It was cathartic to interact with the Kashmiri leadership from the Indian Held Kashmir (IHK). The All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) delegation, led by Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, comprised of living icons of the longest political struggle in the post-World War II era. The group was representative of at least three generations of the Kashmiri leadership. Each one of the seven members had at least one near and dear one martyred during the decades-long struggle. Right from the moment this delegation reached Pakistan, each and every segment of the society received them with overwhelming enthusiasm. The kind of reception given to them was a genuine display of love and affection for the Kashmiri people, their leadership and their just cause that is as dear to every Pakistani as to the Kashmiris themselves. All sectors of society cutting across the political, ethnic and sectarian divide passionately welcomed the guests, which is reflective of national consensus about the cause of Kashmir.

What is the cause of Kashmir? Nothing unusual or out of the way; in fact, it is the grant of an inalienable right of self-determination to the people of Kashmir. This is what the universally-accepted democratic norms stand for: the grant of the basic human right of choosing the way people want to live. The cause of Kashmir is to implement the UNSC resolutions pertaining to plebiscite, which means that the people of Kashmir have the right to exercise their options. The partition plan of June 03, 1947, had vested the authority in the rulers of the princely state to either join India or Pakistan or become an independent state while keeping in mind the aspirations of people.

When the high drama of the Maharaja’s accession to India was in the making, the conspiracy became a public knowledge, which resulted into widespread resentment among the Kashmiris. Soon a popular rebellion broke out in Jammu and Kashmir. Ever since, the Maharaja and the state legislature lost their popular acceptance. Hence, the right of self-determination stood devolved to the people of Kashmir, irrespective of their religion or ethnicity. It is as much a right of a Hindu Kashmiri as it is of a Muslim Kashmiri to vote freely for the candidate of his or her choice. This reality is well recognised and duly incorporated in numerous UN resolutions.

The APHC delegates symbolised a typical Kashmiri turmoil from within, perpetuated by state sponsored suppression, spanning over decades. The Kashmiris live in a dilemma regardless of whether it is a territorial conflict or the realisation of people’s aspiration. The visit of the Kashmiri leaders to Pakistan provided them an opportunity to exchange their views with the leaders, politicians and prominent opinion-makers about Pakistani perspective of Kashmir.

Against this backdrop, Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf termed the interaction with APHC a “positive sign” and said that “there is a consensus among all political parties of Pakistan on the Kashmir issue.” He maintained: “We praise the political acumen and wisdom of the Hurriyat leadership to highlight the cause of the people of Kashmir…....Pakistan fully supports them.”

Meanwhile, the APHC leadership reiterated its stance that Kashmiris should be included in the talks held between Islamabad and New Delhi. Mirwaiz said: “Talks between India and Pakistan are incomplete without the involvement of Kashmiris. We want to move forward and serve as a bridge of friendship between the two neighbours. But that is possible only when the demands of justice are met…....Kashmir is a political and humanitarian issue that ought to be resolved in accordance with the wishes of the Kashmiri people…....We are not averse to the way India and Pakistan are making progress in their relations and, in fact, we want the trust deficit between them to end.” He, however, questioned: “Can this deficit be removed without addressing the core issue?”

Mirwaiz opined that it was incumbent upon the Pakistani and AJK leadership to devise a mechanism to ensure that more Kashmir-related confidence building measures (CBMs) were taken and strengthened alongside progress on other issues. While appreciating the people-to-people contact, travel and trade initiatives and calling for their furtherance, he underlined the need to resolve the Kashmir issue. He said: “Time has come when barriers and distances between both parts of Kashmir should end. Only then, we will believe that the positive outcome of dialogue between Pakistan and India is being reflected in Kashmir.”

He pointed out that the Kashmiri people have grievances like other citizens in the world, but what mattered the most for them were their aspirations that need to be addressed for the establishment of durable peace in their motherland. He made it clear that the issue could not be brushed aside with economic packages or other incentives. He expressed the hope that India would bring flexibility in its approach and attitude to resolve the Kashmir issue. “India should not go for superficial or cosmetic peace, but take concrete steps to settle the issue amicably,” he stressed.

The APHC Chairman said that the Kashmir movement could not be suppressed or weakened through military might. “The Kashmiri youth is attached with the movement…….Just one flare up can bring hundreds of thousands of Kashmiris back on to the streets,” he warned. While supporting the trans-Kashmir travel of the Kashmiri leadership, he said: “We have to tell the world in conjunction that without the settlement of Kashmir issue, the dream of peace, progress and prosperity will never materialise. This visit is a process. Just one or two visits will not resolve the issue, but it will send a message that the real party has to be taken on board and will not accept any imposed readymade solution.”

Pakistan believes that result-oriented, uninterrupted dialogue process with India will greatly help create conducive environment to find a permanent solution of the Kashmir dispute in accordance with the Kashmiris’ aspirations.

Indeed, APHC’s visit is significant; it is reflective of the desire of both Pakistan and Kashmir to include Kashmiris in the dialogue process, as no solution of the dispute could be durable without their participation. Pakistan firmly believes that the Kashmir dispute is an unfinished agenda of the partition and that there could be no genuine peace and stability in the region without its just and permanent settlement.

Hopefully, the Kashmiri leadership stands reassured that though Pakistan is trapped in a myriad of problems, Pakistanis have neither forgotten the Kashmir conflict nor would they ever forsake it. We look forward to see the process of such visits flourishing!

The writer is a retired air commodore and former assistant chief of air staff of the Pakistan Air Force. At present, he is a member of the visiting faculty at the PAF Air War College, Naval War College and Quaid-i-Azam University.