The recent killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander, Burhan Muzaffar Wani in the Indian held Kashmir is considered a major setback to the already fragile India-Pakistan relations. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif declared him a martyr of the Independence Movement. To show solidarity with the people of Kashmir and nearly 48 bereaved families, whose loved ones were gunned down by the security forces while protesting and mourning against the heavy handedness of the state authorities, the government of Pakistan also marked July 20 as black day.
Approximately after fifteen years, Kashmir is once again dominating not only media headlines but also the streets of Pakistan. The tragic attacks on the key United States buildings on 9/11 and subsequent events made Kashmir a secondary priority in Islamabad’s policy-making circles. Pakistan got strangled into the war on terror in Afghanistan. Subsequently, a wave of terrorist activities destabilised it to a great extent.
In 2008 and 2010, unprecedented protests took the streets of Srinagar. However, Pakistan, despite persistent calls and temptations from Kashmir, exhibited immense restrain, hoping that bilateral negotiation would pave the way to the resolution of Kashmir issue. Pakistan People’s Party government seriously wanted to build on the gains which were made during the ex-President Pervez Musharraf’s era from 2003-2007, but its efforts were to no avail.
From 2010-2016 normalcy prevailed across Kashmir, violence almost disappeared. It was the right time to engage Kashmiri dissidents and strike a political deal with them but New Delhi, out of its arrogance, missed this opportunity.
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Unlike the soft-pedaling Congress Party, the current Bharatiya Janata Party led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government upped the ante to marginalise Pakistan and dissidents’ voices in Kashmir, both at the domestic as well as international levels since it clung to power.
All formal or informal dialogue process was snapped since August 2014. Pro-Azadi leadership was barred to run political activities. Channel of communication with the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, a conglomerate of several political parties, ceased to exist. Besides, BJP publicly pledged to revoke Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, which ensures a special status for the Jammu and Kashmir state within the Indian Union.
These ill-advised steps weaken Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s resolution to substantively invest his time and energies into India and Pakistan relations, besides frustrating his advisers. Incidentally, elections in Azad Jammu and Kashmir concurred with the recent upsurge in held Kashmir. Electioneering in AJK played a vital role in reviving countrywide interest in Kashmir. It also generated a competitive politics where every party is striving hard to turn out as a major supporter of Kashmir cause.
Politicians such as Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Chairman, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari heavily criticised Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif during his elections campaign in the major cities of Azad Kashmir. Addressing a public gathering in Muzaffarabad, he questioned: “Can’t he [Nawaz Sharif] see the killings of innocent Kashmiri youth and disgrace that Kashmiri women have to face? How many times did he mention Kashmir in the past few days?”
Likewise, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leaders, including Imran Khan, accused Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s soft and engaging approach towards India.
The constant accusation by the opposition parties has forced Sharif and his party to drastically reduce their direct engagement with the Indian government and display strong posturing. Besides, Pakistani establishment also views the present situation as an opportunity bestowed by God for giving a befitting response to India.
It is widely believed in policy-making circles of Islamabad that the way BJP is handling Kashmir would further aggravate the situation and alienate the already estranged young people. The recent statements show that India is still in a mode of denial and not willing to accept ground realities, considering Kashmir through the prism of a law and order problem.
The blatant use of state force against the protesters including youth, children and women, jamming internet, social media, cell phones and debarring newspapers is one of the evidences of this typical mindset. The Indian Home Minister, Rajnath Singh, accused Pakistan of being responsible for all the trouble in Kashmir, stating in Rajya Sabha that the neighbouring country was responsible for what was happening in Jammu and Kashmir.
People across Pakistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir are shocked to hear about Kashmiris living under constant curfew, civilians being killed routinely and security force officials enjoying legal cover for their involvement in human rights abuses. An empathy wave stirred by the media, particularly the social media networks, forced the government of Pakistan to take strong exception to deteriorating human rights conditions in Kashmir.
Unfortunately, radical groups, such as Hafiz Saeed’s Jamatud Dawa, Jamaat-e-Islami and few other outfits have started cashing in on the sympathy swell by launching public mobilisation campaigns in order to further their conservative agenda in the name of Kashmir cause. They are hardly willing to recognise the indigenous character of the Kashmiri resistance.
After a long time, the Indian narrative saying that Kashmiri resistance is Pakistan-sponsored is being successfully challenged. Burhan, was a local Kashmiri who has never been to Pakistan for training or obtaining weapons. While talking to TNS, the Chairman of the Hurriyat Conference, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, equated him with defiant nationalist Subhas Chandra Bose and Bhagat Singh, who resorted to armed resistance and rendered exceptional sacrifices for the liberation movement of India.
Many Kashmiri leaders and intellectuals declared Burhan Wani an icon of the Kashmir struggle. In Azad Kashmir too, Burhan is considered as revered as Maqbool Butt, a Kashmiri leader who is believed to be one of the pioneers of Kashmir resistance. He was hanged in Tihar Jail in 1984.
In elections rallies, different leaders have repeatedly talked about Wani’s sacrifice, making commitment to carry on his mission. His photos can be seen across Azad Kashmir and a huge number of young Kashmiris, settled in different cities of Pakistan as well as Europe, changed their Facebook profile picture to Burhan’s photo.
Modern communication gadgets have virtually made erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir a borderless region. Unlike in past decades, communities across the Line of Control (LoC) are interacting with each other quite frequently, sharing each other’s pain. The increasingly worsening condition inside Kashmir makes a massive bearing on the socio-political life of AJK.
A sizeable Kashmiri population lives in the urban centres of Pakistan, Europe and North America who are inspired by events taking place inside Kashmir. A huge number of political activists are closely linked with the political parties of Kashmir who run lobbying campaigns on their behalf in Europe and the United States.
Background interviews with the Kashmiri leaders and people who are closely affiliated with the civil-military establishment reveal that Islamabad is going to gear up its diplomatic and political efforts over Kashmir in the days ahead. In this connection, several protest rallies have been held so far in London, Brussels and the United States to nudge the international community regarding Kashmir situation.