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Where Does Future of Jammu and Kashmir Lie?

By Abdullah al-Ahsan | ISTAC | 28 Oct 2013

Kashmir has not only suffered from Indian democracy, it has also suffered from American democracy. (Reuters)

On his way back to Islamabad after meeting President Obama in Washington, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has renewed his call for US mediation between India and Pakistan on the Kashmir issue. Earlier, just days before the scheduled meeting between them, Sharif had made similar call which had met with colossal opposition from India.

Incidentally Sharif’s call came just days before Kashmir Black Day, when Indian troops landed at Sri Nagar airport on Oct. 27, 1948. The irony of the matter is that only days before Sharif’s original call Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh accused Pakistan in a speech in the UN as being an “epicenter of terrorism” in the region. Realistically nobody can analyze these developments independently.

Nobody can deny that there has been an upsurge of extremism in Pakistan today but isn’t Pakistan itself paying the highest price for this upsurge? Yes, of course; decades of military rule and corrupt civilian governments must bear some responsibility for this. But is the Pakistani leadership alone responsible for this? One should take a quick glance at Kashmir.

Problem’s Origin

The problem originated when the colonial power, Britain, left the subcontinent, leaving behind Muslim-majority Kashmir with a Hindu ruler to decide whether the territory should join India or Pakistan, although this was against the spirit of the 1947 Indian Independence Act.

When the conflict turned into a hot war, both countries took the issue to the UN for mediation. The UN declared the territory disputed, and on the basis of the UN principle of self-determination, the world body resolved to conduct a plebiscite in order for the people of Kashmir to decide the future of the territory. However, this resolution for peace turned out to be just the beginning of a long and bloody conflict in the UN’s history.

The world body appointed Sir Owen Dixon, a senior Australian judge, to conduct the plebiscite. But a frustrated Dixon resigned within two years because of his failure to conduct the plebiscite in presence of large number of Indian troops and other paramilitary forces in the area. Dixon was then replaced by US Senator Frank Graham who served almost six years and submitted six reports for demilitarization of the territory, but encountered the same fate as Dixon.

Meanwhile, India, which is sometimes romantically identified as “the largest democracy on the planet,” has flouted democratic principles and has been trying to incorporate and digest Kashmir within its territory.

On the international front, it has pursued “diplomacy” and tried to convince the world that it has a secular constitution ensuring equal rights for all citizens and secured the veto power of the former Soviet Union so that the UN resolutions become ineffective.

On the domestic front, it has conducted rigged and stage-managed elections in order to justify its legitimacy over Kashmir — elections that the people of Kashmir generally boycotted.

In 1952, 73 out of a total of 75 candidates in the state assembly were elected unopposed. The two seats where elections were conducted were located in the Hindu-majority Jammu area.

In 1956, this so-called State Constituent Assembly defied all UN resolutions on the subject and adopted a resolution declaring Kashmir an integral part of India. India made another mockery of democracy by holding still another election in Kashmir in 1957 in which 65 candidates of the ruling party were elected unopposed.

Interestingly, the situation began to improve in the late 1970s when Congress government was replaced in Delhi by Janata government. The new administration allowed opposition participation in the elections in Kashmir and people’s faith in democracy seemed to have restored. However the situation again began to deteriorate after the 1987 election which was heavily rigged.

Democracy Was Never Fulfilled

The situation deteriorated significantly in 1989 when a spontaneous uprising occurred in Kashmir against Indian occupation. According to Kashmirlibrary.org, “at least 40,000 people have been killed since insurgency began in 1989, according to conservative official estimates. Unofficial estimates are well over 80,000-half of them are civilians.”

Amnesty International also began to regularly report about atrocities of Indian armed forces in Kashmir.

Describing the gravity of the situation in the British Guardian newspaper on Aug. 22, 2008, reputable author Arundhati Roy wrote: “After 18 years of administering a military occupation, the Indian government’s worst nightmare has come true.” She highlighted the gravity of the situation and reported about years of torture, humiliation, rape, and the disappearance of many Kashmiris.

She described how the territory had become a real battleground for the Indian armed forces. In the same article, Roy talked about the pro-Pakistani sentiments expressed by the people of Sri Nagar, the capital city of Indian-occupied Kashmir, on Aug. 15, Indian Independence day.

Why are the people expressing pro-Pakistani sentiment? This is because nobody else has expressed support or even sympathy for the oppressed people of Kashmir.

Kashmir has not only suffered from Indian democracy, it has also suffered from American democracy, and that too at the hands of champion of democracy and equality Barack Obama. In an interview immediately after his election, President Obama declared his intention of appointing former President Bill Clinton to mediate on Kashmir.

That was not fulfilled.

From Afghanistan to Kashmir

Then Obama appointed senior diplomat Richard Holbrooke to deal with the conflict in Afghanistan. However, the conflict in Afghanistan had already got entangled with the Kashmir issue. Many Pakistani youth took up arms to fight in Afghanistan and following the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan seemed to turn toward Kashmir.

For them Afghanistan was occupied by the Soviet Union and Kashmir was by India. But immediately after his appointment, the pro-Indian lobby in Washington intervened and got Kashmir removed from Holbrooke’s assignment.

Should democratic principles be driven by lobby groups? Or should democracy ensure human dignity and the individual’s right to self-determination?

President Obama has come out very strongly against the Supreme Court judgment about corporate funding of lobby groups; unfortunately, the president’s views had no impact on lobbies in Capitol Hill.

Both the Kashmir dispute and the situation in Afghanistan have placed Pakistan on the frontline of international conflicts. Extensive international pressure on the government of Pakistan and indiscriminate drone attacks in Pakistan with no positive gesture toward solving the Kashmir dispute will only create more frustration in Pakistan.

This is bound to create more instability not only in Pakistan, but more likely in the entire region. That is why the cause of the Kashmiri people demands solidarity not only of Pakistanis but of all peace-loving people around the world.

It is the moral responsibility of the international community to demand that India fulfills its commitment that it made to the Kashmiri people when it accepted the UN Security Council resolution to hold an internationally supervised plebiscite to decide the future of Jammu and Kashmir.
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Prof. Abdullah al-Ahsan is professor of History and Civilization at the International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilization (ISTAC), International Islamic University of Malaysia. His books and articles have been translated into Arabic, Bengali, Bosnian, Turkish and Urdu.