulated these views on Kashmir. 'Officials in the important ministries were talking over these remarks. As these are the views of a politician no official meetings were convened to consider the remarks,' commented one official. He chose to remain silent when reminded that these could be the views of a prime minister or president-in-waiting, and as such have to be given serious thought. Another official intervened to remark, 'Actually politicians in such high positions first take over power and then they are briefed by the civil and military establishment as well as the premier intelligence agencies. It is then that they can take the matter to parliament and after proper debate, announce a policy change if necessary.' Traditionally there are no quick turns taken over matters relating to foreign policy as it is one of the last areas where a change is seen with a new government taking over. An expert on Kashmir put it thus, 'Maybe Zardari is taking a leaf from Pervez Musharraf and also wants to come out with 'out of the box' solutions.' When these officials were asked to come on record they declined and said that they cared for their jobs too much and unless they were authorised by the relevant quarters they could not do so. Meanwhile back in the Kashmir valley, Chairman of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) Muhammad Yasin Malik said that nobody would be allowed to overlook the sacrifices of Kashmiris. 'Since 1947, three generations of Kashmir have been sacrificing their lives for resolving the Kashmir dispute. The past 18 years have produced thousands of orphans and widows for the cause. How can anyone forget the sacrifices?' Malik said. He said he supported the India and Pakistan friendship. 'But the two countries cannot do so by suppressing the Kashmir dispute. It is imperative for India and Pakistan to resolve the Kashmir dispute,' Malik said. Senior leader of the moderate Hurriyat Conference Shabir Ahmad Shah, while terming the statement irrelevant, said that it was yet to be determined whether Zardari's statement had the official sanction of his party. 'Zardari is out of power as yet. How can his statement carry weight? Our [Kashmir] movement can still go on even if Pakistan withdraws its support, as ours is an indigenous movement,' he said. The Hurriyat has called a special meeting to discuss the issue. 'India and Pakistan are at loggerheads only on the Kashmir issue, and this has been the only cause for the distances between the two countries. Until the Kashmir issue is solved, the distances would not vanish,' said acting chairman of the Hurriyat Maulana Abbas Ansari. 'We will be meeting tomorrow to discuss this, as other issues between India and Pakistan can't go, until they solve the Kashmir problem.' Chairman of the People's Conference Sajad Ghani Lone has appealed to the people to protest against Zardari for his 'idealistic statement.' 'Kashmiris have offered sacrifice of more than one lakh persons for the freedom movement and there was no support from Pakistan. Zardari has no right to speak on the Kashmiri issue as Kashmiris have not initiated the movement on Zardari's asking,' he said. 'I appeal to the people to protest against Zardari's statement.'