Kashmir in Pakistani politics

At the slightest hint of normalisation of relations with India, every Pakistani government is accused of selling out on Kashmir. Yet, as the 1998 elections showed, a political party that stood for better relations with India won a record majority in parliament.

There is a Kashmir battle fought within Pakistan that is perhaps as intense as the militants' fight in Indian Kashmir and certainly much more vicious than the Pakistani diplomats' harangue of their Indian counterparts at the UN. This is the one fought by Pakistani politicians in an attempt to outdo one another in proving their empathy for the Kashmir cause.

If India claims that Kashmir is an "integral part" of its territory, Pakistan too can claim that Kashmir is an integral part of its domestic agenda. Politicians feel that they can win over the common citizen by appearing to champion the Kashmir cause. The opposition of the day makes full use of it to destabilise or at least embarrass the sitting government in Islamabad. And the government, for its part, has to appear to be doing something on Kashmir and uses the official media to portray its 'achievements' on the issue. All of which only serves to play into the hands of hawkish elements in the establishment and, in effect, makes it almost impossible to solve the Kashmir issue through negotiations.

Pakistan has felt the need to invoke Kashmir to garner public support right from the beginning when it supported the militia push to capture Kashmir in 1947. But after the 1947-48 war with India, the Kashmir issue remained in cold storage for nearly 20 years, at least on the domestic front. That is until Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the charismatic foreign minister of military dictator Ayub Khan from 1963 to 1965 (and later prime minister), realised its 'potential' and popularised it at the mass level.

Even as Jawaharlal Nehru found it difficult to move on Kashmir in the last years of his life, fearing what he called a "Hindu backlash" within India should the UN-mandated plebiscite on Kashmir be held, Bhutto succeeded in taking Pakistan's Kashmir policy back to the initial two years of the problem which was marked by extreme suspicions, high emotions and armed conflict in which civilians were also involved. He used his showmanship and rhetoric, so far unsurpassed in Pakistan's politics, to mobilise mass support on his government's stand on Kashmir. In the process, he became a hero and that contributed to his ascendancy to the office of the prime minister.

Bhutto played an instrumental role in pushing India and Pakistan to the 1965 war which was basically fought over Kashmir, unlike the 1971 one in which Kashmir remained largely unaffected. He then used the war and its aftermath to further his own political career. Even his addresses to international fora were made with the audience back home in mind.

Particularly memorable was Bhutto's speech at the UN Security Council on the night of 22-23 September 1965, while the war was still on. Pakistanis who heard it live on radio were enthralled as Bhutto thundered: "The people of Jammu and Kashmir are part of the people of Pakistan in blood, in flesh, in life, in culture, in geography, in history, in every form. We will wage a war for a thousand years, a war of defence."

The war went on for only 17 days. On 10 January 1966, Ayub Khan and Lal Bahadur Shastri signed the Tashkent declaration stating their "firm resolve to restore normal and peaceful relations between their countries and to promote understanding and friendly relations between their peoples". Bhutto, who was soon kicked out of the cabinet, accused his former boss of a sellout in Tashkent and it was this 'sellout' charge that ultimately led to Ayub Khan's fall.

Bhutto himself came under similar flak when he signed the Shimla agreement on 2 July 1972, which stated that India and Pakistan had "resolved to settle their differences by peaceful means through bilateral negotiations or by any other peaceful means mutually agreed upon between them". The opposition instantly labelled the agreement a sellout worse than Tashkent, and insisted that it included a secret agreement by Bhutto to forego Pakistan's claim on Kashmir.

Bhutto was forced to defend himself in the strongest language possible. "I tell you as a Muslim and I swear on oath. I swear in the presence of Almighty Allah that there has been no secret agreement…On the vital question of Kashmir…we have made no compromise. We told them categorically that the people of Kashmir must exercise their right of self-determination."

Though the rhetoric continued, Kashmir was once again relegated to the background of the Pakistani political scene in the 1970s. For most of the 1980s, too, the political parties were busy fighting for basic human rights and had to concentrate on the miseries of the Pakistani people. However, with the re-establishment of democratic rule in Pakistan in 1988, and subsequent beginning of the ongoing insurgency within the Valley, Kashmir once again moved centrestage.

The official media, now armed with the power of colour television, rose to the occasion. It launched dozens of programmes every week to highlight the situation in Indian Kashmir. Pakistan's Inter-Services Public Relations joined hands with Pakistan Television to produce some of the most expensive and popular drama serials on Kashmir showing human rights violations and the militancy in Indian Kashmir in graphic terms, fuelling angry reactions among the public.

