What does PM Imran’s “Independence Option” offer to Kashmiris tell us?

Opinion by Syed Talat Hussain 

Syed Talat Hussain is a senior journalist based in Islamabad.

Prime minister Imran Khan’s foot-in-mouth affliction shows no sign of abating. His latest utterance on Kashmir is an unmistakable sign that every time he steps on to the stage and takes the mike, astounding things can roll off this tongue. Taking leave from the standard policy of the country on the long-festering dispute, he offered Kashmiris and Jummuites the option to become “independent” after they had acceded to Pakistan.

The offer, just to make it clear, is an extreme exercise in hollow theory considering where Kashmir stands today. The part that is in India’s control has been absorbed in the Union after the October 2019 actions that also split up the occupied territory into two. The part with Pakistan---AJK---has its own issues that revolve around but are not confined to the status of Gilgit and Baltistan. So, the accession talk and promises of independence are neither here nor there.   

But even as hot air, the statement was a bombshell. The Pakistan Foreign Office wasted no time in issuing a 3-paragraph rebuttal/ explanation/contradiction of the PM’s “Independence Option”. It reiterated that Pakistan wants a solution according to the UNSC resolutions. The resolutions only allow the residents of Jammu and Kashmir state the right to accede either to Pakistan or to India. 

The Foreign Office pegged its statement onto “media queries” as it went to great lengths to defend the PM’s stance.  The video version of the PM’s statement however made the whole exercise quite useless. He had said what he had said and that was on the record in a public rally. 

Before the press release was issued, individual media queries to the Foreign Office reps were answered---without attribution of course--- with references to article 257 of the Constitution. 

But in the formal press release this article was not even mentioned. And this was a smart thing to do. Foreign Office bureaucrats know all too well that this reference was irrelevant to what prime minister Imran had said. This article talks about the nature of Jammu and Kashmir state’s relationship with Pakistan after the accession in the context of the federation of Pakistan. It does not---repeat--does not mention “independence for the people of Jammu and Kashmir”, which was what PM Imran had mentioned unequivocally and in the usual dramatic fashion that he adopts when he is marketing half-baked schemes as profound reflections.

It is unclear what prompted the prime minister to bring up the topic of “Independent Kashmir” when the official catch-all policy phrase for Kashmir remains “Kashmir is the jugular vein of Pakistan”. Who would want the jugular vein to become independent? 

We don’t know just like we don’t know where is this new love for “peace with India” and “Modi let’s talk” is coming from. After the October 2019 actions of Delhi in occupied Kashmir Pakistan’s army chief, prime minister and every other minister had vowed to never talk to India till Delhi restored occupied Kashmir’s special status (not that it was a great thing for the Kashmiris). We listened to big vows about “never resting till Kashmiris were freed from the fascist forces led by Hitler-like Modi”. (All are officially spoken words and are not my own formulation). 

But now peace offers to the same “fascist”? Independence for the same Kashmir without which we have insisted for 70 odd years that Pakistan is “incomplete”? What’s going on? 

There are only two plausible explanations. One, Pakistan’s rulers are desperate to tell the new Biden Administration that they are open to the idea of engagement with Delhi, Modi’s October 2019 actions notwithstanding. Or they are clueless about the consequences of their own statements. Whichever of the two is correct---most likely both are---it is deeply saddening to see Kashmir, our core policy concern, being turned into a spectacle. Nothing is left sacred in Naya Pakistan.