Detroit, Michigan. September 1, 2014. ‘Kashmiris have wanted to be involved in discussions since 1947,’ said Dr Ghulam Nabi Mir, Chairman of the seminar, Kashmir: Time for Peace and Justice’, held during the 51st Annual Convention of ISNA, highlighting the importance of retaining focus on the sixty-seven year-old dispute between India and Pakistan over the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir. Dr. Mir added that the international community must take into account the Kashmiri perspective which is more important than the perspective of India or Pakistan and for that matter more important than the perspective of the international community.
Victoria Schofield, author and commentator, and the key-note speaker who has written extensively on the region, gave five reasons why the Kashmir issue should remain on the international agenda. Firstly, the fact that the status of the state of Jammu and Kashmir was unresolved at independence in 1947 has caused unending conflict between India and Pakistan, leading to wars in 1965, 1971 and 1999. Secondly, because of their longstanding enmity, both India and Pakistan had felt compelled to develop nuclear weapons; thirdly, because of the dangerous domestic narratives which run in both countries, encouraging non-state actors to perpetrate acts of violence – such as on the Delhi parliament in 2001 and at several locations in Mumbai in 2008 – which only serves to exacerbate relations between the two countries, potentially leading to the worst case scenario of a nuclear exchange; fourthly, because of the humanitarian suffering among the inhabitants which has cost thousands of lives and affected the lives of millions in the region; fifthly, because of the waste of economic resources which could be spent on poverty eradication, health, education and development.
‘No other issue of contention,’ Schofield stressed, ‘be it the pain and trauma still felt over partition, the unresolved territorial dispute over Sir Creek, the anger felt in Pakistan over the secession of Bangladesh in 1971, the dispute over Siachen or rivalry in Afghanistan has the potential to create such enmity between two large and important neighbours, which, in turn, has led to great suffering and uncertainty for the people living in Jammu and Kashmir.’
Dr. Ghulam Nabi Fai, long-term advocate of the Kashmiris’ right of self-determination, stressed the importance of talks between India and Pakistan. Referring to the presence of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif at Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s inauguration in Delhi, he said: ‘If India and Pakistan don’t talk at all, then there is no chance they will talk about Kashmir’. ‘These talks, he said, have been responsible in diffusing the tensions between New Delhi and Islamabad.’ But, he emphasised, if there is no change in the thought process ‘then these talks are not going to take us anywhere.’ He also stressed that the issue was one about the rights of people to determine their future and not about terrorism. ‘When I analyse the question of Kashmir I feel honoured that the people of Kashmir have a really genuine cause.’ Coverage of the frequent demonstrations on the streets of Srinagar since 2008 showed that there were no guns in the hands of the Kashmiri youth. ‘The presence of one million people reflects the true nature of the Kashmir movement – peaceful and indigenous.’
Dr. Fai also wanted to clarify his own position in relation to legal proceedings against him initiated in 2011. ‘I am not an agent of the Government of Pakistan; that charge was withdrawn. The Judge in my case also affirmed that ‘I do not doubt that your mission over the last 25 years has been a mission to bring peace to Kashmir.’ However, I made mistakes, Fai admitted, for which I paid a heavy price and was incarcerated for two years.
Speaking to an American audience, Fai wished to emphasise the relevance of the Kashmir issue to the United States. ‘We are all Americans of different backgrounds. We are proud to be Americans. The United States was the primary sponsor of Resolution # 47 adopted by the United Nations Security Council on April 21, 1948 which has given the Kashmiris the right of self-determination.’ Referring to President Obama’s statement before he took the oath of office that he would facilitate an understanding between India and Pakistan, he conceded that words could not always be translated into actions. Even so he believed it was significant that, when visiting New Delhi in November 2010, the US President had highlighted the fact that Jammu and Kashmir was a disputed territory and that the resolution of Kashmir was ‘in the interests of the region; it is in the interests of the two countries involved and it is in the interests of the United States of America.’
Emphasising that it was in the interests of the region and the United States that the issue should be resolved, Dr Fai cited the belief of scholars and commentators, in particular Mr. Pankaj Mishra, an eminent Indian writer who said that ‘the road to stability in Pakistan and Afghanistan runs through the valley of Kashmir.’ Looking forward to the probable meeting between Prime Ministers Modi and Sharif at the General Assembly in New York in September, 2014, Fai said that this would be the 173rd round of talks between India and Pakistan – ‘that means all the previous talks have failed. They have failed because they talk about Kashmir without the participation of the Kashmiri leadership. The talks have to be trilateral. Both India and Pakistan are important parties, but neither country has the legal right to decide the future of Jammu and Kashmir. The best solution is to have a referendum.’
Referring to the Chatham House report, Kashmir: Paths to Peace, which carried out a survey of what the Kashmiris wanted, he highlighted the fact that according to the survey – published in 2010 – 90-95% of Kashmiris in the valley wanted azadi. ‘So when the people of Kashmir are given the choice, they must have all the three choices – to go to India, Pakistan or independence. When the issue is resolved it will bring peace to Kashmir and to the whole region, ‘ he concluded.
The next speaker, Mr Lars Rise, a former member of the Norwegian Parliament and leader of the Kashmir group, made it clear that now was the time ‘to harvest the fruits of all the sacrifices that have been made. Our common aim is to have a peaceful solution which has as a first priority the well-being of the people of Kashmir. We cannot have another sixty-year struggle.’ Unfortunately, he said, attention was focused on other conflicts in Iraq with the IS groups ‘which is horrifying to the whole world,’ Gaza and the civil war in Syria. ‘Even the current political protests against the government in Pakistan are barely mentioned.’ The question, he said, was how to put Kashmir on the top of the agenda of foreign policy makers in Europe and Asia. A first step would be to create an umbrella organisation of all those in favour of having a referendum, including all groups, Muslims, Hindu Pandits, Sikhs, Buddhists. Secondly, ‘we have to intensify the work with confidence building measures. I am sure with their Sufist traditions and history of tolerance that the people of Kashmir are capable of building a bridge between India and Pakistan. The land is so rich and fertile, providing vast economic opportunities which have been squandered by decades of occupational aggression.’ If a peaceful solution could be reached, Mr. Rise believed that Kashmir would be ‘an attractive place’ for investment. ‘Our effort should be to persuade the world community including the United States to urge both India and Pakistan to include the people of Kashmir in resolving the dispute’. Emphasising that the Norwegian government has always supported talks, he said that he hoped the Government of India could create Kashmir-focused CBMs, which could include the release of political prisoners, getting rid of what are called ‘black laws’, dismantling the bunkers and giving freedom of speech to Kashmiris. ENDS