A political solution needed for Kashmir
In 1947, the division of the South Asian sub-continent after a hurried British exit led not only to longstanding territorial disputes between India and Pakistan, but also to one of the world’s biggest humanitarian crises, with millions still denied their right to self-determination in Kashmir. It is accurate to say that more than 70 years later, Kashmir is the partition’s unfinished agenda.
Maharaja Hari Singh, a Sikh prince whose forefathers purchased Kashmir from the British, elected to cede to India in October 1947. But many questioned his right to unilaterally decide the future of the entire state of Kashmir. Once hostilities broke out in 1948, India took the case to the United Nations which concluded that the matter be resolved through an impartial referendum. But India declared that Kashmir was part of its territory in 1957 and the referendum remains pending to this day.
Though Kashmir does hold some autonomy constitutionally in the Indian Union, such as a law that forbids non-Kashmiris from buying property in the state, the rising strand of Hindu nationalism in Indian politics, specifically by the ruling BJP, bring these constitutional arrangements under threat.
The Kashmiris have risen several times against the Indian army in Kashmir. . Their first time was in 1989, lasted for almost a decade. The most recent was triggered by the murder of Burhan Wani in 2016, and still continues. Though reliable aggregate data about the numbers killed is difficult to come by, international journalists and some government data report that Indian forces have used shotguns and pellets to control protesters, leading to thousands of deaths and more recently, to the indiscriminate blinding of citizens.
Though Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government has yet to appoint a chairman for the Kashmir Committee, it is a post that has currently gained great importance.
Recently, the British parliament organized a Kashmir Conference where Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi made a forceful plea for the resolution of this long standing dispute in accordance with UN resolutions. According to one MP from the Labor party, “Kashmir has become a horror story.”
The Indian side argues that both India and Pakistan committed to resolve the issue bilaterally in 1972. But at the same time, it has been reluctant or downright refused to hold bilateral talks with Pakistan for almost a decade, while reports of the Indian army’s human rights abuses in Kashmir have been steadily rising year after year.
The first ever UN report on human rights violations in Kashmir, published in June 2018 recommends an independent Commission of Inquiry to probe Indian violations and human rights abuses against Kashmiris.
Though Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government has yet to appoint a chairman for the Kashmir Committee, it is a post that has currently gained great importance. The prowess of Pakistani diplomacy will be put to the test if justice is to prevail in Kashmir, and as a first step, the new chairman must be articulate and well versed in the art of diplomacy.
It is no secret that Pakistan provides diplomatic, moral and political support to Kashmir’s cause and Pakistani missions abroad regularly bring the issue up with foreign governments. That the once-famed valleys of Kashmir, popularised in literature and music for their orchards and rivers are now the world’s most militarized areas, that more than half a million Indian soldiers control the movement of the citizens of Kashmir, that India has persistently denied human rights groups and journalists access to the valley- these are all telling signs that the militarized crisis in Kashmir needs a diplomatically maneuvered political solution; one that honors the decades’ old UN resolution for a transparent, free and fair referendum.
– Javed Hafeez is a former Pakistani diplomat with much experience of the Middle East. He writes weekly columns in Pakistani and Gulf newspapers and appears regularly on satellite TV channels as a defense and political analyst.