The Cricketer and Kashmir

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Cricketer Imran Khan is scheduled to takeover as the Prime Minister of Pakistan on August 11. He is the first Pakistani politician who is not from the traditional parties like Peoples Party and Muslim League. How different will he prove himself while dealing with his immediate neighbour and on Kashmir? Masood Hussain seeks responses to this crucial question from experts and the political workers

Militants apart, in Kashmir, two types of Pakistanis’ are fairly popular. One, the politicians who make ‘brave’ statements on Kashmir, like the 1000-year war one ruler talked about. Two, the cricketers who hit the boundaries at odd hours, especially against Indian team.

Imran Khan with Kashmiri separatist leaders Mirwaiz Umer Farooq and Bilal Gani Lone during the latter’s visit to Pakistan using the cross LoC bus.

When Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was hanged on April 4, 1979, Kashmir came out in anger and resorted to worst riots ever. Apparently orchestrated by the government, the mobs destroyed property worth billions in their attacks against Jamat-e-Islami. They killed many people.

On April 22, 1994, when Pakistan lifted the Australia Cup after defeating India, a massive crowd danced in celebration, ignoring the massive deployments of the counter-insurgent forces. Not willing to take it like that, forces opened fire killing a University of Kashmir employee Imtiyaz Ahmad on the spot.

Now, for the first time, Pakistan is going to have a ruler who is a cricketer and a politician. Imran Khan already has a fan following in Kashmir since his fast-bowling days. How will he be seen now after he becomes the principle decision-maker of a country that is key to the stability and the situation in Kashmir? Kashmir knows the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Muslim League (PML-N). Now, how will Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) treat Kashmir? These are the issues that are now being asked on Srinagar streets.

His ‘victory’ speech apart, PTI has included Kashmir in its poll manifesto. “Pakistan is placed in a strategically critical location but we have failed to exploit this to our advantage. In fact, over the years we have allowed this to become a source of weakness and exploitation, especially by Extra Regional Powers. Course correction in this regard must be a major priority in terms of external policy,” the manifesto reads. “PTI’s guiding principles will be of reciprocity, mutual interests and international norms that will govern Pakistan’s relations at the bilateral and multilateral levels. We are committed to initiating new policies rooted in Pakistan’s priorities, including a conflict resolution approach towards improving our relation with our eastern and western neighbours.”

On Kashmir, this is exactly what the manifesto says: “This will include work on a blueprint towards resolving the Kashmir issue within the parameters of UNSC resolutions. For lasting peace within our own region, especially with our neighbour India, conflict resolution and the security route to cooperation is the most viable.”

Kashmir’s separatist camp is unwilling to comment on the major development other than hoping that he will be serious on the issue. Most of them have known him for years and some of them have spent days and nights together in Pakistan and abroad. When the US rejected Syed Ali Geelani’s visa application for undergoing a surgery, it was Imran Khan who rang up his family offering treatment at his hospital. Imran Khan, with the help of the elite and rich, has created two world-class Cancer Hospitals and one university. At one point in time, Bollywood was part of that charity movement launched by Khan, who is known a lot in India.

JKLF leader Yasin Malik with Imran Khan. They have spent many days together in Muzaffarabad during the 2005 earthquake when they were on relief work

JKLF leader Yasin Malik consider Khan as “friend” and said he has spent many nights in Muzaffarabad with him when he had gone with the relief in 2005. They have had a meeting later, too. “I hope he focuses on Kashmir because it is something that is crucial to the peace and stability of South Asia,” Malik said.

“We do not want a war between India and Pakistan, we want a solution and for that we want the two countries to befriend each other,” Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, one of the three leaders of the Joint Resistance Leadership (JRL) said from the Jamia Masjid pulpits on Friday. “Imran Khan did a good start, sought talks and engagement. I hope Delhi will respond to him positively.”

“We had a detailed meeting with Khan in Pakistan during our last visit,” Mirwaiz later told Kashmir Life. “He is fully ceased of the issue, is positive and is forward-looking. He knows the historical perspective and is keen that people of Kashmir should be involved if and when India and Pakistan talk.” Mirwaiz said he will ensure the involvement of Kashmiri people when he becomes the Prime minister. “I do not know how he will do it as he is finally the Prime Minister.”

Mirwaiz said he remembers from that meeting that Imran Khan was very upset with Kashmir Committee for it failed in doing nothing. “I think he will revive that for diplomatic reasons,” Mirwaiz said.

Another senior separatist leader said Imran Khan is unlikely to be “aggressive” on Kashmir. “He is unpredictable, no doubt, but he has the capacity to take a stand if he is convinced,” the leader, speaking on the condition of anonymity said. To his credit are a set of statements on Kashmir that echoed status quo and later were supportive of independence. Once he supported putting Kashmir on the back burner for some time, an idea floated by Asif Zardari. It is now the formal state policy that is expected to guide him.

“It is too early to say anything,” one separatist leader said, adding, “Pakistan’s foreign and defence policy is usually a GHQ issue.”

