Kashmir: Still knocking at the door of world’s conscience


*Asif Luqman Qazi – Pakistan

People ask about the historic significance of February 5 being celebrated as Kashmir Solidarity Day. The answer is, it is the day unanimously chosen by the Pakistani nation across the political and social spectrum to express their solidarity with the Kashmiri people and their inalienable right to self-determination. It was Qazi Hussain Ahmad, the then Ameer Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan, who first took the initiative in a press conference in Lahore on January 5, 1990, and announced celebrating February 5 as Kashmir Solidarity Day. He called upon the nation to come out of their homes en masse and form a human chain from Chitral to Gwadar and across Kashmir to express their solidarity.

Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan (JI) was part of the IJI coalition government in Punjab with PML-N. So, Nawaz Sharif followed suit and Benazir in the federal government joined the course too. Very soon it became a national event and an expression of the unity of the Pakistani nation as well. It’s not just a formality that has to be undertaken by the government; it has the people’s spirit and life in it. For the last 28 years, it has remained the strongest motivational occasion that has kept the government and the people of Pakistan, unequivocal in their resolve to extend support to the cause of Kashmiri freedom. Political parties, civil society and state institutions alike, everyone is united for this cause.

“The Kashmir conflict  is an unfinished part of the partition of sub-continent into India and Pakistan.”

Although the history of the struggle against oppression goes back to the era of Dogra Raj, the history of the current conflict goes back to 1947 when the Kashmiri people were deprived of their right to self-determination at the time of partition. The state of Jammu and Kashmir was a Muslim majority state, and according to the formula of partition was supposed to become part of Pakistan. The signing of the supposed Instrument of Accession by Dogra Maharaja to provisionally become part of India was a betrayal of the sentiments of the people of Kashmir. The people of Kashmir stood up in revolt and were successful in liberating part of the state.

Feeling the pressure and possibility of losing the whole of the state, India went to the UN asking it to intervene, that resulted in a ceasefire. On April 21, 1948, UN Security Council adopted a resolution declaring to hold a plebiscite under the supervision of a commission constituted by the UN to decide the future of Kashmir. India’s first Governor-General Lord Mountbatten wrote in a letter on 27th October, 1947: “In consistence with their policy that in the case of any (native) state where the issue of accession has been subject to dispute, the question of accession should be decided in accordance to the wishes of the people of the state.”

On November 1, 1947, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah met India’s governor general and told him that “Kashmir’s accession to India was not a bona fide one since it rested on fraud and violence”. Even the Maharaja himself and the Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru knew that they had no right to proclaim accession to India against the wishes of the people of Kashmir. Nehru, in a radio speech on November 2, 1947, said: “We have declared that the fate of Kashmir is ultimately to be decided by the people. That pledge we have given and the Maharaja has supported it, not only to the people of Kashmir but also to the world. We will not and cannot back out of it.” The so-called Instrument of Accession has always been considered treacherous.

“The Maharaja himself and the Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru knew that they had no right to proclaim accession to India against the wishes of the people of Kashmir.”

The Kashmir conflict thus is an unfinished part of the partition of sub-continent into India and Pakistan. The right to self-determination of the Kashmiri people is internationally recognized and supported by a number of UN resolutions. 71 years of continuous struggle for this right has proven that the Kashmiri people are not willing to yield or compromise on their right. It has frustrated successive Indian governments and they have resorted to acts of state-terrorism. Systematic oppression, crimes against humanity and human rights violations in Kashmir are well documented. With seven hundred thousand Indian soldiers, it is the largest concentration of armed forces in the world. This force is being continuously used to break the spirit of freedom in the Kashmiri people. More than one hundred thousand Kashmiris have been killed by Indian forces so far.

International support for the Kashmiri freedom movement is still prevalent. First and foremost, ‘United Nations OHCHR Report on Jammu and Kashmir’ issued in 2018, is a detailed testimony to the human rights abuses committed by Indian forces. This report reiterates the people’s right to choose their own destiny besides documenting crimes committed by Indian forces in detail. UN Secretary-General Antonio Gutierrez said the report “represents the Voice of UN”. A report published by the British parliament’s “All-Party Parliamentary Kashmir Group” (APPKG) also endorses UN High Commissioner for the Human Rights report. APPKG report has highlighted the draconian laws including the “Armed Forces Special Powers Act” and “Public Safety Act” which give impunity to Indian forces for human rights abuses in Kashmir.

The APPKG calls for an immediate ban on the use of pellet guns that have rendered hundreds of young protesters blind. Mass graves with unidentified bodies have been discovered and reported by international agencies in the Indian Occupied Kashmir. Rape and torture are systematically being used as instruments by the occupying Indian forces. Amnesty International has presented the cases of 88 people shot in their eyes by Indian forces using pellet guns. This report was titled ‘Losing Sight in Kashmir: The Impact of Pellet-Firing Shotguns’. In a significant development in December 2017, Russia signed a joint declaration at a six-nation Speakers’ Conference in Islamabad.

