- Can we stand a comparison?
The Foreign Office was rightly indignant at Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s claim that the local body elections in Kashmir showed that there was democracy there. As the Foreign Office rightly pointed out, those elections would be no substitute for what the people of Kashmir really want, the holding of a plebiscite to determine which state do they wish to join, Pakistan or India. At the same time, Pakistan needs to ask whether it is an attractive enough state for Kashmir to join.
Prime Minister Imran Khan has loudly proclaimed that he will personally advocate the Kashmir cause, but will he he show more commitment to democracy? Kashmiris in Indian-Held Kashmir need a better example than how the government is trying to suppress the opposition PDM’s movement against it, not to forget the use of NAB, the FBR and the FIA to crush dissenters. Associated with this is freedom of expression, which should include the right of dissent, and of criticizing the government if one disagrees with what it is doing. The government should remember the way it has moved against print, broadcast and social media, at any sign of dissent, does nothing to persuade Kashmiris to join the Federation. The implied contempt of the Prime Minister for Parliament, shown by his prolonged absences from the House, is an indication of the lack of respect of free speech, for it is the main weapon Parliament has.
Pakistan has a duty to Held Kashmir, not just to provide it moral, political and diplomatic support, but to provide a receptive environment for it. Kashmir has suffered a lockdown since 5 August 2019, after India abolished the special status of Kashmir and then divided it into three union territories. Kashmiris must not feel that the risk getting out of one oppression only to enter another. Apart from the more general purpose of proving the Partition wrong, the Indian media shows up the flaws in Pakistan so that it can be argued in Kashmir that there is no point in jumping from the frying pan into the fire. If Kashmir needs a plebiscite, Pakistan needs free elections. Kashmiris already live in a state where they are left voiceless, so their enthusiasm to join another, at great human cost, must not mean that they face the prospect of a new voicelessness.