ON the occasion of Kashmir Solidarity Day, Prime Minister Imran Khan made a statement that has created a stir and prompted his political rivals to accuse him of violating Pakistan’s long-standing position on the issue of Jammu and Kashmir. In his speech, the prime minister, while addressing the people of Kashmir, said that once they had acceded to Pakistan through a UN plebiscite, they could, if they wanted, opt for an independent state.

Critics say that by mentioning the so-called ‘third option’ of independence, the prime minister has strayed away from the two United Nations resolutions on the dispute that say the people of Jammu and Kashmir will have two options: join Pakistan or join India. The controversy got fanned when the Foreign Office issued a clarification saying there was no change in Pakistan’s position and it remained anchored in the UN resolutions.

The Foreign Office should have known better. This clarification was not required. By issuing it, the Foreign Office only added to the perception that the prime minister’s statement required to be clarified, which insinuated that perhaps there was something not right with the statement. In fact, the prime minister said nothing wrong. Article 257 of the Constitution of Pakistan states: “When the people of the State of Jammu and Kashmir decide to accede to Pakistan, the relationship between Pakistan and that State shall be determined in accordance with the wishes of the people of that State.”

There is no difference between what the Constitution states and what the prime minister said. If the relevant officials of the Foreign Office had paid greater attention to this article of the Constitution they would not have had to issue a statement and needlessly stir a controversy. One expects better judgement on such sensitive matters from the Foreign Office.

In fact, the prime minister’s statement is very meaningful and appears to have been issued after deep consideration. The statement will appeal to all those people in Jammu and Kashmir who prefer the option of independence. The prime minister has very intelligently communicated to them that once they accede to Pakistan, they can exercise the option of independence if, course, a majority of the people of the state opt for it. By saying this, the prime minister has also very correctly reminded the world that the issue of Jammu and Kashmir is primarily linked to the right of self-determination and is not about a disputed piece of land between two neighbours.

This is what our official position has always maintained, but by elaborating it in such terms, the prime minister has wisely reconciled the UN resolutions with the larger issue of the right of self-determination. The international community should welcome the prime minister’s statement and the people of Jammu and Kashmir should rest assured their right to choose will be respected by Pakistan once they accede to us.

Published in Dawn, February 9th, 2021

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