Let Kashmir have Imran Khan

Pakistan Election Imran Khan

While there is a strong reaction from all over the world to the recent election process in Pakistan and the allegations of vote theft, the majority of the people of Jammu and Kashmir are expressing their desire through social media and asking Pakistan to hand over the imprisoned leader Imran Khan to them.

 Cricketer turned politician of Pakistan; Imran Khan is very popular in Jammu and Kashmir, mostly among youth.  Recent discussions on social media have made it more visible and more worrying for both countries, India and Pakistan. This love-hate relationship has consumed thousands of Kashmiri lives since the two countries achieved independence from the British Colonial power.

People are expressing anguish over the institutions of Pakistan that have made the Islamic and nuclear country a cause for laughing stock. Without any fear or care for backlash, they have started saying in public gatherings that ‘thankfully we did not become a part of this country’. Earlier, nobody would dare to speak against the Islamic Nation. And, that too in the public when the sentiments of accession with Pakistan were heard with pride.  

Yet, Kashmiris have always wanted to see Pakistan as a strong country, whether they are a part of it or not, whether it is ruled by a Junta or a democratic government. Any upheaval in their political system would bring tears to the eyes in Kashmir.

An Indian political activist, Samad Raja, recently spoke on social media that the ‘existence and strength of Pakistan are important for the Muslims of the subcontinent, what if we are not a part of this country, our religious and cultural bonding is so deep that if Pakistanis are hurt, our hearts bleed for them’.

The cries of alleged vote rigging during counting in elections have echoed the electoral rigging in Kashmir that has led to armed insurgency, deaths and endless uncertainty in the region. Kashmiris fear that some provinces of Pakistan may not be moving in the direction in which nothing but destruction will be achieved.

Both pro-freedom leaders and nationalist political parties have compared the alleged rigging during the counting of votes in Pakistan to the 1987 elections when the newly formed political party, Muslim United Front, an organization of the Kashmiri youth, was reported to have won seats with a large majority in the state elections of Jammu and Kashmir. Within a few hours of the last phase of vote counting, not only the counting of votes was changed, but most of the youth associated with MUF were beaten up and locked in jails, including the leader of the JK Liberation Front, Muhammad Yasin Malik, and the head of Hizbul Mujahideen, Syed Salah-hu-Din. One is languishing in Indian Jail and another is living in Pakistan after crossing the border in the early 90s.

Before the 1987 elections, the two political parties, the National Conference and the Indian National Congress had entered into a poll alliance under the Rajiv-Farooq accord, thus making sure that the other winning party, MUF was defeated with electoral rigging. Kashmiris are linking this accord to the nexus of PML-N and PPP in Pakistan.

After getting beaten and tortured in the jails, the Kashmiri youth conspired a plan to start an anti-Indian armed movement about which Syed Salahuddin said in an interview with the BBC that “there is no vote for Kashmir in Indian democracy. JK is a big political shop that is being used as a pawn to grab votes and run the politics of the country. India neither wants democracy in Kashmir nor allows us to run the freedom movement’.

‘It is too shocking to see how the ruling elite in Pakistan allowed vote rigging again when it had the worst experience of vote theft in 1971, which had split the country into two and its ninety thousand soldiers had to surrender before Indian forces. How have they forgotten that humiliating moment that they are re-creating such situations with their other provinces or popular leaders?’. Says Gulam Rasool, a pro-freedom leader in Pulwama.  

Kashmir has been crying for peace since the Partition of the Subcontinent. The pro-India popular leader, Sheikh Abdullah would always say, ‘Indian democracy, unfortunately,  stops where the border of JK starts’.

The elections held in the past seventy years have always been questioned.  Not a single foreign organization has declared a clean and transparent election process until now.

The meddling in the recent Pakistan elections by its establishment is not different from what the central government has been doing in Jammu and Kashmir. A managed and controlled system of elections has reduced Jammu and Kashmir to non-entity at times. Maybe, Pakistan will face the same fate in the international community—-just a non-entity.

Peoples Democratic Party head, Mehbooba Mufti, and other prominent leaders dared to write a few words of praise on social media for winning despite the aggression against Imran Khan and his political candidates, while thousands of Kashmiris using fake names expressed their anger at the alleged electoral fraud. However, talking about Pakistan in the context of the current situation in Jammu and Kashmir is a dangerous act.

Watching the reaction of Kashmiris, some Hindutva activists tried hard to make it an anti-Pakistan narrative by creating many spaces on social media which not only tried to sow the seeds of mistrust but attempted to propagate the new narrative that ‘the people of Kashmir have changed’ and no more look towards Pakistan as earlier.

Obviously, some pro-BJP Kashmiris have been allowed to bring hatred among pro-Pakistan Kashmiris by accusing them of ‘sell-out Kashmir policy’, the sending of thousands of gunmen in the 90s or now allegations of smuggling of drugs across the Line of Control.

Where did this process of electoral rigging not take place, be it Egypt, Algeria, India or Pakistan?

How true is the statement of Hafiz Naeem, the leader of Jamaat-e-Islami, that ‘those whose way to believe in democracy or advance in electoral politics is prevented by vote stealing or rigging,  are always forced to choose the path of extremism’.

The reach of social media has become a catalyst in changing people’s thinking and made it very easy without spending a penny on it. Imran Khan’s political party, PTI, has won the elections with the full use of social media. Most of the candidates, including the top leadership of the party, were not allowed to campaign for election because of being locked up in jails.

Similarly, whether it is to change the mindset of Kashmiris or to convey a new narrative against opposition parties in Indian spaces, social media is at its best. In many such spaces, where Kashmiris are showing strong reactions to the Kashmir policy of both countries, India and Pakistan, and the management of the election process, most of the Kashmiris have also sent messages to the Pakistani establishment to give us Imran Khan and never talk about Kashmir in future.

It is not expected that a country that calls itself a sympathizer of Kashmir will fulfil the desire of Kashmiris but for the sake of their country, they would have given Imran Khan more opportunity to serve the nation by creating more Shaukat Khanum Hospitals, NUML universities and many more Al-Qadir Trusts, where millions of children would have at least exercised their right to education.

Nayeema Ahmad Mahjoor is associated with Independent Urdu and author of “Lost in Terror”

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