“Jammu and Kashmir is part of Pakistan, in blood, in flesh, in culture, in history, in geography. In every way and in every form.” – Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s speech at the United Nations

There are few words that can judiciously describe the sentiments of the Pakistani people for Kashmir and the continuing struggle of its inhabitants. It is even harder to explain the depth of anguish, frustration and distress at the tragic continuation of atrocities on a daily basis in Indian-occupied Kashmir, even seven decades on. The indigenous struggle for the right of self-determination by the Kashmiris has been undeterred by the barbarity of the 700,000 Indian forces illegally occupying the territory.

In recent years, the scale and nature of India’s human rights violations has expanded significantly. They are using every weapon in their arsenal to destroy the Kashmiri spirit and end the freedom struggle, with no consequences whatsoever, as the country utilizes all possible avenues to subvert attention from their gross abuses. Today, the unrestrained and targeted use of pellet guns is permanently blinding Kashmiris, especially the youth. They are being humiliated, their voices choked, and their source of connectivity with the outside world has been restricted. According to the data available as per Ministry of Foreign Affairs, open source and Amnesty International Report 2016, from 8th July 2016 till January 2018, the inhumane use of pellet guns to deter protesters by the ‘world’s largest democracy’ has injured 8,311 Kashmiri civilians, leaving 73 permanently blinded, 207 have lost one eye, and left 1,845 people with partially damaged eye sight and where 972 are at the verge of losing eyesight.

The curbs on media, kidnapping civilians, missing persons, harassment, extra-judicial killings and overreach of law enforcement agencies is dealt with a nonchalance of ‘business as usual’. In less than two years, 170 civilians have been martyred, 20,632 injured, 19,593 arrested including 813 under detention of Public Safety Act. Furthermore, 751 women have been molested by the Indian forces.

The fact that they are still failing to break their spirit is a testament to the boundless bravery, resilience and unbending resolve of Kashmiris, whose voices cannot be suppressed with aggression. What is worrisome, however, is that the targeted Indian campaign to blind the Kashmiris youth has garnered New Delhi regime with little to no global censure. It is appalling to note that these flagrant violations by large democracies go unnoticed by international humanitarian regimes and those who claim to be the champions of human rights. The fact remains therefore, that the international community has also failed the Kashmiri people, and the denial of the right of self-determination to Kashmiri people continues to stain their collective conscience.

For Pakistan however, Kashmir is our lifeblood and we will always support our brothers’ and sisters’ right to self-determination. Kashmir and Pakistan share a national, historical, political, religious, cultural and emotional bond spanning over centuries. Pakistan has a long standing commitment with the Kashmiri freedom struggle movement which was reiterated by the Founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah himself who referred to Kashmir as the “jugular vein” of the country.

It is in solidarity with the people of Kashmir, and in protest against the illegal Indian occupation and the atrocities being committed in the Indian-held Kashmir that Pakistan began observing 5th February as ‘Kashmir Day’ in 1990. As a result, Pakistan has faced the brunt of hostile Indian propaganda and retaliation for decades, but our support towards the cause and the freedom movement remains unwavering and bipartisan. The significance of Kashmir Day is illustrated from the fact that it is observed as a public holiday where seminars, conferences, demonstrations and special programs are conducted to not only highlight Indian atrocities spanning over several decades but to demonstrate Pakistan’s support to the Kashmir cause and pay homage to the brave Kashmiris who have lost generations fighting for their freedom.

The shared ideological bond between Kashmir and Pakistan has been the premise for the support and efforts made by many Pakistani leaders over the years. When this leadership has been at its strongest, and supported by political will in the country, we have achieved the greatest strides towards the resolution of the Kashmir issue. This phenomenon has been very visible in the era of every Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) government, for the PPP’s legacy is its commitment to the cause of Kashmir. For example, a little known fact, perhaps, is that it was the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) under Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto that February 5th was declared a public holiday, for while the cause of Kashmir is close to the heart of every Pakistani, the commitment to the Kashmiri freedom struggle is deeply rooted in the ideology of the Pakistan People’s Party.

Kashmir cause and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) have a historical bond. Even before the founding of the PPP, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the then Foreign Minister of Pakistan, gave a momentous speech on Pakistan’s historical and cultural bond with Kashmir in a speech at the United Nations.

PPP’s commitment to the people of Kashmir spans over three generations now. From the historic words of Shaheed Zulfiqar Bhutto, that “We shall fight a thousand years to liberate Kashmir”, to the former Prime Minister Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto’s assertion that Pakistan is incomplete without Kashmir, and Former President Asif Ali Zardari’s reaffirmation in his speech at the UN of Kashmir as our “jugular vein”, the PPP has always taken a strong leadership stance on the issue.

Today, Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has taken on that mantle, and upped the ante by unequivocally reiterating his and the Party’s support and solidarity to the people of Kashmir. He is also one of the few leaders who have clearly vocalized that the issue of Kashmir is beyond political partisanship. His commitment and devotion to the Kashmiri people is evident from his statement, “I will take back Kashmir, all of it, and I will not leave behind a single inch of it because, like the other provinces, it belongs to Pakistan”. His recent interview with India media outlets at DAVOS became another opportunity for him to highlight – fearlessly – that Pakistan would not compromise on its core national interests, of which Kashmir is the most important. Such strong and unflinching leadership is the only force that can move this conversation forward in a productive way, and the Chairman has clearly demonstrated both his ability and commitment.

PPP’s pledge to this cause is not unilateral, for the Kashmiri people and their leadership not only acknowledge but reciprocate the sentiment. In 2016, on the death anniversary of Shaheed Benazir Bhutto, the Chairman of Hurriyat Conference (M), Mirwaiz Umar Farooq tweeted that “Kashmir remembers Benazir Bhutto” and prayed for Bilawal, that “May Allah give you the strength to carry her mission forward”.

History is a witness to the fact that populist policies and short term goals irreparably harm the stability of the world and do an irrevocable damage to decades of resistance and humanitarian movements trying to create a just and equitable world for all. We need, today more than ever before, strong leadership to take the hard decisions and demonstrate the political will necessary to move towards a resolution of the Kashmir issue, for we all know that all paths to peace in South Asia pass through Kashmir.

The hard truth remains that the right of self-determination rests with people of Kashmir, and its attainment is only a matter of time. On this day, we remember for the 28th year, the struggle of the hundreds and thousands of Kashmiris who have sacrificed everything for their freedom, and renew our commitment to the people of Kashmir. The dissenting voices will not be silenced anymore.