Kashmir and the Need for Tri-partite Negotiations

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I am honored to be the part of the commemoration of Mirwaiz Muhammad Farooq and to address the long-headed negotiating formula that he presciently discerned for bringing the 53-year-old Kashmir tragedy to a happy ending. The martyred Muhammad Farooq understood what many knew but were fearful of saying namely, that the Kashmir conflict was about the fundamental human and political rights of the people of Kashmir, including self-determination, that could never be bargained away by other parties not by India, or by any international organization.

Is it a sin to covet self-determination, international law, and human rights for the 13 million people of Kashmir? That was the grievance India held against the Mirwaiz, and that is what triggered his 1990 assassination at the meridian of his life. His funeral procession joined by tens of thousands was a loud vote of confidence in Molvi Farooq’s vision and methods. That is why the Indian armed forces responded by mercilessly killing 50 helpless mourners.

Let us then resolve today to insure that Molvi Farooq did not die in vain. Let us pledge tireless civilian resistance to India’s repression; a unity of purpose behind self-determination; a renunciation of petty political rivalries within the resistance movement; and, the forging of a Democratic dispensation in all of Kashmir that honors the highest standard of human rights and freedoms. Let us make the creed of our vocation “Emancipate Kashmir.” I feel confidant that all our martyrs would cheer from the heaven.

The claim of Kashmir is not novel. Kashmiris are not pleading for a special dispensation. They are only insisting on what every other peoples in the world have demanded and received in the name of self-determination, whether the people of India, Pakistan, East Timor, Namibia, Eritrea, Croatia, Slovenia, Macedonia, or otherwise. Indeed, the right of Kashmiris to a self-determination plebiscite is so obviously compelling and indisputable that after British paramountcy over Kashmir ended on August 15, 1947, India itself raced to the United Nations Security Council and championed, drafted, and expressly accepted a self-determination solution to the Kashmiri convulsions. India perpetrated infanticide against its own self-determination child not because it was legally or morally deformed, but because her leaders soon became undeceived of the fact that Kashmiris would never vote accession to India in a free and fair election.

There are also certain characteristics of the situation in Kashmir, which distinguish it from all other deplorable human rights situations around the world.

It prevails in what is recognized – under international law and by the United States – as a disputed territory. According to the international agreements between India and Pakistan, negotiated by the United Nations (through a commission set up for the purpose) and endorsed by the Security Council, the territory’s status is to be determined by the free vote of its people under U.N. supervision. The unresolved dispute caused two wars in the not-so-remote past between India and Pakistan.

It represents a Government’s repression not of a secessionist or separatist movement but of an uprising against foreign occupation, an occupation that was expected to end under determinations made by the United Nations. The Kashmiris are not and cannot be called separatists because they cannot secede from a country to which they have never acceded to in the first place.

It has been met with studied unconcern by the United Nations. This has given a sense of total impunity to India. It has also created the impression that the United Nations is invidiously selective about the application of the principles of human rights and democracy. There is a glaring contrast between the outcry over the massacre in Tiannanman Square, on the one side, and the official silence (barring some faint murmurs of disapproval) over the killing and maiming of a vastly greater number of civilians in Kashmir and the systematic violation of the 1949 Geneva Convention.

It is a paradoxical case of the United Nations being deactivated and rendered unable to address a situation to which it had devoted a number of resolutions and in which it had established a presence, though with a limited mandate. The United Nations Military Observers Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) is one of the oldest peace-keeping operations of the U.N.; the force is stationed in Kashmir to observe the cease-fire between India and Pakistan.

All these peculiarities of the Kashmir situation become more baffling in view of the fact that the mediatory initiative which would halt the violations of human rights and set the stage for a solution would entail no deployment of the UN troops, no financial outlays and no adversarial relations between India and any member state of the United Nations.

