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Kashmir: why talk to India?

  0 comments   |     by Munir Akram

FOLLOWING the extensive discussions at the recent Pakistan envoys’ conference, Pakistan proposed a ‘separate’ dialogue on Jammu and Kashmir to India.

As expected, India promptly interposed preconditions for the talks, even more onerous than in the past. Pakistan’s counter — that the talks would be strictly on the basis of the UN resolutions on Kashmir — indicates that the proposal for talks was largely a tactical move to expose India’s obduracy.

It would have been unseemly to hold talks with India when it has just killed over 70 Kashmiris like Burhan Wani and blinded hundreds, including small children, and is continuing with its campaign of oppression. A ‘separate’ dialogue on Kashmir will not stop India’s repression. On the contrary, talks would have enabled India to deflect world attention from its atrocities by focusing on ‘terrorism’ and could have defused this latest Kashmiri revolt.

During Kashmir’s last major revolt in the 1990s, Pakistan refused talks with India unless it agreed to substantive discussions on the Kashmir dispute. Detailed proposals and counter proposals were exchanged prior to and following the foreign secretary-level talks in 1994. Pakistan called for implementation of the UN resolutions; India obfuscated. But, its foreign secretary indicated a readiness for a solution based on ‘autonomy plus’ (that is, more than provided in Article 370 of the Indian constitution) and ‘independence minus’ (that is, short of full statehood).

Talks with India at this point will not resolve the dispute and could demoralise the Kashmiris.

Obviously, since then, the ‘correlation of forces’ have moved negatively against Pakistan and the Kashmiri people. The Kashmiri freedom struggle was infiltrated and corrupted by India’s intelligence agencies, and then brutally suppressed by its half-a-million-man occupation force. After 9/11, and the attack on the Indian parliament, Pakistan was obliged, under heavy US pressure, to undertake not to allow its territory to be used by ‘terrorists’. As Islamabad’s support to the Kashmiri struggle ended, some ‘jihadist’ groups turned against Pakistan or went ‘rogue’. India now portrays any resistance in Kashmir as terrorism. Its powerful Western allies now accept this equation, enabling India to act with complete impunity in suppressing Kashmiri demands for azadi (freedom).

There is thus no point in talks with India at this time. It will not resolve the dispute; it could demoralise the Kashmiris. There are, however, two objectives which Pakistan can promote to help the Kashmiris; neither requires talks with India.

First, Pakistan should launch a major diplomatic offensive in international forums and the world’s capitals to halt India’s massive human rights violations in occupied Kashmir. Pakistan can call for: international investigations of India’s reported crimes, including the murder of Burhan Wani and blinding of unarmed children; the release of thousands of Kashmiri prisoners; the abrogation of India’s emergency laws; freedom for the Kashmiris to demonstrate peacefully; freedom for Kashmiri leaders to travel abroad and be released from imprisonment or house arrest; provision of medical and material assistance, including from Pakistan, to the suffering Kashmiris; withdrawal of Indian security forces from towns and villages into their cantonments and barracks; repatriation of all the refugees from India-held Kashmir, presently in Pakistan or elsewhere.

To be taken seriously, such demands would have to be translated into official proposals in the relevant international forums, such as the UN Human Rights Council and the General Assembly. Even if such proposals do not command majority support, they would draw world attention to the plight and aspirations of the Kashmiris and oblige Western governments and UN officials to press India to ease its oppression. More importantly, this will reinforce Kashmiri resistance.

Pakistan’s second objective should be to revalidate the legitimacy of the Kashmiri freedom struggle and distinguish this from ‘terrorism’.

There is a substantial body of international law and precedent to establish the legitimacy of the Kashmiri freedom struggle. The right to self determination is a central principle enshrined in the UN Charter. It has been repeatedly reaffirmed as a right of colonised and ‘dependent’ peoples. The Security Council resolutions on Kashmir have called for a plebiscite to enable the Kashmiri people to exercise their right to self-determination.

Further, UN General Assembly Resolution 2649 ( 1970) “affirms the legitimacy of the struggle of peoples under colonial and alien domination recognised as being entitled to the right of self determination to restore to themselves that right by any means at their disposal”. It was explicitly recognised in UN debates that “any means at their disposal”, includes armed struggle. The resolution also “recognises the right” of such peoples “to seek and receive all kinds of moral and material assistance” in the “legitimate exercise of their right to self-determination”. It is not illegal for Pakistan or anyone else to support the freedom struggle of the Kashmiris.

Pakistan should clearly reaffirm this internationally endorsed legal and political position and assert the right to provide both moral and material support to the Kashmiris. At present, such material support could be in various forms: finance for rehabilitation of Kashmiri families uprooted by Indian security forces; help to the Hurriyet for political mobilisation; expenses for the travel of Kashmiri leaders and for Kashmiris seeking medical treatment abroad; scholarships for Kashmiri youth in Pakistani and other educational institutions. Pakistan’s clear and tangible support to the Kashmiri resistance will make it easier for the government to act against outlawed groups which have assumed the mantle of solidarity with the Kashmiri struggle.

Promoting the two objectives outlined here may not immediately change the current balance of power within Kashmir. However, the Kashmiris have displayed extraordinary courage and resilience over the past 70 years in resisting India’s occupation. Today, a third generation of Kashmiris has risen to confront Indian rule. With moral and material support from Pakistan, the Kashmiris can sustain this resistance. Ultimately, like so many other peoples under colonial and alien domination, the Kashmiris will succeed in winning their freedom.

What Pakistan can do is to create the best conditions for the success of their struggle. This requires, for the present, active and bold diplomatic action by Pakistan; not talks with India. A Pakistan-India dialogue will be meaningful only when India comes to the conclusion that it cannot sustain its occupation of Kashmir — politically, militarily and morally.

The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN.

Published in Dawn, August 21st, 2016

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