“The right to self-determination of the Kashmiri people is internationally recognized and supported by a number of UN resolutions.”

This declaration signed by Afghanistan, China, Iran, Russia, Turkey and Pakistan stated that, “for ensuring global and regional peace and stability, the issue of Jammu and Kashmir needs peaceful resolution by Pakistan and India in accordance to UN Security Council Resolutions.” This shows a shift in Moscow’s views of its regional priorities in South Asia. The sub-committee of American Congress for Asia and Pacific in its report on June 1, 1993, stated about Kashmiri people’s freedom movement: “The sub-committee urged both the government of India and Kashmiri militants to pursue a just and durable political resolution but is forced to concede that the prospects for a genuine political dialogue between Delhi and Kashmiris appear bleak. Publicly Delhi appears to believe that insurgency is first and foremost a problem caused by Pakistani meddling.

Although the evidence does not support this thesis. The sub-committee is unaware of any comprehensive government strategy for responding to the legitimate political grievances of the Kashmiri people.” Syed Ali Gilani, Chairman All Parties Hurriyet Conference, in October 2018, in a message to a conference of Pakistani American Society of New York, said, “United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights urged India to allow its delegation to visit Kashmir to assess the situation. But India does not allow such a delegation to visit Kashmir. It clearly shows that India has something to hide. Maybe India does not want the world powers to know the following: Tens of thousands indiscriminately slaughtered, and countless rapes, abductions, custodial disappearances, arbitrary detentions, arson and brutal suppression of peaceful political protests. The Indian army is involved in heinous war crimes.

They open fire on unarmed civilians at their will because they have been given immunity under draconian laws. We demand legal inquiry into these war crimes by neutral agency like the United Nations.” Despite all odds, Kashmiris have kept the flame of freedom alive, which provides warmth to the hearts of millions of youth. This is a legitimate movement for the right to self-determination supported by the Kashmiri masses. This is obvious by the number of people who turn up on the streets whenever a call is given by the leadership of the All Parties Hurriyet Conference under the leadership of Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Omar Farooq, Yasin Malik, and Shabir Shah. Indian forces martyred young Burhan Wani calling him a terrorist, but over five hundred thousand people participated in his funeral.

The fact that over a million people show up on Srinagar streets to express their desire for freedom in a peaceful manner cannot be blamed on Pakistan. Kashmiris are peace-loving people. They have centuries-old rich traditions manifested in their dress, language, literature, folklore, cuisine, and cultural and religious festivities. They are culturally inclined towards dialogue, tolerance and respect for pluralism. Methods and forms of violence have never found a welcome environment in their society. At the same time, they have the trait of remaining firmly persistent on their educated opinions. They cannot be forced to accept what is not organic in their social norms. They have an age-old yearning for freedom from subjugation and to be their own masters. It is unlikely that they will settle for anything less than the right to choose their own future.

Internal autonomy within the Indian constitution has been offered to Kashmiris time and again, but they never found it sufficient to withdraw from their right to self-determination. There is a fundamental difference in essence between the two concepts. To what extent do people have the right to determine their own destiny? Does the land belong to them or does it belong to a dominating union of states? “Autonomy is de facto the illusion of independence, masking the power and authority of a larger overarching state. That overarching state retains the option of using whatever whim or alleged emergency, to come swooping in with new laws, new regulations, new taxes, simply through a shifting political mood, and a few ‘harmless’ changes to the country’s constitution,” says Ghulam Nabi Fai of the Washington based World Kashmir Awareness Forum.

“71 years of continuous struggle for this right has proven that the Kashmiri people are not willing to yield or compromise on their right.”

To quote President Wilson of the US while addressing the US Senate on January 22, 1917, “We must reach peace without victory. Peace must be based on the right of each nation to decide its own destiny without the intervention of a more powerful external enemy.” Autonomy simply cannot be a substitute to self-determination, because accepting autonomy in a union is essentially compromising on the sovereignty of your own land. Moreover, even if full autonomy is granted, the flame of self-determination will be ignited at some later point. It is the peaceful nature of the movement that India is afraid of. This new movement started by Kashmiri youth after the martyrdom of Burhan Wani is quite different in nature.

It is peaceful and led by determined youth. Another distinctive characteristic of this movement is that Kashmiri people still remain firm in seeking redress through UN resolutions. They have not lost hope in or given up on the peaceful way of approaching the United Nations. They have constantly reminded the UN and the international community of their responsibility to be actively involved. No terrorist movement would turn up in millions and submit petitions to the UN. Terrorist movements rely on armed struggle or sabotage; this movement to the contrary relies on legal instruments endorsed by the international community. The sound legal foundations give strength and confidence to Kashmiri youth that no amounts of guns and foreign support can provide.

They know that they have truth on their side and are entitled to listen to one day. Indian forces can kill Kashmiri youth but they cannot kill their ideas and the truth they believe in. They have a strong conviction that truth will prevail. What is required on part of the international community is not just the support in the form of academic discourse. Kashmir conflict needs to be resolved on the ground. Enough resolutions have been passed, memoranda presented, and reports submitted. When it comes to transforming these resolutions into implementable measures, the international community becomes oblivious. There is no getting around the fact that India is one of the largest consumer markets and the largest buyer of arms in the international market.

