Just as no one ever expected anything spectacular to emerge from the much hyped October 26 “Million March” led by ex Prime Minister of Pakistan administered Kashmir (PaK) Barrister Sultan Mahmood Chaudhry in London, none would have ever imagined that it would turn out to be such a damp squib. While the organisers may try and shift the responsibility for this monumental debacle onto the anti-Pakistan lobby propped up by Indian intelligence agencies and some unruly Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party cadres, the fact of the matter is that they have nobody else but themselves to blame. What else explains the abject casualness exhibited by the organisers while planning an event concerning the very contentious and delicate Kashmir issue? One also fails to understand why the organisers of the “Million March” were in such a tearing hurry that they even failed to do their basic ‘ground work’ by taking stock of the prevailing situation before embarking on this path-breaking venture. What really hurts is not that the organisers made a spectacle of themselves, but the fact that they lost a wonderful opportunity to highlight the Kashmir issue.
While announcing the decision to undertake the “Million March,” Chaudhary Muhammad Mansha, ex-administrator Mirpur Municipal Corporation claimed that Kashmiris from all over the world would join to raise the one-point agenda of freedom irrespective of their ideologies and party affiliations. When New Delhi sought cancellation of this march, its organiser Majid Chaudhary reiterated that “It is not anti or pro any country- it is simply about people in Britain raising their voice against injustice.” Though Barrister Sultan Chaudhry attempted to give the “Million March” an apolitical character by declaring that “This march is independent and being organised by the Kashmiris,” he immediately contradicted himself by admitting that its aim was “to expose the barbaric face of India before the western world.” Thus, the “Million March” that was touted as demonstration of the “one-point agenda of freedom” of Kashmiris “irrespective of their ideologies and party affiliations,” acquired a distinct political undertone the moment Barrister Sultan Chaudhry stated that “they (People of Kashmir) are very conscious of the fact that their own motherland Kashmir is under the worst kind of Indian occupation. They want to help Kashmiris get freedom from Indian tyranny.” Instead of outrightly ascribing the delay in resolution of the Kashmir issue to “the traditional stubborn and hostile attitude of India” and giving the march the semblance of a propaganda ploy, the organisers could have considered letting the international community come to this conclusion themselves. Where was the need for stating the obvious?
There is nothing wrong in organising a march to draw attention of the international community to atrocities being committed upon the people in Indian administered Kashmir (IaK). However, the international community may have been receptive to the message being conveyed through such a protest had it come in the wake of some current instances of ongoing gruesome atrocities being committed on Kashmiris in IaK as part of New Delhi’s State policy. But this was not the case. Instead, with New Delhi and Islamabad engaged a no-holds-barred vitriolic rhetoric, Indo-Pak relations are at an all time low and their armies not only firing at each other at will, but also targeting innocent civilians residing in the border belt. It is therefore but natural that the international community is presently far more worried by the growing animosity between the two nuclear powers and highly concerned in finding ways to drum- in some sanity into these belligerent neighbours. Thus, under these circumstances, by expecting that the same international community, which has till now shown no inclination towards resolving the Kashmir issue to pay attention to atrocities being committed in IaK, weren’t the organisers being rather a bit too optimistic?
The organisers grossly under estimated New Delhi and were overjoyed when the Indian External Affairs Minister Ms Sushma Swaraj protested against the march and implored London not to permit the same. Their happiness knew no bounds when New Delhi’s request was summarily turned down by London and this probably made them overconfident as well as complacent. Unfortunately, in their ecstasy, the organisers failed to notice how India adroitly struck a telling blow to the “Million March” by extracting a statement from British PM David Cameron that even though the march would not be stopped, the government of the UK continued to consider the Kashmir issue a “bilateral issue” between India and Pakistan. Thus, while the organisers continued to rejoice at the thought of India having been ‘cornered’, it was New Delhi that had the last laugh. Having once again got an endorsement from UK that Kashmir was a “bilateral issue” without even having tried to do so, New Delhi had nothing to worry about and therefore its External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin had no problems in making the snide statement that “We are a country of billion (people) and it (Million March) does not overawe us!”
Getting the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal Bhutto on the stage on the day of the march was certainly a blessing in disguise for New Delhi for two reasons. Firstly, with his recent rants of “Kashmir luwangay” (we will take Kashmir) during a speech to his party workers going viral on the social media, it was but natural for one to infer that Kashmir was nothing more than an Indo Pak territorial dispute and the “Million March” was only being undertaken to further the same agenda. Secondly, his presence also enraged the PTI members in the audience as they rightly felt that the ideological agenda of the march was being hijacked by giving it a political complexion and they did what one expected “Indian agents’ would have done. Empty bottles, tomatoes and eggs were hurled at this ‘star speaker’ and he was booed out even before he could complete his speech. If Barrister Sultan Chaudhry was indeed the driving force behind the “Million March” and was personally leading it, then where was the need to get the PPP chairman into the scene? This ill-considered move by the organisers to use the march for showcasing Bilwal Bhutto-Zardari as a leader of consequence literally ended up with them getting egg on their face!
This brings us to the harsh reality that what we actually witnessed on October 26 was not a march of ‘millions’ but that of ‘minions’ – a march organised and supported by those self-proclaimed ‘leaders of the masses’ on both sides of the Line of Control (LoC) who seem to care less for the people of Kashmir and speak more for New Delhi or Islamabad. These are the people, who by taking sides have woven a complex web in which the Kashmir issue has been inextricably entrapped. They talk glibly about the ‘right to self determination’ and demand implementation of UN resolutions on Kashmir, but themselves render the same redundant by seeking its selective application. And as long as this attitude of speaking in ‘His Master’s Voice’ persists, there can be no resolution of the Kashmir issue as it divides public opinion regarding the future of Kashmir. Therefore, if the UN and international community are wary of intervening to resolve the Kashmir issue, they cannot be faulted- it is our own people, who by acting as proxies of India or Pakistan have reduced an ideologically inspired movement into a petty territorial dispute between two countries. And so, even though the verdict of both the UN and the international community that the Kashmir problem is a “bilateral issue” between India and Pakistan requiring no ‘third party intervention’ may appear to be unfair, under the existing circumstances which our leaders have themselves created, isn’t it a logical conclusion?