A gloomy anniversary

On Saturday October 27th, 2007, Kashmiri-Canadians from coast-to-coast and Kashmiris all across the globe observed 60th anniversary of Indian occupation of Kashmir as a “Black-Day.” It was exactly sixty years ago, on October 27th, 1947, when the Indian troops invaded and occupied a sovereign nation of Jammu and Kashmir by deception and fraud. The government of India proclaimed that her forces would help to restore normalcy in the state of Jammu and Kashmir and allow the people to exercise their right of self-determination in accordance with their freely expressed will, unhindered by any threat of internal disorder or external aggression.

Deceitfully, India did the exact opposite –” those who have followed developments in Kashmir know that the ongoing struggle for freedom began in 1931 when the people came out in open revolt against the autocratic and tyrannical regime; they had nearly succeeded in over-throwing the regime when India stepped in to take its place in 1947.

The issue was taken to the Untied Nations Security Council, which constituted a special commission –” the United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan –” with the mandate to independently investigate the matter and help the contending parties reach a negotiated settlement. The most important outcome of the deliberations of the commission were two resolutions passed by the Security Council on August 13th, 1948 and January 15th, 1949 respectively, calling upon the governments of India and Pakistan to hold a free, fair and impartial plebiscite under UN auspices in order to enable the people of Kashmir to decide whether they wanted to join India or Pakistan.

This was followed by commitments on the part of the Indian leadership to allow the people of Kashmir to determine their destiny. In a statement to the Indian parliament on February 12th, 1951, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru said: “We had given our pledge to the people of Kashmir and subsequently to the United Nations. We stood by it and we stand by it today. Let the people of Kashmir decide.” Unfortunately, throughout the past sixty years, India has tried to gradually strengthen its grip over the occupied state by means – fair and foul – unmindful of its commitment that the future of the state shall be determined by the people of Jammu and Kashmir in a UN sponsored plebiscite.

The Kashmir issue has dominated the geopolitics of South Asia for the past 60 years because of enduring rivalry between India and Pakistan. They have fought three wars since their independence from Britain in 1947, two of them over the disputed region of Kashmir. The dispute between the rivals is the root of competing in nuclear arms race, which has resulted into the diversion of their resources from human development to militarisation. Regrettably, it is the people of Kashmir who have been caught in the middle of this deadly tug-of-war.

India and Pakistan declared a ceasefire across the Ceasefire Line –” a.k.a. –” Line of Control within the disputed state of Jammu and Kashmir in November 2003, and later launched a peace process committed to resolve the unresolved Kashmir issue through negotiations, unfortunately, to date there has been no progress on the issue of Kashmir.

At this gloomy anniversary, more than 15 million people of the state of Jammu and Kashmir are living with the consequences of broken promises. Despite the warming ties between the rivals there is no let-up in systematic human rights abuses. The occupying troops continue to carry out arbitrary detention, summary executions, custodial killings, extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, rape, sexual exploitation, torture and fake encounters. Since October 1989, the 700,000 strong Indian forces have killed more than 100,000 Kashmiris to silence the people’s demand for freedom, justice and respect for human rights. Generations of Kashmiris have grown up under the shadow of the gun; not a single family is unaffected; property worth hundreds of millions dollars has been destroyed and the suffering and devastation continues unabated, which has sadly drawn no significant attention from the international community.

System of impunity has become a licence for the occupation forces to wreak havoc with the lives of Kashmiris. The deliberate and unprovoked attacks and other patterns of abuse have all become too frequent to report. No perpetrator has ever been prosecuted in a real manner, despite the fact that such crimes have been extensively documented by many international human rights organisations including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. Moreover, according to Human Rights Watch the soldiers who committed custodial and extra-judicial killings … were “rewarded” and “promoted.” (What a shame on India’s democratic credentials!) Justice for the people of Kashmir requires an end to system of impunity for these crimes, and their closure through the realisation of the right of self-determination.

Since the beginning of the peace process in 2004, the overall achievement, so far, is the launch of the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service (in April 2005) and the opening of entry points along the Ceasefire Line, which divides the disputed state into Indian and Pakistani administered Kashmir, for civilian crossing. Although officially still on track, the peace talks between New Delhi and Islamabad have, once again, lost momentum because of India’s reluctance to take a more flexible stance on the resolution of the Kashmir issue.

The question is: why is the UN ambivalent to honour its promise to 15 million people of Kashmir about a referendum on the future Kashmir? If the people of Tokelau –” total population of 1,449 as of July 2007, but only 789 voters are entitled to vote in a referendum – can vote for self-determination under the supervision of the United Nations, as recently as Thursday October 25th, 2007 –” the second such ballot in less than two years. In fact during the past several years, other disputed regions have had the UN-supervised referendum –” including East Timor.

More particularly, in his message for the United Nations Day, Wednesday October 24th, 2007, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon articulated his vision about the United Nations: “The world is changing… global problems demand global solutions… That means strengthening the United Nations ability to play its role to the fullest extent in conflict prevention, peacemaking, peacekeeping and peacebuilding… If security and development are two pillars of the United Nations work, human rights is the third. I will work with Member States and civil society to translate the concept of the responsibility to protect from word to deed, so as to ensure timely action when populations face genocide, ethnic cleansing or crimes against humanity… We must adapt to meet new needs and ensure the highest standards of ethics, integrity and accountability, so as to demonstrate that we are fully answerable to all Member States and to people around the world. We will be judged in the future on the actions we take today –” on results…” It’s time to ask the UN Secretary General –” what about Kashmir?

Sixty years on, the Kashmiri people continue to be deprived of their inalienable right of self-determination. They are longing for peace and freedom; they want to live in dignity like other peoples of the world. However, they want a just and dignified peace that guarantees total freedom from foreign occupation and alien domination. A peaceful settlement based on justice and recognition of the right of the people of Jammu and Kashmir to decide their own future can guarantee a lasting solution to this longstanding conflict and a durable peace in the region.

The notion of “demilitarisation and self-governance as a final resolution” or “formalising the status quo and greater autonomy” is an exercise in futility. The Kashmiri people will never compromise their right of self-determination. Their struggle to achieve that right of self-determination will not be extinguished until India and Pakistan accept its exercise by the people of Jammu and Kashmir, through what the Security Council has called a “United Nations supervised plebiscite.”

The fact remains that according to a recent survey conducted jointly by CNN, NDTV, Indian Express, The News International and Dawn on August 13th, 2007 –” 87 percent people of Kashmir wants independence, i.e., rejecting outright the so-called four-point formula or conversion of the ceasefire line into an international border; sending a strong and clear message not only to India and Pakistan but also to advocates promoting, inside and outside Kashmir, the concept of four-point formula or formalising the status quo with greater autonomy within the Indian Constitution –” as final settlement. The survey has once again proven that such interest groups and individuals are out of touch with the reality in Kashmir.

The conflict in Kashmir is a “political” and “human” tragedy, but the world community, including India and Pakistan, have overlooked this critically important human dimension of the issue. The Kashmiris’ demand is simple and in accordance with the international law: the implementation of the United Nations resolutions for a plebiscite to determine the future status of the disputed region in a peaceful and democratic way. Whatever the outcome, it will be impartial and binding for all three parties –” India, Pakistan and the people of Kashmir.

Informed and conscientious Canadians can play a vital role in the education process by interacting with parliamentarians and the media. In addition, concerned Canadians can write to the UN Secretary General, NGOs, and call or write to the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister to voice their concern about systematic human rights abuses in Indian-administered Kashmir.

The cause for which the people of Kashmir are struggling is a just one, and deserves support from all those who cherish peace and justice.