A Pending Decision
Imran Ahmed Khan Niazi, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, has chosen to act differently from his country’s Historical and Constitutional position on Kashmir, saying that Islamabad would let the people of Kashmir decide if they want to join Pakistan or be considered as an Independent Nation. Since the Partition of the Indian Subcontinent in 1947, Pakistan has been proposing a second referendum, other than the one mandated by the UN.
Khan did digress from Pakistan’s declared policy on Kashmir, during two election rallies in Tarar Khal and Kotli towns of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) on July 23 (2021), ahead of the local polls held on July 25. The Prime Minister of Pakistan stressed that following the UN-mandated referendum, his “Government will hold another referendum to give the people of Kashmir a choice to either live with Pakistan or become an Independent State”. In Khal, the Pakistani PM told the audience: “But what I want to make clear now is that in 1948, there were two UN Security Council resolutions which granted the people of Kashmir the Right to decide their own future. According to the UN resolutions, the people had to decide whether they want to join Hindustan (India) or Pakistan.” He added: “I want to clarify to all of you today. InshaAllah, a day will come, when all the sacrifices made by the people of Kashmir will not be wasted. God will grant you that Right. There will be a referendum, InshaAllah.” He also expressed hope that the Kashmiris, rather the people from PoK, would choose to live with Pakistan, on that day.
It may be noted that as per Pakistan’s declared policy on Kashmir, the issue should be resolved as per the UN resolution through a referendum, allowing Kashmiris to choose either Pakistan or India. There is no third option of Independence in the UN resolution. Meanwhile, India has asserted that Jammu and Kashmir “was, is and shall forever” remain an integral part of the country. New Delhi has also made it clear to Islamabad that issues, related to Jammu and Kashmir, are India’s internal matter and the country is capable of solving its own problems.
Interestingly, Imran Khan has raised the Kashmir issue (once again) at a time when Pakistan is in a position of transition from its roots from Geopolitics to Geoeconomics. Islamabad is looking forward to having a fresh restart with its Central and South Asian neighbours aimed to contribute to the Pakistani Economy by increasing trade, investment and opening new markets for Pakistani products, but also to change Pakistan’s global image of a Pariah State that harbours terrorist groups.
In South Asia, Islamabad has taken an important step with the signing of a ceasefire agreement with India along their shared border. Relations with Bangladesh are beginning to improve following a telephonic conversation between Prime Minister Khan and his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina Wajed. Ties between the two nations have been cold for decades amid allegations from Dhaka over Pakistani-perpetrated atrocities against the people of the then East Pakistan during the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War, following which Bangladesh was born (from then West Pakistan). However, Islamabad has denied the allegations and the improvement of bilateral relations has always been conditioned by Islamabad’s acknowledgement of the past and formal apologies to Dhaka.
Khan recently visited Sri Lanka to promote economic relations between Islamabad and Colombo. Pakistan could take advantage of the strong presence of China, its regional ally, in South Asia. Chinese investments have always been welcomed in the region, and Pakistan could capitalise on this, especially if Beijing helps promote improved relations between Pakistan and other South Asian countries, such as Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Maldives.
In Central Asia, Islamabad has interests to be secured, given the importance of the region’s states as energy producers. Earlier this year, Pakistan signed an agreement with Afghanistan and Uzbekistan to build a road that would facilitate trade between Pakistan and Uzbekistan via Afghanistan. In Central Asia, Islamabad could rely on its ally, China, and the increasingly friendly Russia to get an important footprint in a region, where Beijing and Moscow are perceived as economic and political kingmakers.
Amidst such a scenario, Prime Minister Khan has raised the issue of a second referendum on Kashmir in order to portray the Democratic character of Pakistan. Although the cricketer-turned-politician is well aware of the fact that majority of the people of Kashmir would never want their land to become a part of Pakistan (or India either), he is quite confident that Kashmir’s emergence as an Independent Nation would trigger an internal crisis in India and weaken the world’s Largest Democracy. However, geopolitical experts are of the opinion that the Kashmir issue would not be solved in near future, as politicians of both Pakistan and India want to get electoral dividends from the crisis by keeping it alive.
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