If Yasin Malik is considered a freedom fighter in Pakistan’s eyes, then the Balochs, fighting for independence from Pakistan’s illegal occupation of their homeland, are also justified freedom fighters

by Major Gen Harsha Kakar (Retd)

From a Pakistan-trained militant to one of the prominent separatist faces in Kashmir, life has come a full circle for chief of the banned Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) Yasin Malik. A Delhi court on Wednesday sentenced him to life in connection with a terror funding case.

The sentencing of Yasin Malik resulted in every Pakistan entity, worth his salt, commenting on it, in addition to officially sponsored protests in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). Yasin Malik’s wife, Mushaal Malik, had a week earlier requested Imran Khan, whose anti-government march was to reach Islamabad on 25 May, to delay it by a few days so that the focus in Pakistan remains on Yasin Malik on the day of his sentencing. She stated, “If you delay your long march by a day or two, it will make no difference to you. I know internal politics are very important, but Kashmir is more important.” Yasin was sentenced to life imprisonment on 25 May.

Comments from Pakistani politicians were on expected lines. Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif stated, “Today is a black day for Indian democracy and its justice system. India can imprison Yasin Malik physically, but it can never imprison the idea of freedom he symbolises.” Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto added, “India can never silence Kashmiris’ voice for freedom and self-determination.” The Pakistan Army through its media wing, DG ISPR, stated, “Such oppressive tactics cannot dampen the spirit of [the] people of Kashmir in their just struggle against illegal Indian occupation.”

The Pakistan foreign office summoned the Indian charge d’affaires to lodge its protest. The Pakistan government wanted India to acquit Malik of all charges and release him from prison. They also demanded that all other Kashmiri leaders be released from prison. Bilawal Bhutto even wrote to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on similar lines. A few days earlier, the Pakistan National Assembly had passed a resolution expressing solidarity with Yasin Malik.

Pakistan even pushed the OIC (Organisation of Islamic Countries) to issue a statement on Yasin Malik. The OIC’s human rights wing had stated that he was jailed on “concocted charges following sham trial in India. Such acts of blatant human rights violations against innocent Kashmiris are aimed at denying Kashmiris their legitimate right to self-determination. It not only constitutes travesty of Indian justice but also exposes claims of democracy”. India countered these comments: “Through these comments, OIC-IPHRC has implicitly expressed support for terrorist activities of Yasin Malik, which were documented and presented in the Court. The world seeks zero tolerance of terrorism, and we urge OIC not to justify it any manner.”

Pakistan hasn’t realised that none of the 56 members of the OIC has independently issued any comment on Yasin Malik, aware that he was a terrorist responsible for multiple killings, subsequently moving towards terror funding, inciting and masterminding terrorist attacks, while claiming to talk peace.

Lack of support from OIC nations will never find mention in Pakistan media as it would emphasise Pakistan’s failed policy on Kashmir. Pakistan leaders were forced to comment as the ISI desperately seeks to keep the Kashmir issue alive, despite being aware that it has almost no takers in Kashmir. The Indian external affairs ministry ignored all Pakistan politicians’ comments, while only responding to the OIC.

Yasin Malik had limited options. He was aware that the case involving his killing of Air Force personnel has yet to be brought to court. By refusing to challenge the charges, he was projecting himself as a victim, rather than as an accused. His next case will come up in some time, so would cases against Yasin’s accomplices. The move has begun and will not slow down.

In the Valley, there were sporadic protests which ended with a whimper the same day. With no funds to sponsor violence, only his ardent backers displayed some form of anger. Barely 50 people turned up at Maisuma, the region to which Yasin Malik belongs, during the announcement of his sentence. Shops were shut voluntarily. The Internet was suspended for some time only in Maisuma. Indeed, a sharp fall for a man who could at one-time command thousands to come onto the streets, pelt stones, disrupt lives by imposing hartals and openly challenge the state. The life sentence will ensure that he is forgotten with time. A death sentence could have made him a martyr, exploited by Pakistan.

The People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), a grouping of all Kashmir Valley-based political parties, issued only a statement through their spokesperson, MY Tarigami: “The life sentence given to Yasin Malik is unfortunate and a setback to peace efforts. We fear that this will add to the uncertainties in the region and further encourage separatist sentiments.” The reality is that peace talks were moving nowhere. With the Hurriyat redundant and all shots being called from Rawalpindi, any talks with Kashmir separatists were meaningless. Hence, in 2019, the government withdrew all privileges given to separatist leaders. Further, with Yasin out of the picture, Valley politicians will be heaving a sigh of relief.

If Yasin Malik is considered a freedom fighter in Pakistan’s eyes and is fighting against Indian oppression in Kashmir, then the Balochs, fighting for independence from Pakistan’s illegal occupation of their homeland are also justified freedom fighters. The subjugation of Baluchistan with enforced disappearances, random killings and zero development more than justifies the Baloch demand for independence. Kashmir officially acceded to India with Pakistan refusing to adhere to even the first condition in the UNSC resolution, while it militarily occupied Baluchistan, despite signing a standstill agreement.

The sentencing of Yasin Malik is a message to all terrorist supporters and financers, that India will never forget. There were no comments against the sentencing from any Indian politician or Leftist intellectual, implying Yasin had been dumped. Pictures of a broken and defeated Yasin Malik proceeding to jail displays the inglorious end of a man who once considered himself as the head of state of Pakistan-aligned Kashmir. It is time India reminds Pakistan of its hypocrisy on differentiating freedom fighters from terrorists.