Solving the Kashmir dispute
IF promises are made to be broken, then Kashmir may be summoned to prove the treacherous proposition.
Broken promises haunt Kashmir’s history, and explain its tragedy. I will confine myself to the last century as a concession to the shortness of life.
Under the 1846 Treaty of Amritsar, Great Britain sold Kashmir and its then two million people to a Sikh ruler, Gulab Singh, like sheep and cattle.
The strutting British Empire valued Kashmiris every bit as much as it did the Irish then undergoing the Potato famine, which many in New York condemn as a British genocide. But that was of little solace to their South Asian counterparts.
Kashmir was a princely state under Gulab Singh and his successors, Ranbir Singh, Partap Singh and Hari Singh.
A princely state was not directly ruled by the British Raj like India, but was subject only to British dictation over matters of defence and foreign policy. Maharaja Hari Singh, a Hindu, began his princely rule over Kashmir in 1925.
The people of the land were predominantly Muslim, but lived a warm coexistence with Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs. Their understanding of Islam had taught them mutual respect, harmony and ecumenism.
The Maharaja inherited a regime earmarked by brutal repression of Muslims. Heavy taxation, discriminatory laws, forced labour and the absence of representation in services and lack of educational facilities were chief grievances. The slaughtering of a cow was a capital crime and mosques were controlled by the state.
A Kashmiri national movement was galvanized in 1931 when a state factotum forbade the Imam to deliver a sermon before the customary Friday prayer.
Abdul Qadeer answered with a fiery speech denouncing the Maharaja’s anti-Islamic injunctions. Muslims rallied to protest his arrest, and 22 were slaughtered when the police opened fire.
The British, predictably, did nothing. After all, it was difficult to distinguish the Maharaja’s savagery from the mass killing of Indians by the British in 1919, known as Amritsar massacre.
I would argue that this British callousness or aloofness was a pre-partition broken promise number one.
With the lapse of British paramountcy on August 15, 1947, broken promises over Kashmir came not like single spies but in battalions, to borrow from Hamlet.
Princely states enjoyed three options: accession to India, accession to Pakistan, or independence.
But the choice, according to India’s Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and tacitly endorsed by the British was to be made by popular referendum in cases where the creed of the ruler varied from the religion of the majority.
When paramountcy lapsed in Kashmir, the Maharaja’s despotic regime was tottering. An indigenous rebellion was in full swing.
Instead of submitting to a referendum, Maharaja’s vaulting and mean-spirited ambition prompted a plea to the Indian army for intervention.
Nehru responded with alacrity on October 27, 1947, and intrigued to generate a bogus instrument of Kashmiri accession to India to justify its aggression. Indigenous Kashmiris fought Indian troops to a standstill.
Contemporaneously, India’s head of state, Lord Mountbatten, officially promised a Kashmiri plebiscite in plain language over which only Mr. Pickwick might puzzle: “It is my government’s wish that as soon as law and order have been restored in Kashmir and its soil cleared of the invaders, the question of the state’s accession should be settled by a reference to the people.”
India then raced to the United Nations Security Council on January 1, 1948, and championed a pair of resolutions on 13 August 1948 and 5 January 1949 that prescribed a self-determination vote for Kashmiris on the heels of United Nations supervised demilitarization.
Pakistan eagerly endorsed that solution to Kashmir’s disputed territory. India, however, was soon undeceived of its delusions over Kashmir’s political yearning.
Recognizing that its people would never freely vote accession to India, it contrived excuse after excuse to frustrate a plebiscite.
After a few years, it dropped all pretense of acceding to a referendum by unilaterally proclaiming its annexation of Kashmir.
India’s proclamation has never been accepted by the United Nations, which continues to list Kashmir as disputed territory and subject to the Security Council’s self-determination resolutions.
Dr Syed Nazir Gilani, President, JKCHR is correct when he said, “Indian action of 5 August 2019 in Kashmir has consequences at home, in the neighbourhood and at the international level.
This action is a breach of the terms of the Instrument of Accession and under the UN template on Kashmir India has loaded upon itself a very grave offence against the United Nations and the right of the people of Jammu and Kashmir to self-determination”.
Broken promises two, three, and four thus represent India’s reneging on its Kashmir plebiscite pledges made by Lord Mountbatten, Prime Minister Nehru and Indian delegate to the United Nations.
Broken promise number five can be laid at the feet of the Security Council which has never exerted any moral or other clout to even nudge India towards compliance with its resolutions.
It seems that the Security Council has honoured India’s indefensible defence of its Kashmir broken promises because of its muscular military, nuclear and economic profile and hegemony in South Asia.
Broken promises number six, seven and eight came in 1966, 1972 and 1999. At Tashkent following the 1965 India-Pakistan war, promises were made by India to negotiate seriously over Kashmiri sovereignty.
But nothing was done. At Simla, following a 1971 war over Bangladesh, India again agreed to talk seriously about Kashmir. But again the promise was honoured in the breach, not the observance.
During a brief honeymoon between India and Pakistan at Lahore in 1999, India once more promised genuine negotiations over Kashmir, and once more betrayed its pledge by instantly insisting that India’s claim of sovereignty over Kashmir would never be placed on the negotiating table.
When President Donald Trump offered his office of mediation on 23 July 2019 to resolve the Kashmir dispute, S Jaishankar, Indian Foreign Minister said on 2 August 2019 that any discussion on Kashmir will only be conducted with Pakistan and only bilaterally.
Then Jaishanker broke the promise number nine when he told Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi just two weeks later on 13 August 2019 that Kashmir was an internal matter of India.
The train of broken promises over Kashmir might be forgiven if the consequences were innocuous or inconsequential.
But I submit the opposite is the case. Every human rights group that has surveyed the grim Kashmir landscape, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, has been shocked and horrified by the daily atrocities against the people of Kashmir. Ditto for the annual human rights country reports of the US State Department.
To hide its human rights inferno in Kashmir, India prohibits world parliamentarians, international broadcasts or unchaperoned international electronic media.
With no heart-clutching pictures in the living rooms of the United States and the European Union, no moral clamour has arisen to do something to relieve the horrors of millions of Kashmiris. The people of Kashmir are not vengeful.
Charity and magnanimity would be their loadstars if self-determination were honoured despite so many betrayals. Let us hope that the last promise over Kashmir has been broken.
—The writer is the Secretary General of World Kashmir Awareness Forum.