Kashmir: Nothing Happens in a Vacuum

2018 was the deadliest year for Kashmiri civilians in a decade. This fact was affirmed not only by the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) but by the Washington Post. The rising death toll among Kashmiris in 2018 was itself a culmination of an increasingly violent approach taken by the forces of Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK) since the late 1980s, whilst the overriding problems for Kashmiris are a result of being denied their international legal right to self-determination since 1947.

In Kashmir, nothing happens in a vacuum and this fact readily applies to today’s attack on an Indian military convoy by a member of Jaish-e-Mohammed. The very fact that Indian army convoys and soldiers armed to the teeth are present in IOK in order to subdue the very people that India tells the world are merely a minority of ‘reluctant Indians’, obfuscates the more self-evident reality on the ground. The reality is that if part of a nation must be under constant military occupation in order to remain within such a nation, such a place is not part of the nation in question at all.

Kashmir’s troubles are ultimately a conflict between the Indian authorities and Kashmiris themselves. If anyone doubted this to be the case, one must consider two things. First of all, Jaish-e-Mohammed has been banned in Pakistan since 2002. Secondly,  Pakistani voices that are raised in the name of justice for Kashmir tend to hold the view that far from Pakistan doing too much on the Kashmir issue, Islamabad actually does far too little and has done far too little for quite some time.

Many in India will not want to admit the following and many in Pakistan will not want to hear the following, but the reality must be laid bare all the same: although the crisis in IOK is one between India and the Kashmiri people, Pakistan does indeed have a role to play. This role is one that requires Islamabad to amplify the plight of Kashmiris to the rest of the world for the simple reason that there is no other country in the world that is in such a position to do so. The longer Pakistani elites retreat from this issue, the worse things will get not just for Kashmiris but for the wider region as a whole. The fact that India blames everything that happens in or around IOK on Islamabad is actually quite farcical because Pakistan’s real position vis-a-vis Kashmir is one that is all too detached. As a result, innocent people suffer and a cycle of violence is perpetuated because of an Indian culture of scapegoating Pakistan and a Pakistani culture of wishing troubles away, rather than facing them head on.

Had Pakistan forcefully told the United Nations, global civil society, all three global military superpowers and bilateral partners of the grave danger that IOK’s unresolved status poses, the Indian soldiers who died today would still be alive and furthermore, the scores of thousands of Kashmiri civilians gunned down in cold blood by Indian soldiers over the decades would also still be alive. In this sense, if the UN mandated plebiscite on Kashmiri national self-determination had already been held, there would be more people alive today in the region than there presently are. Every moment wasted therefore ought to sound like a tick on south Asia’s very own doomsday clock. With every further second that is ticked away, Kashmiris and Indians are both at risk of death or injury. No rational person in any country could label such a situation as acceptable.

While for the supporters of the Indian occupation of Jammu and Kashmir, the issues surrounding the occupation are those involving unbridled jingoism and a battle that puts a quest for resources ahead of justice for civilians, for Kashmiris themselves, it is a matter of being denied their UN mandated right to national self-determination which they have been waiting for since 1947.

The pressing issue of Kashmir was one of the first major challenges presented to a young United Nations Security Council which in 1949 passed Resolution 47. This resolution called for a plebiscite to allow Kashmiris to decide on their own future according to the principles of the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which was ratified in 1948.

Crucially, India continues to deny that Pakistan has followed the following clauses in the resolution:

“1. The Government of Pakistan should undertake to use its best endeavours:

(a) To secure the withdrawal from the State of Jammu and Kashmir of tribesmen and Pakistani nationals not normally resident therein who have entered the State for the purpose of fighting, and to prevent any intrusion into the State of such elements and any furnishing of material aid to those fighting in the State;

(b) To make known to all concerned that the measures indicated in this and the following paragraphs provide full freedom to all subjects of the State, regardless of creed, caste, or party, to express their views and to vote on the question of the accession of the State, and that therefore they should co-operate in the maintenance of peace and order”.

But while Pakistan has fulfilled its duties according to a precise reading of the Resolution, India maintains that Resolution 47 calls for Pakistan to abandon the civilian administration in Azad Kashmir. India has held fast to this obstructionist position in spite of the fact that the clauses in question do not make specific mention of the civilian administration in Azad Kashmir, beyond a general and reasonable call for non-native Kashmiris to vacate the territory for the specific and limited aim of holding a free and fair plebiscite based on the indigenous population as well as indigenous Kashmiris who were displayed during the war of 1947-48.

But while arguments continue to be made regarding interpretations of Resolution 47, Kashmiris continue to pay with their lives for 72 years of sustained injustice. The only solution is for the UN to take into account a reasonable interpretation of UN Security Council Resolution 47 and force the issue of the need for an immediate plebiscite throughout the entirety of Kashmir. This is absolutely necessary in order to make it so that there can be no question about the long-term status of the region.