In sum, once it is recognized that the Kashmir conflict is over self-determination for Kashmiris, but not a border dispute between India and Pakistan, nor a religious quarrel between Hindus and Muslims, nor a fight between secularism and theocracy, then the imperative of tri-partite negotiations is self-evident. India must be included because it occupies militarily two-thirds of Kashmir. Pakistan must be included because it presides de facto over Azad Kashmir. And genuine representatives of the 13 million people of Kashmir must be included because no outsider can compromise their human and political rights and because no solution is plausible that fails to command the consensus of Kashmiris. And history here has a grim lesson to teach. In 1938, Great Britain and France negotiated away the self-determination right of Czechoslovakia to Nazi Germany and the result was World War II and virtual Armageddon. And remember that the partition of the British raj itself into India and Pakistan on August 15, 1947 emerged from British negotiations with representatives of both the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League. Additionally, the Good Friday Accord that has set the foundation for peace in Northern Ireland was the fruit of tri-partite negotiations between the British government and representatives of both Protestants and Catholics residing there.

But even putting aside theories of international law and morality, a half century of a bilateral negotiating equation is conclusive proof of advancing to a tri-partite formula. It would not seem to take a genius statesman to conclude that 53 successive years of futile Pakistan-India talks additionally marred by two wars is indicative of a compelling need to try something new. And the urgency is heightened by the fact that today both India and Pakistan sport nuclear and missile arsenals and the people of Kashmir are suffering daily at least semi-genocide at the hands of the brutal Indian military on the installment plan. Indeed, extra-judicial killings, torture, and rape have become commonplaces on a scale that dwarfs the human rights wickedness of Serbia in Kosovo and Bosnia and Indonesia in East Timor, all of which provoked humanitarian intervention from western democracies.

We also want to emphasize the point that as the dispute involves three parties é India, Pakistan and the people of Kashmir who are the most directly affected é any attempt to strike a deal between two without the association of the third, will fail to yield a credible settlement. The contemporary history of South Asia is abundantly clear that bilateral efforts have never met with success. The agreement between Sheikh Abdullah of the National Conference and Jawaharlal Nehru, then the Prime Minister of India, in 1952, late Sheikh Abdullah’s pact with Nehru’s daughter, Indira Gandhi in 1975 sought to bypass Pakistan. These deals served only to prolong the dispute, leaving the basic issue unsettled. Like wise, the Tashkent Declaration of 1966 between India and Paksitan, brought about by the intermediatory pressure of the former Soviet Union, and the Lahore Declaration of 1999 between India and Pakistan, sought to bypass the people of kashmir and all it achieved was that it preserved the stalemate. Although the Simla Agreement of 1972 is irrelevant to the Kashmir dispute, but it did visualize a ‘final settlement’, but failed to stimulate a peace process embracing Kashmir. Every arrangement that has not provided for a concrete course of action toward determining Kashmir’s status by the will of its people has only allowed the dispute to fester.

It is worth-noting that there can be no progress in talks if they are not accompanied by practical measures to restore an environment of non-violence in Indian-Occupied Kashmir. In the past, India has not desisted from its human rights violations while announcing its intent to talk.

Since we are concerned at this time with setting a stage for settlement rather than the shape of the settlement will take, we believe that it is both untimely and harmful to indulge in, or encourage, controversies about the most desirable solution. Any attempt to do so at this point of time amounts to playing into the hands of those who would prefer to maintain a status quo that is intolerable to the people of kashmir and also a continuing threat to peace in South Asia. We depreciate raising of quasi-legal or pseudo-legal questions during the preparatory phase about the final settlement. It only serves to befog the issue and to convey the wrong impression that the dispute is too complex to be resolved and that India and Paksitan hold equally inflexible positions. Such an impression does great injury to our cause.

Therefore, I believe that tri-partite negotiations will work. However, if international community would like to know the legitimacy of the Kashmiri leadership then elections should be organized under United Nations auspices to select Kashmiri negotiators, which must be confined to a reasonable number. Kashmiris on both sides of the Cease-fire Line would be eligible to vote. And the elections would be conducted by the United Nations according to internationally recognized standards of democratic choice as was done in Cambodia under UNTAC; neither Indian nor Pakistani election laws would govern. Any agreement accepted by the elected representatives of Kashmir would be subject to confirmation in a popular referendum.