Kashmir’s mainstreamers also think it is slightly premature to decide the future course of a regime that is yet to take over.

“I will say that his statement regarding India that he wants to have better relations with India and solve issues with dialogue, is kind-hearted,” Dr Farooq Abdullah, Kashmir four times Chief Minister and NC president said. “We want him to implement what he is saying.”

Mehbooba Mufti, former Chief Minister was brief: Congratulations to @ImranKhanPTI on his victory. His hard work and tenacity won the day.”

“It depends more on Delhi to respond to what the new Pakistani leader says,” independent lawmaker Engineer Rasheed said. “The new man will obviously have a new vision but Delhi must work overtime to get the best of him”. He said the two countries must get closer and ensure the incidents do not make them prisoners of their rhetoric. “There is an issue and they must start tackling it.”

Experts, however, read too much and too early. They see it is clear already.

“Imran Khan has started well by emphasising on the stabilisation and consolidation within Pakistan,” Prof Gull Wani, who teaches political science at the University of Kashmir, said. “This priority has pushed his engagement with his neighbours to the second position and by default, this means he has denied India’s ruling right to project Pakistan in a bad packaging.” Imran, Wani believes is seemingly well advised on the foreign policy and by prioritising issue within Pakistan, he has almost reduced BJP’s poll plank – the anti-Pakistan propaganda. “His mere insistence on bilateral talks is a good start because this is also a fact that India-centric policy in Pakistan will not work at all,” he added.

Ahead of the results and even during campaigning, Delhi media – and even part of the US media, has been insisting that Khan is an army buddy for whom the army and other security agencies have levelled the pitch. There also has been a lot of reportage about Khan’s playboy days and his three marriages. Khan, who married for the third time in 2018, has been facing a lot of music and slender on basis of the book, his divorced second wife has written. Unlike Reham Khan, his second wife, Jemima Goldsmith – mother of his two sons, has been rational and honest. “22 years later, after humiliations, hurdles and sacrifices, my sons’ father is Pakistan’s next PM,” Jemima wrote on Twitter. “It’s an incredible lesson in tenacity, belief & refusal to accept defeat. The challenge now is to remember why he entered politics in the 1st place.”

The subjective media coverage by the Delhi TV has irked Dr Shah Feasal, Kashmir’s only IAS topper currently a Fulbright Scholar at the Harvard University. “India is being shamed (internationally) by (a section of) Indian media,” Faisal wrote on Twitter. “The neighbouring country has elected a new PM, he is talking about reconciliation, he is talking about change, but the loudmouths on this side are ranting to ensure that the hostilities continue. Unfortunate.”

The change in goal posts by Delhi TV is the talk of the town in Srinagar. “If the impression that Khan is on the same page as the Pakistan army is, it is a major development because it ends decades of dichotomy,” PDP leader and former minister Naeem Akhter said. “If we believe he is the army candidate it is all the better and the fact is that the elections have been transparent – as the Common Wealth and EU Observers said publicly – and Khan has taken a huge chunk of votes.”

Separatist leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq greets Pakistani cricketer turned politician Imran Khan ahead of a meeting in Islamabad on December 18, 2012.

“On India Pakistan front, there is no alibi. I remember this was a continued problem since Nehru days when Delhi would say: who to talk to?” Akhter said. “It is good that there is clarity in power equation in Pakistan unless they fall out. I think there is no alibi left for Delhi not to respond positively.”

Akhter, who till recently was part of the BJP support government in Srinagar, said he is hopeful that Delhi will react positively “if Pakistan offers talks on all issue including Kashmir and not on the core issue alone”.

The two countries, according to Akhter are not sitting quite for all these months. The two NSA have met and very recently the DGMOs of the two countries talked. “I think there was a change on the International Border and the LoC after the caretaker government took over,” Akhter said. “Delhi must build on this, instead of being cynical, they should lap it up.”

Mohammad Sayeed Malik

Journalist Mohammad Sayeed Malik has seen and reported Kashmir’s internal and external dimensions for many decades now. “Imran Khan means a change in Pakistan’s culture, politics and governance and he is expected to fight corruption to mark a change,” Malik said. “But it does not mean anything to Kashmir. Pakistan will see Kashmir from the perspective it fits the state interests.” Every state has its own pigeon holes so Pakistan may have one for Afghanistan, another for Kashmir and maybe another one for the US.

Malik said Khan has pretty serious issues at hand than Kashmir. “The major issue is the economy for which he would require IMF bailout which means he will have to improve his ties with the US,” Malik said. “Afghanistan is not a small issue either.”

Kashmiris, Malik said have megalomaniac view of themselves. “They believe Kashmir is the only problem between the two countries and hope Pakistan will put their own survival at stake for them,” Malik said. “This is neither possible nor fair.” He said Pakistan will continue shouting on Kashmir and for all these decades Kashmir has been happy with that. “Kashmir has not got anything more than that so far,” he said.

Malik does not believe the rejection of the rightwing by the Pakistani voter would mean the disappearance of all those elements in Kashmir. “They are noisy and will continue to be around,” he insisted.

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