Time to take Kashmir back to world stage: President of AJK

Time to take Kashmir back to world stage: President of AJK
‘Bilateral process between India and Pakistan a mirage,’ says president of Pakistan-administered Kashmir

Anadolu Agency staff |



President of Pakistan-administrated Kashmir (PaK) Sardar Masood Khan called upon the international community to focus on the Kashmir conflict, as people in the region are suffering for decades.

In an exclusive interview with Anadolu Agency (AA) in Ankara, Khan spoke on security issues, humanitarian conditions and the role of international community, besides emphasizing to launch humanitarian diplomacy which Turkey has been practicing in different regions, to ameliorate sufferings of people.

AA: Kashmir is one of the reasons that India and Pakistan are engaged in political and military conflict since 1947. What are the basic dynamics of the conflict?

Sardar Masood Khan (SMK): Basic dynamics have remained the same since 1947. There has been repression from decades. Recent phase has been a catastrophic chapter for the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Few people know that after the (February 14) Pulwama attack followed by military exchanges between India and Pakistan on February 26 and 27, India has intensified its cordon and search operations (CASOs). Genuine leadership in the region is behind bars. Through its National Investigation Agency (NIA), political leaders and activists are being persecuted. So, it is a hell for the Kashmiris, if I would like to put it very simply. The situation is grim and gruesome. Indian leaders have also used oppression in Kashmir as a fodder in their election campaign, particularly by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led by Narendra Modi. He has showcased repression against Kashmiris as a strong point of his party to solicit votes. This is one aspect.

Other is that in the backdrop of the Pulwama attack and also military exchanges, India has taken hatred against Pakistan to higher levels never seen before. The Hindu extremists have orchestrated a campaign against Pakistan. In election rallies, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has threatened to use nuclear weapons against Pakistan to wipe out it from the face of earth. This, I would call, is nuclear terrorism. Since1947, we are exploring a diplomatic space to resolve the issue of Jammu and Kashmir.

When international community became intensely interested in the situation of Jammu and Kashmir in February, they were more concerned about the security of the region. They wanted to prevent escalation so that India and Pakistan do not use nuclear weapons. So, they were more interested in security of the region. They, did not focus on the humanitarian crisis unfolding every day in Kashmir. They have not paid much attention to the cause of the tensions — the Jammu and Kashmir dispute, to grant right to self-determination or to end coercion against the people of Jammu and Kashmir.

AA: You mean that the ruling BJP as well as other parties are using this issue as part of political agenda to win elections.

SMK: Absolutely, without a shadow of a doubt. You know, they are selling hatred, violence against Muslims in Kashmir as a plus point to appeal to voters. So, hatred and violence are the latest currency which the BJP is using and it is not just the BJP, there is a network of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) – patron or all Hindu nationalist organizations, including the BJP. Then there are other violent extremist organizations – Bajrang Dal, Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council), Shiv Sena (Army of Shivaji) that spew venom. This family of violent extremists is pushing an agenda against the Kashmiris.

AA: What kind of political solution can be applied to resolve the Kashmir conflict? What kind of a role, you suggest for the international community including Turkey? You have been alarming the world about a “nuclear Armageddon” with catastrophic consequences. Has it become impossible to resolve the Kashmir issue after India and Pakistan became nuclear powers?

SMK: A political solution is possible when all the parties to the dispute come to the negotiating table. Now, the people of Jammu and Kashmir and the state and people of Pakistan are ready for that process. The UN has not said “no”, although it has not implemented the resolutions that it passed back in the 1940s and 1950s. But it has not said “no” to a democratic and diplomatic process. There is only one country which is obstructing the process — that is India. It has chosen the path of brutalizing the people of Jammu and Kashmir.

A solution is already on the table given by the UN Security Council (UNSC) when India had approached the world body. The solution was that a referendum, or a plebiscite, would be held under the auspices of the UN to ascertain wishes of people of Jammu and Kashmir.

AA: Will plebiscite cover all regions of Kashmir?

SMK: The whole of Kashmir which include five regions that we have today — Gilgit Baltistan, Azad Kashmir, Ladakh, the Valley of Kashmir and Jammu.

This was the decision by the UNSC, consented by India and Pakistan and also accepted by the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Other solutions can evolve, if all sides have a kind of engagement. Because India is blocking all sorts of engagement, we cannot have a quest for an alternate solution.

