Pakistan and Azadi

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It is hardly conceivable that Pakistan will draw some criticism in Valley. People generally look towards the country as a reassuring supporter of the ongoing movement for the resolution of Kashmir. There certainly is a significant support for Kashmir’s merger with the country just in case Kashmiris are granted such an option as part of a settlement effort for the state.  But then there is substantial support for the independence too. And it is here that Islamabad seems to have temporarily run afoul of the sentiment in the Valley and hence attracted some criticism. The provocation has been the Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi ruling out  independence as one of the settlement options for the state.  Addressing a recent conference on ‘Future of Pakistan 2017′ held at the London School of Economics’ South Asia Centre, Abbasi said Azadi option “had no basis in reality” claiming that there was “no support for the demand for independent Kashmir

This triggered an instant critical response on the social media, with people seeing the statement as a big let down by a country which is expected to stand by the aspirations of the people of the state, considering it has supported and vigorously championed the ongoing separatist movement in the state.  The BJP led government’s  hardline security-centric approach has further drawn the people towards the  neighbouring country. Pakistan’s highlighting of the human rights situation at the international fora and the effort to mobilize global opinion for the resolution of Kashmir has further the country’s stock. And the one element that makes this apparently deep bond durable is that it is not seen as transactional. Kashmiris  wouldn’t expect the country to unilaterally decide their future for them but take them on board.  People expect Pakistan to support the right of the people of the state to decide their own destiny.  

So Abbasi’s statement was seen as contrary to this expectation. Many Kashmiris have spoken against Pakistan PM’s comment, most of them on social media, so have the political leaders including even JKLF supremo Yasin Malik. In a statement, Malik asked Pakistan the country to highlight the human rights situation in the state than make any controversial statements which only create confusion among people.  In Kashmir, as is well-known a majority of the pro-freedom camp is pro-Pakistan camp. On one end of the ideological  divide is Tehreek Hurriyat led by Syed Ali Shah Geelani which is pro-Pakistan and on the other Malik’s JKLF  which is pro-independence.  

However, if the opinion polls are anything to go by, the reality on the ground is largely opposite. A 2010 poll published by the British think tank Chatham House revealed that nearly half of the people living in the Indian and Pakistani parts of Kashmir wanted Kashmir to become an independent country. Similarly one such poll carried out by Delhi’s Centre for the Study of Developing Societies in 2007 found that nearly 90 percent of people wanted Kashmir to become an independent country.  However, the prospect of Kashmir ever coming to make such choices is still in the realm of speculation or in a seemingly distant future. All that the criticism of Abbasi’s comment underlines is that Kashmiris are against the political status quo but they are amenable to an acceptable solution  which recognizes their agency too.

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