KASHMIIRIS LEGITIMATE STRUGGLE FOR RIGHT TO SELF-DETERMINATION

The right to self-determination is a fundamental human right and a key component of human dignity. Denying this right to people is the equivalent of denying them their human freedom. The right to self-determination has one of the most important rights under the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights which led to the formation of various states in the post-colonial era. The criteria for the right to self-determination has been clearly stated in the UN charter for human rights. People can be duly given its right to self-determination when they have either created a sovereign and independent state or have freely associated themselves with another state through exercising their right to vote or plebiscite. The principle of self-determination paves the way for not just the duty of states to respect and promote this fundamental right, but also emphasize making them refrain from taking any forcible action against the said people which deprives them of the ability to administer such a right. Under erga omnes, the use of force by any state to prevent its people from utilizing their right of self-determination is a breach of international law and is considered illegal and should be condemned by the international community. The law of erga omnes has reached a stated of jus cogens, which has made it a peremptory norm of international law.

However, the right to self-determination of the people of Kashmir is one that has been ignored by most of the international community for over 72 years. The Kashmir issue is one of the most defining issues of contemporary international relations, which has been carried from the 20th Century until the 21st Century even though the basic problem in the matter was painfully obvious. Kashmir is an area of land that lies between India, Pakistan and China and was a former part of the colonized Indian subcontinent. When the British were partitioning the subcontinent into India and Pakistan, the fates of certain territories was decided based on the majority population. The population of Kashmir was majority Muslim; however, with a Hindu ruler who went against the wishes of the people and with the instrumental help of India, the state acceded to India instead of Pakistan. Even though the accessing took place under highly coercive circumstances, it was acknowledged by India and most of the international community even though under international laws such accession is invalid and India’s actions since 1947 are illegal. Pakistan did not recognize this accession, and this led to the basis of the Indo-Pakistan Kashmir issue, which over the years has only increased in severity and magnitude. The problem now is not of an area of land between two states that happens to be strategically located; it is of the generational violence that the people of Kashmir have been subjected to within their home at the hands of India, which in the last year with the abolishment of the special status of Kashmir only became worse.

The Kashmiris right to self-determination was denied by India using politically endorsed repressive laws and aggressive armed measures. Now, the Indian regime is social marginalizing the innocent Kashmiris through Citizenship Amendment Bill and revocation of Article 370. These constitutional amendments are in line with the Hindu nationalist agenda and carried out by disguising the social engineering and altering the demographics of the predominately-Muslim majority of Kashmir through labelling it as a necessity for the development of the region. Modi called it a beginning of a new era and indeed, it will, because these amendments will allow Hindu identities to flood the disputed territory, buy lands and undermine the Muslim majority. Consequently, the demography will be altered, allowing India to politically manoeuvre and curb the separatist movements.

One of the most imperative notions with the abolishment of Article 370 was that India claimed to have given Kashmir and its people access and right to grass-root democracy but it was on the cost of neglecting the basic right of self-determination of Kashmiri people. Before the special status of Kashmir was revoked, there was a three-tier government system in the area under the Jammu and Kashmir Panchayati Raj Act of 1989. It was supposedly a system to bring an integrated grass-root and parliamentary approach however that system too was broken for years, as most of the politics in Kashmir remained preferentially dominated by Hindus. August 2019 saw the inclusion of Kashmir in the Union Territory administration of India where the territory divided into 14 districts, which would elect representatives for themselves and a chairperson and vice-chairperson out of it. Hence the policy will allow ‘cleaning out’ Kashmiri Muslims from the political scene and many political leaders are already tried on cases of corruption making way for the political elite favoured by Delhi to take over. India argued that this was necessary for establishing true democracy in the area, however as all belief, the authoritarian regime at centre attempts to establish more control over the area and directly influence its politics.

These developments were legitimized through undermining the public opinion and restricting the freedom of expression of journalists and activists of Kashmir. In order to silence the voices of repressed Kashmiris, the Modi regime has shut down the internet and promoted state-sponsored narrative through controlled Indian media.

The Government of Pakistan regards the issue of Kashmir as a territorial dispute between two nations and a problem of human rights violation in Indian held Kashmir. Pakistan has a firm stance that India does not possess a legal right to have a territorial status quo on Kashmir because of the Muslim majority in the region. The policy of Pakistan related to Kashmir was created with the concern of a possible Indian threat of war and the prolonged history of Indian domination through illegal means. The domestic factors are also in play, such as the sense of kinship with Muslims of Kashmir and their geographical and cultural contiguity. The policies of the Pakistani government in this context also varied over the period with only one constant factor that Kashmir is an integral part of Pakistan and it is illegally occupied by India. Analysts argue that few leaders have utilized this dispute to strengthen the Pakistani nationalism whereas others have reinforced pan-Islamism. There is also a narrative that the Kashmir issue has been used to strengthen the domestic imperatives and to elongate the regime. However, Pakistan has always remained in favour of a plebiscite as offered by the UN resolution and tried to resolve the conundrum through peaceful means, such as the civil and military leadership offered India to mitigate the quandary through confidence-building measures, the establishment of trade corridors, and enhancement of people-to-people contact but India always tried to sabotage all these efforts.

