If Kashmir dispute is resolved, the whole of SAARC would prosper

By Ameen Izzadeen
The dispute between India and Pakistan over Kashmir is perhaps the only world crisis that has not seen any real international peacemaking efforts in recent decades. As the world marked Kashmir Solidarity Day on Wednesday, it became clear that the United Nations and global peacemakers have chosen not to see the Kashmiri crisis, though it could lead to a major nuclear war.
The Kashmiri people’s dream of self-determination is as old as that of the Palestinian people’s dream of statehood. But the comparison perhaps ends there. The Palestinian issue has been on the international peacemaking agenda for the past seven decades with virtually every president of the United States making some effort to bring peace to the troubled region or using their moves as a ruse to prolong Israel’s colonisation or annexation of Palestinian land.
However, the Kashmir issue would appear briefly on the United Nations radar only when a major confrontation between India and Pakistan takes place. Once the clashes die down, the issue is placed on the backburner. This has been the trend since the two newly created countries went to war in 1947. There has been hardly any major effort by the United Nations to bring peace to the Kashmir region although a small contingent of UN military observers operates on the borders between the two nations to supervise various ceasefire agreements between the two countries.
It’s high time the United Nations and the world powers realised the danger of their costly silence when a dispute between the two nuclear-armed nations keeps simmering. South Africa’s visionary leader Nelson Mandela, who inspired freedom fighters around the world by his exemplary life and resilience, realised this danger and recognised the Kashmiri people’s right to self-determination — and that was why he raised the Kashmir issue at the 1998 Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) Summit in Durban, although he knew his remarks would make India unhappy. He told the summit that he believed the Kashmir issue, which remains a “concern for all of us,” should be resolved through peaceful negotiations.
Some may argue that the two countries will not go to war because nuclear weapons will be a deterrent in preventing a major confrontation. They may point to the self-restraint shown by the two nations since the Kargil war in 1999. But others say small-scale confrontations take place regularly and they can trigger a major war if the leaders of the two countries act irrationally.
One of the dangers facing the two countries is extremism. Just as Islamic extremism is a threat to Pakistan’s stability, the Hindutva ideology which the Bharatiya Janatha Party and its allies such as Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) promote is a threat to India’s stability. Indeed such extremist ideologies are a danger to the region and the whole of humanity. By some quirk of fate, if an extremist becomes the head of government in either of the countries and takes control of the nuclear button, then the whole world will be sitting on a powder keg. Or it will be like going in a passenger aircraft piloted by a madman.
It is not only on account of this that the Kashmiri question should be given priority, but also on account of the Kashmiri people, who have suffered long since Maharaja Hari Singh ceded the territory to India in 1947 against the wishes of his state’s Muslim majority subjects who longed for a union with Pakistan.
Sadly, the chances of a peaceful resolution of the crisis were lost in the subcontinent’s bloody partition which planted the seeds of hatred for each other in the minds of the citizens of the two states that emerged from the British Raj.
With every war or minor skirmish, the enmity between the people of the two countries grows stronger while the space for peacemaking becomes more restricted, thus prolonging the suffering of the Kashmiri people. Kashmiri activists say nearly 100,000 people have been killed and another 10,000 have gone missing in the past three-decades of violence between Kashmiri groups and Indian security forces. The figure is disputed by India. However, any verification of the statistics or the assessment of the real situation in Kashmir is not possible due to a travel ban on foreign journalists and human rights investigators to the region. Such restrictions are aimed at, on the one hand, preventing any internationalisation of the crisis and, on the other, hiding India’s human rights violations.
Though in recent years, the violence has abated, the causes of the insurgency remain. Often Indian politicians from the two main parties – Congress and the BJP – are pelted with stones when they visit the region. The Muslim majority people of Indian-administered Kashmir have no love for India. Even in matters like sighting the moon to begin the Ramazan fast or to celebrate the Eid, the Muslims in Indian-administered Kashmir follow Pakistan.
A report last year by the International People’s Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Indian-administered Kashmir said: “Cases … reveal that there is a policy not to genuinely investigate or prosecute the armed forces for human rights violations. On the contrary, alleged perpetrators of crimes are awarded, rewarded and promoted.”
