by Tahir Bhat
SRINAGAR: On the eve of elections to the Muzaffarabad assembly, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan triggered a new controversy by offering a second referendum to Kashmiris.
Addressing an election gathering at Tral Khal, Khan said 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.” He said the “Kashmir struggle” is more about human rights and democracy than a fight over a piece of land.
Offering a third option is a major deviation from Pakistan’s stated Kashmir policy. Allegiance to Pakistan is part of the constitution that governs Pakistan administered Kashmir (PaK). It is even part of the oath for entering any constitutional position. Even Delhi’s stated policy is that Jammu and Kashmir is and will continue to be an integral part of India.
Offering details, ANI used Geo News quoting Khan saying: “… What I want to make clear now is that in 1948, there were two United Nations Security Council resolutions which granted the people of Kashmir the right to decide their future. According to the UN resolutions, the people have to decide whether they want to join Hindustan or Pakistan.” The report picked by The New Indian Express added: “He went on to state that even after the UN-mandated referendum, his government will hold another referendum..”
Khan’s statement came at a time when his PTI was being accused of secretly working towards making PaK a province of Pakistan. “I do not know where all this talk (about province) has sprung from,” Khan was quoted saying by the Press Trust of India, dismissing the idea. It was in follow up to this idea that he suggested that his government will offer a second referendum to Kashmir.
The reaction from mainstream Pakistani politics came soon after.
“He [PM Imran] is deviating from the historical and constitutional position of Pakistan by talking about another referendum,” Shehbaz Sharif, the PML-N leader was quoted saying by Pakistani media. “His statement has proved the concerns that have already surfaced with India’s actions on August 5, 2019.”
“[He] considers the people of Kashmir fools and traitors. From the beginning, PPP has always maintained that the Kashmiri people should decide their own fate,” Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) chairperson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari was quoted saying.
The controversy is raging in Pakistan even as the voters on the other side of the Line of Control are busy exercising their right of franchise. The region has registered 32 lakh voters.
Delhi has not reacted to the statement so far. However, India and Pakistan have historically remained against the idea of a third option as a way out on Kashmir. This is perhaps for the first time that a Pakistani premier has come out in support of it. Nobody, however, knows if it is an election stunt or a policy shift.
India has previously made it clear that Jammu and Kashmir is an integral and inalienable part of India. New Delhi has also told Islamabad that issues related to Jammu and Kashmir are its internal matter and the country is capable of solving its own problems.
Gallup Pakistan survey has already indicated that PTI will take over the Muzaffarabad assembly that had emerged as a PML-N bastion in 2016 polls. Against PML-N’s 31 berths in a 53-seat house, PTI in the last assembly had only two seats. The House has lived up to the reputation that the party rules in Islamabad eventually emerges the first choice in PaK too. Entry of mainland Pakistan politics has literally killed the local PaK political parties like the Jammu Kashmir Muslim Conference, Kashmir’s main political party.