Kashmir: The Unresolved Dispute

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Thirteen millions Kashmiris have been oppressed since 1947, because the international community has failed to persuade India and Pakistan to comply with the now fifty-one-year-old United Nations Security Council resolutions guaranteeing the people of Jammu and Kashmir their right of self-determination.

This tragic story began over a century ago; when the British colonial rulers of then British-India sold the territory, including its populace, to a Hindu (Dogra) warlord, who had no roots in the region. This warlord who used his wealth to achieve royalty, styled himself as the “Maharajah” of Jammu and Kashmir. The acts of brutality that occurred during his regime have left bitter scars in the memories of countless Kashmiris to this day.

Those who are familiar with the history of the region know that the ongoing freedom struggle began in 1931 when people came out in open revolt against the autocratic and tyrannical Dogra regime. They were on the brink of bringing the regime to its heels, when India moved in to replace it on October 27th, 1947, and deployed its troops in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. India declared that her forces would help restore normalcy in the State 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 has done the exact opposite. It has tried to gradually strengthen its grip over Kashmir by means, fair and foul, unmindful of its constitutional commitment that the future of the territory shall be determined by the people in a UN-supervised plebiscite.

The hostility between India and Pakistan over the disputed territory of Kashmir has dominated the geopolitics of the region for the past fifty-one years. Nonetheless, negotiations between two South Asian arch-rivals on the question of Kashmir have been ongoing ever since the issue was taken up at the UN, and both New Delhi and Islamabad committed, on numerous occasions, to reach a “final settlement.”

India’s refusal to address the Kashmir issue has heightened tensions in the region, thus making it a nuclear flashpoint for the international community. India and Pakistan have already fought two of the three wars over Kashmir. With the two armies facing each other across the cease-fire line, the danger of a new war breaking out is all too real and impending. The recent Kargil like escalation and de-escalation is a symptom of a wider problem, which is abundantly evident that should the status quo in Kashmir go un-addressed, it will foment much instability in the region, with serious international repercussions.

Since October 1989, a mass uprising has taken firm root, and the entire population is in revolt against Indian occupation. What started as a peaceful protest movement demanding the implementation of a UN-supervised plebiscite, has turned into a full-scaled insurrection. India’s response to this protest has been extremely bloody. During the past ten years, crimes committed by Indian occupation forces, numbering well over 600,000-strong, have now reached genocide proportions, presenting one of the worst examples of state-sponsored terrorism.

Indian soldiers have killed, maimed and tortured tens of thousands of innocent Kashmiris, including women, children and the elderly; raped up to six thousand women, young and old; burnt entire towns and villages, sparing neither schools, nor hospitals, nor places of worship; abducted civilians to the point of a regular daily occurrence; ravaged local businesses and industries; and have completely disrupted normal life. The Vale is dotted with notorious torture and interrogation centers designed to break the will of the Kashmiri people. This is not even the full story. The real horror that the people of Kashmir experience every day of their lives has yet to be revealed.

The grave human rights violations in Kashmir, documented and denounced by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and other human rights and humanitarian organizations, is testimony to the cruel and insane policy of India with respect to its continued presence in Kashmir. 

Although New Delhi has failed to suppress the ten-year old popular revolt against its occupation, and to portray Kashmir as an “integral part,” the cunning government in New Delhi, with vast experience in state-sponsored terrorism, has succeeded in avoiding responsibility for its ghastly crimes. One can clearly draw a parallel between India and the countries of Latin America where army and police personnel dressed as civilians were responsible for the killings and disappearances of thousands of civilians and yet able to avoid blame for their actions.

Another tactic of state-sponsored terrorism is promoting Kashmiri-on-Kashmiri violence in the disputed state of Jammu and Kashmir. This is similar to white leadership instigating black-on-black violence under the former apartheid regime in South Africa. 

The transition from “passive resistance,” which was a characteristic of the people of Kashmir, to “militancy” was germinated by New Delhi’s blatant refusal to implement the UN resolutions promising the people of Kashmir their right of self-determination.

The very scale and substance of the Kashmiris’ current struggle is by itself evidence (of the fact) that the question of self-determination of the Kashmiri people cannot be shelved either by shifting focus to so-called “terrorism,” or by untenable arguments of bilateral accord such as Simla Agreement or Lahore Declaration. 

Full cognizance of the existing realities will be needed to resolve the Kashmir dispute. The most important thing to realize is that the current struggle is sustainable and irreversible, and has become a reminder of the unimplemented UN resolutions and of many broken promises. The people of Kashmir have now reasserted and re-established their primacy in the dispute. New Delhi’s attempts to impose political solutions under the umbrella of its constitution, and aided by its troops, were repeatedly rejected by a vast majority of the people. Second, the current situation in Kashmir and its future direction will depend on how India decides to handle the delicate question of self-determination.

The atmosphere of hatred and animosity between the two “nuclear” neighbors 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. The failure of the world community to hold India accountable has resulted in the failure to put an end to human suffering in Kashmir. 

The Kashmiri people’s 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.

Kashmiris believe that the leaders of the Group of Eight countries need to break out of their tunnel vision when it comes to the region. Its strategic interest in the subcontinent has focused so far on limiting both nations’ access to advanced weapons technology coupled with a lukewarm attempt to resolve the dispute over Kashmir. Helping to move the process towards lasting peace and stability must be a top priority for the international community, and more importantly, the leading industrialized nations. This must not just be an attempt to gain economic advantage in an enormous market, but a process that would create a stable environment through lasting peace and justice.

The prospects of peace and progress in South Asia are inseparably linked with the recognition of the Kashmiri people’s right to decide their future, and this rests upon the world community’s willingness to make a positive contribution towards resolving the dispute within this framework.

One should view the continued enmity between India and Pakistan as a threat to regional peace. Both countries have already fought two wars over Kashmir. Will the international community allow yet another war to be fought before taking action to resolve the crisis? 

It is time for the global community to urge the leaders of the G-8, P-5 and the President of the European Commission to examine whether they will allow India and Pakistan to remain locked in this bitter conflict, and if so, for how much longer? How long will the global community allow these two countries to divert their valuable resources away from issues of sustainable development -hunger, health, and education projects – in order to fuel the pot of discontent in Kashmir? 

Mr. Mushtaq A. Jeelani is Executive Director of the Kashmiri-Canada Council, a non-profit, Toronto-based, non-governmental organization.

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