All patriotic Pakistanis recently celebrated Kashmir day. Some did so by staying at home, others by attending the local demonstration by a political party of their choice, and yet others with a round of golf or a picnic. In the elitist English speaking circles of Pakistan, one comes across the cockney speaking Hizb supporter and the avowed secularist, with a technicolor range of Islamic green in between. Barring a few, no one will say that Pakistan has been wrong on Kashmir. Barring a few, no one has ever done anything for Kashmir either. But do we at least not owe it to the thousands of Pakistanis dead in Indian Kashmir to at least examine why we did what we did and whether it was worth it?
No one can deny that Pakistan was presented with a golden opportunity in 1989. Regardless of what Indian apologists will say, the uprising that occurred in 1989 was a localized phenomenon. It can be safely construed that the movement was Muslim, in the sense there was not a Hindu or Buddhist presence. It can also be safely said that the movement was not Islamist, not at least in 1989. One thing on which Pakistani nationalists and Islamists can agree is that Pakistani support for the Kashmiri cause was absolutely a legitimate cause, borne by a territorial dispute as well as a history of animosity between the two nations. The anti-Indian sentiment was, and remains, a legitimate component of the valley’s citizens. Though Indians may celebrate the turnout of the recent provonicial election, let them not ignore the fact that the turnout remained in the low teens in Srinagar as well as other urban area. Keeping in mind that revolution and political fermentation usually takes place in urban areas, it is that low turnout in SRINAGAR that is more a legitimate political expression, relative to a rural village voting for a feudal elder.
Keeping in mind therefore the conducive political environment that existed in 1989, where exactly did Pakistan go wrong?
First and foremost, Pakistan’s error was to not countenance the independence of Kashmir, but rather actively move against that while giving support to Pro-Pakistan elements. In hindsight, the pro-independence movement would have resonated strongly not just in Kashmir valley, but also in other international capitals around the world. Whereas today Pakistan ineffectively tries to label the Kashmiri movement as self-determination, it should be realized that no such labelling needed to be done. Self determination was the legitimate demand of the majority of Kashmiris and the JKLF was it’s cutting edge. Yet, thanks to Pakistani direction, the Hizb and the JKLF went to war. In 1984, more JKLF member were killed by Hizb, compared to the number killed by the Indian Army. The Hizb was later sidelined in favor of the Lashkar eTaiba, and the metastizing of that phenomenon is now visible in Swat.
The second major strategic error was the utilization of Pakistani citizens as Jihadis infiltratng in Kashmir. Typically, the Pakistani liberal will speak up against this policy but that will be done on the basis of “Blowback”, where the local Pakistani population get’s radicalized. That may well be true, but the bigger issue is the strategic implication of using Pakistanis versus local Kashmiris. As Punjabi speakers started to infiltrate, essentially, Kashmiris started looking to the Lashkar as saviours – the people who will deliver Aazadi on a platter. India has supported Mukti in East Pakistan and Sri Lanka, but in both cases, they have taken care to keep the conflict localized and have not allowed recruitment and training of their own citizens. Pakistan on the other hand encouraged local “talent” and so, after 9/11, Kashmir was seen as a territorial dispute and not a desire for human expression in the form of self-expression. Pakistan was thus placed in a situation where it had to brand it’s own patriots as so called terrorists, and overtly stop providing any material support.
Where does Kashmir go now? The obvious answer is that the war for self-determination must go on. Pakistan should and can revert to it’s historic policy of providing moral support. But more importantly, Pakistan should take advantage of the Obama administration’s desire to “solve Kashmir” by offering a grand bargain in the style of Saudi Arabia vis a vis Palestine. A comprehensive rejection of any territorial ambition, accompanied by a holistic solution that trifurcates Indian Kashmir and allows for freedom for a joint entity. If nothing else, it will at least change the paradigm of the conversation and force the world to at least acknowledge the legitimacy of the Kashmir issue.