What Explains Bilawal Bhutto Zardari's Kashmir Stunt?

 
 

Kashmir has always been an integral part of Pakistan’s foreign policy and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) has historically been the most vociferous in articulating the cause of its people and its right to self-determination. For Pakistan, any peace settlement with neighboring India rests on the resolution of the Kashmir dispute.

The sudden decision by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, chairman of the opposition Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), to issue a statement describing what he saw as the PML-N’s soft corner for India in the run up to the Azad Jammu and Kashmir legislative elections of 2016 is evidence of his party playing the political gain, rather than taking up the Kashmiri cause with an iota of sincerity.

His castigation of the PML-N comes at a time when the party is embroiled in a national quagmire over corruption allegations stemming from the Panama Papers and additionally dealing with a multitude of political forces that seek to weaken its legitimacy. Yet given the PPP’s checkered history with India itself, where it had opened channels for dialogue to resolve issues such as Kashmir, these statements ring hollow. The veracity of the corruption accusations notwithstanding, members of the PPP itself have gained notoriety amid money laundering charges and corruption was rife in Pakistan after the PPP secured a majority in the 2008 elections. Attacking the PML-N for offshore holdings given the PPP’s history appears to be more about gaining political headway than anything else.

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Some of the statements made in his speech are highly peculiar. For example, Bilawal highlights Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s alleged complicity in the Gujarat riots of 2002 in India, despite this being common knowledge and viewed as deplorable by the majority of Pakistanis. Then comes the reference to Indian agents in sugar mills (which is alarming in many ways), which is topical given the recent capture of Kulbhushan Yadav, a suspected Indian spy according to Pakistani authorities. Yadav offered testimony of carrying out espionage activities in Pakistan from the strategically significant port town of Chabahar in Iran.

Despite the wide focus on these sensational issues, Bilawal did not make a single reference to developmental challenges, including access to clean drinking water, sanitation, and education in AJK.

The PPP has 27 seats with the PML-N having 13 in the 48-member AJK assembly. They are followed by the Muslim Conference, which has four. Meanwhile, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) and Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) each have two seats. The assembly is currently stacked in the PPP’s favor and so are the facts in Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

Moreover, few can deny that ever since the Bharatiya Janata Party government secured a majority in the Indian elections of 2014 and came to power, there have been attempts in New Delhi to abrogate Article 370 of the Indian constitution, which grants special status to Jammu and Kashmir. Despite these worries, speeches like Bilawal’s need to be understood in terms of the broader context of political squabbling in Pakistan after the Panama Papers scandal amid rising pressure on the central government to deliver on its development promises and curb corruption.

Given the PPP’s history on these issues itself, power plays like Bilawal’s might not gain traction among the local population. After all, all the PPP has going for it in this case is politics. Its performance when in power left much to be desired.

Hamzah Rifaat is a research associate at the Global Think Tank Network at the National University of Sciences and Technology and a 2016 Visiting Fellow at the Stimson Center.

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