From the beginning, Pakistan has fought for self-determination while India always denied the indigenous people of their fundamental right to choose according to their will. India bragging itself as the world’s largest democracy has deprived the natives of Kashmir of their internal self-determination by imposing a Hindu dominated puppet regime on a Muslim majority state.

In order to prove itself as an upholder of democratic notions, India will have to furnish the right to internal self-determination to the natives of Kashmir. Other requisites of the democracy, such as free media, growth of a participatory civic culture permitting dissent and tolerating opposition, free and fair elections, focus on the welfare of the people being governed, majority support from the population etc. will also be allowed by India in the Indian Occupied Kashmir region.

However, the ground realities are opposite to this as media of the region is controlled, and for most of the last year communication had been cut off to the outside world, the people are not allowed to voice their opinions in favour of Pakistan or against Indian aggression. Similarly, the election process and Delhi’s attempts of ridding the political parties of the area are counterproductive to free and fair elections; there is no tolerance for opposition where acts of political affiliation such as donning the Pakistani flag can easily cost a person their life. Similarly, the welfare of the population of Kashmir is also not being taken into consideration, as human rights violations are highest in relation to the other areas of the world, and on top of it, the state-sponsored violence against the people has become a routine. India made Kashmir accessible to non-Kashmiris in terms of buying land and living there, which has serious consequences on the demography in the area. Knowing that a plebiscite would not go in their favour with the current ratio of Muslims to Hindus in the population, they aim at changing the demographics of the region to use as a political advantage in the future.

The international community often ignores the Kashmir cause by deeming it as a national problem of India rather than an international concern, given that the right to self-determination in cases such as Kashmir does not overrule the sovereignty of states. Although the UN supports a plebiscite in Kashmir and letting the population decide their fate, they have not carried out any tangible or substantial measures like intervention or imposing sanctions on India due to their consideration of not undermining the sovereignty of the country. As sensible and legal as the justification may be, it applies to territories of the state that was illegally made part of the state, in violation of the bilateral agreements signed under the supervision of the UN.

The matter is not of Kashmir belonging to either India or Pakistan or even if they decide to belong to neither, the issue is that the people of Kashmir are not being given the chance to decide for themselves. The struggles for Kashmiri freedom fighters are labelled as terrorism yet the state whose militarily oppresses the unarmed innocent civilians of Kashmir is said to be looking out for its national security. Similarly, with evidence of human rights violations and state violence against the vulnerable people of the region, there are plenty of justifications for the international community to intervene. It is just Kashmir’s bad luck that it is of no strategic depth to the major powers of the world, which is why they have turned a blind eye towards the suffering, and anguish of the people of the region.

Pakistan has always supported Kashmir in its struggle for self-determination and democratic freedom. Pakistan has always offered mediation, talks and inclusion of third parties like the UN to resolve the Kashmir issue and considered it as a priority in its domestic as well as foreign policy agendas.  Pakistan has left no stone unturned to voice the concerns of innocent Kashmiris across the globe and discussed their plight in the international conferences and multilateral forums as much as possible, yet there is not much done by the international community to pressure India for granting the Kashmiris their right to life and choose according to their will.

Pakistan has tried to end the conflict on the bilateral level but India labelled Pakistan as a supporter of terrorism and it, in turn, rendered our diplomatic endeavours weak. Every year on January 5th, Kashmir and Pakistan celebrate Right of Self Determination Day when the UN decided in 1949 that Kashmir was entitled to the right of self-determination. Pakistan takes the issues, struggles of the people of Kashmir, and tries to bring them to international notice. The country also denounced Indian aggression and supported Kashmiri people in regional forums like SAARC. Pakistan, after the decision of the UN for a plebiscite, opened Pakistan administered Kashmir region for UN investigation but India refused to do so, Pakistan also complied with UN demands and regulations and respected the Line of Control, unlike India. However, Pakistan’s efforts alone are not enough to push for a democratic solution towards the resolution of the Kashmir issue, India will have to meet Pakistan halfway. India’s stance has always been that it is a bilateral issue between the two states, yet the country does not consider mutual discussion when it comes to resolving the matter.

The people of Kashmir, as well as those in Pakistan and friends all around the world that support the struggle for Kashmir’s right to self-determination, will have to use cultural and soft power resources to make their efforts catch motion. The struggle for self-determination of Kashmir has been a long one and the cause cannot be abandoned halfway, not when so many lives were laid down for a dream that the Kashmiri people grew up believing in. As the President Azad Jammu and Kashmir Sardar Masood Khan suggested, we must make use of the power of the pen, computer, and camera and use them to our advantage to highlight the voice of Kashmiri people and make it audible to everyone across the globe.

In hopes of resolving the Kashmir issue and granting them their right to self-determination, the international system too shall have to play its part. We live in an international system dominated by Western ideals of democratic practice and human rights, yet in Kashmir, the lack of such core political values is a question mark on the prevalent world order. The Kashmir issue should be highlighted as a miscarriage of the supranational regimes and a precarious situation where two nuclear-armed nations are confronting each other, leaving the regional and international security at stake. Instead of seeing Kashmir as just a territorial dispute between India and Pakistan where the sovereignties of both states take precedence, it should be seen as a human rights crisis. The longer the resolution of the issue in Kashmir is pushed forward the deeper the structural violence will be, till the quality of life and society of the region would require serious rehabilitation. When we talk about preventing injustice, terrorism and animosity whilst promoting equality, democracy and freedom, then it should be kept in mind that the people living in Kashmir are imprisoned for the last seven decades and it will be the reality for the generations to come if we do not put this to an end.

Kashmir has been disfavored in the partition of subcontinent 70 years ago and since then the citizens of the Indian occupied valley are suffering from Indian oppression and denied their right to self-determination. The territorial dispute started right after the partition of the subcontinent because the Kashmir (predominately a Muslim majority state) was given away to India against the principle of communal representation of partition. Numerous sub-division of Kashmir like Gilgit Baltistan announced their collation with Pakistan and due to mounting pressure, Maharaja Hari Singh, the ruler of Kashmir inclined to join the Union territories of India. The Kashmiri people defied Hari Singh’s accession to India and declared their determination to join Pakistan by hoisting the Pakistani flag. They asked for help from their Muslim brethren to unchain them from the domineering Hindu rule and the tribal Muslims responded their call. This invasion was also in response to the impending troop deployment by Nehru and soon after the then newly-born UN intervened to put a halt to this escalating crisis. In 1948, the UN being the neutral arbitrator demanded an impartial plebiscite in Kashmir granting the right to self-determination to the native people. India rejected this plebiscite because they knew that Kashmiris will vote in favour of Pakistan and will become its dominion. However, Pakistan welcomed this evenhanded gesture of UN. In 1956, amid the Kashmiri cries for freedom, Indian leadership integrated the occupied territory of Princely State of Jammu and Kashmir into the Union of India. The mounting repression of India in the occupied valley resulted in an upsurge in the demonstrations and protests by the citizens of the Kashmir and in lieu of Pakistan’s support to their fellow Muslims, the animosities between both neighbouring countries escalated into two full-scale wars afterwards ended up the Tashkent Declaration and Simla Agreement. These agreements rendered the state of Jammu and Kashmir as a disputed territory, demarcated the line of control, and agreed that there will be a bilateral solution of the dispute. In 1986, the first betrayal of the autonomy of Kashmir took place in the form of a deal signed between the corrupted National Conference and Congress Party administration of India. Soon after the Muslim United Front was formed and but it failed in elections against the National Congress of India due to obvious rigging from Indian civil administration. The leaders and supporters of the Muslim United Front were arrested as they rose their voice against the rigged elections. This marked the beginning of blatant armed aggression of Indian occupied forces in Indian held Kashmir, backed by the repressive laws enforced by the Indian leadership. as the cause started gaining traction internationally, Indian security forces targeted the activists and political leaders. In 1996, hoax parliamentary elections held in the occupied valley where Indian forces used coerced the masses to vote and Kashmir fell under Delhi’s rule. A separatist uprising broke out the same year in the valley and in order to contain it Indian forces killed approx. 20,000 people who participated in this revolt. To further clamp down the legitimate struggle of freedom, the Kashmiris youngsters were tortured, kidnapped and martyred by the belligerent armed forces of India. In order to put a lid on the oppressions carried out by the belligerent Indian armed forces to defy the plight of Kashmiri Muslims, India has put a bar on the freedom of movement and freedom of expression in the occupied valley.

 

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About Erum Akbar 17 Articles
The author is Executive Editor of Mélange int’l Magazine and Secretary Information at Center of Pakistan and International Relations (COPAIR).