Mar 12, 2008 1
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ashfaq Kayani paid a visit to the Line of Control in Kashmir today. An Inter-Services Public Relations press release states that Kayani “highlighted the national consensus that exists on Kashmir issue” and “reaffirmed [the] commitment of Pakistan Army to the Kashmir cause, in line with [the] aspirations of Pakistani nation.”
Kayani’s trip comes after People’s Party Co-Chairman Asif Zardari’s controversial interview with CNN-IBN on March 1 in which he suggested that Pakistan and India can prioritize economic and social cooperation and defer the thorny Kashmir issue till the two countries develop greater trust.
Zardari told the Indian news channel:
“The idea is that we feel for Kashmir, the PPP (Pakistan People’s Party) has always felt for Kashmir. We have a strong Kashmir policy. We have 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. [We can] agree to disagree on (the UN resolutions)…We can wait. We can be patient till everybody grows up further. Maybe the coming generation grows up even further and then let’s interact as human beings and come to a position of love….Today, there are fixed notions. When dependency increases (and) we have matured enough (and) we’ve got trust between us, then nobody has fixed issues….As it is, it’s going to be a no-border world in the end.”
Zardari’s statement seemed to counter the prevailing consensus in Pakistan referred to by Kayani, namely that Pakistan should not fully normalize ties with India till the Kashmir issue is resolved. Pakistan’s security establishment and Kashmiri dissidents, with good reason, fear normalization prior to a Kashmir resolution would render the dispute irrelevant.
After a bit of an uproar, Zardari claimed his statements were mischaracterized, with the venerable PPP spokesman Farhatullah Babar coming in to do the mop work. Zardari has since described Kashmir as an “integral part” of Pakistan and the conflict as a “core dispute” with India. The statement was “hailed” by All Parties Hurriyet Conference Chairman Syed Ali Shah Gilani.
So what do Kayani’s Kashmir visit and statements there mean? At the very least, he would like to re-affirm Pakistan’s commitment to the Kashmir cause before interested parties. The timing of his visit, eleven days after Zardari’s statement, suggests that he did not want his remarks to be seen as a direct retort to Zardari. Kayani, perhaps would like to make his opinion on key national security issues known–maybe even set the discursive parameters–but also would like to avoid involvement in a tit-for-tat with politicians.