: Engaged in a full-fledged battle for survival in office, President Asif Ali Zardari displayed an uncharacteristically hawkish view on the Kashmir issue on a visit to Pakistan Occupied Kashmir on Tuesday, his first to the territory since taking office in 2008.

Gone was the Zardari who said in March 2008 that the Kashmir issue should be put on the back-burner so that India and Pakistan could focus on improving trade relations.

Instead, in an address to a joint session of the “Azad Jammu and Kashmir” Assembly and Council on the occasion of “self-determination” day, Mr. Zardari accused India of suppressing the rights of Kashmiris.

He said Pakistan would carry the late Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s pledge of the “thousand-year war” for the “liberation” of Kashmir, describing it however as more as an “ideological war.”

“The struggle for Kashmir began before the struggle for Pakistan. We achieved Pakistan, we will also achieve Kashmir,” he said.

He even offered the catchy slogan of “Kashmir Khappay,” a modification of his now famous “Pakistan Khappay” (we want Pakistan) that he raised in response to the Sindhi separatist slogan of “Pakistan Na Khappay” (we do not want Pakistan) that was heard after Benazir’s killing.

New line

Mr. Zardari’s new line on Kashmir appears linked to his efforts to surmount his present political troubles.

His friendly attitude towards India combined with his initial statements on the Kashmir issue offended the traditionalists in the Pakistani civil-military establishment, and are widely seen as a reason for the crisis in which he now finds himself.

In the last few days, the embattled President, who is facing calls for resignation after the Supreme Court voided an ordinance under which corruption cases against him were dropped, has reiterated several times that “conspiracies” were afoot against him.

The Pakistan President has also made clear his intention of fighting off the plotters whom he has not identified. On Tuesday, the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) Assembly passed a resolution expressing confidence in the leadership of Mr. Zardari. The Balochistan Assembly did the same on Monday, and Sindh Assembly adopted a similar resolution three weeks ago.

But if these moves appeared to be sending out the message to the “conspirators” that he was prepared for an all out political confrontation, Mr. Zardari’s speech in PoK was clearly meant to appease influential sections of the Pakistani establishment who have been annoyed with him.

He called Kashmir the “jugular vein” of Pakistan, and expressed the hope that the Kashmiris would succeed in their cause. “The time will soon come when the world will take important decisions on Kashmir,” he said.

“The whole focus of world is on Pakistan. Regional peace is linked with the resolution of the Kashmir dispute and peace can only come if the issue is resolved.”

India could never hope to get its way on Kashmir by force, he said. Democratic governments in Pakistan had negotiated with India on equal terms.

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