Kashmir ‘not a bilateral issue’

Kashmir is not a bilateral issue and cannot be bilateralized. It is India’s preference to present it as a bilateral issue, a border dispute between India and Pakistan. But this is not a reality. The international community should focus on the Kashmir dispute, not just through a security prism and the consequences of a clash between India and Pakistan. But it should focus on the root cause — the denial of the right to self-determination to the people of Jammu and Kashmir, and gross violations of human rights. Unless you do that, at the official level, at the level of the UNSC, at the level of the capitals or the governments of the most powerful nations, this issue will continue to be a potent threat to the international peace and security. So, we need to involve the entire international community.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights released a report last year (June 2018), which was followed by a similar report by the British parliament. Earlier in 2017 the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation (OIC) produced a comprehensive report recording the human rights violations by the Indian occupation forces. Earlier this year, a hearing was conducted by the human rights committee of the European Parliament in Brussels.

So, these are positive steps in the right direction. But these steps are inadequate. The governments have to act on the recommendations of these reports and they have to invest their time, energy and political will, in ending repression in Kashmir and in developing mechanisms for the resolution of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute.

‘Nuclear Armageddon’

If there is a nuclear exchange and some people may choose to call it a limited nuclear exchange, it would not remain confined to the region. The consequences will be dangerous not just for India and Pakistan, but for the entire world.

I have listed its consequences in various presentations. There would be a massive radiation which would affect 2.5 billion people in South Asia. Some 20 million people will die. There would be an outflow of refugees and economic migrants to many parts of the world including Europe, Asia Pacific, North America, the Gulf region, Central Asia, in all directions. There will be a nuclear winter. The climate change would affect the entire humankind.

So, I think it is responsibility of the international community to avert such a war. But to avert such a war, you have to address the root cause which is the dispute of Kashmir.

AA: The conflict in Kashmir is not just related to politics, economy, and geopolitics, but it is also about humans. Can you tell us about the human dimension of the Kashmir conflict?

SMK: There is a humanitarian crisis in the Indian-occupied Kashmir. The people from the territory will tell you what happens to the population there. There are long curfews, cordon and search operations (CASOs), there is an information blockade and there is also the closure of main road between Srinagar and Jammu. Harassment, persecution, hunting down, insults, disruption of business and humiliations are order of the day. Sources of livelihood of people have been destroyed.

For instance, crops have been burnt, orchards have been brought down, houses and businesses have been razed to ground. There is a humanitarian crisis of a bigger magnitude. People have demonstrated the will to live with this continuing perennially unfolding humanitarian crisis.

I have been talking to the Turkish interlocutors and the humanitarian organizations. They said that they are ready to help the people of Kashmir to provide some relief to them but the Indian government does not agree to such offers. They want to tell the world that here is this territory where there are some terrorists and the Indian government or the Indian forces are fighting these terrorists, This is the biggest falsehood and the lie of our times.

AA: If and when, a plebiscite is held, will it be held across Line of Control (LOC)?

SMK: Yes, in the entire territory. I mean if a referendum is held in accordance with the UNSC resolutions, then the population of entire territory, all the five regions that I identified would participate in the referendum.

AA: When it (referendum) will happen?

SMK: Once India is ready.

AA: So, is this still on the table?

SMK: Our stance is that these resolutions are valid. India’s stance is that they held elections in the 1950s to set up a constituent assembly and those elections constituted the will of people. We do not agree, and the UNSC also does not agree. There are two resolutions passed by the Security Council. The last resolution number 122 clearly stipulates that actions taken by the constituent assembly or the elections held by the Indian and Kashmiri authorities is not a substitute to the UN-prescribed and UN-mandated referendum or plebiscite.

‘Quadrilateral dispute’

AA: You had been a career diplomat before becoming the president and you mentioned that the Kashmir issue does not resonate in the world capitals as the other disputes like Palestine. Why it is so? What is your government doing to generate interest of world capitals on the Kashmir dispute? Recently, India suspended trade activity across the Line of Control. They said it was being used to push drugs and arms. Why your government provided such an excuse to India? About your description of international nature of the Kashmir dispute, the 1972 Shimla Agreement, signed between India and Pakistan, has converted it into a bilateral dispute?

SMK: Kashmir dispute does not resonate abroad, as a serious conflict, because India has succeeded convincing the world that it is a bilateral issue. But it is not so. It is a trilateral dispute because it involves India, Pakistan and the people of Jammu and Kashmir. In fact, a quadrilateral dispute as it involves the UN also. The most important party is the people — because they have to decide about their own future.

