For expat Pakistanis, the JUI-F protest wrongly overshadows Kashmir cause
In Pakistan’s political sphere these days, an opposition protest march led by the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam Fazal (JUI-F) party and called the ‘Azadi March’ has held the narrative for the last two weeks.
JUI-F, one of Pakistan’s largest right-wing religious political parties, has been the political face of the Deobandi religious movement in Pakistan for decades and garnered considerable political clout in the last 20 years under the stewardship of Fazal-ur-Rehman. Now, the party’s sit-in in Islamabad has presented the government with ambitious demands, including the resignation of Prime Minister Imran Khan and new polls in the country, citing election fraud.
The protest has been provided some steam by the country’s two mainstream political parties, the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PMLN) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) but their respective leaderships have shied away from fully committing to the political mobilization against the government and against joining the sit-in. Yet, both political forces have fully endorsed the demands of the protesters and consider Khan’s government as one that lacks legitimacy.
Perhaps the most interesting thing in all this, especially for Pakistani expats, is the timing of the protest against the government. The JUI-F leadership refused to accept the results of the election last year, but it wasn’t until now, more than a year later, that it chose to bring its movement to the streets.
It is apparent that the JUI-F took this political plunge calculatedly at a time the Prime Minister was raising international attention over the communications blackout and curfew in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir in the wake of the revocation of the region’s special status. Therefore, though the timing has been heavily questioned by observers within the country, it has also struck a nerve with Pakistani expat circles around the world.
It is apparent that the JUI-F took this political plunge calculatedly at a time the Prime Minister was raising international attention over the communications blackout and curfew in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir
Before dwelling further, one must understand the political capital enjoyed and exercised by Pakistan’s expat community and its importance in politics in their respective countries of residence — and in Pakistan.
The rationale that challenged the repeated dominance of the PPP and PML-N in Pakistan’s politics first significantly arose at a discursive level through Pakistan’s expats, who gave considerable backing to Imran Khan’s slogan of change.
It is safe to go as far as to assume, that the political rise of Khan might never have materialized without the political activism conducted by Pakistani expats in his favor within the United Kingdom, and then the translation of that support into Pakistan either through financial backing or innovative social media campaigning.
This is one of the prime reasons the PTI has remained the most vocal voice supporting the issue of voting rights for overseas Pakistanis. And coming back full circle, this naturally makes the expat community a strong hub of support for the PTI-led government.
Another key dimension of the political environment among Pakistani expat circles is their unwavering support and activism for Pakistan’s national interests and in particular, the issue of Kashmir. This activism was on full display as overseas Pakistanis mobilized in unprecedented fashion to protest the Indian government’s revocation of Kashmir’s special status in August. Large protests broke out across the UK and the US, as Pakistanis living across the globe exerted their political capital on the issue.
Most monumental in this regard have been the demonstrations in London organized by British-Pakistanis, in order to record their protest before the Indian High Commission.
As Pakistan strives to internationalize the Kashmir issue more robustly in the wake of India’s revocation, expats have attained exceptional significance.
And as the British elections approach, the theme of Kashmir has become an important talking point. Even the British Labour Party has passed a strong resolution condemning the Indian curfew in Kashmir. This could never have been achieved if Pakistan’s government had relied solely upon its diplomatic machinery and lobbying channels.
But the Azadi march and protest have taken away discursive attention from Kashmir both within and outside Pakistan. The government, which was until recently focusing its energies on continuing the rhetoric on Kashmir, is instead forced to anticipate the political consequences of JUI-F’s political campaign.
These developments have been viewed with a huge degree of disappointment among the overseas community, which has been trying to project the issue of Kashmir and Pakistan’s stance in their respective countries of residence.
These Pakistanis remain at a loss to understand the real motives and objectives behind the protest movement and are openly questioning why the protest’s leaders have disregarded the damage they have already done to the cause of Kashmir.
*Umar Karim is a doctoral researcher at the University of Birmingham. His research focuses on the evolution of Saudi Arabia’s strategic outlook, the Saudi-Iran tussle, conflict in Syria, and the geopolitics of Turkey, Iran and Pakistan. Twitter: @UmarKarim89