I have not heard any persuasive objections to tri-partite negotiations because allegedly flawed in theory or experience. At present, in my opinion, what is thwarting the negotiating formula is India’s intransigence coupled with an alluring economic market, an expanding nuclear, missile, and military profile, the sympathy of the United States because of India’s receptivity to the former’s missile defense plans, and, India’s delusion that while the United States had its Vietnam and the Soviet Union its Afghanistan, it can avoid those disasters in warring against the people Of Kashmir. India is strengthened in her resolve because the United States declined to send an emissary to Pakistan to consult about missile defense, and its purchase of missile technology from China. We must be realistic, therefore, in anticipating that “might-makes-right” remains the ascendant force in international practice and relations despite holy proclamations of a New World Order after the disintegration of the Soviet Empire.

But not all is bleak on the horizon. The fact that Prime Minister Vajpayee has even broached the idea of talking with Kashmiri groups, even under an unwieldily umbrella with many of India’s puppets, is at least a tacit recognition that Kashmir cannot be pacified by brutalities and repression alone. In order to attain tri-partite negotiations, including authentic Kashmiri representatives, i.e., All Parties Hurriyet Conference, an unwearied indigenous civilian resistance is indispensable. Every opportunity to display in some public fashion popular rejection of India’s illegal occupation must be undertaken. That means boycotting elections, boycotting Indian-made goods or Indian operated businesses, refusing to pay taxes, like India’s protest of the British salt tax, and conducting effusive public demonstrations to celebrate heroic figures and landmark days in the history of Kashmir, such as today’s anniversary of martyrdom of Molvi Farooq. A Kashmir flag, song, and signature clothing emblem should become commonplaces.

We must be sleeplessly imaginative in devising collective displays of Kashmiri revulsion of India’s colonization. Those displays can then be taken to the United Nations and to all international conferences to seek their moral suasion behind a Kashmiri referendum.

I believe that the United States can, and should, lead the effort to achieve a fair and lasting settlement of the dispute – fair to the people most immediately involved and fair to its own commitments to democracy and human rights. By doing so, the United States can strengthen the principles of a just world order. It will also earn the gratitude of generations in Kashmir, in Pakistan and even in India itself.

I also believe that the Bush Administration has two choices before it. One is to continue confining itself to warning both Pakistan and India against going to war with each other. This policy bases the no-war prospect in South Asia on a very precarious foundation. The prospect of a nuclear exchange in that vast Subcontinent cannot be dismissed in the event of hostilities breaking out between the two countries.

The second option is to play a more activist, mediatory, role in regard to Kashmir by initiating a peace process. This can take the shape of a quadrilateral dialogue — U.S., India, Pakistan and Kashmir — or an appropriate use of the newly-developed procedures and mechanics at the United Nations. In neither case would the handling of the dispute be a rehash of the old arid and acrimonious debates at the U.N. The U.S. by itself or through the U.N. would supply the catalyst that is needed for a settlement. There are alternative courses of action which can be spelled out and involve a sequence of interactive steps over a period of time. None of them would put the peace process in the strait-jacket of rigid adherence to old texts. But if a solution of the problem will be a graduated process, consisting of incremental measures, the killings in Kashmir from all sides needs to be brought to a quick end in order to set the stage for a solution.

The solution of these sufferings and pain in Kashmir is both urgent and vital. It is far more populous and vital area than other trouble spots in the world. The pain felt by the people of Kashmir is no less devastating than that felt by the people of East Timor. The mass rapes by the Indian occupation forces are no less humiliating in Kashmir than in Bosnia. The torture and imprisonment in Kashmir is no less intense than it was in Kosova. In fact, the pain, suffering and humiliation in Kashmir is intensified because the people of Kashmir have been under occupation for over half a century.

Dr. Ghulam Nabi Fai is the executive director of the Washington, DC-based Kashmiri American Council.

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