In a ringing declaration, the International Solidarity Conference on Kashmir held in Toronto on May 24 called for an immediate end to the gross human rights violations in Indian-Occupied Kashmir and demanded a referendum to determine the wishes of the people. A follow-up conference was held in Hamilton, a city 70 miles west of Toronto on May 25.
More than 500 participants attended the conference organized by the Friends of Kashmir and the Canadian Council for Justice and Peace. There were also a number of Canadian journalists and academics present at the conference. Chaired by Zafar Bangash, Director Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought (ICIT), the Conference addressed a range of issues related to Kashmir.
International speakers among them Lord Nazir Ahmed of Britain as well as British MP Sir Gerald Kaufman, drew attention to the denial of the fundamental right of the Kashmiris despite repeated pledges by Indian leaders in the past to respect their wishes in a free and impartial plebiscite.
These pledges were enshrined in numerous UN Security Council resolutions when then Indian Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru took the matter to the Security Council in January 1948.
The Security Council established a Commission on India and Pakistan (UNCIP) to solicit the views and agreements of both parties before presenting a resolution to the Security Council. On January 21, 1948, the Security Council passed resolution number 47 affirming the right of the Kashmiri people to a referendum so that their views could be determined on whether they wished to be part of India or join Pakistan. In subsequent years, more resolutions were passed at the Security Council, each re-affirming the referendum proposal.
Lord Qurban Hussain of Britain and Dr Zulfiqar Gilani, former Vice Chancellor of Peshawar University, highlighted the gross human rights violations in Kashmir. Lord Qurban in particular painted a grim picture of mass murders and torture of Kashmir youth and the rape of more than 10,000 Kashmiri women. Thousands of Kashmiri youth have simply disappeared never to be heard of again. Periodically, their tortured-riddled bodies are found dumped in some locality of Kashmir.
While claiming to be the “largest democracy” in the world, Indian occupation forces continue to operate with a culture of impunity in which not one Indian soldier or member of other security forces has even been tried or convicted for these egregious crimes.
International human rights organizations, among them Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the All-Parties Peoples Tribunal on Human Rights Violations in Kashmir (APTK) have detailed the terrible crimes perpetrated by Indian occupation forces. In fact the APTK, comprising lawyers from the Indian Supreme Court have called upon the International Criminal Court (ICC) to try Indian politicians and generals for war crimes and crimes against humanity since successive Indian governments have not only failed but refuse to put on trial the perpetrators of such crimes.
The position of the Pakistani government was presented by Nafees Zakaria, Consul General of Pakistan in Toronto, who stated that Pakistan extends full moral, political and diplomatic support to the Kashmiri people to attain their long-denied right to hold a referendum. The Pakistani Consul General also touched on the manipulation of the demarcation of the boundary between India and Pakistan. He pointed out that the Boundary Commission headed by Sir Cyril Radcliffe violated the principle of partition put forward by Lord Louis Mountbatten, the last British Viceroy to India that Muslim majority areas would constitute Pakistan and Hindu majority areas would go to India. Leaders of the Indian Congress and Muslim League had also accepted this principle.
Radcliffe’s Boundary Commission award went against this principle especially in the two crucial districts of Gurdaspur and Ferozepore. By awarding these Muslim majority districts to India, Radcliffe essentially facilitated India’s access into Kashmir and thereby its occupation. The sordid conduct of India and its occupation forces in Kashmir has been the direct result of this manipulation right at the beginning of this tragedy
Canadian journalist and writer Tony Seed touched on Kashmir’s importance in the context of the US Asia Pivot. He emphasized that imperialist powers do not wish to see the resolution of the dispute because it takes away another reason from their arsenal to interfere in the region.
The International Solidarity Conference on Kashmir was the most high profile conference organized by the Friends of Kashmir in many years. It has worked in close conjunction with the Canadian Peace Alliance (CPA) as well as Canada’s Anti-War Coalition movement. Last January, the CPA annual convention passed a unanimous resolution supporting the Kashmiris’ right to self-determination through an internationally supervised referendum.
The conference energized the participants and there was renewed enthusiasm and determination to continue to support the legitimate struggle of the Kashmiri people. There was also a call to set up an effective lobby group in Canada to solicit the support of Canadian political parties.