India, Pakistan talks must seek end to senseless killings in Indian-administered Kashmir

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As Indian and Pakistani foreign ministers prepare to hold their first substantive talks since the Mumbai attacks, Kashmiris welcome resumption of dialogue between the nuclear-armed rivals –” as result-oriented negotiations are the only way to bridge the divide between India and Pakistan. Kashmiris hope both New Delhi and Islamabad understand what is at stake –” without a settlement of the Kashmir issue, peace between two long-time adversaries or for the entire region is a pipedream.

The Kashmir issue has dominated the geopolitics of South Asia for nearly 63 years because of continuing rivalry between India and Pakistan. The rivals have fought three major wars since their independence from Britain in 1947, two of them over the disputed region of Kashmir. The unresolved issue of Kashmir is the root of the nuclear arms race between New Delhi and Islamabad, 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 –” 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.

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 world 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, sometimes 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 63 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 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 63 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 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 dumbfounded the entire Indian establishment.

The current uprising or “intifada” in Kashmir only serves as a reminder of the centrality of the Kashmiri people on the issue of the future of Kashmir. The mood on the ground is angry, thousands of people have been protesting against the occupation forces’ heavy-handed approach to suppress the Kashmiri people demanding freedom. During the last few weeks, several protesters have been killed and hundreds have been wounded in pitched street battles between anti-occupation protesters chanting: “We want freedom,” “Indian forces leave Kashmir,” and the Indian occupation troops using brute force to get the situation under control.

The international community must realise the dangers of the policy of appeasement that has brought Kashmir on the boil again. The prospect of peace and progress in the South Asian region is inseparably linked with the recognition of the Kashmiri peoples’ right to decide their future and thus rests upon the world community’s willingness to make positive contribution towards resolving the Kashmir conflict in this direction. Therefore, it is important to persuade both India and Pakistan to empower the Kashmiri people so they can be equal partners in determining a negotiated solution to the unresolved issue.

India and Pakistan should put in place some modalities to let the people of Kashmir choose their legitimate representatives for the participation of the Kashmiri leadership in the peace process with India and Pakistan for a negotiated settlement on the future of Kashmir. The unfortunate fact is that, at present, Kashmiris do not have any credible organisational infrastructure or institutions, allowing the people of Kashmir to complete the process on both sides of the ceasefire line would help the freedom movement to its logical conclusion.

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

The international community must seek end to senseless killings in Indian-administered Kashmir:

  • India must cease all military and paramilitary actions against civilians in Kashmir;
  • India must end torture, custodial killings and extra-judicial executions of prisoners immediately;
  • India must withdraw its military and paramilitary forces from all the urban areas immediately;
  • 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;
  • 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;
  • 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.
  • India must continue to help the displaced Kashmiri Hindu families to resettle in their homes in Kashmir and provide them all necessary assistance;
  • India must allow International human rights monitors and the world media to visit Kashmir for their investigative work.

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 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.

Moreover, a peacefully negotiated settlement of the Kashmir issue will help to bridge the divide between Islamabad and New Delhi and would go a long way towards building peace and security in the South Asian region. Most of all, this will start a new era of coexistence between India and Pakistan.

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Mushtaq A. Jeelani is Executive Director of Toronto-based Peace and Justice Forum, a non-profit, non-governmental organisation, dedicated to protection and promotion of human rights, democracy and international justice. He contributed this article to Media Monitors Network (MMN) from Canada.

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