This is largely because of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). The controversial law, together with other laws such as the Public Safety Act of 1978 and the Jammu and Kashmir Disturbed Areas Act of 1992, has created a culture of impunity within India’s security forces and shielded those guilty of abuses from criminal prosecution, according to Human Rights Watch.
When violence rocked Kashmir in 2010 and the actions of the Indian troops came under fire from world human rights groups, India announced that the controversial law would be amended. But once the international human rights community’s attention was shifted from Kashmir, India conveniently deferred the move.
Last month, India’s Army chief Bikram Singh said he opposed any dilution of AFSPA in Kashmir in view of the prevailing situation in the region. He said he believed there would be a possible terrorist spillover into the Kashmir Valley after the US drawdown in Afghanistan. “We need to look at developments in Afghanistan in 2014 before we can look at perhaps tampering with or diluting the disturbed areas (act),” he said adding that it would be prudent to “wait and watch for a while” before taking a call on AFSPA.”
In the aftermath of the 2012 Delhi gang rape, activist and Booker-prize winning author Arundhati Roy earned the wrath of the ultranationalists when she accused the Indian armed forces and police of using rape as a weapon against people in Kashmir and other troubled areas such as Manipur.
Roy in a bold statement said that Kashmir was never a part of India. She refused to back down in the face of protests and warnings from the Home Ministry that she would face sedition charges, the maximum punishment for which is life imprisonment. In a subsequent speech made at the Asia Society in New York, the firebrand human rights activist decried the silence of the international community over what she called the “brutal Indian occupation of Kashmir”.
“Why the international community doesn’t see that when you have two nuclear-armed states, like Pakistan and India, there couldn’t be a better thing than a buffer state like Kashmir between them, instead of it being a conflict that is going to spark a nuclear war,” she said, voicing her support for the independence of Kashmir.
India often cites regular elections held for the Kashmir state assembly to claim that the Kashmiri people have accepted India’s suzerainty. But often these elections are far from free and fair and, therefore, activists, say should not be considered a criterion to judge the people’s aspirations.
They say that instead of elections, India and Pakistan should come to an agreement to implement the UN resolution that calls for a plebiscite in Kashmir, one third of which is administered by Pakistan since the 1948 ceasefire. But India has diplomatically ditched the resolution and insists the entire Jammu and Kashmir region belongs to India and there is no compromise on the position. Yet, India acknowledges that Kashmir is an unresolved issue that can be sorted out through negotiations.
The 1972 Simla Agreement between the two countries, for instance, calls for “a final settlement of the Jammu and Kashmir” issue.
But sadly, talks between the two countries often suffer from a lack of trust and are plagued by politics. No Indian political party in power can cede Kashmir to Pakistan or allow Kashmir to become an independent state and expect to remaining in power. Besides, such a move may see similar demands for independence from India’s other troubled states.
In the latest offer for talks, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Wednesday invited the Indian government for a peaceful dialogue to resolve the Kashmir dispute.
Addressing the legislative assembly of Azad Kashmir – Pakistan-administered Kashmir – Sharif said Pakistan was ready to discuss and resolve all outstanding issues with India, including the Kashmir dispute. He added that if the Kashmir issue was not resolved peacefully, uncertainty and confrontation would continue in the region, negatively affecting development and stability.
India should respond to Sharif’s offer and expedite the peace process which is moving at a snail’s pace, with occasional foreign secretary-level talks. Years ago, Pakistan’s military ruler Pervez Musharraf came close to signing a final solution deal with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. But he was forced to step down from office amid political turmoil, which had nothing to do with Kashmir.
Sharif and Singh can have a fresh look at the Musharraf-Singh formula and try to solve the Kashmiri issue within a given time frame. A solution to the crisis will not only normalise relations between the two nuclear-armed neighbours but also bring prosperity to the South Asian region.
To the question of why the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is not being felt by the South Asians in the same way that the European Union is being felt by the Europeans, the answer is: the India-Pakistan dispute over Kashmir. If this can be resolved in a manner acceptable to the people of Kashmir, then SAARC will bloom like the EU and other regional groupings.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

About ameenizzadeen

journalist and global justice activist
This entry was posted in Political analysis and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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