Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan

The valley of Kashmir is the most beautiful geographical entity on earth and its ravishing landscape has impressed the visitors for centuries. When the Mughal Emperor, Jehangir, came to Kashmir, he was so spell bound by its calmness that he exclaimed: "If there is a paradise on earth, it is here, it is here, it is here."

But it is unfortunate that the people of this unrivalled paradise have been shackled in chains of slavery for over a century. The yearning and movement for independence of the Kashmiri people continued unabated all along this period. When the movement for Pakistan was launched, the people of Kashmir actively participated in it. Their eyes glistened with the hope for a new and bright morning, because a son of Kashmir from Sialkot, Allama Muhammad Iqbal, was the first one who dreamed about a separate homeland for the Muslims of the subcontinent.

His dream and contemplation about Pakistan, which he revealed in his address at Allahabad, caught the fancy of every Muslim throughout the length and breadth of the subcontinent and shone like a bright morning star for them. The movement for independence spread exponentially and the dream became a reality under the indomitable leadership of Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. But unfortunately, the fate of Kashmir became a casualty of the dishonest machinations of the British. Independence of Kashmir was held in abeyance and India usurped the territory by force. At the time of independence, it was decided that the fate of Kashmir will be decided through a plebiscite, but even after the lapse of 65 years that promise remains elusive.

Only a year after the independence of Pakistan, the youth of Kashmir liberated a part of it known as Azad Kashmir through their valiant struggle. Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in his address to the UN Security Council vehemently espoused the cause of Kashmiris and made the world believe that Kashmir and Pakistan were inseparable. Translating the sentiments of the Kashmiris, he said: “Jammu and Kashmir is not and has never been part of India. It is a disputed issue between Pakistan and India waiting to be resolved. As compared to India, Pakistan has much stronger ties with Kashmir. The people of Kashmir and Pakistan are strongly linked to each other through blood relations, history, culture and civilisation and geographical proximity. Their relationship is like a connection between soul and body." In the same address, he had uttered this famous and historic sentence: "We will fight the war for our defence for thousand years." This stance was widely acclaimed and appreciated in Kashmir, Pakistan and by the Muslims living around the globe. This unequivocal expression of solidarity further cemented the bonds between the two people.

When as a consequence of differences with Ayub Khan over the Tashkent Declaration, Bhutto spurned the Foreign Ministry and formed the PPP; the people of Pakistan and Kashmir welcomed it jubilantly. PPP Azad Kashmir was also formed at that time. The Kashmir dispute has always been a top priority of the PPP and its foreign policy. Shaheed Quad-i-Awam convened the Islamic Summit in Lahore in February 1974 and highlighted the issues of Kashmir and Palestine. He briefed the heads of the Islamic countries about the Kashmir conundrum and won their strong and unqualified support for the cause. During its first tenure, the PPP based its foreign policy on resolving the Kashmir tangle and raised it at all international forums. It made the world to acknowledge the importance of Kashmir dispute and exposed the Indian machinations to keep the Kashmiris under subjugation forcibly.

During the second PPP regime, headed by Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, the independence movement in Kashmir gained momentum under the auspices of All Pakistan Hurriyet Conference (APHC). During the 11 years of dictatorial rule, the issue of Kashmir had remained on the backburner. Therefore, when a democratic dispensation retuned to Pakistan, it rekindled a ray of hope for the people of Kashmir. The PPP sticking to its unswerving stance on Kashmir highlighted the issue and Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan was made the Chairman of the Foreign Committee. Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto and Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan attended Islamic Summit in Morocco and sensitised the Muslim world to the fact that APHC was the true representative of the will of the Kashmiri people. As a consequence of this recognition, the APHC participated in the talks between Pakistan and India, as a third party to the dispute.

The PPP has always strived for and emphasised the need for resolving the Kashmir dispute through parleys because wars only spell death and destruction and do not present solutions to the problems. Only a democratic thinking and creed can resolve the issues, no matter how intricate they are. A strong democracy is a guarantee against usurpation of the rights of others. Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, while addressing International Kashmir Alliance on May 29, 2004, had said: "I am one of those people who strongly believe that democracies do not foist wars on other democracies. I am saying this in the context of history of Pakistan and India. Since partition three wars have been fought between the two countries and all of them happened under the dictators. After sacking of my government, Pakistan thrice escaped a near war situation with India.”

It is a reality that when there is a democratic government in the country, it has strengthened the avenues of respect for others. No one’s self-respect and dignity is vitiated and surely the relations with the outside world also have a smooth sailing. An aggressor approaches the other countries with the same mindset, which scuttles the ambience of trust and amity.

When the independence movement in Kashmir was launched during the first government of Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, the democratic government fought and pleaded their case at the international level with all the vehemence it could muster, and also, as a mark of solidarity with the people of Kashmir declared to officially commemorate February 5 as the ‘Day of Solidarity’ with the Kashmiris. Since then Solidarity Day is being observed every year with full devotion and commitment. By observing it, a message is given to the world that India has illegally occupied Kashmir through force and is not willing to give the right of plebiscite to the Kashmiris in consonance with the UN resolutions on the subject. On this day, the world is sensitised about the oppression and the atrocities perpetrated by the Indian forces on the people of Kashmir, through holding of seminars and other activities by the Pakistani and Kashmiri expatriates, throughout the world.

The PPP has always emphasised the need for mutual links between Kashmiris on both sides of the border and even presented the proposal for opening the line of control so that people can meet their relatives. But it has never ever contemplated to compromise on the right of self-determination of the people of Kashmir. That surely is the reason why people of Kashmir have their unflinching trust on the PPP, because they are aware of the fact that the party is a true champion and flag bearer of their aspirations. In the recently held polls, the people of Kashmir have again reposed their confidence in the PPP. The PPP government in Azad Kashmir is the best custodian of their fundamental rights. The party and democracy represent the strongest bond between the people of Pakistan and Kashmir. The PPP is a practical and irrefutable demonstration of the words of Quaid-i-Awam that Kashmir and Pakistan are two bodies with one soul and thus inseparable.

The writer is the Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting.