The continuing agony of Kashmir

Published 28.10.2019 00:32
Updated 28.10.2019 00:34

Kashmiris commemorate Oct. 27 as a "Black Day" the world over. On this day, 72 years ago, the first detachment of Indian soldiers flew into Srinagar airport in Jammu and Kashmir to occupy that land and start one of the sorriest chapters of human suffering in modern history. Kashmiris were used to being buffeted by the forces of history. A beautiful land, called "Heaven on Earth" by no less an aesthete than the great Mughal King Babar, Kashmir was an overwhelmingly Muslim land on the northwest of the South Asian landmass. It was also a land famed for its religious tolerance and ethnic harmony. The British, the colonial masters of India, sold this largely self-governing territory, and millions of its inhabitants, to Maharaja Gulab Singh for 7.5 million rupees in 1846. Short of genocide, perhaps there is no fate worse than being sold like chattel to the highest bidder.

Kashmiris endured the harsh rule of Gulab Singh and his descendants for 100 hundred years, but in 1947 they felt that their nightmare was about to end. The British were leaving the subcontinent, portioning it into two independent countries, Muslim majority Pakistan and Hindu majority India. According to the partition formula, Muslim majority areas with geographical contiguity to Pakistan were to go with Pakistan and likewise geographically contiguous Hindu majority areas with India. With an 80% Muslim population, Kashmir should have gone to Pakistan, but India had other designs. It pressured the Hindu maharaja to accede to India against the wishes of the Kashmiris. Thus, sold in 1846, Kashmiris were gifted away in 1947 by an unelected ruler. Very few people in history have been so unjustly treated.

When they learned of the trick the maharaja was playing on them, the Kashmiris revolted. On Oct. 27, 1947 India flew in its troops to quell the rebellion, and a yet another bleak chapter in the history of Kashmir began. Unable to control the angry Kashmiris, and accusing Pakistan of interfering in Kashmir, India took the matter to the United Nations. The U.N. Security Council, through a number of resolutions, resolved that "the final disposition of the State of Jammu and Kashmir will be made in accordance with the will of the people expressed through the democratic method of a free and impartial plebiscite conducted under the auspices of the United Nations." Both Pakistan and India agreed to this eminently sensible prescription. Unfortunately, again India had other ideas. It kept creating one hurdle after another to prevent the plebiscite from taking place, hoping that a combination time and force, the latter exerted through its occupation army, would in due course silence the Kashmiris' demand for self-determination.

Seventy-two years have passed since India perpetrated that infamy against the Kashmiris. In that period, the number of Indian occupation troops in Jammu and Kashmir has increased from thousands to hundreds of thousands, almost approaching a million. There have been two wars between Pakistan and India on account of Kashmir. In that period Pakistan and India have become nuclear powers. All this while, India has brazenly violated Security Council resolutions. And yet the Kashmiris' demand for self-determination shows no signs of flagging.

India has used unimaginable force against the Kashmiris whenever they have risen to demand their right of self-determination. Between 1989-90 and today, close to 100,000 Kashmiris have been martyred in extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions. Thousands have disappeared, their loved ones waiting for them to turn up, their wives living the life of half-widows, their children growing up as half-orphans. Thousands of Kashmiri women have been raped. Hundreds have lost their eyes and limbs to pellet guns, which have been used with impunity against civilians, including women and children. The author of the Kashmiris' misery, ironically, is the world's largest self-described democracy, India.

If things were bad before, they have become infinitely worse since 2014, when the current Indian leadership came to power. It believes in the ideology of Hindutva – that India is only for the Hindus, and followers of other faiths, particularly Muslims, can either live in India by becoming Hindus or by not demanding any rights as Indian citizens. It is a toxic ideology, most manifest in Jammu and Kashmir.

If the Kashmiris were sold in 1846 and gifted away to India by an unelected Hindu maharaja in 1947, then on Aug. 5, 2019, the current Indian leadership tried to erase them. Through constitutional contortionism, it removed Article 370 from the Indian Constitution, which was a reminder to all that Kashmir was a disputed territory. Article 370 was protection against people from India buying property and settling in Kashmir. With the removal of that article, Kashmir is now ripe for a demographic invasion from India. From being an occupied land, Kashmir became an illegally annexed territory on Aug. 5, 2019. Kashmiris now face the prospect of becoming a minority in their own land.

Prior to this attempted "erasure" of Kashmir, India imposed a complete communications blockade. Kashmir was deliberately and systematically cut off from the rest of the world. There were no landlines, no cellphones, no internet, no social media, no press and no media. More than 100,000 additional troops were inserted into the territory. Curfew was imposed across the land and continues to this day with varying degrees of severity.

The Kashmiri leadership was put in prison or under house arrest. Those who dared to speak out were whisked away in the middle of the night, with The Telegraph reporting the arrest of over 13,000 Kashmiri teenagers. Empty roads and fallow orchards belie the Indian propaganda of normalcy. Kashmiris have become prisoners in their own homes in their own land and Kashmir has become the largest open-air prison in the world.

India has managed to do in Kashmir what even fascist dictatorships find difficult. It has cut off 8 million souls from the rest of humanity. It has sealed Kashmir like a torturer seals his chamber of horrors. The U.N. human rights monitoring mechanisms and other independent watchdogs have no access to the occupied territory. So tightly sealed is Kashmir that India's own leader of the opposition wasn't allowed entry into the territory. What is India hiding? What is it afraid of? What is the fear that the presence of more than 750,000 soldiers, one for every 10 Kashmiris, cannot allay? That fear is that a cry for freedom may ring out just when India doesn't want anyone to hear it.

One should never underestimate India's ingenuity in using its so-called democratic credentials to further its undemocratic aims and its oppressive actions. The story of Kashmir is the story of one Indian lie after another, one betrayal after another. However, the international community is beginning to see through the tactics of diversion and pseudo-pacificism used by India to mask its vested interests. The smoke-screen of "terrorism" used by India for years to hide its brutalities in Indian-occupied Jammu and Kashmir is beginning to lift, only to reveal the smoldering remnants of India's scorched-earth policies against the Kashmiris.

But if Kashmir is the world's largest prison today, part of the blame rests with us also. Our prolonged silence has allowed India to violate the Kashmiris' rights with impunity.

Now is the time for the international community, particularly the U.N. Security Council, to step in and play its role towards holding those responsible for these atrocities accountable, and for taking tangible steps towards the resolution of the festering Jammu and Kashmir dispute in accordance with the relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions that guarantee the right of self-determination to the Kashmiris. Enough is enough!

* Ambassador of Pakistan to the Republic of Turkey

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