In good faith I would say, from 1972 to 1989, we did not go to the international community with vigor. And, even after the 1990s, Pakistan tried to engage India at the bilateral plain, to find a solution. That is why both countries had a series of meetings under the composite dialogue process. But they proved unproductive and to say counterproductive.

The stance that — the 1972 Shimla Agreement has made Kashmir a bilateral issue, is one of India’s fabrications. I have read the agreement; its preamble starts with the UN charter. They (India and Pakistan) talk about the bilateral contacts. In addition, they talk about their respective positions on the issues. They also talk about the final dispositions of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute.

I do not have text of the agreement in front of me. But I can tell you that it (Shimla Agreement) has not bilateralized the issue. I can go with you paragraph by paragraph and tell that this was not the intention of Pakistan at that time and this is not the interpretation that we subscribe to. And again, it is self-serving for India to say there is a bilateral issue. First, they reduced it to a bilateral matter and then when we go to Delhi or invite them to Islamabad, then they do not talk on Kashmir at all. So, this is just a manipulation. They do not sincerely believe that this is a bilateral issue either which needs resolution.

Return to International Community

Since I assumed presidency in August 2016, I have been visiting different capitals. I have been talking to the leadership in Pakistan to persuade and convince them that we cannot get results out of a bilateral process which has proved to be a mirage. We must return to the international community because Kashmir dispute is quite essentially an international dispute. It cannot be resolved between New Delhi and Islamabad because India is not sincere. It does not cooperate with Pakistan in finding a just, lasting and an enduring solution.

Regarding trade across the LoC, let me clarify, India acts like the judge, the jury and the executioner. All of a sudden in the midst of their (2019) elections, they raised this issue that all these trucks carrying merchandise across the LoC, had some weapons and drugs. Why were they (Indian authorities) silent all these years? And, what were their border officials doing? So, we think this is one of ploys to demonize Pakistan and this fits into their approach to level allegations without any shred of evidence or proof. If there was a complaint, we could have investigated it jointly. When were the weapons loaded and by whom? Who had cleared them, Pakistani side or the Indian side? Were the officials complicit? Did it happen at all?

Kashmir after Indian elections

AA: Kashmir issue is being used by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a tool to win elections, as you mentioned. What is the stance of other Indian political parties, say the opposition Congress? Is there any possibility that after Indian elections the dimension of the conflict will change? If Modi is reelected, what kind of actions he would take?

SMK: The rhetoric chosen by Modi and his extremist affiliates has changed character of the Indian electorate. Even other parties in order to lure extremist Hindu votes are competing with Modi. This is a tragedy. This has happened in India recently. The space for a secular vote has shrunk as a result of extremist positions taken by Modi and his associates.

The second thing is that Congress party in the past when it was in power, were no lily whites, as far as Kashmir goes. It was equally brutal and oppressive towards the people of Jammu Kashmir. The only difference is that the Modi government shows off its muscles. They call it a muscular policy.

There is this “Doval doctrine”, put up by India’s current national security advisor Ajit Doval. It says kill Kashmiris, subject Kashmiris to an unbearable punishment, do not talk to the Kashmiri leadership, particularly Hurriyat [Conference] leadership, and third is, do not discuss Kashmir with Pakistan or do not engage Pakistan on Kashmir. This is exactly what is happening. They are pursuing this muscular policy, but the Congress was no less oppressive and brutal.

Peace diplomacy

On what will happen after elections, I do not want to speculate. There are indications that Modi might well be reelected. If he is reelected, it doesn’t mean he would come back cleansed as far as Kashmir is concerned. There is possibility that he would continue to pursue his extremist, fundamentalist rhetoric against Muslims in India and against the Kashmiris and against the state of Pakistan. But you know, in international politics anything can happen. We don’t know what would be composition of the government after the (Indian) elections. As far as the people and the state of Pakistan are concerned, I would say they really want to invest in peace diplomacy. They want engagement at all levels, bilateral level but with sincerity. Kashmiris and Pakistan would welcome any third-party mediation. We would welcome if the UN particularly the UNSC becomes more active.

AA: You are an experienced former diplomat. You worked in the UN representing Pakistan. How do you see international community’s position on Kashmir issue? Whether it is sincere? What do you think about that?

SMK: I have been in the United Nations both in Geneva and New York. I have done multilateral diplomacy for decades. You know right now we have a barrier in front of us. Within the permanent five, which is the U.S., the U.K., and France are closely aligned with India. They would try to protect India in the UNSC and promote India’s interest. They are not ready to move forward on Kashmir.

