Outside of largely predictable speeches before the UN General Assembly’s annual opening sessions, the wider world does not get to hear about the plight of Kashmiris on a regular basis. This is certainly true compared to the plight of Palestinians, as increasingly prominent and celebrity supported movements like BDS (Boycott Divestment Sanctions) do much to raise global awareness regarding the manifold injustices faced by the Palestinian people.
2018 was Kashmir’s deadliest year in a decade as civilians including infants and women were killed in clashes of resistance between Indian occupational forces and Kashmiri demonstrators. It has likewise been a deadly year in Palestine as Gazans demonstrating as part of the Great March of Return were regularly slaughtered as Israeli occupational forces fired live rounds at unarmed youths as well as medics and journalists. But in Kashmir while civilians and aid workers have been targeted, no international journalists can safely enter Indian Occupied Kashmir and thus the world relies on voices from within to help spread the news of the ongoing plight of the people.
And yet, these voices need much stronger amplification if they are to have the same impact on the hearts and minds of the wider world as did the anti-Apartheid movement of the 1980s and today’s BDS movement.
In respect of Palestine, recent years have seen Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan becoming one of the most vocal heads of state when it comes to speaking for Palestine – far more incidentally than any major Arab head of state. Crucially in respect of Kashmir, Turkey technically retains diplomatic relations with Israel in spite of an ambassadorial expulsion in 2018.
The reason this is important for Kashmir is that unlike Palestine where most Muslim majority nations refuse to have diplomatic relations with Tel Aviv in order to demonstrate solidarity with Palestinian people, India has diplomatic relations with the vast majority of nations in the world. But just as Turkey has proved that it is not impossible for its head of state to speak boldly on behalf of Palestine without cutting ties to Israel, so too would it therefore logically be possible for a nation to openly criticise the oppression of Kashmiris without severing ties with India.
While Iran and India have partnered to modernise the Iranian port at Chabahar and while Iran’s participation in India’s North-South Transport Corridor project is vital to the initiative’s success, this has not stopped Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei from speaking out on behalf of oppressed Kashmiris. Thus, while Iran is more globally known for its opposition to the injustices against Palestinians than it is for speaking about Kashmir, Iran’s Supreme Leader has in fact shattered the taboo that somehow speaking out in favour of Kashmiri freedom is incompatible with having productive relations with New Delhi.
Turning to Pakistan, while Arabs used to speak a lot about Palestine and today the Turkish and Iranian governments speak frequently about Palestine, the dialogue about Kashmir is largely absent from Pakistan’s global rhetoric outside of the UN General Assembly. Yesterday, during his meeting with Turkish President Erdoğan, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan did in fact vocally raise the issue of Kashmir before a fraternal Turkish audience, thus representing an import move hinting at the possibilities of a more internationalised perspective on the plight of Kashmiris.
Imran Khan certainly chose the right location to make such a statement as Turkey’s President has shown no fear in speaking up for Palestine in spite of his country being one of the few in the Ummah to have diplomatic relations with Israel.
This means that if Pakistan was more successful at galvanising global opinion in respect of Kashmir, prominent politicians, activists and celebrities outside of south Asia could potentially speak for Kashmir in the same way that politicians, activists and celebrities far from the Arab world do for Palestine.
Occupied Palestine and Indian Occupied Kashmir remain two neo-colonial blights on a world that has profoundly rejected occupation and the suppression of national self-determination. Kashmiris want their UN promised referendum and cannot realistically hold it while under occupation. Therefore, Pakistan owes it to Kashmiris to promote their cause in the wider world so that others might join in. If it is possible to do this for Palestine – it is possible to do this for Kashmir.