The Kashmir issue has traditionally been an important talking point during electioneering. Here’s how different parties approached it this time
he general elections in Pakistan resonate on both sides of the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir. Although the most absorbing electoral battles were fought among three major parties: the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, the Pakistan Peoples Party and the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, 44 other parties also participated in the election and presented their manifestos to the public.
The election campaign was watched with keen interest in Occupied Kashmir, as Kashmiris believe that the new government’s policy towards the region could have a direct impact on their lives in Srinagar and Muzaffarabad alike. Similarly, people living in Azad Jammu and Kashmir, despite not being eligible to vote in Pakistan’s elections, also closely followed the election campaign. They were hoping that the new government will be able to address their long-standing grievances, particularly irregular power outages, slow internet and scarcity of essentials.
In a visit to AJK on Kashmir Solidarity Day, Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul Haq Kakar and Army Chief Gen Asim Munir emphasised Pakistan’s constant support for the Kashmiri people’s demand for self-determination. Kakar emphasised that Kashmir continues to be the nation’s top foreign policy priority, demonstrating an unwavering national position. At the LoC, Gen Munir issued a strong warning. He vowed to utilise all of Pakistan’s military power against any act of aggression or breach of the country’s territorial sovereignty.
Shahbaz Sharif, president of the PML-N, pledged solidarity with the people of Occupied Kashmir. He stressed Pakistan’s unity in supporting their right to self-determination and urged the world to deliver the promised plebiscite. He highlighted Kashmir’s status as a disputed territory and said that just solutions for both Kashmir and Palestine were crucial for restoring peace. He urged the United Nations Security Council to act accordingly.
The leader of Jamaat-i-Islami, Sirajul Haq, stated that the Indian government was mercilessly attacking the Muslim minorities following its revocation of Kashmir’s special status. Speaking at a Kashmir Solidarity rally, he said that better relations with India should not come at the expense of the Kashmiris.
A wave of concern has rippled through social media about the apparent lack of focus on Kashmir in the election campaign. Abdul Basit, previously Pakistan’s high commissioner to India, tweeted that it looked like leaders of some major political parties including the PML-N and the PPP had forgotten Kashmir and Palestine and expressed disappointment.
Talking to The News on Sunday, Qaiser Khan, a civil society activist, said that the limited focus on Kashmir had more to do with the internal political instability and extreme uncertainty about the possibility of elections in Pakistan. He also said Pakistan’s Kashmir policy had been in disarray for the past five years. He said the political and military establishments had not come up with a consistent policy response to India’s actions on August 5. He said discontent within Pakistan itself, evident in the agitation in Gilgit-Baltistan and AJK over political rights and disillusionment with Pakistan’s Kashmir’s policy, had made it tricky for political parties to mention Kashmir in a wholesome manner.
Notably, while Kashmir’s presence in the public discourse is undeniable, its specific mention in the current election campaigns has been overshadowed by issues like inflation and unemployment. This shift, compared to previous elections where Kashmir dominated campaign speeches and manifestos, raises questions about whether various parties are strategically downplaying the issue or if public discourse has shifted focus.
Arif Bahar, a Muzaffarabad-based analyst, said that key decision-makers in Pakistan had long been under external pressure on the Kashmir issue. The establishment, as a stabilising force, might provide some temporary relief to the Kashmiris. In the past, he said, some leaders had been removed from power for attempting to negotiate a settlement on Kashmir with India. He said the situation had changed and now the decision-makers appeared resigned to the ground reality.
Notably, while Kashmir’s presence in the public discourse is undeniable, its specific mention in the current election campaigns has been overshadowed by domestic issues like inflation and unemployment. This shift, compared to previous elections where Kashmir dominated campaign speeches and manifestos, raises questions about whether various parties are strategically downplaying the issue or if public discourse has shifted focus.
The PPP manifesto calls for a nuanced approach to India, balancing the pursuit of regional peace with strong criticism of its actions in Occupied Kashmir. While advocating for normal relations, the PPP sets strict preconditions. Dialogue is seen as a pathway to peace but only after these demands are met. The manifesto also highlights potential areas of cooperation with India, like climate change and infrastructure. While the manifesto presents a clear position, it lacks details on crucial aspects. Notably, it doesn’t specify concrete steps for resuming dialogue with India. Additionally, the feasibility of fostering cooperation issues like climate change and infrastructure while tensions over Kashmir persist remains unclear.
The PMLN position is more diplomatic. While promoting dialogue and regional prosperity through trade and connectivity initiatives like reviving the SAARC summit, it mentions that normalising ties is contingent on reversing August 5, 2019 actions. This recognises a potential roadblock to dialogue.
The PTI manifesto lacks a clear stance towards the Kashmir cause. It outlines a foreign policy prioritising advocacy for the right of self-determination, particularly for Kashmiris and Palestinians. As the manifesto lacks details on specific diplomatic strategies, it remains unclear how the PTI plans to move forward in its relations with India.
The trade relations between India and Pakistan have been complex, marked by periods of cooperation and conflict. The situation took a significant turn in August 2019 when India revoked Jammu and Kashmir’s special status. In reaction, Pakistan downgraded diplomatic relations and discontinued trade. This move significantly impacted economic ties between the two nations. The future of trade ties rests on the delicate balance between finding common ground for dialogue, addressing economic needs and navigating political complexities under the new government.
Kashmiris on both sides of the LoC are hoping that the new government in Pakistan will be able to play a positive role in resolving the Kashmir issue and bringing lasting peace to the region. The impact the new government makes will depend not just on who wins but also on the policies it pursues, its commitment to dialogue and its willingness to address the aspirations of the Kashmiri people. Only time will tell if the new administration will pave the way for a new chapter in Kashmir’s troubled history.
The writer is a freelance contributor based in Azad Jammu and Kashmir. She tweets at@hunain_mahmood. She can be reached at hunainmehmud101 @gmail.com