That is the reason that the lofty ideals of international law are all compromised for realpolitik. Certain norms of behaviour, certain codes of conduct, certain expectations from the civilized countries, the role of the UN and aspects of its charter and human rights, everything is compromised. Universally cherished values like democracy, human rights, freedom, and tolerance are conveniently ignored when it comes to Kashmir. This is the real challenge faced by the exponents of Kashmir’s freedom. The government and the people of Pakistan, along with the people of Kashmir, have to rise up to this challenge.

“Internal autonomy within the Indian constitution has been offered to Kashmiris time and again, but they never found it sufficient to withdraw from their right to self-determination.”

The UN should be asked to take practical measures and invoke other options available in its charter, to put pressure on India to stop heinous human rights abuses. Pakistan needs to make its National Kashmir Committee an active organ of the government, headed by a dynamic campaigner, to serve as a focal point for constructive engagement and target-oriented campaigns. It should not be an honorary position for its head to enjoy perks and privileges. Pakistan, along with the people of Kashmir, should remain vigilant on any attempt to annihilate the State of Jammu and Kashmir and withdraw its special status. During the last 18 years, the whole world was overwhelmed with the issue of terrorism.

India took advantage of this environment to malign Kashmir struggle as terrorism. Pakistan, on the other hand, could not provide an adequate narrative to distinguish the lawful resistance against an illegal occupation. The people of Kashmir in general, and leadership of the resistance movement in particular have to take special care to distance themselves from irresponsible groups giving a bad name to their legitimate resistance. At the same time, the world has to realize that the right of Kashmiri people to protect themselves from oppression, even if it is through armed resistance, is protected in the UN Charter.

Muslims around the world feel that double standards are prevalent in international affairs and the way they are being addressed. UN resolutions on Palestine and Kashmir are left unaddressed, while resolutions on East Timor and South Sudan quickly find their way into the implementation phase. This feeling of discrimination, bias and an unjust approach towards issues of Muslims leads to frustration among the youth. Leaving conflicts unresolved without finding a lasting solution according to the wishes of the people can be dangerous for world peace. The world has had a bitter experience when the US left Afghanistan unceremoniously after Soviet withdrawal as if it was none of its business.

This is especially more important in the case of Kashmir where two South Asian nuclear powers with a history of mistrust are involved in the conflict. The balance of strategic affairs situation in the region, however, is changing in Pakistan’s favour. Future holds economic promise and hope emanating from the greater China-Pakistan cooperation and CPEC, besides technology transfers. Pakistan has survived the worst phase of terrorism targeted towards it, and the country’s internal security has tremendously improved in recent years. There is more concurrence and trust between the political and military leadership. The situation in Afghanistan is also moving towards a political settlement and an end to the armed conflict appears imminent.

“Universally cherished values like democracy, human rights, freedom, and tolerance are conveniently ignored when it comes to Kashmir.”

India must take cognizance of this shift in Pakistan’s confidence level and review is policies aiming to isolate Pakistan. This new movement in Kashmir is more politically correct in nature and it will not be easy to bracket it with terrorism. The whole of South Asian region cannot realize its economic potential if a lasting solution to Kashmir issue is not found. Kashmir is the core issue in India-Pakistan relations that the two countries must resolve it in accordance with the wishes of Kashmiri people. Indian government must understand that use of brute force and unilateralism is not a sustainable twenty-first century policy. Sooner or later it will have to concede freedom to the Kashmiri people.

The Indian dream of becoming a world power can only be realized if it takes this one step backwards on Kashmir. It will increase India’s respect in the comity of nations if it bows to the demands of the UN resolutions and international organizations on Kashmir. It will not only lay the foundations of peace and harmony in the region but will also position it for economic take-off. It will relieve the heavy pressure on military outlays and pave way for the eradication of poverty and social sector development. If we want to be identified with the civilized modern world, this mercantilist ‘beggar thy neighbour’ approach must come to an end, and a new era of cooperation and collaboration must begin.

My father, Qazi Hussain Ahmad, who was the original proponent of celebrating February 5 as Kashmir Solidarity Day, was once asked by an Indian journalist if his party wanted to destroy India. “We have not stood to destroy lands and peoples. We have stood to build this world, and we would like to build India, not destroy it,” he had answered. One of his favourite lines in Allama Iqbal’s poetry, which he was so fond of, was ‘Maimar e Haram baaz ba Tameer e Jahaan Khaiz’ (O Builder of the Holy Haram! Rise and get back to the task of building this world). With this futuristic vision as its motivation, February 5 will remain a call for freedom, peace and prosperity around the world.

*Asif Luqman Qazi –Executive Director of Islamabad-based “Center for Discussions and Solutions”, and a member of the Central Executive Council of Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan. 

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