22nd Jan, 2023. 09:05 am

Betraying Kashmir

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif did no service to Kashmir by his ill-thought-out and embarrassing remarks on the sensitive issue in an interview with the Dubai-based Al Arabiya TV on January 16. Sharif literally begged for talks with the Hindu extremist regime of India even though there are no takers for peace in New Delhi at this point in time. Sharif asked the UAE to facilitate these talks, saying Pakistan had learnt its lesson after fighting three wars with India. No wonder the Indian media had a field day ridiculing Pakistan, while our Foreign Office had to clarify that there has been no change in its position on Kashmir, or on the resumption of talks with India, which remains linked with the fundamental condition that New Delhi scraps its August 5, 2019 unilateral steps in the disputed Himalayan region. The PM’s remarks also came as a blow to Kashmiris, struggling for their right to self-determination despite brutal Indian state-terrorism and human rights violations.

PM Shehbaz’s irresponsible stance shows how oblivious and indifferent is Pakistan’s so-called national leadership about the intentions of the enemy, its atrocities in occupied Kashmir and the discrimination against Muslims in India. It also underlines the worrying disconnect between the Prime Minister House and the Foreign Office. The Hindu extremist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi made the disputed Muslim-majority region part of India’s union territory and allowed Indian nationals to settle there in an attempt to change its demography. He took these steps in violation of the UN resolutions and bilateral agreements with Pakistan, as well as revoking even the nominal constitutional guarantees given to the people of Kashmir.

It was against this backdrop that former premier Imran Khan’s government took the bare-minimum position of “no-talks with India” until it revokes these unilateral steps. The Imran government also downgraded diplomatic relations with India and barred normal trade with the country’s eastern neighbour. However, a strong lobby within the country’s ruling elite, including the media, has been trying to force Pakistan to change its stance one-sidedly, accepting the new redlines drawn by India. Even during the PTI government, some ministers tried to open trade relations with the country, but the strong public reaction backed by stiff opposition by other cabinet members foiled this attempt. Attempts were yet again made to open trade with India by the Shehbaz Sharif government under the pretext of floods. The move again had to be halted because of public reaction.

The prime minister’s remarks should also be seen in the context of Sharif clan’s history of appeasing New Delhi at the cost of Kashmir cause. Former convicted premier Nawaz Sharif went out of the way to give one-sided concessions to India and even refused to meet with the Hurriyat leadership to please his hosts. His betrayal of the Kashmir cause has been documented by Pakistan’s former high commissioner to India, Abdul Basit, in his acclaimed book ‘Hostility’. Therefore, it should not come as a surprise that Shehbaz Sharif, toeing the line of his brother, is out to damage the Kashmir cause while holding the most important slot in the government. His remarks that Pakistan has learnt its lesson by fighting India not just reflects the defeatist mindset that he wants to infuse among Pakistanis, but should also be seen as an admission by none other than the prime minister himself that it was Pakistan that provoked and started those wars.

History belies the PM’s position. It was India that imposed war on Pakistan – be it in 1948, 1965 or 1971. The way India usurped Kashmir against the will of its people is the original crime that is bedeviling relations between the two nuclear-armed neighbours. The dispute is on the UN agenda and cannot be wrapped up because a Hindu extremist leader wants to settle it in India’s favour unilaterally. For Pakistan, it had never been a territorial conflict, but accepting the will and vote of Kashmiris, their fundamental rights acknowledged under all international laws. The Kashmir issue cannot be settled on Indian terms simply because a few weak-kneed, and spineless politicians are ready to betray the cause for their narrow self-interest. No state sacrifices its long-term interests because of its momentary weaknesses.


Today, Pakistan’s economy is, indeed, in shambles and its politics in crisis, but this does not mean that things can’t and won’t change. Only a strong and stable Pakistan can fight and win Kashmir’s case in line with the UN charter. But keeping the issue alive until then is also vital.



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