Last year, I wrote an article in this newspaper arguing that Pakistan should change its stance on Kashmir, not only for the sake of Kashmiris — who have fared well compared to Pakistanis lately — but for the sake of Pakistan itself. Arguably, Pakistan would be a much secure, stable, democratic and developed country if it were not for the Kashmir issue.
Last week, in a series of ‘Conversations’ I arrange at Forman Christian College between faculty and students, I chose the topic of ‘Kashmir Banega Pakistan’ (Kashmir will become Pakistan). After packed sessions on Balochistan and the Taliban, I expected the same nature of heated debate. As an added incentive, I convinced a former Pakistan Army captain, now a professor at FC College, who had seen live action in Kashmir, to come and share his personal experiences and thoughts.
However, what happened at this interactive session was rather revealing. Granted that this was a self-selecting group and not something a statistician would be happy with, but there were students from all four provinces of Pakistan and Gilgit, a good mix of men and women, a majority from the rural areas and a range of social and economic classes present.
While the session began with a good number of students, I could immediately sense that there was some lack of interest in the subject. I asked thrice if anyone present wanted to argue the traditional stance of Pakistan and no one spoke up. When cajoled further, one student made a lukewarm effort and said “we should remember Kashmir since our waters flow from there.” Except for this, there was nothing argued for Pakistan’s stance on Kashmir: no mention of Indian atrocities, no mention of the ‘unfinished business of partition’ and no Muslim brotherhood claims, either. The charged atmosphere and excitement of the previous sessions were almost the opposite of the dullness of this session. As the students petered off, we even ended the session early as no one seemed interested.
Having been raised in the 1990s where watching the ‘news’ from the Kashmir Cell was staple on the state-run Pakistan Television, I had expected a heated debate. Perhaps, if this session had been held in, say, 1992, there would have been a passionate debate. So what is different now? First, it is clear that the Kashmir issue was kept alive in Pakistan mainly through state propaganda. The everyday stories, some true, others embellished, of Indian atrocities in Kashmir were meant to emotionally charge Pakistanis against India. With only one television channel and a controlled populace, it was easy for the government to shape public opinion. The liberalisation of the media and the improvement of the situation in Indian Kashmir have obviously changed the ground reality. Secondly, almost 50 per cent of Pakistan is under 30 years of age and has little connection to Kashmir. While for the first generation of Pakistanis it was ‘their’ issue and the second generation inherited it from their parents, this third generation has no ties to Kashmir. Where in 1947, Pakistan was trying to augment a ‘moth-eaten’ country, young Pakistanis know well that keeping the current boundaries of the country is proving to be hard now. Talking about taking over a region which has no direct connection to them, except for religion, is like talking about merging Egypt and Pakistan. Thirdly, what this session showed was that young Pakistanis are primarily concerned about their own well-being and advancement — not some grand pious notions. Today, a typical young Pakistani would rather take a good job in India than maintain a belligerent attitude towards the country.
The best example of the lack of interest in Kashmir is the Difa-e-Pakistan Council itself. A motley of older gentlemen with extremist views on almost everything, the Council is a last ditch effort of a dying and increasingly irrelevant generation to keep issues of the past alive. Surely, if Pakistanis still passionately cared about Kashmir, the Council would not have to hold rallies to remind people to hate India.
Pakistan is finally making a break with the past, led by the younger generation where pragmatism, mutual cooperation and development, and peaceful coexistence can become the benchmarks of a future Pakistan. It is time that such an opportunity is seized and the Kashmir issue is resolved through a sensible solution and the agreement and mutual benefit of all parties, with old impractical and idealist postures abandoned.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 11th, 2012.