Today (October 27 2001), Kashmiri-Canadians from coast-to-coast and Kashmiris all over the world are observing 54th year of Indian occupation of Kashmir as a “Black-Day.” It was exactly fifty-four years ago, on October 27th, 1947, when India invaded Jammu and Kashmir and deployed its troops there. India proclaimed that her forces would help 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. It has tried to gradually strengthen its grip over Jammu and Kashmir by means – fair and foul – unmindful of its constitutional commitment that the future of the territory shall be determined by the people of Kashmir in a-UN supervised plebiscite.
Needless to say, India’s reluctance to honour international law and its own commitments about Kashmiris’ right of self-determination has carved the dispute into a global flashpoint. The disputed territory is the densest and the largest militarily occupied area in the world. During the past twelve years of Kashmiri uprising against Indian occupation, more than 60,000 people have been killed, thousands have disappeared, thousands of young and old women raped and scores of neighbourhoods and villages obliterated from the surface of the earth, all with total impunity by the perpetrators.
International human rights organisations and also some western governments have compiled numerous reports about India’s brutality in the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir. Despite this the world community’s unwillingness to help put an end to India’s systematic human rights abuses is extremely discouraging.
The situation prevails in what is recognised – under international law, by Canada and many other nations – as a disputed territory. It represents a government’s repression not a “secessionist,” “separatist” or “terrorist” movement, but of an uprising against foreign occupation, an occupation that was expected to end under determinations made by the United Nations.
On this fifty-fourth year of Indian occupation day, New Delhi must appreciate the fact that Kashmiris are politically alienated and disaffected. And what is happening in Kashmir is not just a spillover of its old disputes, if any, with Pakistan. It is a powerful expression of the genuine aspirations of a people yearning for freedom and who want to live in dignity like other peoples of the world. Failure to grasp this reality will mean that India will never reach at a genuine solution on this issue.
Nonetheless, bilateral negotiations between India and Pakistan took place on several occasions during the past fifty-four years, but produced no results and the Agra Summit was no exception. The fact remains that such negotiations have only prolonged the agony of the oppressed people of the Indian-occupied Jammu and Kashmir.
The atmosphere of hatred and animosity between the two “nuclear” neighbours is increasing day-by-day, and the people of Kashmir are paying the price for this Cold War. The conflict in Kashmir is a “political” and “human” tragedy, and the world community, including India and Pakistan, has overlooked this critically important human dimension of the dispute.
Kashmiris’ demands are simple: a) freedom from military occupation, and b) the right to decide their own future by a democratic and impartially supervised vote. The UN Security Council has already defined the mechanism for the exercise of this right. This mechanism needs to be activated and implemented as soon as possible.
India must understand that it is not time for a smear campaign against Kashmiri freedom struggle, it is instead time to implement the UN Security Council resolutions and give the people of Kashmir their right of self-determination, above all, it is time to respect the human rights of the Kashmiri people and resolve the dispute for the peace and security of the region and the world.
The unresolved Kashmir dispute is a dangerous situation for the global community, which cannot afford the luxury of being a mere spectator. The “ticking time bomb” could have a global impact and requires collective action for a peaceful solution.
The role of Canada is important. Ottawa is uniquely qualified to take the leadership role, and help break the silence of the global community on the issue of Kashmir.
When the Kashmir dispute erupted in 1947-48, Canada, under the Liberal administration of Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent (1948-57), was firm that the future status of Kashmir must be determined by the will of the people of the territory, and their wishes must be ascertained through an impartial plebiscite under the supervision and control of the United Nations.
Canada was a principal sponsor and the author of the UN Resolution 47 (1948) that gave the people of Kashmir their right of self-determination.
It was the distinguished Canadian, General Andrew McNaughton, who, as the president of the Security Council, sponsored the proposal for the basic formula for a settlement, and this formula was incorporated in the resolution adopted on August 13th, 1948 and January 5th, 1949.
Presently, Ottawa maintains the position that: Canada supports a political solution involving negotiations between India, Pakistan and Kashmiri representatives. Any solution must take into account the interests of the Kashmiri people, and address the very serious human rights situation in Indian-administered Kashmir. The KCC has been urging Ottawa to redouble its efforts to facilitate such dialogue for a lasting solution of the dispute.
Canada has a moral obligation to play a leading role in ensuring that a UN-sponsored plebiscite in Kashmir takes place. Canada in uniquely qualified to take the leadership role in resolving the dispute that could give peace a chance in South Asia and an end to unprecedented repression against the innocent people of Indian-occupied Kashmir.
I believe Ottawa’s help can aid India and Pakistan to transform the Kashmir dispute from being a bone of contention to a bridge of understanding for lasting peace on the subcontinent.
Informed and conscientious Canadians can play a vital role in the education process by interacting with parliamentarians and the media. Besides, concerned Canadians can write to the NGOs, and call or write the Prime Minister, Foreign Minister to voice your concern about the escalation of human rights abuses in the region.
Finally, the security and stability of both India and Pakistan remains under threat without stability in the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir. There can be no peace and stability in Jammu and Kashmir without the implementation of the UN resolutions. A peaceful and negotiated settlement of the dispute will help to bring the much needed stability in the South Asian region and eliminate a potential threat of nuclear war, deadly accidents, mishaps and the aftermath of such catastrophes. Moreover, it will also help to put an end to the meaningless arms race between India and Pakistan. Above all, both Islamabad and New Delhi can focus entirely on sustainable development – health, hunger and education projects. This will start a new era of coexistence between India and Pakistan.
The cause for which the people of Kashmir are struggling is a just one, and deserves support from all those who cherish justice and peace.
Mr. Mushtaq A. Jeelani is Executive Director of the Kashmiri-Canada Council, a non-profit, Toronto-based, non-governmental organization.