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SRINAGAR: There is a mixed response from Jammu and Kashmir on February 5. Some say that Kashmir Day is of “great significance” whereas others believe that the observance has been reduced to mere ritual and that Pakistan’s official stance over Kashmir appears to be “wavering”.

Also read: Kashmiris fighting a new battle

Is pro-Pakistan sentiment in still Kashmir alive and kicking?

In the past, Kashmiris in their wills have requested their children and grandchildren to hoist the Pakistani flag on their graves once the region merges with Pakistan, but is the pro-Pakistan sentiment so deep in today’s Kashmir?

Some observers say that in a suppressed environment like the one that prevails in Kashmir, wherein democratic spaces for expression and dissent stand choked, it is a difficult question to answer.

Ajazul Haque, one of Kashmir’s leading columnists, is of the view that “February 5 symbolises Pakistan’s deep-rooted relationship with Kashmir. Every year, this day revives the cultural, religious and the geographical proximity the valley enjoys with Pakistan.”

“The pro-Pakistan sentiment in Kashmir is neither dead nor diminished, it's suppressed and the reasons are rooted in the conditions we are going through since the 1990."

"Moreover, the worsening situation in Pakistan is creating a bad feeling among Kashmiris and that is perhaps one of the reasons people don't display their pro-Pakistan emotions as openly and plainly as they used to,” Haque says in a response via e-mail.

However, many in Kashmir continue to express their love for Pakistan overtly through various symbolic gestures like cheering for the Pakistani cricket team, waving or hoisting the Pakistan’s national flag, setting Pakistan’s national anthem as the ring tone on their mobile phones, and attending funerals of militants of Pakistani descent in colossal numbers.

Khurram Parvez, programme coordinator at Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, insists that one must make a distinction between the Pakistani state and its people.

“February 5 is a day when the people of Pakistan and Kashmiri diaspora organise various programmes in schools, colleges, universities and even mosques to make Kashmir visible internationally. On this day, the Pakistani missions also spread awareness about Kashmir. It is an opportunity for people to engage with Kashmir,” Parvez says.

He feels that Pakistan's policy vis-à-vis Kashmir has been “problematic” and says there is no dearth of people in Kashmir feeling frustrated over what he calls Islamabad's “inconsistent Kashmir policy”.

Bashir Manzar, Editor-in-chief of Srinagar based English daily Kashmir Images, feels Kashmir Solidarity Day is “ritualistic” and meant only to address Pakistan’s domestic constituency.

“Honestly speaking, I don’t attach much importance to this ritualistic day. It may be good for the successive Pakistani governments domestically, but Pakistan’s state policy on Kashmir has been as inconsistent as India’s,” Manzar says.

He says Pakistani officials say one thing on one occasion and something else on another. “There are times when they [Pakistani officials] swear by the UN resolutions on Kashmir and then say that these very resolutions have become obsolete. Afterwards, they talk about the four-point formula,” he says.

Anuradha Bhasin, Executive Editor of Jammu based Kashmir Times, in tune with Manzar’s views says that Pakistan’s stand on Kashmir is necessitated by the country’s internal political demands.

“Pakistan maintains that it lends moral, diplomatic and political support to the struggle of Kashmiris. However, of late, the people in Kashmir have become suspicious of Pakistan’s state policy. Also, Kashmir Day has been reduced to mere symbolism,” Bhasin says.

“At one point in time there was much enthusiasm in the Kashmir valley regarding Pakistan. I am curious to know how things pan out when the sentiment and politics appear to be changing in today’s Kashmir,” she says.

The state government in Jammu and Kashmir seldom allows the resistance leadership to hold public rallies but whenever that happens, pro-Pakistan slogans like ‘jeeve jeeve Pakistan’ (long live Pakistan) can also be heard alongside the dominant slogan ‘Hum Kya Chahate, Azaadi’ (we want freedom).

