Zardari on Kashmir – realpolitik or betrayal?

March 3, 2008

Kashmir - Dal lake/Fayaz KabliAsif Ali Zardari has raised hackles in Kashmir and Pakistan by telling Indian news network CNN-IBN that relations between India and Pakistan should no longer be held hostage to the Kashmir dispute. The leader of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and widower of Benazir Bhutto said in an interview that the two countries should focus instead on building trade and economic ties.

“I am not getting hostage to that issue,” he said. “The idea is we feel for Kashmir, PPP has always felt for Kashmir, we have a strong Kashmir policy and we always had one. But having said that we don’t want to be hostage to that situation. That is a situation we can agree to disagree (on). Countries do, we have positions, you have positions. We can agree to disagree on everything.”

In the Kashmiri capital Srinagar, the Kashmir Times says his comments “evoked strong reaction and resentment from not only the separatists in the valley, but also from the mainstream politicians”. Greater Kashmir says Zardari had no right to speak on behalf of his country on “the mother of all the issues between India and Pakistan”. Thousands of Kashmiris had not lost their lives in the revolt against Indian rule just so that people like Zardari can promote trade and tourism, it says.Kashmiri children cry during gunbattle/Danish Ishmail

 Pakistan blogger moinansari goes further, accusing him of betraying the beliefs of his late wife and of her father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. “PPP Treachery! Unelected Zardari’s True Colors are Showing!” it screams, in a lengthy blog which also includes quotes from both Benazir and Zulfikar Bhutto. ”Zardari has no right to speak for Kashmiris or Pakistanis,” it says.

To be fair, the reaction is more muted than it would have been at the height of the Kashmir revolt a few years ago. Even Greater Kashmir concedes that “no sane person in the subcontinent would advocate continuation of strain in the relations between the two neighbors.”

And aside from the blog mentioned, I can find very little in the Pakistani blogosphere about Zardari’s remarks. Is it a sign of the times or just a reflection of the internet that the response on Kashmir was minor compared to the torrent of blogs unleashed when Pakistan pulled the plug on YouTube? Was Zardari merely reflecting a new realpolitik in Pakistan, or did he betray the Kashmir cause?

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