OPINION – Kashmir dispute: Challenge to world conscience
Participation of Kashmiri leadership in dialogue process with India and Pakistan is sine qua non that will help achieve lasting peace and tranquility in region
Reasons for the conflict over Kashmir are argued among contenders on several points, more often than not to serve globalist interests rather than the fundamental needs or desires of the Kashmiris themselves. Why, after 74 years, the problem continues to fester is the challenge for those who talk of peace, stability, and democratic rights in the region of South Asia.
The most pertinent evidence of that conflict is that India has in recent years had as many as 900,000 military and paramilitary forces stationed on a piece of land no larger than the US state of Tennessee. By comparison, during the height of the Iraq war, in October 2007, the US troop strength was only a little over 166,000. Iraq compares in size to the state of California. Obviously, the number of troops stationed in Kashmir is highly significant. There is no war taking place there. There is no imminent external threat of a foreign invader, with troops amassed at its border. Why so many troops?
India frequently justifies its military presence, first, by asserting that Kashmir is an “integral part” of India, and, second, that Pakistan, just across the border, is a threat. Both are nuclear-armed, and cross-border skirmishes occur periodically among a handful of troops stationed along the UN-established cease-fire line. However, to whatever extent such a threat exists, such an enormous volume of troops is well beyond whatever need there might be to resist such incursions. The best way to make sure that there is no such infiltration is to let the UN be allowed to monitor the cease-fire line.
The truth is that the people of Kashmir themselves have always been hostile to the presence of India’s troops on their soil and have resisted such oppression, and over hundred thousand Kashmiris have died within the past 30 years alone. Long standing agreements at the UN in place have in fact afforded the Kashmiri people the right to determine their own destiny.
What we have, then, is a case of a large country bullying a small nation into submission in violation of not only their right to sovereignty but international agreements and two dozen UN resolutions giving them the right to determine their own political fate. The purpose of so many troops stationed in this small country is for no other purpose but blatant oppression. Their presences make Kashmir the largest army concentration anywhere in the world.
Dr. Syed Nazir Gilani has written on the subject: “The United Nations has defined the people of Jammu & Kashmir as ‘people of legend, song and story, associated with snow-capped mountains, beautiful valleys and life-giving waters’. Today we associate them with living in a highly militarized zone and locked down inside their homes. We associate them with a habitat where children are recruited to carry out espionage for the Indian Security Forces (a war crime).”
You would think that the international community would be up in arms over such abuse, particularly in view of the fact that the Kashmiris have shown an iron determination to resist tens of thousands of killings, and thousands of rapes, disappearances and torture inflicted upon the population at the hands of these foreign occupiers.
In a more idealistic mood US President Joe Biden said on Feb. 4, 2021: “We must start with diplomacy rooted in America’s most cherished democratic values: defending freedom, championing opportunity, upholding universal rights, respecting the rule of law, and treating every person with dignity.” And again on Sept. 13, 2021, “I’ve been clear that human rights will be the center of our foreign policy.”
Earlier, former US President Barack Obama who choose Biden as his running mate addressed the problem of Kashmir, in one of his rare moments of candor. “We should probably try to facilitate a better understanding between Pakistan and India,” he announced, “and try to resolve the Kashmir crisis.” It was not long after Obama’s newly anointed status, however, that then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in New Delhi shuffling cards, engaging in toasts, and making deals on Boeing aircraft. Little more, if anything, was ever said about Kashmir. Trade between India and the US has since become a $100 billion business, with growth estimated in the near term as high as $500 billion.
Given such platitudes, while American foreign policy is supposed to be grounded on moral values, democratic ideals and universal principles, it would appear that wherever the crowd of commercial interests get VIP status, such ideals and principles are easily set aside, relegated to the back of the room, where it is standing room only. Money talks, ideals walk. Situation ethics is the name of the play.
It is quite conspicuous that the world powers feel awkward and unequipped to intervene in any international conflict because the country concerned is too powerful and does not listen to morals and ethics when everyone has his wallet on the table. In addition, India’s refusal to accept international mediation or facilitation seems to shut the door on any kind of international dialogue regarding Kashmir. The Kashmiris are shut in, and the outside world out.
Does not the world community recognize such double standards? How is international credibility and trust engendered by such behavior? For whom does this bell toll but for last vestiges of all that we hold dear, while the corrupt and cynical become more emboldened, and does it not sow the seeds of hatred and more lasting conflict among those who suffer because of it?
“Bigger nations should not be able to bully smaller ones… people should be able to choose their own future,” Obama said when he spoke to the UN General Assembly on Sept. 24, 2014. “Too often,” he added, “we have failed to enforce international norms when it’s inconvenient to do so.”
It would have been nice if Obama had mentioned Kashmir in the same breath. However, speeches by a US president on foreign policy usually engage issues that are relative to immediate concerns and objectives, and he seemed much more interested in pointing fingers at Russia for supporting the separatist fight in Ukraine and the need to impose sanctions.
So, while the US imposes sanctions on Russia for interfering in stability and peace in a country more than 5,000 miles away which is of no strategic pertinence to American safety or freedoms, it engages in trade with India and says nothing about India’s failure to enforce “international norms” where it is apparently inconvenient to do so. India’s transgressions in Kashmir are clearly far more relevant to the issue of international norms, given their history, than anything now occurring in Eastern Europe.
In Indian Prime Minister Modi’s address to the same UN forum on Sept. 26, 2020, he said “within the halls of the United Nations, one has often heard the words ‘the world is one family’. We treat the whole world as one family. It is part of our culture, character and thinking.” A grand statement, to be sure, but it has little credibility in the face of persistent policies by India against the defenseless people of Kashmir. Nevertheless, we accept Modi’s challenge, “the ideals on which the United Nations was founded, and India’s own fundamental philosophy has a lot of commonalities. They are not different from each other.” Then Modi should agree that the point of departure for resolving Kashmir dispute has to be the same – to go back, yes, back to the UN which has prescribed the resolution of the Kashmir problem through a democratic method of a free and fair plebiscite.
And how do the world powers, the US among them, justify the inclusion of India as a permanent member of the UN Security Council and currently a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council when all the world sees that it is in violation of the UN’s own charter? This makes the mockery of the international obligations.
Mr. Antonio Guterres, the UN secretary general, needs to be applauded for his statement that he made regarding Kashmir on Feb. 18, 2020. “Diplomacy and dialogue remain the only tools that guarantee peace and stability with solutions in accordance with the UN Charter and resolutions of the Security Council.” He added: “I offered my good offices from the beginning. I am ready to help if both countries agree for mediation.”
Encouragement to India and Pakistan through numerous resolutions have been taking place for the last 73 years. Perhaps it is time that the authority entrusted to the UN be taken a little more seriously.
Isn’t it also time that Guterres brings the situation in Kashmir to the attention of the Security Council under the provision of Article 99 of the UN Charter. It is here in the region of South Asia that the two nuclear powers have been eyeball to eyeball for the last two years. The Article 99 authorizes the secretary general to “bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter which in his opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security.”
Lastly, the world powers and the saner elements in both India and Pakistan need to realize that the participation of Kashmiri leadership in the dialogue process with India and Pakistan is the sine qua non that will help to achieve the lasting peace and tranquility in the region of South Asia.
*Opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu Agency.