Prime Minister Imran Khan made a statement on the occasion of Kashmir Solidarity Day, which generated a stir and led his political rivals to accuse him of breaching Pakistan’s long-standing stance on the Jammu and Kashmir issue. In his message, while addressing the people of Kashmir, the prime minister said that once they had acceded to Pakistan by a UN plebiscite, they could vote for an independent state if they wanted to.
Critics say that the prime minister has strayed away from the two United Nations resolutions on the conflict by citing the so-called ‘third alternative’ of secession, stating that the people of Jammu and Kashmir will have two options: to join Pakistan or to join India. The uproar was fanned when a clarification was provided by the Foreign Office claiming that there was no improvement in the status of Pakistan and it remained rooted in the UN resolutions.
The Office of International Affairs should have known better. It did not need this explanation. Through releasing it, the Foreign Office further added to the impression that the announcement of the prime minister needed to be explained, insinuating that there was maybe something wrong with the document. The prime minister, in truth, said nothing wrong. ‘If the citizens of the State of Jammu and Kashmir vote to accede to Pakistan, the relationship between Pakistan and that State shall be decided in accordance with the wishes of the people of that State,’ notes Article 257 of the Constitution of Pakistan.
There is no distinction between what is mentioned in the Constitution and what the Prime Minister has said. If more attention had been given to this clause of the Constitution by the concerned officials of the Foreign Office, they would not have had to make a comment and kick up a storm needlessly. One expects better judgement from the Foreign Office on certain important matters.
In fact, the declaration of the prime minister is very meaningful and seems to have been released after deep thought. The declaration would apply to all those individuals who favour the alternative of independence in Jammu and Kashmir. The Prime Minister advised them rather intelligently that if they join Pakistan, if, of course, a majority of the citizens of the state want to do so, they will exercise the option of freedom. In saying this, the Prime Minister also reminded the world quite accurately that the Jammu and Kashmir question is mainly related to the right of self-determination and is not about a contested piece of land between two neighbours.
This is what our official stance has always upheld, but the prime minister has wisely reconciled the UN resolutions with the broader question of the right of self-determination by elaborating on it in certain words. The international community should accept the announcement of the Prime Minister and the people of Jammu and Kashmir should rest assured that Pakistan will honour their right to choose once they have joined us.