Saturday, 25 October 2014

Kashmir: How Sushma Swaraj’s ‘over reaction’ fed Pak propaganda machine

Kashmir: How Sushma Swaraj’s ‘over reaction’ fed Pak propaganda machine

London: Whoever in Islamabad - the army, the ISI, or the government - is orchestrating the planned "Kashmir Million March" in London this Sunday must be doing high-fives even before a single man, woman or child has moved one step forward. India's self-publicised over-the-top reaction, with Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj personally intervening to have it stopped, has meant that an event that may have gone largely unnoticed - if not wrecked by rival Pakistani-Kashmiri groups - has grabbed the kind of media attention its organisers may have only dreamt of.

Few outside Britain's rather shadowy Pakistani-Kashmiri bubble had heard of it before Ms Swaraj offered it the oxygen of publicity by raising the issue with British ministers during her talks here last week - only to be reminded politely that “people in the UK have the right of expression and right to protest"; and that the government cannot intervene so long as “protesters don't break the boundary of law".

The matter should have been dropped there. Instead, the Foreign Office in Delhi amplified it further with its official spokesman stating that India had protested to the British government and urged it to stop "those instigating and organising anti-India rallies in London and other parts of UK." And then Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah weighed in—daring organisers of the march to hold such an event in Kashmir rather than 'cosy' London.

"I have no problem in these people propounding an ideology, but it would be better doing it from here rather than cozy environs of London, Washington, Paris and places like that," he said though he didn’t quite make clear how he visualised Pakistanis holding a rally in Srinagar.

A high-profile retired Indian diplomat, KC Singh, looked slightly foolish when he suggested that Britain follow the example of UAE which barred Pakistanis from holding protests outside the Indian embassy after the Babri Masjid demolition. Even the critics of the rally thought that asking Britain to emulate what one Pakistani commentator described as a “police state” was a stretch.

In their zeal to look "tough" on Pakistan, Indian foreign policy experts forgot or deliberately overlooked the fact that Britain has a long tradition of freedom of expression. A respect for freedom of speech is among the few things that Brits still cherish. Even Tony Blair couldn't stop one million people from marching through the streets of London against his invasion of Iraq.

Whoever advised Ms Swaraj needs a crash course in the golden rule that sometimes silence is more effective than a swaggering protest. Especially when dealing with a tricky neighbour who does propaganda so well. Pakistan's India diplomacy relies heavily on provocation hoping that New Delhi would fall for it (as it often does) yielding further grist to its propaganda mill.

Not surprisingly, the march's organisers and the Pakistani media have seized on India’s heavy-duty reaction to claim that India is running scared. The British government’s rejection of Indian protest is being portrayed as a snub for Delhi.
“Barrister” Sultan Mehmood Chaudhry, former prime minister of PoK 'Azad Jammu and Kashmir' in Pak lingo) and local organiser of the march, told his supporters that the Indian government was 'afraid' and making efforts to have it cancelled, but it had been 'snubbed' by the British government. He said the march, which would start at Trafalgar Square and end at 10, Downing Street—a distance of barely a kilometre—was intended to 'remind the international community of its decades old pledge to hold a plebiscite in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, now a nuclear flashpoint in South Asia'.

"Kashmiris must be allowed to decide their own fate. I have held meetings not only with Kashmiri community leaders in the United Kingdom, but also with British Members of Parliament who have assured me of their support for securing fundamental rights for Kashmiri people," he claimed.

Shabir Choudhry of the pro-independence Jammu Kashmir National Independent Alliance (JKNIA), which claims to represent Kashmiri nationalist parties in Britain, said that thanks to the Indian “over-reaction” the march had acquired more importance than it deserved.

"India has harmed its own cause. It has given the impression that it is disturbed and this will embolden Pakistan," he said adding that the Indian response was being interpreted as a sign of weakness.

It might be billed as a 'historic million march' to evoke memories of the 2003 million-strong Stop the War march against Iraq invasion, but in fact it is said to be struggling to attract marchers. People are being reportedly offered complimentary meals and a free ride to London to take part in it.

According to critics it is rather a dodgy project and its UK organisers are simply 'proxies' for their 'puppet masters' back in Pakistan-- the ISI and the army who want to send out a message to the Modi government that they are not going to let go of the Kashmir issue. They see the march as the start of a new phase of Pakistan's campaign to put pressure on India.

Britain's Pakistani-Kashmiri is deeply divided. The march has been called by pro-government elements and is being opposed by those-- such as JKNIA-- campaigning for independence from both India and Pakistan.

Choudhry, who broke away from JKLF to form JKNIA, told Firstpost that the march was "against the national interest of the people of Jammu and Kashmir State, and against their struggle to unite the divided homeland". It was being sponsored by 'pro-establishment elements' who wanted to keep “the Kashmir pot boiling".

"Those (Pakistan) who occupy us first started a proxy war and proxy politics, in which ordinary people of Jammu and Kashmir suffered; and now proxy protests are being encouraged to score points against each other. In my opinion it will send a wrong message because the Million March is designed to focus attention on the parts of Jammu and Kashmir occupied by India while ignoring Pakistani occupation. We want to tell both governments to resolve the Kashmir dispute peacefully. Violence, terrorism and use of gun is not way forward," he said.
His group plans to hold protests outside both Indian and Pakistani missions in London.

Meanwhile, a joke going round is that the march derives its name not from the number of people it is expected to attract, but from the fact that one million pounds have been allocated for it!

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