Pakistan’s decision to hold its propagandistic “Kashmir Day” programme in London this year is a sign of desperation on the part of the Imran Khan government to do something, rather than do something that counts. In an empty ritual to rally the faithful, Pakistan observes February 5 as Kashmir Day every year. But no one now really bothers with it either in the Kashmir Valley or for that matter in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
There was a time in the late 1980s and early 1990s when Pakistan would try and hold a so-called people’s march to the Line of Control. Over the years, however, such stunts have lost steam, with New Delhi regaining the confidence of the people of Kashmir in considerable measure.
Unfortunately, in recent times, the political situation in the Valley has turned fragile with the inept policies of the Central government, which have amounted to placing exclusive reliance on the security vector to the exclusion of political action. This has led to deep-going dissatisfaction among the ordinary people of Kashmir, allowing Islamabad to revert to its old ways of trying to meddle with public sentiment in the Valley.
Thus, Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi has spoken telephonically with prominent Hurriyat leaders Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Syed Ali Shah Geelani in recent days, urging them to participate in the London conference on Kashmir on February 5, which was being organised with Islamabad’s encouragement.
Of course, there was no question that the Hurriyat leaders would travel to Britain, and that could not have been Pakistan’s expectation either. Mr Qureshi’s sole purpose was to internationalise the Kashmir issue by holding the conference at a venue in Britain’s Parliament complex with the help of a clutch of British MPs, among them some of Pakistani origin.
Expectedly, New Delhi lodged a “strong protest” with the British government about the convening of such a forum in the precincts of the Palace of Westminister. London came up with a stock response — that no one from the British government was participating in the event, which was being conducted at private initiative. The Pakistan foreign minister was himself in the British capital in his private capacity and had no official engagements.
New Delhi also issued a demarche to the Pakistan high commissioner in New Delhi, asking that Islamabad not interfere in India’s domestic affairs. All this is pretty much old hat. The only way to effectively tell Islamabad where it gets off is by winning over the people of Kashmir and bringing them into a dialogue process.
Under the Shimla Agreement of 1972, the Kashmir question can only be addressed bilaterally between the two countries, with no third parties interfering. This found endorsement in the Lahore Accord signed between then Prime Ministers Atal Behari Vajpayee and Nawaz Sharif.