Most of what we heard at the three days’ conference held at the National University of Modern Languages (NUML), Islamabad, on the topic of “The Kashmir Dispute: Past, Present and the Future,” was already known. But a few ideas were really thought provoking, such as the word Pakistan Occupied Kashmir used by a few students aspiring to have an independent Kashmir, the resentment against the Parliamentary committees on Kashmir for their inabilities to internationalise the Kashmir cause, anger over Gilgit Baltistan not yet given the status of the fifth province of Pakistan. The frustration to see every Indian Pakistani spat resulting in attacks on Kashmiris whether on the Line of Control (LoC), or on the working boundaries, while the Wagha and other borders remain calm. Some of these queries reflect emotions. Some questions manifest a genuine worry, while others betray shallow thinking. The usage of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir was especially unsavoury to the ears. The head of the International Department at NUML, Professor Dr Adnan Sarwar, responded to the student who had used this word saying: “If you think that Pakistan side’s Kashmir is an occupied territory, become a freedom fighter and pelt stones on the soldiers. It would surprise you to see them responding with compassion.” The faith in Pakistan’s commitment to Kashmir and the ignorance of the students about the ground realities, gave a realisation to the senior faculty at NUML that it is not enough to teach Kashmir merely as part of foreign policy within the discipline of International Relations (IR). Instead, Kashmir should be taught as a full-full-fledged subject. Towards the end of the conference, the idea was floated among the readers, drawing huge applause.
There is an agreement among the intelligentsia and civil society that Pakistan’s Kashmir policy has not helped in either internationalising the issue or in forcing India to stop human rights violation in Jammu and Kashmir. The resentment among the students on the Kashmir Committees of both the National Assembly and the Senate is based on facts. What have these two committees done so far, other than being a drain on the national exchequer? The significant flaw perhaps lies in the choice of the heads chairing the committees. Both, Maulana Fazlur Rehman and Senator Sirajul Haq, belong to religious parties. The former leads his faction of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, and the latter is the Amir of Jamat-e-Islami. Giving Kashmir a religious cover has been detrimental to Pakistan with the consequence that the country is considered a conduit to terror financing in the global arena. If Pakistan is serious about the Kashmir issue, these parliamentary committees should be stripped of their religious tuner. A technocrat in the Senate and an MNA in the NA, with a firm grip on Kashmir or international affairs should be appointed as heads of both the committees. This switch will indicate Pakistan’s willingness to solve the issue through a diplomatic process. The struggle for Kashmir is a political endeavour and only through this mechanism could Pakistan make a strong case against India’s brutality in the region. To establish that the insurgency in Kashmir is indigenous, Pakistan has to renounce the policy of using religion to justify that Kashmir is the unfinished agenda of the Two Nation Theory.
As far as the current state of Gilgit Baltistan (GB) is concerned, it cannot be changed, neither administratively nor constitutionally without the consent of the Kashmiris. Rightly so, leadership of Kashmir in both India and Pakistan have always objected to making GB Pakistan’s province. Notwithstanding the grievances of the people of GB for lack of development and good governance notwithstanding, their economic future is secure because of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor project. Called a game changer, the CPEC might as well turn a new leaf in the lives of the people of overall Kashmir, by liberating them from the prison of the historical mistake made by Harri Singh and his Indian and British counterparts. Until that happens, the Kashmiris living in Indian Occupied Kashmir (IoK) and along the borders at the LoC or Boundary Lines will have to bear the brunt of India’s hostilities.
In her recommendations, while wrapping up the moot, the focal person of the conference, Dr Sarwat Rana, Assistant Professor IR department, emphasized the importance of engagement of the intelligentsia for a systemic solution of the insurgency in Kashmir; because reason and not emotion can enable both Pakistan and India to sit down and talk. Dr Rana underscored the importance of defeating India’s narrative that it’s Pakistan-led terrorism and not insurgency that has created unrest in Kashmir. The international community including the Muslim countries, she advocated, has to break its silence over India’s brutalities and Kashmiris’ right to self-determination as their right.
Not to make the conference a one time occasion, the convener at NUML and the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan under whose auspices the conference was held together, must motivate and assist the intelligentsia in both the countries to work on their respective governments and the international actors for the revival of the Confidence Building Mechanisms (CBM). One reason why India is not willing to discuss Kashmir with Pakistan is because the CBMs internationalise the Kashmir conflict. Pakistan’s effort should be to revive the process of dialogue, and who could do it better than the thinking minds of universities and the think tanks.
The writer is a freelance journalist based in Lahore.