PM’s referendum offer premature, beyond any individual party’s jurisdiction

By: Ashraf Mumtaz      Published: 10:27 AM, 24 Jul, 2021
PM’s referendum offer premature, beyond any individual party’s jurisdiction
File photo.

Prime Minister Imran Khan’s commitment to the Kashmiri people made on Friday while addressing an election rally is nothing more than a gimmick aimed to win more votes in the July 25 (Sunday) elections. 

He expressed hope that Kashmiris will get their right to self-determination in line with UN resolutions to decide whether they want accession with Pakistan or India. Then, he said, Pakistan will hold a referendum to let the Kashmiris decide whether they want to join Pakistan or stay independent. 

Pakistan has been striving for the past seven decades to convince the United Nations to give the Kashmiris their right to self-determination.  But, so far, there has been no progress at all. Whatever the claims about highlighting the Kashmir cause at the international level, there is little possibility of the world body giving such an opportunity to the Kashmiris who have been consistently offering unmatched sacrifices to get this right.  

The UN-supervised plebiscite is not in sight and the prime minister has offered a referendum in the light of which the Kashmiris will have the right to take a decision on staying with Pakistan or an independent state. This is like putting cart before the horse. 

Secondly, it is beyond the competence of the prime minister to make such an offer. At most, the PTI can make such a commitment as part of its manifesto. Otherwise, it is for the parliament to decide at an appropriate time whether to give the Kashmiris such a right. 

When the situation arises the parliament will discuss at length the pros and cons of holding a referendum after the UN-led plebiscite. Nobody knows how long will such a situation take to crop up and whether the parliament, in which representatives of a number of parties are there, will approve of holding such a referendum

Anyhow Kashmiris’ response to the prime minister’s offer will be clear as a result of the July 25 elections in which over 3.2 million voters will elect a 53-member assembly for a five-year term.  

(Out of 53 seats, 45 are general, while eight are reserved for women, technocrats and religious scholars). 

Arrangement for these elections have already been completed. 

At the time of elections, the PML-N is in power in AJK.  

The PTI, PML-N, PPP, Muslim Conference and Jamaat-i-Islami have put up their candidates.  

Each party is confident of its victory although the major contest is expected to be between the PTI and PML-N. 

The outcome of these elections is likely to change the situation in Kashmir

Any party that wins majority seats will be required to coordinate with the PTI government in Islamabad for any future policy on Kashmir

While the PTI’s victory will mean a better understanding between Islamabad and Muzaffarabad, a different situation will emerge in case the PML-N or the PPP pockets majority seats. 

Hypothetically, an anti-PTI government in Muzaffarabad may try to create problems for the Islamabad government to please its supporters.  

The worst situation can be visualized in case the Muzaffarabad crown goes to the PML-N, a party whose campaign was led by fiery speaker Maryam Nawaz. She has been making blistering attacks on the prime minister – as a result of which she got good media coverage and became more popular. 

There are also fears that the party that lost will not accept the results, alleging that the elections had been rigged. This will be the worst situation that will be exploited by India. 

Anyhow, the decision rests with the Kashmiris. 

They have to take a right decision before the UN supervised plebiscite or a referendum referred to by the prime minister.   

They should use their vote keeping all likely implications in mind. 

A wrong decision may deliver a serious blow to the Kashmir cause. 

At the same time the elections must be free, fair and transparent and nobody should get an opportunity to challenge their impartiality.

Ashraf Mumtaz

The writer is the Deputy Editor of 24 Digital.