Every country has a long list of days when it pays lip service to a cause or remembers a politician by garlanding their statue and removing bird droppings.
For Pakistan, one such occasion for ritualistic lip service is the Kashmir Solidarity Day, which falls on 5 February every year since 1932. On that day, politicians in Pakistan reiterate their commitment to the Kashmiri cause and the militants who operate from its territories renew their vows of a long struggle, terror attacks on Indian soil and lambast their own government for betraying Kashmiris.
This year was no different.
Like Indian politicians of all hues, faiths, ideologies and histories contradictory to the Mahatma's who rush to the Raj Ghat to remember Gandhi, on Friday Pakistani leaders and militants made the perfunctory gestures and noises about Kashmir.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif took the lead: “Resolution of all issues lies in mutual dialogue. India and Pakistan will have to think about the well-being and progress of their peoples,” he said.
Sharif was addressing a joint session of the Pak-occupied Jammu and Kashmir legislative assembly and Kashmir Council on the Kashmir Solidarity Day.
Kashmir, he said, is a permanent part of Pakistan’s national policy and no Pakistani could ignore Kashmiris as this relationship was based on history, geography, region and culture. “Kashmir has always been in our minds,” he added, terming the issue a “test of vision” for the regional leadership.
A day later, Radio Pakistan radio quoted Sartaz Aziz, Sharif's advisor on foreign policy, saying, "Islamabad is urging the international community to fulfill its responsibility towards implementation of the UN resolutions on Kashmir."
Though Pakistan appeared keen to raise the ante on Kashmir with well-timed ritualistic statements, very few people in the Valley believe that its current stand is to be taken seriously.
"Pakistan has to maintain consistency and firmness in its Kashmir policy so that the world could know about the sufferings of oppressed Kashmiris and their right to self determination demand is achieved,” Hurriyat (Geelani) spokesperson Ayaz Akbar said in a statement.
The Hurriyat, however, was happy that Pakistan is trying to bring Kashmir back on the diplomatic table. “The way Sharif reiterated his stand and advocated the right to self determination for Kashmiris, it has definitely encouraged the Kashmiri nation and instilled a new lease of life to the struggle," Akbar said, a sentiment that was echoed by separatist leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq.
Farooq, chief of Hurriyat (M) called Sharif's statement historic and based on political realities of Kashmir. (Sharif's statement) not only speaks of a courageous approach to end the present confrontation and distrust between the two countries but also reflects the sincere intentions of Sharif about a just resolution of the Kashmir issue, Farooq said.
Many feel Sharif's statement is a ploy to address the domestic constituency and militants and to keep the Hurriyat on its right side. Sharif is facing the heat from hardliners for his peace gestures towards India and his recent camaraderie with Indian Prime Minister, who made a surprise pit-stop in Lahore in December, indicating his desire to restart dialogue between the two countries.
Modi's proactive diplomacy, however, suffered a setback when terrorists from across the border attacked an airbase in Pathankot within days of the visit, leading to cancellation of talks between foreign secretaries of the two countries scheduled in January.
While Modi was applauded for the bold gesture, Sharif got mixed reviews. "The credit for this ingeniously choreographed Bollywood-style venture goes entirely to Narendra Modi, who from the very first day after assuming his office has been in the driver’s seat, not only controlling the ‘temperature’ in Islamabad by keeping it constantly in a ‘reactive’ rather than ‘active’ mode but also managing almost every development in India-Pakistan relations. Modi is a master of creating illusions that only a seasoned chess player would make against an amateur rival. He knows when to move his chess pieces and when to readjust them. He also knows when to checkmate and how to reposition his piece without even being seen doing so," Pakistan-based The News International argued, summing up the mood among Nawaz's critics.
Others in Pakistan believe that Kashmiris may have lost their faith in Pakistan because of its history of vacillations and about-turns on the issue. The mood on the ground, The Dawn said, may not be entirely pro-Pak now. So, Sharif may have been tempted to discard his "reactive diplomacy" on Kashmir Day by trying to bring the Valley back on top of the agenda.
Sharif's next move will indicate if he is indeed serious to create diplomatic problems for India on the Kashmir front or was just performing an annual ritual.