“Even in our suppressed environment, many youths in Kashmir openly showcase their love for Pakistan at the cost of paying heavily for their expression," Parvez says.

"This expression of love for Pakistan does not necessarily indicate that they are in favour of Kashmir’s merger with Pakistan,” he says, adding that for many Kashmiris, a visit to Pakistan is no less than an “emotional pilgrimage”.

So why do Kashmiris exhibit their love for Pakistan despite knowing its serious ramifications?

“Well, it is perhaps the deep anger against the Indian state and deep-rooted alienation with India’s treatment of Kashmir,” opines Ms Bhasin.

According to Dr Showkat Hussain, the pro-Pakistan sentiment has always been there in Kashmir, as the “sentiment for secession” remains the dominant one.

But there are some voices who see things a little differently.

Zafar Choudhary, commentator and political analyst based in Jammu, says that over the last many years “jihadi elements like ‘Lashkar-i-Taiba’ [LT] have hijacked the Kashmir Solidarity Day” in Pakistan.

“Earlier, the people and the political leadership of Pakistan were involved in observing this day as a mark of support to the struggle of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Now with changes in Pakistan's political dynamic with regards to Kashmir, you only get to see some advertisements in newspapers and a national holiday observed on this day,” Choudhary says.

“Worse, the day [Kashmir Solidarity Day] has been hijacked by the extremist community, which is a difficult proposition for all,” he adds.

Shabnum, a lecturer by profession, says that pro-Pakistan sentiment among the new generation is on the decline and some of them have even started cheering for the Indian cricket team. She says several among the young generation also seem to see their economic future with India without surrendering their aspiration for Kashmir’s independence.

“I can tell you from my experience of working with young students. They think a little differently. They have a strong sentiment for ‘Azaadi’ but they do not support Pakistan or Kashmir’s merger with Pakistan, given the nature and magnitude of violence that is being perpetrated in that country on a daily basis,” she argues.

However, Mr Manzar begs to disagree. According to him, the pro-Pakistan constituency in Kashmir has become stronger than before.

“Nowadays, the youths in Kashmir think globally. Some are attracted to global Islamisation as well. I can tell you with a sense of responsibility that the pro-Pakistan constituency in Kashmir has strengthened.”

In the absence of any empirical study, it is very difficult to assess whether the pro-Pakistan sentiment has weakened or enhanced, or whether it is dead or diminished in this region and there are voices in support of arguments either way.

History of Kashmir Day

According to Srinagar-based international law expert Dr Sheikh Showkat Hussain, Kashmir Day has been observed historically right from 1932, after being first proposed by the then Kashmir Committee.

“In the 1930s, the day was observed to express camaraderie with the Kashmiris’ struggle against the autocratic Dogra ruler Maharaja Hari Singh. In present day context, Kashmir Day is being celebrated to show solidarity with the struggle of Kashmiris against India,” Sheikh Showkat says.

“Basically, it [Kashmir Day] started from undivided Punjab and it has been celebrated ever since, with pauses in between. This day will continue to hold importance until the Kashmiris achieve their objective of right to self-determination,” he says.

The day was revived in the 1970s when in 1975 Kashmir’s then tallest political figure Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah agreed to become Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir after an accord was signed on behalf of Sheikh Abdullah by Mirza Mohammad Afzal Beg and on behalf of the Indian government, headed by Indira Gandhi, by G Parthasarathy in New Delhi.

Following the infamous Sheikh-Indira accord of Feb 1975, Kashmiris had then observed a complete strike on the call of Pakistan’s then Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to protest against the agreement.

Historically, such has been Pakistan’s influence on Kashmir’s political landscape.

In 1990, Pakistan's late Jamaat-i-Islami leader Qazi Hussain Ahmed had proposed that February 5 be observed as Kashmir Solidarity Day in Pakistan.

Gowhar Geelani is a journalist, who has served as Editor at Deutsche Welle (Voice of Germany) in Bonn, Germany.