What do we do about Kashmir?
The eruption in Kashmir this summer, triggered by the dastardly killing of Burhan Wani, has now taken on the shape of a popular uprising that is growing by the day.
The Kashmiri people are again paying the price of their anger and outrage in blood, sacrificing daily their men, women and even children to re-assert, once again, their uncompromising demand for the right of self-determination. The Kashmiri struggle, the longest in the annals of the UN, seems to have entered a new phase.
It is a state-wide uprising–indigenous, driven principally by the young generation, which is focused on achieving its objective, no matter what it takes. In response, the government of Indian Occupied Kashmir, acting on the behest of the Indian Union government has began another reign of terror against the hapless Kashmiris, this time far more vicious and brutal than ever before.
Pakistan has reacted to this momentous development with vigorous moral, political and diplomatic support. Leaders of various political parties, parliamentarians and the prime minister himself have expressed deep concern at the atrocities being waged against the Kashmiris, and have expressed full support for them in their struggle. Pakistani civil society, social media and public opinion at large are highlighting the Kashmiri struggle and drawing attention to the barbarity of the security forces and the indifference and apathy of the IOK government.
Meanwhile protest demonstrations, resistance to the regular imposition of curfew and the exposure to the security forces crackdown daily, is nearing two months of continuous agitation, which shows no sign of ceasing.
Faced with this apparently unending crisis, the Indian government continues its policy of violent use of force, in its futile attempt to brutally suppress the uprising, instead of addressing the problem. To boot, it is asserting that the Kashmir situation is India’s internal matter and Pakistan is interfering in its domestic jurisdiction. This is patently wrong as Kashmir is an international issue, and the simplest proof is that UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon issued a statement expressing concern at the prevailing situation in the state, and called upon India and Pakistan to undertake talks in this regard.
The US State Department spokesman also took note of the disturbances in Kashmir and urged India and Pakistan to resolve the matter through discussion and negotiations. When the UN and the US acknowledge that Pakistan has a ‘locus standi’ to discuss Kashmir, how can India deny our right to take note of the suffering of the Kashmiri people?
The question that our policymakers have to address now is how to take up the Kashmir issue internationally to generate moral pressure on the Indian government to address it. In the first place, if we present it as an India-Pakistan issue, the international community will not want to take sides in a bilateral dispute, notwithstanding UN resolutions and Pakistan’s locus-standi in the matter.
An important factor in this regard is that India’s international credibility is very high and it is now a major economic power, and no country wishes to take a position that may annoy India. Unfortunately international politics is usually devoid of moral considerations. Secondly, given the new phase of the struggle that has now emerged in Kashmir, we have to re-think Kashmir, and modulate or adjust our traditional stance.
In the first place, Kashmir has never been–and now more than ever before is no longer–a bilateral matter involving India and Pakistan only. It has evolved into a trilateral matter, involving India, Pakistan and the people of Kashmir. Pakistan has of course always recognised the Kashmiri side in its stance on talks with India. Twice the Indian government has called off talks in the recent past because of our intention to contact Kashmiri leaders before the talks.
Our policy on Kashmir should be to bring international attention to the massive human-rights violations in the Kashmir valley, resulting in the making of a major humanitarian crisis affecting the entire population of the land. The world had to take note of the then Serbian government’s atrocities against the Bosnians in the 90s, which uprooted thousands of Bosnians from their homes, and subjected them to all kinds of atrocities. It took note of the Rwandan genocide of the Tutsis.
Today the international conscience is scandalised by the plight of the Syrian refugees. The picture of a poor Syrian boy, encrusted in mud and blood, drew sympathy the world over. Kashmir is a humanitarian crisis of a massive proportion that is in the making.
The government has rightly decided to send out parliamentarians the world over to project the Kashmir crisis and draw attention of various governments. In principle, it is a good and timely decision, but much will depend upon how it is executed. It is hoped that the selection of the parliamentarians is based on merit, rather than political considerations. That is: based on their personal ability to articulate their case and create the right impression of sincerity and earnestness on their interlocuters.
If this has not been the criteria of selection, this exercise will hardly make an impact and the government will have spent a few crores without anything to show for it. In my view, these public representatives should be accompanied by retired diplomats who have considerable experience in such matters.
In any case, the Kashmir cause at this juncture needs proper projection of the massive humanitarian crisis now in the making in that unfortunate land. Once international conscience has been aroused, India will have to address the problem by stopping the atrocities and undertaking negotiations to end the crisis and move towards its resolution.
The writer is the executive director of the Center for International Strategic Studies.