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Pakistan’s Art. 370 dilemma

With the Pakistan backed Hurriyat almost defunct and flow of funds blocked, there is no money to encourage violence and compel the public to shut down businesses in support of Hurriyat demands.

Harsha Kakar | New Delhi |

The second anniversary of revoking Article 370 on 5 August was played up in Pakistan, as expected. Pakistan attempted to launch a twitter storm and had circulated twenty standardised messages to be spread on social media. It flopped. Every Pakistani leader, Imran Khan downwards, tweeted on the event. Imran Khan stated, “Pakistan will continue to fight the Kashmiri’s case with conviction.”

He had earlier declared himself as an ambassador for Kashmir. SM Qureshi, Pakistan’s foreign minister tweeted, “We will not relent in our moral and diplomatic support to Kashmiri’s right to self-determination.” Pakistan directed its population to maintain a minute’s silence at 9 am. The intention was to avoid it becoming a joke as the earlier 30 minutes’ silence, adopted in 2019, flopped.

Simultaneously, they placed a caricature of the Indian PM, Narendra Modi, at an important junction in Islamabad, and requested all passing the point to honk their horns. This was Pakistan’s immaturity, desperation and admission of failure of its Kashmir policy on display. The event was targeted at its domestic audience, seeking to shift attention from an economically failing state and offset the opposition charge that the government had surrendered Kashmir to India.

Last year, on the first anniversary of 5 August, Pakistan changed the name of its Kashmir Highway to Srinagar Highway, not that it made any difference; nor did the quality of the road improve. Pakistan also released a map claiming Kashmir belonged to it, which implied nothing. Imran Khan visited Muzaffarabad and addressed the legislative assembly; other ministers took out solidarity rallies in different cities.

A few days prior to the event, DG ISPR, the Pakistan army’s public relations department, released a song to mark Pakistan’s opposition to the Indian decision. Since 2019, Pakistan has remained confused on how to react to the abrogation of Article 370. From Black Day in 2019, it was Solidarity Day in 2020 and possibly honking day in 2021. When India abrogated article 370 in 2019, Pakistan announced a thirty-minute protest every Friday at noon.

It lasted just one Friday, and the only participants were government servants, who were ordered to stand under the sun to fulfil the government’s directions. Pakistan’s attempt to rope in the OIC into its stand against the Indian decision failed. The global community accepted that this was India’s internal decision and stood by India. Pakistan was left alone, hankering for attention.

It had taken the decision to protest. Hence it has no option but to continue with it every year, even if it means forcing its people to participate. Pakistan’s dreams of raising its flag at Lal Chowk has ended with a whimper of horns and slogans every 5 August. Confusion on how to react remains ripe within Pakistan. Discussing backchannel talks between India and Pakistan during his iftar interaction with select journalists, General Bajwa, the Pak army chief and de-facto decision maker, stated that Article 370 is of no concern to Pakistan.

What matters is restoration of statehood and no change in demography. SM Qureshi, in a TV interview in early May this year, mentioned that Article 370 was an internal matter of India. He stated, “In my view, Article 370 is not important.” When questioned on what was important, he added, “Article 35A. Article 35A, incorporated into the Constitution in 1954 by an order of the President in 1954, allowed the J and K legislature to define permanent residents of the state, their special rights and privileges.”

Qureshi was following the footsteps of General Bajwa. He was forced to change his statement a day later when faced with political backlash from the opposition. In his retraction, Qureshi stated, “Jammu & Kashmir is an internationally recognised dispute on the UNSC agenda. Nothing about J&K can be India’s internal matter.”

Pakistan has failed to inform its public that Article 370 was imposed in Kashmir in 1957, while the Kashmir dispute is of 1948. What has hurt Pakistan’s leadership is that there were only protests in Pakistan, nothing in Jammu and Kashmir. Not a single entity or political party in Kashmir demanded a protest. On the contrary, all political parties are actively participating in the delimitation exercise.

Only the Hurriyat chairman, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, commented on 5 August: “The Hurriyat would like to draw the attention of the citizens of India and the world at large that the present Indian government’s actions of August 5, 2019, has only complicated the dispute further over the State of J&K.” He was referring to the current Indo-China standoff as now being part of the Kashmir dispute.

He also urged the Centre to resume talks with Pakistan. Within Kashmir, there has been a sea change over the past two years. Violence levels are down, so is stone pelting. Central government schemes, ignored for decades, have been introduced. Grassroots democracy has been implemented with the successful conduct of District Development Council elections, in which every major political party participated. Tourism is back to normal. Educational institutions of repute are opening in the state.

Youth are still joining militant ranks; however, numbers are within control. Security forces have changed their strategy from eliminating terrorists to encouraging them from not joining militant ranks. With the ceasefire holding, infiltration has reduced. With the Pakistan backed Hurriyat almost defunct and flow of funds blocked, there is no money to encourage violence and compel the public to shut down businesses in support of Hurriyat demands.

Hurriyat leaders, charged for crimes and money laundering, are not in any position to dominate the political space. The common Kashmiri, realizing that he was exploited by the Hurriyat for their own personal gains, has begun ignoring them. This state of peace has irked Pakistan. It is in this atmosphere that the Imran Khan government acted on 5 August. Had it remained silent, it would have faced wrath from its opposition. It knew its protests mean nothing. It is caught between the frying pan and the fire, with little choice but to jump into the fire and protest for the sake of protesting.

(The writer is a retired Major-General of the Indian Army)