Pakistan observed the Kashmir Solidarity Day on February 5. The day is observed annually since 1990 when late chief of Jamaat-e-Islami Qazi Hussain Ahmed first floated this idea to express support to the Kashmiris. Occupied Kashmir has remained a thorn in the relationship between Pakistan and India since 1947. The two nuclear-armed neighbours have fought wars, and intermittent rounds of talks have failed to break the deadlock.
What changed of late was that India made Kashmir a “non-negotiable” issue after it unilaterally revoked the special status of the disputed territory. The August 5, 2019 move was also in violation of the 1972 Shimla Accord that prohibits both countries from changing the status quo till the final settlement. The unilateral step coupled with Modi government’s approach diminished any chances of a dialogue between the two countries on the Kashmir dispute. Prime Minister Imran Khan, though, before the re-election bid of Modi thought that the hardline Indian leader might be good for taking unpopular decisions. But contrary to his expectations, PM Modi, emboldened by the heavy mandate second time around, did exactly the opposite. What happened post-August 5, 2019 saw the bilateral relationship dip further. PM Imran, who earlier was willing to go the extra mile to resolve all festering issues with India, took the attack to Modi, branding him as Hitler.
But on Kashmir Solidarity Day, Imran again offered what appears to be an ‘olive branch’ to India. “If India demonstrates sincerity in seeking a just solution to the Kashmir issue, in accordance with UNSC resolutions, we are ready to take two steps forward for peace,” he tweeted.
Two days before the PM’s tweet, Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa had to say this: “It is time to extend hand of peace in all directions. Pakistan and India must also resolve the longstanding issue of Jammu and Kashmir in a dignified and peaceful manner as per the aspirations of people of Jammu and Kashmir and bring this human tragedy to its logical end.”
Both statements may be consistent with Pakistan’s policy of seeking a solution of Kashmir through dialogue but given the current hostilities between the two neighbours, its significance cannot be understated.
If diplomatic sources are to be believed, both PM Imran and the Army Chief made these statements in view of the change of government in the US. Pakistan, through these gestures, wants to signal the Biden administration that it is not the hurdle in regional peace. President Joe Biden in his maiden foreign policy speech suggested the US emphasis would be on “diplomacy, democracy and human rights”. Pakistani officials think that unlike Donald Trump, Biden would seek a multilateral approach on global issues. Trump did offer mediation on Kashmir but never pressed the Modi government when it resisted the offer. Biden, although would still seek deepening strategic partnership with India due to China factor and is likely to return to old style US diplomacy. It is expected that the Biden administration would push India behind the scenes to lower tensions with Pakistan and improve the situation in Occupied Kashmir. It was because of this that the Indian government recently restored 4G internet services in the disputed territory. The move is aimed at pre-empting a possible US criticism of India’s gross human rights abuses in the occupied territory.
Meanwhile, it is highly unlikely that India would respond positively to Pakistan’s latest offer. What Pakistan needs to do is to have internal consensus. On the face of it, everyone is on the same page on the Kashmir issue. But when opposition and government leaders hold separate rallies in Muzaffarabad on Kashmir Day, it certainly does not send the right message!
Published in The Express Tribune, February 8th, 2021.