It was expected that Pakistan Army Chief General Raheel Sharif would make a reference to Kashmir in his Defence Day speech earlier this week. This is par for the course. If Pakistan’s Kashmir “cause” did not exist, the rationale of the Pakistan Army to maintain a tight grip over the country would slip away. Especially in the present context, when there is continuing political turmoil in Kashmir on account of misgovernance on the Indian side, the Pakistan Army Chief’s strong words on Kashmir were to be all the more expected, not least when Pakistan has decided to dedicate its Independence Day this year to the cause of Kashmir’s “independence”. But it is the vehemence packed in Gen. Sharif’s observations which can cause surprise.
The language used by the military commander was the language of a politician, going beyond what may be expected of the military chief. Gen. Sharif spoke of Kashmir being Pakistan’s “jugular vein” (or lifeline), a stark factual falsehood. The expression is not a new one, but it has been used by politicians in the past or by military strongmen when they give up their formal military title and assume charge as “President”. It is essentially a call to mobilise the country on the Kashmir issue and probably a signal by the Pakistan Army that the civilian authority headed by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif which, while despatching diplomatic scouts to rake up Kashmir as an international question, had not been sufficiently strenuous on the domestic front in spreading the government’s message on the issue. Gen. Sharif also referred to “self-determination” for Kashmir and alluded to the long defunct “UN resolutions” towards holding a plebiscite in which Pakistan had showed no interest when these were still live.
In a basic sense this is meant to boost the anti-India Pakistani terrorist gangs that operate with state patronage — such as Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and Jaish-e-Mohammed — and to give them the code message to refuel their activities in the Valley. New Delhi may, therefore, expect their continued exertions at a heightened level in Kashmir. The pro-Pakistan constituency in Kashmir may be expected to be given a fillip as a result. The manner in which Gen. Sharif has approached the issue may also be deemed to be a subtle hint to the Pakistan Prime Minister that the Army Chief may be thinking of extending his normal three-year tenure beyond November 30 this year. In January, the general had said that he would not seek an extension. It is early to speculate whether something even more may be read into these circumstances, but nothing should cause surprise when it comes to Pakistan.