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Mon 1 March 2021

CJ Werleman reports on the Pakistani Prime Minister’s support for self-determination for the disputed region

Pakistan’s declaration that it will give Kashmiris the right to decide between joining Pakistan or attaining independence – saying that it will encourage and respect the result of a United Nations-mandated plebiscite – is a clear reminder that, in the territorial dispute between the two Asian rivals, it is India that stands in the way of peace.

Speaking before thousands of people at a Kashmir Solidarity Day rally in Pakistan-administered Kashmir on Friday, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan pledged his support for Kashmiri self-determination.

“When you decide on your future, and when the people of Kashmir, God willing, decide in Pakistan’s favour, I want to say that after that Pakistan will give Kashmiris the right that if you want to be independent or a part of Pakistan,” said Khan. “This will be your right.”

Khan’s comments are not only consistent with Article 257 of Pakistan’s Constitution, which states that “when people of State of Jammu and Kashmir decide to accede to Pakistan, the relationship between Pakistan and State shall be determined in accordance with wishes of people of the State”, but also with United Nations Security Council resolutions 47, 51, 80, 96, 98, 122 and 126.

For the past seven decades, however, India has defied these resolutions in denying eight million residents of India-Occupied Kashmir the right to determine their own future by maintaining military control over the territory, while granting only semi-political autonomy to the local population. 

But, on 5 August 2019, the Indian Government suddenly and without warning stripped Kashmir of its autonomous status by revoking Articles 35A and 370 of the Indian Constitution, imprisoning local political leaders, undoing restrictions on property ownership and employment, and enforcing a military imposed lockdown.

The message from the country’s far-right Government was clear – it intends to illegally annex and colonise the Muslim majority territory with non-native Hindu settlers. It has since put rhetoric and policy into action by announcing domicile rights, including access to property ownership and employment, for non-locals. New Delhi granted tens of thousands of domicile certificates in the final months of 2020 alone.

Almost without exception, Kashmiris in India-controlled Kashmir view the Hindu majority country as a foreign occupying power, one hellbent on subjugating and annihilating the territory’s indigenous identity. Kashmiri nationalism predates the creation of the Indian and Pakistani states. 

A 2019 survey conducted by Central University of Kashmir and New York’s Skidmore College found that 91% of college and university students in India-occupied Kashmir want a complete withdrawal of the more than 500,000 Indian soldiers from the region.

“Among our survey respondents, the preferred route to resolving the Kashmir conflict was a plebiscite in which Kashmiri people vote to determine the future of their region,” observe the authors of the report.

The Kashmiri people have been waiting more than 70 years for the United Nations to come good on its promise to mandate the holding of a plebiscite in the territory. It passed a resolution in 1948 to grant them a choice between joining Pakistan or India, with the former supporting the option of independence to be included in the referendum.

India has successfully lobbied the international community into sidelining the Kashmir dispute, knowing that only a tiny percentage of the territory would choose it over independence or Pakistan. It has duped international political leaders and news media organisations into believing that the conflict is a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan, when, in fact, it is an issue between India and the people of Kashmir.

“The people of Jammu and Kashmir are the key constituent to the dispute because they have to decide about their political future and this is a position recognised by the United Nations,” Masood Khan, President of Pakistan-Administered Kashmir, told me when we spoke several months ago.

“The United Nations has been sidelined in the dispute over Kashmir…[and as such] we are moving towards a human rights apocalypse in the Indian-occupied Jammu and Kashmir.”

This sidelining and both-siding of the conflict, in which India and Pakistan are portrayed as equal belligerents or equally guilty of protracting the dispute, however, can be found in any of the world’s major newspapers, including The New York Times, where a search of the word ‘Kashmir’ in its archives reveals headlines such as: ‘Rising Tensions in Kashmir’, ‘Kashmir in Crisis’ and ‘Violence in Kashmir’.

A more accurate telling of these stories would read: ‘India Rises Tensions in Kashmir’, ‘India Puts Kashmir in Crisis’, and ‘Indian Military Violence in Kashmir’ – given that India is almost solely responsible for all international law and human rights violations in the region.

Pakistan does not murder the Kashmiri people and then bury their bodies in mass and unmarked graves. India, on the other hand, has killed more than 100,000 of them since 1989 – the year a Kashmiri insurgency broke out in response to New Delhi rigging elections and shooting protestors. A 2011 human rights commission inquiry into India’s atrocities in Kashmir found the existence of 2,700 unknown, unmarked and mass graves, containing 2,943 bodies.

Many of the corpses were bullet-riddled, decapitated or mutilated.

It was India, not Pakistan, that violated the ceasefire line more than 1,300 times in the past year, including artillery and air force strikes. Sure, Pakistan military responds in kind, but the key difference is that it does not target civilians or residential neighbourhoods or use human shields.

Ultimately, it is Pakistan, not India, that wants to internationalise this conflict. It is Pakistan, not India, pledging to allow the Kashmiri people to determine their own future, and thus it is India, not Pakistan, that continues to make Kashmir the world’s hottest nuclear flashpoint.

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