Kashmir emerged once again as a hobby-horse with Pakistani politicians. The credit, however, for an extremely hawkish stand on Kashmir goes to Zulfikar Bhutto's daughter and leader of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), Benazir Bhutto. There appeared to be some compulsion on daughter Bhutto's part to take such a position since the opposition led by the Pakistan Muslim League (PML) constantly portrayed her party as anti-Pakistan, pro-West and pro-India during a decade-long martial rule and later when she became prime minister in 1988. Despite her extremist stance, the Muslim League played the Kashmir card against the PPP government whenever it got the chance.

But Kashmir helped Benazir in other ways too. When a revered democratic icon and a thorn in every government's flesh, Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan, leader of the small Pakistan Democratic Party (PDP), had to be accommodated in Benazir's second coalition government (1993-1996), a parliamentary Kashmir Committee was formed and Nasruallah Khan was made chairman with the status of a federal minister. His committee was given a generous annual budget of PKR 100 million. More than the Kashmiri struggle, Khan soon became associated with his Lexus Sedan and expensive foreign tours.

When Kashmir was dropped from the Security Council agenda in 1996, the committee came under fire from the opposition in Parliament for its "lethargic performance". Opposition legislator Gohar Ayub said: "Nothing has proven a bigger farce than this Kashmir cause crusade which has only ended up in the letting down of the Kashmiri and Pakistani people."

Nawabzada responded by accusing Gohar Ayub's father, the late Ayub Khan, of squandering a golden opportunity in 1962, when, instead of helping Kashmiris begin a jehad (in Nawabzada's view, they were ready for it), the dictator had almost bartered away Kashmir during his Delhi visit where he allegedly offered a joint-defence pact to Indian prime minister Nehru.

Nasrullah Khan, however, got his chance to get back a year later when the musical chair of Pakistani politics put Ayub in charge of foreign affairs and Khan was thrown out of the parliament. He accused the PML government of falling prey to international conspiracies on the issues of Kashmir and Pakistan's nuclear programme. He warned that the "government will not hesitate in compromising on Kashmir and its nuclear programme and signing a treaty on the two issues to the detriment of the country".

And in September 1997, when the Kashmir issue was altogether omitted in the annual report of the UN Secretary General, Benazir declared it a failure of the Nawaz Sharif government.

It is by now expected that any sitting opposition will accuse the government of a sellout on Kashmir at the slightest hint of normalisation of relations with India. When Rajiv Gandhi visited Pakistan in 1989, Nawaz Sharif accused Benazir of compromising on Kashmir and when Nawaz met Gujral in February 1998, Benazir was quick to accuse him of taking a "line of compromise".

But for all that, no one plays the Kashmir card in Pakistani politics more than the religious parties. In the early days after independence, religious parties largely seemed disinterested in Kashmir. In fact, Maulana Abul Ala Maududi, the founder of the Jamaat-e-Islami, opposed Pakistani involvement in any armed conflict in Kashmir arguing that Islam did not allow a proxy war. Religious parties, lacking a concrete agenda, took up the Kashmir cause only after it had been popularised by politicians like Zulfikar Bhutto.

The war in Afghanistan played a role in hardening the stance of the religious groupings. The war so militarised the parties that after it was over, they faced the problem of redefining themselves. For the largest of them, the Jamaat-e-Islami, the new war cry became: "Ham Jashn-i-Kabul mana chukay. Ab ao chalo Kashmir chalain" (We have celebrated the victory in Kabul. Now let's go to

Kashmir has become a stick in the hands of the religious parties with which they can beat any government, and cry foul at the slightest indication of normalisation of relations with India. The Jamaat gave a call for strike and observed a black day when Vajpayee visited Lahore in February this year. It accused Nawaz of "humiliating himself in front of Vajpayee" and trying to divide Kashmir. Parties like the Jamaat tie up Kashmir with such issues as buying potatoes from India or selling sugar, which, "amounts to betraying the freedom movement in the occupied Valley".

But for all the posturing, the last elections proved that a political party in Pakistan can rise to power without playing the India and the Kashmir card in domestic politics. During the 1998 election campaign, Nawaz Sharif vowed to build better relations with India and take an initiative in this regard if he came to power. His party won with a record majority.

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