Kashmir between hope and hopelessness

February 9, 2018

Kashmir

By Iqbal Khan

Betrayal of successive Indian governments— not the people of India— through their lofty ideals in Indian Occupied Kashmir (IoK) has manifested in shocking human rights violations. Torture, rape, mutilations, arson, plunder, abductions, extra judicial killings, arbitrary detentions, and contempt for international law and binding self-determination resolutions of the United Nations Security Council(UNSC) is the new “normal”.

India is well on a delusional path of forcing special autonomy in exchange with self-determination. Paradoxically, at the same time, it is pursuing abrogation of Article 370, which in its current form is a semblance of such arrangement. India has quietly turned Article 370 granted autonomy into a virtual nullity after it was employed as a lure in the 1950s to some Kashmiris, like Sheikh Abdullah to acquiesce in Kashmir’s accession to Indian sovereignty. Hence, Indian Kashmiris are suspicious of a second version of India’s gimmick. Moreover, Kashmir conflict is not about autonomy, nor is it about the transfer of power in Jammu and Kashmir.  It is about honouring the political and human right of the Kashmiri people in accord with international law, justice and morality—right of self-determination.  It would directly help India to extricate itself from the Kashmir quagmire in a face-saving manner.

Indian occupied Kashmir presents a typical case-study of an open ended international conflict gone awry, thanks to impotence of the United Nations. During the post World War II decolonization era, the phrase “right of self- determination” was as revered as the term “Human Rights” is these days. That is why one finds that all proposals for resolution of Kashmir conflict start from and end at granting Kashmiri people their right of self-determination through a UN supervised plebiscite. Nonetheless, situation in today’s Kashmir also perfectly fits into current buzz word— “International Humanitarian Law”.

An under duress submitted Instrument of Accession through a dubious letter by Maharaja of Kashmir and its conditional acceptance by the then Indian Governor General, alongside over two dozen United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolutions, Tashkent Declaration, Shimla Agreement, Lahore declaration and a number of multilateral and bilateral communiques acknowledge the disputed nature of Kashmir. While Pakistan’s stance on resolution of Kashmir dispute has been consistent, India has been shifting its goal posts quite often. International Human Rights watchers keep pointing towards employment of rape, extrajudicial mass killing and use of indiscriminate/ disproportionate force in Indian Occupied Kashmir (IoK).

New found craze of current Indian government is to erode and abrogate Article 370 of Indian constitution that gives special status to IoK. Coupled with this is concerted Indian effort to deface the legal contour of Kashmir dispute through misrepresentations. Pakistan’s legal position is very strong, it only has to firmly stick to it, and pursue it with perseverance. Pakistan should ratchet up its effort to enhance international outreach and demand of the UN to undertake its obligations. UNSG should be urged to appoint a person of Global standing for devising mechanism to resolve the dispute within the parameters laid down in UNSC resolutions, which had been accepted by both India and Pakistan; then five permanent members of the UNSC should engage India and Pakistan into meaningful talks for settlement of this lingering Humanitarian dispute.

Ever since passage of UNSC resolutions 38 & 47 of 1948—both duly accepted by India, a concerted Indian campaign continues to distance itself from these and dilute the necessity of a credible plebiscite. Knowing well that whenever matter of accession is referred to the people of Kashmir, India would lose, it has shifted its legal anchorage around “Instrument of Accession”.

While attaching the letter of Accession, Maharaja Hari Singh wrote to India’s Governor General Lord Mountbatten, presumably on October 26, 1947: “I have to inform your Excellency that a grave emergency has arisen in my State and request immediate assistance of your Government … With the conditions obtaining at present in my State and the great emergency of the situation as it exists I have no option but to ask for help from the Indian Dominion. Naturally they cannot send the help asked for by me without my State acceding to the Dominion of India. I have accordingly decided to do so and I attach the Instrument of Accession for acceptance by your Government”.

And while accepting the accession, Governor General replied a day later: “…Consistently with their policy that, in the case of any State where the issue of accession has been the subject of dispute, the question of accession should be decided in accordance with the wishes of the people of the State, it is my Government’s wish that, as soon as law and order have been restored in Kashmir and her soil cleared of the invader, the question of the State’s accession should be settled by a reference to the people”. This “reference to the people” is the foundation stone of all UN undertakings on Kashmir.

Being sure that if the people were allowed to exercise their choice, the decision would not be in India’s favour, since the days of UNSCR 38 &47, India has made several policy level summersaults, on one pretext or the other.

Currently, violence along the Line of Control (LoC) and unrest within the Kashmir Valley are pitched-up. India has committed over 1,300 cease-fire violations during 2017—seven years’ high. Public disgruntlement amongst Kashmiri Muslims in IoK is quite high and inflammable. Indian military posts on Indian side of the LoC are being overrun by locals. Erratic Indian actions may have hyped Modi’s domestic support but have achieved nothing with regard to stemming the perpetual ready to erupt volcano.

Kashmir continues to be taken as a disputed territory by the UN, where General Assembly reaffirms it as such every year, and United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) continues to be stationed on both sides.  Numerous Human Rights monitoring entities often keep pointing towards HR violations.

India is, by and large, fulfilled with the territorial status quo in Jammu and Kashmir, it has repeatedly indicated the intent “to discuss the disputed state with Pakistan as part of a comprehensive “composite dialogue”.  India wants to make any settlement of Jammu and Kashmir as part of an overall comprehensive settlement.

The Congress leader Chidambaram has recently said that wisdom lay in actively working towards a political solution to the issues of the disputed region, where movement to attain the right of self-determination has claimed thousands of lives. He added that the Modi government was not keen on finding a solution to Kashmir issue while praising the efforts taken by Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh governments in the past. Chidambaram also prescribed a solution saying that the Centre should “promulgate Governor’s Rule in the state…announce that the Central government will hold talks with all stakeholders…appoint interlocutors to pave the way for talks…Reduce the presence of the Army and paramilitary in the Kashmir Valley and hand over the task of maintaining law and order to the state police…”

Article 370 of the Indian Constitution grants special autonomous status to Jammu & Kashmir. However, it is being continuously eroded. Though denuded of most of the contents related to autonomy, it still survives as a symbol of the distinct—albeit disputed— identity of Kashmir.

People of Kashmir are neither asking for anything extraordinary, nor something against the international norms; they want to express their political will through a universally accepted democratic instrument. Mahatma Gandhi had also said that Kashmir’s real rulers were its people and not its Maharaja: “If the people of Kashmir are in favour of opting for Pakistan, no power on earth can stop them from doing so. But they should be left free to decide for themselves.”

*The writer is a freelance columnist and can be reached at Iqbal.khan9999@yahoo.com