Role of China

There are other permanent members. China has offered mediation from time to time through informal channels or at least has tried to de-escalate situation between two countries, by offering good offices. But the offer has been rejected by India. My sense is that since the Kashmiri struggle is legitimate, people have given immense sacrifices, they have vowed to would get their freedom and the right to self-determination under all circumstances.

My message to Kashmiris is, do not lose heart. My message to the international community is, do not let this crime continue under your eyes and under your watch. The Kashmiris would win their freedom in any case, but the international community should play its role to reduce their pain.

AA: President Recep Tayyip Erdogan over past 5 years has been stressing need to reform the UN structure. There are 5 permanent members who could not solve problems be that Syria or Kashmir. What do you think about reformation of the UN?

SMK: In fact, Turkey and Pakistan are comrades in a small group, which is called Uniting for Consensus (UfC) within the UN. And together both the countries have been pressing to reform the UNSC and the organization as a whole. And we firmly believe that the pact should not remain concentrated in the hands of only five permanent members. But we believe that there should be no new permanent members and we should democratize the UN structure. I strongly believe that the UN needs to be reformed and I think that the collective efforts of the UfC, Turkey and Pakistan would succeed. We would continue to move in that direction. We would continue to obstruct moves of creating new centers of privilege in the UN in the form of new permanent members.

Role of Turkey

The second aspect is that we are grateful to the leadership of President Erdogan and Turkey. He has spoken to the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres about the plight of Kashmiris, about the need to address the Jammu Kashmir dispute in accordance with wishes of Kashmiri people. We are also grateful to the President of Turkey for demonstrating leadership in regard to Kashmir in the OIC.

I remember I was there in the (Pakistan) Parliament Hall in 2016 when President Erdogan spoke to the people of Pakistan and to the people of Jammu Kashmir. He said that Turkey felt pain of the people of Jammu Kashmir. He emphasized that the Jammu and Kashmir dispute should be resolved in accordance with the UNSC resolutions and through diplomacy. We are grateful to the nation of Turkey and its leadership. I have been talking to different audiences here in Istanbul and Ankara. I have suggested to them that since we have strong faith in Turkey, the people of Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistan would appreciate, if Turkey takes an initiative with India by trying to bring together all the stakeholders around a diplomatic table. India would, of course, say “no”, but Turkey and the international community should not take India’s “no” for an answer. But continue to persevere and persuade India to return to diplomacy, to come out of the state of denial — that the Kashmir dispute does not exist at all.

Humanitarian diplomacy

I have also picked up a new term here, which is called, humanitarian diplomacy, which Turkey has been practicing it in different regions. Probably, the time is right for initiating humanitarian diplomacy on Kashmir also.

There are also two levels, to which I have been referring to. One is hard-core top diplomacy, government to government, leadership to leadership, but then there is another type of diplomacy which can be people to people, think-tank to think-tank and at humanitarian organizations’ levels to create more space for consultation and conversation, between the stakeholders. We may find some sort of light at the end of the tunnel.

AA: Modi has also promised to abrogate the article 370 of the Indian constitution. It means that they are going to change the demographics of Kashmir and then they will agree to hold a plebiscite? Are there any precautionary measures to be taken from your side?

SMK: We cannot directly interfere in the Indian-occupied Kashmir. The people of Indian-occupied Kashmir themselves have reason against these moves and have been resisting such moves. But the Indian government is ruthless in pursuing its agenda. This article 370 is now an empty shell. I mean its real value is symbolic, not substantive because all these years its provisions have been diluted or eroded.

The other provision — article 35A — which grants separate citizenship rights to permanent residents of Jammu and Kashmir, is important. It does not allow non-residents and citizens of India to make settlements in Kashmir. They want to attack and scuttle and eliminate this article. That would be a very serious move and we hope that this does not happen. I am told that even Hindus in Jammu and Buddhists in Ladakh are opposed to this move, because they too, have special privileges and they do not want to surrender them.

So, my own sense is that yes, they are trying to change the demographic composition of the Indian-occupied Kashmir. They are settling the West Pakistani refugees and building illegal settlements for former armed personnel to manipulate with the statistics and the electoral constituencies. But I do not think that India has any intention of saying “yes” to a plebiscite at any stage even if they start to initiate these measures.

AA: Let us suppose a plebiscite is held in Jammu Kashmir today and the outcome is a sovereign state of Kashmir. How would you take it and what would be your and the government of Pakistan’s response?

SMK: If we would implement the resolution which is passed by the UNSC in 1950s, there is no third option. There are only two options, India or Pakistan. But a sovereign independent state will have to find a different formula. Under the present formula, this is not possible.