Message from Kashmir is loud and clear: The status quo is no longer an option

“The real problem in the Afghan war is India, Pakistan and Kashmir –” Ignore Kashmir, as the United States does, and the conflict seems incomprehensible. Include Kashmir in the picture, and it all makes sense…”

— The Washington Post

The people of Kashmir are tired of repression and the status quo, for more than three years now they have been in the streets, protesting against India’s brutal occupation, demanding freedom and respect for human rights. Kashmiris are armed with nothing but their anger against India’s military presence. The Indian government has retaliated with bullets, curfew, censorship and arrest; killing civilians ruthlessly and then labelling them as "terrorists." The street battles between unarmed protesters and trigger-happy soldiers have been disrupting normal life in Kashmir causing suffering to the entire population.

The Kashmir issue remains at the heart of hostility between the nuclear-armed arch rivals India and Pakistan and was the cause of two of their three wars since their independence from Britain in 1947. Unfortunately, the people of Kashmir are caught in the middle of this deadly tug-of-war.

Since October 1989, Kashmir has become the most highly militarised zone in the world; more than 700,000 Indian soldiers are deployed there.  In almost 22 years, the occupying Indian forces have killed more than 100,000 Kashmiris –” many more scarred and wounded, to silence the people’s demand for justice, respect for human rights, freedom and the right of self-determination. 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 that has inflicted loss of life and destruction on an unprecedented scale, sadly drawing no significant attention from the international community or the United Nations.

Moreover, Indian forces operate under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), also known as "black laws," which give authorities wide-ranging authorisation to arrest, search, and shoot without questions. 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.

Amnesty International states in its 2011 report: "Impunity for past violations in Kashmir, including the disappearance of thousands of people since 1989 during the armed conflict in Kashmir, continued. Official inquiries into some of the violations made slow or little progress… Between June and September [2010], the police and security forces fired at protesters during pro-Independence protests demanding accountability for past violations… Torture and other ill-treatment, extrajudicial executions, deaths in custody and administrative detentions remained rife. Institutional mechanisms meant to protect human rights and human rights defenders remained weak and judicial processes failed to ensure justice for many victims of past violations and abuses…"

On March 21, 2011, Amnesty International further underscored: "Hundreds of people are locked up on spurious grounds under the Public Safety Act in Jammu and Kashmir every year. This report exposes a catalogue of human rights violations associated with the use of administrative detention under the Public Safety Act. It highlights how these run counter to India’s obligations under international human rights law. If India is serious about meeting these obligations, then it must ensure that the Public Safety Act is repealed and that detainees are released immediately or tried in a court of law."

The New York-based Human Rights Watch in its 2011 report says: "The security forces have at times used excessive force in suppressing violent street protests in Indian-administered Kashmir; the clashes resulting in more than 100 deaths and thousands of injuries to both civilians and security forces. Deaths and injuries to protesters, many of them children, prompted anger and renewed protests, deepening a cycle of tit-for-tat violence."

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made a solemn promise to the people of Kashmir –” assuring them zero tolerance to human rights violations; ever since, the promise has been observed in breach. In a recent (June 3, 2011) letter Human Rights Watch has reminded him of his promises: “India has made significant pledges outlining its human rights record and voluntary commitments. In meeting those pledges and commitments, Human Rights Watch asks your [Indian] government to implement the following changes in India’s laws and policies to better protect and promote human rights: Repeal the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, which has led to widespread violations and suffering in Jammu and Kashmir… Soldiers found responsible for serious human rights violations remain unaccountable because of immunity provided under this law. India should also encourage the government of Jammu and Kashmir to repeal the Public Safety Act, which has been used to hold hundreds of people in arbitrary detention…”

India must understand violence is not and cannot be the answer to popular demands for justice, freedom and the right of self-determination. A plebiscite under the United Nations supervision is the only answer to resolve the issue.

Last few years have seen spontaneous, massive and non-violent protests where virtually everyone including young men, their sisters, mothers, uncles and grandparents are out in the streets protesting against India’s continued occupation. Such –” on and off –” protests have strengthened 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 lost its patience as well as its fear. With an almost mad courage, Kashmir’s young have faced down armed soldiers and taken back their streets; this has shaken the Indian establishment.

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 totally 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 64 years. The people of Kashmir are tired of an endless process that never produces an outcome; moreover, they 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 64 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.

The message from the people of Kashmir is loud and clear: the status quo is no longer an option. They have rejected the four-point proposal for resolving the issue. They are yearning for peace and freedom and want to live in dignity like other peoples of the world. Nonetheless, their struggle to achieve the right of self-determination will not extinguish until India and Pakistan accept its exercise by the people of Kashmir.

A peaceful settlement based on justice and recognition of the right of the people of Kashmir to decide their own future can guarantee a lasting solution to this longstanding conflict and a durable peace in the region.

The world community can play a crucial role in helping to bring a lasting peace that ends the Kashmir conflict, is more urgent than ever.  According to The Washington Post (Aug 8): "The real problem in the Afghan war is India, Pakistan and Kashmir – Peace in AfPInd requires not U.S. troops on the ground, but a concerted effort to bring India and Pakistan to the negotiating table, where under the watchful eyes of the international community they can end their hydra-headed confrontation over Kashmir…

“Fighting terrorists or fighting the Taliban –” or indeed, fighting in Afghanistan at all –” addresses symptoms rather than the disease in South Asia: the horrific, wasteful, tragic and dangerous six-decade confrontation between India and Pakistan over Kashmir…

“Ignore Kashmir, as the United States does, and the conflict seems incomprehensible. Include Kashmir in the picture, and it all makes sense…”

Time is ripe for the international community to exert pressure on 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; moreover, it is time to underline to them that the status quo is simply not an option anymore.

At stake is not just India, Pakistan’s peace and stability, but equally important is the right of self-determination of the people of Kashmir.

The right of self-determination, enshrined in Article 1 of the United Nations Charter, is the principle on which the whole system of international relations is based. It is the most basic collective right of all people and nations, and the indispensable foundation of all individual human rights.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights imposes specific obligations on all nations not only in relation to their own population but vis-á-vis all people, who have not been able to exercise, or have been deprived of the possibility of exercising their right to self-determination. It urges nations to take positive action to facilitate the realisation of, and respect for the right of people to self-determination.

The 1993 World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna, the 1994 Social Summit in Copenhagen, the Millennium Summit 2000 and the UN World Summit 2005 have all affirmed the right of all people to self-determination in situations of foreign occupation and alien domination.

Moreover, if the people of East Timor, Eritrea, Kosovo, South Sudan and several others can enjoy freedom, the same principles of self-determination entitles the people of Kashmir to have total freedom from foreign occupation and alien domination.

In accordance with their obligations under the UN Charter and the International Covenants, the international community must play a positive role to enable the people of Kashmir to exercise the right of self-determination and to end their suffering and deprivation.

The conflict in Kashmir is a “political” and “human” tragedy –” the United Nations, the international community, including India and Pakistan, have overlooked this critically important human dimension of the issue. The Kashmiris’ demand is simple and in accordance with 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.

More importantly, the global 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.