A further matter of importance becomes clear when one realises that arguments between New Delhi and Islamabad regarding differing interpretations of the 1949 era UN Resolution do not directly take into account the feelings of Kashmiris themselves. Ultimately, the Kashmir crisis is one between the Kashmiri people and their occupier. It is only up to the Kashmiri people to define who and what is an occupier and this is why their voices must be heard by the international community without prejudice. Any nation afraid of such a plebiscite can logically be concluded to be a state afraid that its interpretation of the situation in Kashmir is one that will be exposed as incompatible with the feelings of Kashmiris.

Furthermore, as India has physically occupied much of Kashmir since 1947, there has been plenty of time for New Delhi to convince Kashmiris that they are better off in India than as an independent sovereign state or as part of Pakistan. The uptick in the intensity of the conflict within Kashmir since 1989 in particular, has demonstrated that far from using the delayed execution of the UN Resolution in order to make peace with Kashmiris, Indian forces have done everything they can to make the case for Kashmir leaving India according to the democratic will of the Kashmiri people.

Former US President John F. Kennedy famously stated:

“Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable”.

This quote could have been authored to describe the lingering deterioration of human rights and social cohesion in Kashmir as Kashmiris are pushing back only as much as they have been pushed. Contented populations are by definition not angry populations and likewise, no genuine uprising has ever been a result of prosperity, social harmony and a happy population. In this sense, the realities in Kashmir speak for themselves, not least because a genuinely contended population cannot be easily mobilised by external political proclamations.

The extent to which Kashmiris are suffering is therefore self-evident, in spite of the fact that the IOK authorities make it extremely difficult for international reporters to gain access to the streets where demonstrators are frequently beaten and killed for demanding a peaceful right to have the vote that the UN mandates that they must have.

Of course, there exists a strong temptation, perhaps an inevitable temptation for India’s ruling BJP to respond to today’s event by committing acts of completely unacceptable aggression against Pakistan. Yet such jingoistic appeals during an election season will only further teach the world a lesson that has long ago been handed down: violence begets violence.

If India truly wants events like that of today to become a thing of the past rather than a harbinger of a bleak future, India must work with its neighbour to give Kashmiris what the UN mandates that they have – a democratic and transparent say in their political future. This long overdue revelation itself comes at a time when the entire world, including the United States (but excluding India) has come to realise that Pakistan’s long held view of an all parties peace process in Afghanistan, is the only viable means to create stability in a country that in one way or another has been tearing itself apart since at least the 1970s. If the world has come to trust Pakistan’s peace agenda for Afghanistan, the only reason that something similar is supposedly not possible in respect of Kashmir, is due to a lack of will. Clearly, when peace lovers are silent, those who love the opposite of peace will make their voices heard.

While Mahatma Gandhi remains unpopular among the Hindtuva extremists that the BJP courts, it is wise to remember that he once said “An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind“. In this case, New Delhi is blinding itself to the reality that a Kashmir under occupation will lead not only to literal blindness, maiming and death, but that the longer this cycle perpetuates, the worse things will get on all sides. Indian mothers should therefore consider why the government is sending their sons to be killed in a place that clearly wants to develop along the lines of a new political path. The Indian soldiers who have lost their lives Kashmir were not killed by Pakistan, these lives are being lost because of a policy that is one part murder and one part suicide – truly all have gone blind if they cannot see this for what it is.  If these matters are allowed to be discussed openly, then a broader dialogue on a peace process involving the UN mandated plebiscite can begin with sincerity.

Pakistan likewise must not allow itself to become scapegoated by New Delhi over the issue. Instead, Pakistan should reflect on its one area of guilt in the matter: the Pakistani state for far too long has acted as though it wished the Kashmir issue away. As such, is it any wonder that an ostrich with its head buried below the sand is a perfect target for an Indian state that needs someone to blame for a situation it has long been unable to control?

God willing, today’s attack will be the last such attack to ever happen in Kashmir, but such wishful thinking requires action steps in order for such a wish to transform itself into a strategic road map towards a sustainable peace. There is ultimately but one way to end the bloodshed and this is for Kashmir to be granted a full, free and fair plebiscite on its future. Until then, so long as Kashmir has no future, those attempting to undemocratically dictate Kashmir’s future will not be sailing through placid waters.

A commitment to peace must therefore be holistic and it must collectively rise above the constant finger pointing between politicians on all sides of all borders. India must not shy away from the fact that violence begets violence and that as such, today’s event has everything to do with the post-1947 history of Kashmir and nothing with the politics and actions of Pakistan. Likewise, Pakistan must ask itself how long will it wait before telling the world the truth about Kashmir, so that a harrowing occupation might be transformed into a new reality wherein the cries of peace ring out above the myopic cries for war.

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