Human rights work in tandem with Kashmir peace initiatives. The two do not war with one another. The idea that suppression of human rights promotes peace is discredited by all history, including that of Kashmir. The denial of freedom of speech, association, religion, due process, equal justice, and self-determination in Kashmir has sabotaged peace, not boosted its chances. Ditto in the past for East Timor, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Macedonia, Kosovo, Southern Sudan and etc. The people of Kashmir no less demand dignity and respect than do other peoples.
History should not imprison the future, but neither can it be ignored in assessing the justice and morality of aspirations. A brief chronicling of Kashmir’s history will enlighten understanding of its current plight and viable solutions.
The territory was a princely state ruled over by an oppressive Maharajah at the time British India was partitioned in 1947. The partition lines were drawn with a religious eye. In cases of doubt as to the sovereignty sentiments of a region, the British held plebiscites, which were honored. The more than 500 princely states enjoyed the option of acceding to India, Pakistan, or choosing independence on August 15, 1947, the date when British sovereignty lapsed. Kashmir was one of three states that had not chosen an option at the deadline. With regard to the other two, (Junagarh and Hyderabad) which were predominately Hindu but ruled over by Muslims, India by force of arms insisted on a plebiscite. Both voted in favor of accession to India.
Kashmir presented the flipside of the issue. According to the self-determination standard for princely states promulgated by India’s Prime Minister Nehru, a plebiscite should have been held in Kashmir to determine its sovereign future. Every reasonable opinion knew that Kashmiris would then have voted either for independence or accession to Pakistan.
Knowing that self-determination for Kashmir would prove adverse to its interests, India schemed with the Maharaja to fabricate a document of accession that would save the Maharaja from toppling to indigenous insurgent forces. India also arranged for the Maharaja to invite its army to defeat the insurgency, which provoked Pakistan to rally military in their support.
India raced to the United Nations Security Council and the Council enacted resolutions in 1948 and 1949, eagerly accepted by both India and Pakistan, stipulating a self-determination plebiscite for Kashmir conducted by the United Nations. In preparation for the voting, Indian and Pakistan forces would be substantially thinned. India, however, quickly fabricated excuses for foiling self-determination by raising endless quibbles about demobilization and scaling back its military presence. The sole reason for India’s obstructionism was knowledge that Kashmiris would never vote accession to its orbit.
India thus unilaterally annexed Kashmir in the early 1950s with a special constitutional status that promised autonomy. But India gradually reneged on its promise, and Kashmir was reduced to virtually the same status as all of India’s other States.
Kashmiris, however, are exceptionally patient and accommodating. For years they struggled through peaceful and democratic means to protest their denial of self-determination. But 1987 marked the straw that broke the camel’s back. Another rigged election by India created despair, especially among the Kashmiri youth. ‘India Today’ magazine reported, “In the Amira Kadal constituency of Srinagar, Muslim United Front (MUF’s) Syed Mohammed Yusuf Shah (Alias: Syed Salahuddin) was a candidate. As the vote counting began, it was becoming clear that Yusuf Shah was winning by a landslide. His opponent, Ghulam Mohiuddin Shah, went home dejected. But he was summoned back by the electoral officials and declared the winner. When the crowds protested, the police arrived and arrested Yusuf Shah and his supporters. They were held in custody till the end of 1987.” Further, India’s ruthless suppression of peaceful dissent destroyed the moderate option, resulting in the latest uprising in 1989.
Since the 1989 uprising, more than 100,000 Kashmiris have died. Greater numbers have been tortured, mutilated, kidnapped and arbitrarily arrested. Political prisoners number in the thousands. Emergency laws were enacted. The gruesome human rights landscape in Kashmir has been confirmed by every independent human rights organization in addition to the recent report by the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights.
Although it is neither for Pakistan nor for India to determine the self-determination timetable for more than 22 million Kashmiris, we welcome the peace initiative between the South Asian neighbors, which include negotiations over Kashmir. We believe in the universality of human rights and human aspirations. Thus, we welcome the initiative to the extent it seeks to lift a heavy financial and military burden from the necks of Pakistan and Indian.
India’s so-called “democracy” in Kashmir resembles Myanmar’s patently bogus democracy. The recent nationwide Panchayat (local bodies) elections are emblematic. Let me review the stunning voter boycott statistics from Srinagar and its surroundings on October 15, 2018.
The Economic Times reported on October 18, 2018 that when the time for voting had ended, the turnout for the final phase of elections, which was held only for two municipal bodies in Kashmir, remained low as usual at 4.2 per cent.
These boycott figures are not aberrational but typical. They represent a stunning vote of no confidence by the Kashmiri people in their current illegal governance by India.
Kashmir’s right, however, is not self-executing. Diplomacy, perseverance, and small but gradual steps will be necessary. The following is urgent to jump start progress on human rights and peace in Kashmir:
- India must repeal all of its draconian laws that violate human rights in Kashmir;
- Military hostilities must cease immediately, and a scheduled withdrawal of security forces should commence;
- All political prisoners must be released;
- Fundamental human rights to assemble peacefully for political purposes, to freedom of speech and of association, and to freedom of religion should be recognized and honored;
- Kashmiris should be included in all future negotiations along with India and Pakistan..
Fulfillment of this 5-point agenda would not be a dead end but a beginning of a better tomorrow.
The peace process and human rights in Kashmir cannot be separated. They will succeed or fail together. We hope we can count on the moral suasion and conscience of the world leaders to push success forward.
Dr. Fai is the Secretary General, World Kashmir Awareness Forum and can be reached at: 1-202-607-6435 or firstname.lastname@example.org