India-Pakistan rapprochement: Kashmir holds the key

As India and Pakistan prepare to hold their first formal talks since 2008, Kashmiris welcome resumption of dialogue between New Delhi and Islamabad. Kashmiris hope that both countries are committed to a result-oriented dialogue for the sake of achieving a lasting peace.

The sudden thaw between the nuclear-armed rivals’ tensions came on Thursday February 4th, when India offered to resume official talks with Pakistan –” Islamabad accepted the offer, but the thaw in relations in just a thaw, rather than a breakthrough.

India and Pakistan have fought three major 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 the nuclear arms race, which has resulted in the diversion of resources from human development to militarization. Unfortunately, the people of Kashmir are caught in the middle of this deadly tug-of-war.

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. They continue to carry out arbitrary detention, summary executions, custodial killings, extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, rape, sexual exploitation, torture and fake encounters. Generations of Kashmiris have grown up under the shadow of the gun; not a single family is unaffected; property worth hundreds of millions of dollars has been destroyed and the suffering and devastation continues unabated, sadly drawing no significant attention from the international community.

Impunity has become a licence for the Indian 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.

Last three years have seen spontaneous, massive and non-violent protests where virtually everyone young and old, men and women, boys and girls are out on the streets protesting against India’s continued occupation. Such –” on and off –” protests have invigorated the Kashmiri freedom struggle into a classic people’s movement. The voice that India has tried so forcefully to silence in Kashmir has massed into a loud thunder. Kashmir’s young generation that has helplessly watched the Indian forces’ brutality against innocent civilians for more than 20 years has suddenly discovered the power of mass protest, which has stunned the Indian government.

It is high time India realised the fact that control over a region alone does not mean sovereignty over a chunk of land. It is the people who make up a nation and if they are perpetually alienated, any territorial supremacy achieved through brute force alone can never guarantee long-term peace.

The perception that the Kashmir issue is a bilateral matter between India and Pakistan is unfounded. Kashmir is not a territorial or bilateral issue. It is about the future of 15 million people with their own history of independence; their own language and culture. This has been an explicit explanation for the failure to resolve the Kashmir issue through on-again and off-again bilateral dialogue for the past 62 years. The people of Kashmir have lost complete faith in the bilateral process of India and Pakistan and their ability to resolve the issue.

The international community seems optimistic that chances for peace between India and Pakistan are better now than they have been for decades; there has to be considerable caution because the nuclear-armed rivals have been there many times before: one step forward, two steps back, pledging peace only to be threatening each other with even greater bitterness, sometime the very next day. At stake are the issues of settlement of the Kashmir imbroglio, a root-cause of the on-off tensions during the past 62 years, and creating sustainable peace between two neighbours. Both issues are interrelated, that makes it essential to settle the former in order to achieve the latter.

Time is ripe for the global community to persuade both India and Pakistan to come up with some kind of a road map aimed at achieving a lasting political settlement of the Kashmir issue, which is fuelled by political alienation.

The conflict in Kashmir is a “political” and “human” tragedy and 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: 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 the three parties –” the people of Kashmir, India and Pakistan.

The 15 million people of Kashmir are yearning for peace, justice and freedom. They want a just and dignified peace that guarantees total freedom from foreign occupation and alien domination. Their struggle to achieve that right to self-determination will not be extinguished until India and Pakistan accept its exercise by the people of Jammu and Kashmir.

For the Indian government to help resolve the Kashmir issue through peaceful negotiations, following actions are necessary and urgent:

1. India must cease all military and paramilitary actions against civilians in Kashmir.

2. India must end torture, custodial killings and extra-judicial executions of prisoners immediately.

3. India must withdraw its military and paramilitary forces from all the urban areas immediately.

4. India must release all the prisoners immediately arrested or captured in connection with the resistance movement and false cases instituted against them under the so-called emergency laws must be withdrawn.

5. India must annul the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act, the National Security Act and the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, with respect to Kashmir, immediately.

6. India must bring to justice all those killers and murderers who have committed horrendous crimes against innocents in Kashmir during the past 20 years; or transfer all such cases to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for impartial justice.

7. India must continue to help the displaced Kashmiri Hindu families to resettle in their homes in Kashmir and provide them all necessary assistance.

8. India must allow International human rights monitors and the world media to visit Kashmir for their investigative work.

Last but not least, the world community must help India and Pakistan to transform the Kashmir issue from being a bone of contention to a bridge of understanding for lasting peace and prosperity of South Asia’s billion plus people. A peaceful solution of the Kashmir issue will help to bring stability in the South Asian region, including in Afghanistan and eliminate a potential threat of another major war. This would help lay the foundation for a new era of coexistence between India and Pakistan.