National and International Issues

How India Can Make Peace in Kashmir

The current Kashmir crisis has shattered every myth the world has come to know and believe about the oldest pending conflict since the Second World War. It is proven now that India does not control Kashmir and has a tenuous control at best over the state it invaded in 1947 and later illegally annexed. The world is no longer silent and ignorant about Indian human rights violations. The unarmed Kashmiris did and can break the siege and force the world to see what India wants to hide. And the United Nations can intervene and force a solution despite Indian non-cooperation.


The seven million Kashmiris of Kashmir Valley have effectively unsettled the world's second largest standing army. Today, Kashmir is the world's biggest peaceful civil disobedience movement to end a military occupation. The irony is that India, which produced Gandhi, a symbol of peaceful civil disobedience against British rule, is today a repressive and violent military occupier, in many ways far worse than the British colonizers. (The Indian army is accused of using rape as a tool of war in Kashmir, according to human rights organizations, and the government in New Delhi is quick to create laws that protect Indian soldiers involved in gang rapes and other war crimes.)

India cannot defeat freedom in Kashmir any more than Britain could defeat the Indian quest for freedom seventy years ago.


India has failed to pacify Kashmir in seven decades and, short of an outright military-led genocide, cannot continue to forcibly maintain the status quo.


The Indian mismanagement of Kashmir conflict and the latest crisis betrays a high level of political and military immaturity in New Delhi that belies India's claim to big-power status. What's worse, the continued Indian mismanagement and wrong policy choices promise to destabilize a highly militarized region and entangle world powers already busy in Syria and other conflicts.


India has failed to resolve Kashmir issue and is unable or unwilling to act responsibly to end the conflict. An international intervention has become inevitable.

 

It is time that India offloads its Kashmir Burden and rids itself and the region of the source of incessant conflict for the past 69 years. The ruling elite in New Delhi should listen to Indian voices of reason that believe India should let the Kashmiris go.

The UN Has Spoken 
The September 13 statement of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al-Hussein ends more than half-century of international silence on Kashmir conflict. It is a landmark development that settles the Indian claim over Kashmir being Indian territory (it is not, the High Commissioner has referred to Indian-administered Kashmir), and opens the door to international diplomacy to resolve the conflict.


In brief, the top international bureaucrat overseeing the global humanitarian system linked India to the use of excessive force in Kashmir reminded New Delhi that his office awaits Indian invitation to a UN fact-finding mission to Srinagar to meet victims, and declared that Kashmir requires an impartial international probe into the role of Indian army in the disputed region.


These were the High Commissioner's exact words:
“Two months ago, I requested the agreement of the Governments of India and Pakistan to invite teams from my Office to visit both sides of the line of control: in other words the Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistan-administered Kashmir. We had previously received reports, and still continue to do so, claiming the Indian authorities had used force excessively against the civilian population under its administration. We furthermore received conflicting narratives from the two sides as to the cause for the confrontations and the reported large numbers of people killed and wounded. I believe an independent, impartial and international mission is now needed crucially and that it should be given free and complete access to establish an objective assessment of the claims made by the two sides. I received last Friday a letter from the Government of Pakistan formally inviting an OHCHR team to the Pakistani side of the line of control, but in tandem with a mission to the Indian side. I have yet to receive a formal letter from the Government of India. I therefore request here and publicly, from the two Governments, access that is unconditional to both sides of the line of control.”

 

This UN statement brought Kashmir back to international limelight after decades of neglect, alerted the community of international human rights activists and defenders to the urgency in Kashmir, put world powers on notice, and most importantly marked the failure of Indian diplomacy to convince the world of its position on Kashmir conflict.


The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights was delivering a policy statement at the start of the 33rd session of Human Rights Council at Geneva. This also was the first statement at the beginning of the second decade of the Council. Besides Kashmir, the statement dealt with Syria, Crimea, and other international conflicts.


The Indian response to the UN High Commissioner was immature, shocking and irresponsible, considering that it comes from a country that wants world-power status and thinks it should have a permanent seat in UN Security Council. Ajit Kumar, the Indian permanent representative at the Human Rights Council, made a confusing and disjointed statement. Kashmir belongs to India, he said, then went on to protest why the UN High Commissioner used the term ‘Indian-administered Kashmir’. He tried to win international sympathy by playing the Largest-Democracy Card (LDC), claiming that the Indian occupation setup in Kashmir was democratically elected.

 

India cannot defeat the idea of freedom. Countries more powerful than New Delhi have tried and failed in the past. Kashmir never was and will never be part of India. There is so much bad blood now between Kashmiris and Indians, especially after July 8, that coexistence does not seem possible.

Considering the fast-deteriorating situation between Pakistan and India because of the killings of the civilian population in Kashmir at the hands of the Indian army, diplomats, journalists and rights defenders expected a wiser response from India.


