Jammu and Kashmir separatists say Imran Khan's ascent in Pakistan offers hope for renewed talks with India, peace in Valley
As the results pour in, both Kashmiri separatists and those who have been closely tracking the Pakistan election hope that a “stable government in Pakistan’’ will help resume dialogue with India
Srinagar: After Pakistani voters braved violence and blasts to turn up at the polls in the general election on Wednesday, Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) pulled into the lead on Thursday. Despite the PTI chairman criticising former prime minister Nawaz Sharif for his alleged proximity with India, that's only seen as election rhetoric.
As the results pour in, both Kashmiri separatists and those who have been closely tracking the Pakistan election hope that a “stable government in Pakistan’’ will help resume dialogue with India. Khan earlier tweeted: “Why whenever Nawaz Sharif is in trouble, there is increasing tension along Pakistan’s borders and a rise in terrorist acts? Is it a mere coincidence?” Nawaz, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz chief and his daughter Maryam have been imprisoned after being convicted in the Avenfield corruption case.
Even as Kashmiri separatists said the Pakistan election campaign was largely restricted to the country's internal problems—from its struggling economy to endemic corruption—they admitted that Kashmir remains Pakistan's most “important foreign policy” issue.
Though Nawaz earlier accused the Pakistan Army and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of attempting to rig the elections, which were held amid heavy security, in Kashmir a general view has emerged that the army backing a civilian government in Pakistan will only increase the prospects of peace.
Despite the fact that Nawaz’s brother and PML-N president Shehbaz Sharif expressed strong reservations over the polling process and stated that his party doesn't accept the results, the prospect of improved relations between India and Pakistan is seen “in the offing.”
Former Hurriyat chairman and senior separatist leader professor Abdul Gani Bhat said, “Kashmir, as a dispute will have to be addressed. The sooner the better for India, Pakistan and for us in Kashmir. I trust that the talks will occur and this time, hopefully with a realisation that without resolving disputes we can never ensure stability in the region and economic growth. I see a ray of hope that honourable peace will return.”
Even as many see Khan as a hardliner, political analysts believe that policies proposed during the election differ from that of a political leadership in government. “Former Pakistan president General Pervez Musharraf was seen to have initiated the Kargil War, but as a president he joined the peace process with India,” said political analyst professor Noor Mohammad Baba.
On Khan’s charge of Nawaz being close to India, Bhat said “sentimentalism shouldn’t be misconstrued as reality. Sentimentalism or emotionalism during elections can’t last.” Over the prospect of talks between India and Pakistan under the possible leadership of Khan, Bhat said, “Everybody should feel concerned about what constitutes the threat to peace.”
India and Pakistan started a bus service across the Line of Control during the Manmohan Singh-Pervez Musharraf era. After the launch of Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service on 7 April, 2005, Musharraf visited New Delhi from 16 to 18 April that year.
India and Pakistan then released a joint statement: “Conscious of the historic opportunity created by the improved environment in relations and the overwhelming desire of the peoples of the two countries for durable peace and recognising their responsibility to continue to move forward towards that objective, the two leaders had substantive talks on all issues. They determined that the peace process was now irreversible.”
In May 2006, India and Pakistan held talks on “on enhancing interaction and cooperation across the LoC in New Delhi” and the two sides agreed that Poonch-Rawalakot bus service would commence from 19 June, 2006. Unlike the push the Kashmir peace process received under the tenure of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Singh, Prime Minister Narenda Modi is seen as “not having any consistent policy on Kashmir.”
Though Modi invited Nawaz for his oath-taking ceremony, he subsequently called off talks between the countries' foreign secretaries as Pakistan invited separatist leaders for talks to Delhi. In December 2015, the Indian prime minister made a surprise stopover in Pakistan to meet Sharif on his way back to India. However, relations between the two countries only deteriorated and Kashmir remained in the grip of protests which continued for months following the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen militant commander Burhan Muzafar Wani.
Since Musharaf also headed the army after he assumed office in a bloodless coup, the former Pakistan president later proposed a four-point formula which talked of self-governance and gradual reduction of forces and was a seen as clear departure from Pakistan's long-held position to seek a plebiscite as per the United Nations' resolutions on Kashmir.
“Musharraf’s policy was the policy of the government,” said Hurriyat (M) chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq. “When we met Benazir Bhutto, she said Musharraf should take parliament into confidence and we'd have a debate and discussion on it.”
Some separatists said the momentum on the resolution of Kashmir problem was lost when Musharaf stepped down in 2008 to avoid impeachment. Bhat added, “Things went wrong as Vajpayee lost elections, and Musharraf lost power. But the forces of history will make two countries talk.”
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