GB Elections: Why Kashmir’s ‘Pro-Azadi’ Camp Isn’t Celebrating

Pakistan PM Imran Khan during an election campaign in Gilgit-Baltistan

By Niloofar Qureshi

EVER since its launch three decades ago, All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) has consistently been advocating the idea of ‘Kashmir banega Pakistan’ (Kashmir will become part of Pakistan). And on this issue, it has the full backing of Hizbul Mujahideen, which is carrying on an ‘armed struggle’ in Kashmir for the same purpose. Thus, Islamabad’s grant of provincial status to Gilgit-Baltistan and holding elections there should have been a cause of great rejoicing, especially since GB (which is part of J&K) now becoming ‘part of Pakistan’ amounts to a major psychological victory for both the separatist conglomerate and militant groups.

However, instead of celebrations, there’s complete silence within APHC, which is a distinct sign that merger of GB with Pakistan has come as a rude shock for the pro-azadi camp in J&K. When Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan proposed grant of provincial status to GB, most people had thought that that this plan would fizzle out, just like it did when it was being considered in 2014 and again in 2016 since there was widespread opposition from APHC leadership Pakistan administered Kashmir (PaK) assembly and even the HM supremo.  This makes one wonder as to why the ‘pro-azadi’ camp and HM, (which owes its existence to Islamabad’s support) which opposed this move twice in the past, hasn’t it done so for the third time now?

In 2014, when Pakistan’s Ministry of Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit Baltistan (KAGB) announced the GB merger plan, the PaK assembly opposed this idea and unanimously adopted a resolution declaring that, “Making Gilgit-Baltistan a fifth province will weaken Pakistan’s national stand on Jammu and Kashmir at the international level. “The PaK Assembly logically justified this resolution by mentioning that, “Whenever a plebiscite is conducted the people of GB will also have the right to decide their future with the people of other parts of the State of Jammu and Kashmir”. This is a very pertinent view as it fulfils the mandatory condition laid down in the UN resolution on self-determination, which the APHC is fighting for! Since KAGB didn’t pursue this proposal any further, it seems that it was convinced by the PaK assembly’s views.

Two years later, when the Nawaz Sharif government again announced the GB merger plan, the AHPC opposed it tooth and nail for several extremely valid reasons. In its statement, the joint resistance leadership (JRL) of APHC (represented by SAS Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Mohammad Yasin Malik) reminded Islamabad that, “Any proposal to declare GB as the fifth province of Pakistan is unacceptable as it tantamount to changing the disputed nature of Kashmir.” The JRL also cautioned Islamabad that, “… any deviation in its stance about Kashmir and its geographical entity is improper and will prove detrimental for Kashmir cause.”

For the first time in history, key Hurriyat leaders as well as United Jihad Council (UJC) chief Syed Salahuddin came out unanimously to outrightly condemn a proposal made by Islamabad, a clear sign that the GB merger plan was unwelcome. In his typically blunt and forthright style, Hurriyat (G) leader SAS Geelani hit out saying, “There are no constitutional as well as moral justification in making any decision over any part of this territory without the consent of its people and it is also a clear violation of the UN resolutions on Kashmir.” JKLF chief Yasin Malik too wrote a letter to Sharif warning him that, “If Pakistan imposes its sovereign writ over GB, India will then have a political and moral right to integrate Kashmir with it. With one stroke, Pakistan will be helping India to consolidate its writ on Kashmir”.

‘Freedom Party’ President Shabbir Ahmed Shah pointed out that, “it (GB merger) will have an adverse impact on the entire Kashmir dispute,” as “this will also give India a chance to make a stronger claim for this side of Kashmir and also weaken our case at the UN.” He also warned Islamabad that “merger of GB will also have a significant implication on the demand for implementation of the United Nations resolutions which call for referendum in the state as it existed prior to the division in 1947.”

Even the HM supremo who generally avoids commenting on political issues, spoke up and said, “Such a step would impact the Kashmir dispute at the United Nations and give India a legal and moral pretext to lay claim on Kashmir” since “such an act on part of Pakistan will have serious ramifications on Kashmir issue as well as Kashmir centric UN resolutions (as) Pakistan’s move will give India justification in taking over parts of Kashmir”. Due to such strong opposition, the GB merger proposal was shelved once again.

However, the Imran Khan led PTI government has now gone ahead and implemented this plan despite objections from some APHC leaders. However, what’s ironic is not that Islamabad disregarded the appeals of APHC, but that the opposition to this plan from those heading the pro-azadi camp including UJC was so subdued that it gave an impression of being just a face-saving act and merely lip-service. This could be the actual reason why despite merger of GB with Pakistan being the very ‘first step’ towards fulfilling the APHC’s ‘Kashmir banega Pakistan’ dream’ is not being hailed or celebrated by the separatist conglomerate. And it is quite likely that on instructions from Islamabad, the separatists are keeping silent and not expressing their true feelings!

However, (like Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi had told his countrymen before the UNSC meet on Kashmir), let’s not live in a fool’s paradise. With CPEC running through GB, its merger with Pakistan was bound to happen because for Beijing, ensuring legal safeguard for this project matters more than the Kashmir issue and Islamabad has no other option but to oblige even if it means abandoning the Kashmir cause. This is why Islamabad made repeated to form consensus on GB merger.

This fact was well known to everyone including the APHC leadership right from the beginning and this is evident from the statements made by its leaders in the past. In January 2016, Geelani sahib made it clear to Islamabad that while, “we are not against the economic development and prosperity of the South Asian Region but creating trade routes (CPEC running through GB) on the cost of rights, interests, wishes and sacrifices of Kashmiri nation is injustice and unkind and it is also against the traditional and national Kashmir policy of Pakistan.”

Whatever Islamabad may say now to justify GB’s merger, the one thing that’s now become very clear is that Islamabad has no reply to Geelani sahib’s honest observation that “creating trade routes on the cost of rights, interests, wishes and sacrifices of Kashmiri nation is injustice and unkind and it is also against the traditional and national Kashmir policy of Pakistan”.

Views expressed in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily represent that of Kashmir Observer.

  • The author is a New Delhi based analyst  

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