Indian Compulsions 
Logically speaking, India has every reason to resolve Kashmir at this stage. New Delhi should have welcomed the opportunity of intervention by UN Human Rights Council. The High Commissioner gave Indian government a face-saving exit from a crisis that is getting out of Indian hands, if it has not already. Prime Minister Modi is facing Indian army commanders every day who tell him to pull out their soldiers from crowd-management assignments in Indian-occupied Kashmir. Indian generals tell Modi it is not their job to act as a riot police, and that the only solution they can offer at this stage is to start opening fire on every group of Kashmiri civilians peacefully protesting against Indian rule.


There is another stronger reason why India should accept a UN intervention after the September 13 statement of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. After the attack on an Indian occupation army camp at Uri, near the temporary ceasefire line known as Line of Control, some Indian army commanders reportedly want to offset their failure in taming Kashmir by encouraging New Delhi to start a war against Pakistan. They have two ready pretexts: one is the Uri attack; and second is Modi government's ready-made charge that the massive civil disobedience movement and uprising in Kashmir is ‘orchestrated’ by Pakistan.


The UN High Commissioner's statement can save India from the warmongers in the government, like Ajit Doval, the national security advisor, and from some in the military who want to push India to an all-out war to cover up for failures in Kashmir. They also hope that war would end the Kashmir freedom movement and help India to subjugate Kashmiris for several more decades.


Kashmir entangles five of the nine known nuclear powers in the world – Pakistan, India and China directly, and United States, Russia indirectly. When India threatened war, Moscow sent Russian Army contingent to Islamabad for scheduled military exercises, turning down Modi's request to cancel the exercises.


Why Prime Minister Modi would not take the chance offered by the UN High Commissioner to extricate himself and his demoralized army from the Kashmir quagmire is anybody’s guess.


Kashmir Damages India's International Standing 
With the UN breaking its silence on Kashmir (aside from the statement by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the UN Secretary-General has twice issued statements on Kashmir since July), the international media is disparaging India on Kashmir. New Delhi has not experienced this level of bad press in decades. Gains made by spending hundreds of millions of dollars on image-enhancing advertising campaigns, like ‘Incredible India’ and ‘Made in India’, could wipe out because of tensions and instability.


The American magazine, Quartz, boldly singled out Ajit Doval, the militant Indian national security advisor, for criticism for the tensions in the region in its September 18 report titled, ‘Doval Doctrine: Narendra Modi’s aggressive stand on Pakistan might make India more vulnerable to terror.’


The Guardian and Al-Jazeera have boldly covered Indian Army's attacks and killings of the civilian population in Kashmir with blunt headlines such as, ‘India is blinding young Kashmiri protesters – and no one will face justice,’ published by The Guardian on July 18.


The New York Times Editorial Board has written twice on Kashmir in two months. On both occasions, the paper has come down hard on India, going even to the extent of calling key allies of Modi's ruling party as ‘irresponsible’ for warmongering.


Within India itself, voices of dissent are growing. Few Indians are interested in Kashmir outside the Hindi Belt, the minority Hindi-speaking regions of North India that dominate the government and army in New Delhi. Many non-Hindi speaking Indians, who are in majority, feel Kashmir is a matter of ego for North Indian Hindi-speaking rulers. The Hindi-speaking ruling elite often gets derided for fixation on Kashmir and Pakistan, and is giving little attention to serious issues of health, poverty and social development that plague India.


Kashmir has cost India dearly. Wars and tensions related to this conflict have played a role in stopping India from winning support for a permanent seat in UN Security Council and membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group.


India's Kashmir Burden 
It is time that India offloads its Kashmir burden and rids itself and the region of the source of incessant conflict for the past 69 years. The ruling elite in New Delhi should listen to Indian voices of reason that believe India should let the Kashmiris go.


India cannot defeat the idea of freedom. Countries more powerful than New Delhi have tried and failed in the past. Kashmir never was and will never be part of India. There is so much bad blood now between Kashmiris and Indians, especially after July 8, that coexistence does not seem possible.


Any well wisher of India would ultimately give the same advice: India should heed the call of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, allow a fact-finding mission to visit the victims in Kashmir. This will help start a process of healing in Kashmir and the region. The next steps could include withdrawal of the Indian army from the region. At a later stage, Pakistan could join India and the UN in finding a political solution, which could end in some form of a referendum supervised by the United Nations for Indian Occupied Kashmir and Azad Kashmir to decide their fate in accordance with UNSC resolutions.


This process will be arduous and will require the sustained commitment of India, Pakistan and the UN, but it is possible. Anything less than this will probably not be acceptable to the Kashmiris and the cycle of deaths and war could continue.


With the door to diplomacy opened by the United Nations, India should get on the right side of history and make things right for itself, for Kashmir, and for peace in the region and the world.


The author is a writer, journalist, researcher. He works on Kashmir for YFK-International Kashmir Lobby Group.

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