NEW DELHI: India and Pakistan would both like to play down the ‘Million March’ on Kashmir in London but although the numbers fell far short of the target, the political message of the huge demonstration needs to be understood, accepted and factored in by the two governments still agonising over old stated positions on Jammu and Kashmir and indulging in war rhetoric along the Line of Control---almost like medieval dinosaurs---while the world has moved on.

The first signal from the march was to both India and Pakistan. The first expectedly so as it was intended by the organisers of Pakistan origin to send a signal to New Delhi about the alienation of Kashmiri’s. This was built into the effort. But it was the signal to Pakistan on an international platform that came as a major surprise for the organisers and others. The attempt to bring Pakistan Peoples Party leader Bilawal Bhutto who has been making out of context statements on Kashmir lately, on to the stage led to loud booing from the crowds that threw tomatoes and empty water bottles at him.

Clearly the last few weeks of preparation for bringing Bhutto on to the dais---with his loud statements of claiming every inch of Kashmir---had not taken into account the complete generational shift in Jammu and Kashmir. And while some Pakistani newspapers have attributed the tomato attack on Bilawal to the presence of representatives from other political parties as well, and of course some to the Indian “agencies” The Citizen’s homework clearly shows that the protest came from the young Kashmiris.

The new generation of Kashmiris, particularly in Jammu and Kashmir, are no doubt alienated from India but this was not always so. Many of them voted actively for National Conference leader Omar Abdullah giving him an opportunity to re-set the clock, and in the process relations between Srinagar and New Delhi. His abject failure to do so, and the firing in which 126 young people were killed one by one in Jammu and Kashmir, has broken that clock and closed the tiny window of opportunity opened by the Kashmiri youth in defiance of the separatists and other more hard line ideologies visible in the state.

However, the anger and the alienation is not limited for New Delhi but has embraced Pakistan and thereby marginalised the viewpoint---once quite active and dominant in the Valley---of secession to Pakistan. Every youth spoken to harbours a dislike for Islamabad’s policies as well through the realisation that despite its meddling, the neighbouring country does not have the interest of the Kashmiris at heart. This writer has been in active touch with the young people of the Valley and can say with some authority that they are well read, more politically aware, and brave in their convictions as compared to the older generations.

The slogans at the London march were thus not just “Go Back India Go Back”. These were drowned out by “Go Back Bilawal” to which was added, “Go Back Nawaz.” The last was a clear indication that the protest against the young PPP leader was not orchestrated by either Pakistan’s ruling and other parties, or by the so called agencies. In fact journalists on the ground recorded any number of Kashmiri voices maintaining that they did not want their demand for independence to be politicised by those who had exploited their aspirations.

In fact whatever might have been the reasons behind the organisers decision to hold the march, the young Kashmiris who participated in large numbers were clear that their demand was for independence. This is the message that should worry both India and Pakistan, as while they still fight their battles according to old mindsets claiming history and the territory of Jammu and Kashmir, the generational shift is ensuring that independence emerges strongly as the option on the international platform. World governments are changing tactics to recognise this, and while the rhetoric that Kashmir is for India and Pakistan to sort out is still being mouthed, this is not without the realisation that the Kashmiris themselves are becoming more and more united for independence.

Comments on the social media from young Kashmiris about Bilawal Bhutto being booed off the stage are revealing, to say the least. There is open glee that he was made to realise that his intervention was not welcome, with loud criticism of his effort to occupy centre stage. Several Kashmiris commented that they had gone for the march as it was supposed to be against human rights violations and independence, and would not have attended had they known that the PPP was going to control the stage.

Individuals and organisations working against India on this issue have modified their positions in line with the young Kashmiri’s aspirations revolving around independence. In fact once US State Department Sponsored Kashmir group led by Ghulam Nabi Fai advocating secession of Jammu and Kashmir to Pakistan, is now advocating independence as the option. Even Hurriyat leader Ali Shah Geelani, always for secession to Pakistan, now speaks for independence.

Significantly the UN resolutions do not provide for independence as an option, with the plebiscite clause only limited to a choice between India and Pakistan. However, the political international scenario is changing and while the official rhetoric as in the case of Britain that just discussed the Kashmir issue in the House of Commons, remains “let India and Pakistan decide” more and more notice is being taken of the independence option. It might be recalled that it was less than 20 years ago that the international community moved from its ‘hands off’ position on Jammu and Kashmir insofar as India was concerned, to bring in Pakistan’s supposed claim on the same table. World Presidents and Prime Ministers in this equation would visit both India and Pakistan, and it took aggressive and sustained Indian diplomacy to make them de-link the two.

Movement is clearly visible now to re-ignite the Kashmir issue with the UK making the first strong move. This time around, judging from media reports on Kashmir and stray sentiments, the push will be to recognise the Kashmiri’s aspirations first. Britain’s Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Alistair Burt said while replying to the debate on “Human Rights on the Indian subcontinent” that while it was for India and Pakistan to resolve the issue bilaterally, the wishes of the Kashmiri people should be taken into account. Experts and foreign policy observers believe that the last thought will become more strident with time.

The Indian government and the state has its work cut out for it, given the signals from the global ground. A visit to celebrate Diwali and silence on Eid might not exactly be the right approach to win over hearts and minds. Of course the option of US inspired ‘shock and awe’ is always there with governments, but as is becoming increasingly visible to Washington this tactic is doomed to fail in the medium term.

(Hasan Suroor is a senior journalist and author)