Kashmiris can opt for independence even after accession, claims Pakistan PM

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan once again sought to stoke Kashmir’s embers by telling Kashmiris that they had the right to live as an “independent nation” if they decided to do so even after decided to accede to Pakistan through the United Nations-sponsored plebiscite.

Speaking at two big election rallies in the towns of Tarar Khal and Kotli on the last day of the election campaign in “Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK)” – which India calls Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) – he dismissed charged by the opposition that he wanted to convert AJK into a province of Pakistan and said he did not know as to where this idea had stemmed from. Elections are scheduled for Sunday for the local assembly that has 53 seats. Over 700 candidates are in the fray.

In a fiery campaign speech, he said the “unprecedented sacrifices” rendered by Kashmiris would not go in vain and they would exercise their “right to self-determination” and decide to accede to Pakistan and not India through an UN-sponsored referendum.

“Afterwards, we will hold another referendum whereby Kashmiri people will be asked to decide whether they want to live with Pakistan or as an independent nation,” he said at both places in almost identical words, amid rounds of applause from the gatherings, Dawn newspaper reported. 

He said a “nation” that had waged a struggle for more than 150 years had a right to get what it wanted. “Remember, the decision has to be made by the Kashmiris themselves… And the day is not far when you will decide about your future status of your own free accord.”

He said although the people of “occupied Kashmir” – referring to Jammu and Kashmir in India –  were going through the most difficult times of their history at the moment, he foresaw that soon India would be compelled to honour its pledge about holding a plebiscite. “However brute force India may employ, it will fail to quell the Kashmiris’ quest for freedom,” he declared

Describing himself as an “ambassador of Kashmiris”, Khan promised that he and his government would continue to raise their voices for them at all international forums as well as before the world leaders and international media, Dawn said. 

Imran Khan accused the “two old parties” – PML (N) of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and PPP of former president Asif Zardari – of compromising on Kashmir’s cause by befriending Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who he accused of unleashing “state terrorism” in Jammu and Kashmir indulging in  “persecution of India’s minority communities” through his “Hindutva-driven government in New Delhi”.

About Sharif, he said not only had he “begged” attendance of Modi at a family wedding (Modi made a surprise day’s visit to Lahore on his way back from Kabul on December 25 2015 to attend the wedding of Sharif’s granddaughter), but he had also declined to meet Hurriyat Conference leaders during a visit to India to attend Modi’s swearing-in ceremony in May 2014.

Rubbishing allegations by the PML-N that the AJK polls would be rigged, he asked as to how PTI or the central government could rig the polls when the government in AJK was still being run by the PML-N which had itself appointed the Election Commission and its staff.

Asking people to vote for PTI in Sunday’s elections to change their fate, he said his government intended to bring people out of poverty the way China had done so over the last 30 years. Among other things, he also promised that the government would push for the exploitation of the rich tourism potential in AJK so that the local youths did not need to go abroad for jobs.

AJK/POK came into being after the 1949 ceasefire between India and Pakistan after the Kashmir war, and comprises the parts of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir that were occupied by the Pakistani forces and who have since not vacated it, nullifying the UN conditions for a plebiscite that it had mandated. 

Pakistan maintains a constitutional fiction PoK is that it is not a part of the country, but the “liberated” part of Kashmir. The constitution of Pakistan lists only four provinces — Punjab, Sind, Balochistan, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

While PoK is ostensibly an autonomous, self-governing territory, the Pakistan Army is the final arbiter on all matters Kashmir — and the security establishment exercises tight control over what goes on in PoK, according to an Indian Express explainer.  At the height of the militancy in the Kashmir Valley, many of the training camps for militants were located in PoK, the article published July 24 said. 

According to the Express, for all practical purposes, PoK is run by the Pakistan government through the all-powerful Kashmir Council, a nominated 14-member body headed by the Prime Minister of Pakistan. Six members are nominated by the Pakistan government and eight are from the PoK assembly and government, including the “prime minister” of “Azad Kashmir”.

The one direct reference to Jammu and Kashmir in Pakistan’s constitution is in Article 257, which says: “When the people of the State of Jammu and Kashmir decide to accede to Pakistan, the relationship between Pakistan and the State shall be determined in accordance with the wishes of the people of that State.”

It is widely expected that Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), which came to power in 2018, will win the PoK election (SAM). 

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