India fails to sideline Kashmir

Whenever Pakistan engages or tries to engage with the leaders of Indian occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IOK), it sends shivers down the spine of Indian rulers. However, due to immense international pressure, it is not possible for India to block such contacts. Indian External Affairs Ministry said on May 02 that there is no bar on the meetings of Kashmiri leaders with representatives of any country. “Since the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of the Union of India and these so-called Kashmiri ‘leaders’ are Indian citizens, there is no bar on their meetings with representatives of any country in India,” Minister of State for External Affairs, VK Singh said in a written reply to the parliament. However, Singh was quick to add that “India has consistently maintained that there is no role for a third party in the bilateral dialogue between India and Pakistan as per the Simla Agreement and the Lahore Declaration. India’s displeasure at Pakistan’s attempts to interfere in India’s internal affairs has been repeatedly conveyed to Pakistan”.

Pakistan considers Kashmiri people as the main stakeholder in the dispute and, therefore, it keeps contacts with the APHC leaders in order to not only acquaint them with the steps that Islamabad is taking to forcefully raise the dispute at international level but also reaffirm their moral, political and diplomatic support to them in just solution of the dispute. As a primary party to the dispute, Pakistan has always been insisting that the leadership of Jammu and Kashmir should be included in the dialogue process but Indian side is opposing the move.

VK Singh is a former Indian army chief, he shot to fame after his absurd tweet while he was attending a function at Pakistan’s High Commission in India, as he felt “disgusted” seated next to All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) leadership. Earlier he had exposed the myth of Indian electoral drama in IOK by saying that all these elections are engineered through under the table funding. Pro-plebiscite leadership of Kashmir isn’t any third party but primary party to the dispute. Kashmir is not a regional, economic or a border issue, but purely a humanitarian and political issue, which needs apolitical remedy.

Chairman APHC (M) Mirwaiz Umar Farooq has welcomed this development and said “it is good that New Delhi has realized that no red lines can be drawn on meeting people. It’s a good sign”. “We reiterate that Kashmir is purely a political issue and can’t be linked with terror attacks like Pathankot which cast a shadow on dialogue…This is a welcome step,…Better late than never,” Mirwaiz added. One may expect that this clear shift in Indian policy will pave the way for APHC leaders to hold talks with Pakistan which in fact is the only voice pleading the rights of Kashmiris at international forums.

Mirwaiz has challenged the PDP-BJP to fight the pro-freedom camp on political turf rather than caging Kashmiri leaders in homes and jails. He said that the present government is touching new heights of oppression. He reminded IOK Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti of her 2010 street protests wherein she would demand “revocation of Armed Forces Special Powers Act” and call for “end to atrocities.” Mirwaiz also displayed photographs of the Chief Minister wherein she is seeking revocation of AFSPA and calling for “stopping atrocities” during the protests of 2010. “These people talk in one language while they happen to be in opposition and change colours soon after they grab power,” he said. “But the present regime seems to have crossed all limits on this front. We are not allowed to offer Friday prayers, take part in religious gatherings, and recently we were barred from addressing a Seerat conference as well,” he said.  The height of oppression is leaders were recently not allowed to offer funeral in absentia for JKLF founder Amanullah Khan. By keeping freedom leadership including Hurriyat (G) chairman Syed Ali Geelani, JKLF chief Muhammad Yasin Malik, other leaders like Shabir Ahmed Shah under detention, the present dispensation has actually conceded defeat.

Pro-freedom activists are being asked to get registered with police and visit their respective police stations every week. In some police stations, photographs of pro-freedom activists have been kept alongside those of criminals. This process is going on at Tehsil and district-headquarter levels across Kashmir. Mehbooba is projecting the situation as if all is well in Kashmir by inviting tourists to visit Kashmir. One wonders as to what happened to her late father’s “battle of ideas” and healing touch policy”.

It seems RSS is actually ruling J&K, slowly implementing pro-Hindutva agenda in Kashmir. Some institutions are operating in Kashmir at the behest of Ministry of Home Affairs to create sectarian divide among people to dilute their attention from basic issue and Mehbooba’s party is gleefully becoming a tool in RSS hands.

Other Kashmiri leaders have also welcomed the Indian decision of allowing them to meet Pakistan, hoping India will not create obstructions. If one may look at the recent past—especially Modi era—the Indian side has always opposed Pakistan’s direct talks with the APHC leadership even though such contacts had been a regular practice at least since Vajpayee era. In 2014, it had even called off Foreign Secretary level talks with Islamabad in protest against Pakistani High Commissioner Abdul Basit’s meeting with Hurriyat leader Shabir Shah. Since meetings between the Hurriyat leadership and the High Commissioner of Pakistan in New Delhi are a longstanding practice, despite the cancellation of FS talks, Pakistan insisted to continue with this norm. Pakistan has a firm position on the Kashmir dispute and wants its resolution in accordance with the UNSC resolutions and the aspirations of the Kashmiri people.

Earlier Hurriyat Conference (G) termed BJP leader Jitendra Singh’s remarks on Kashmir as “ridiculous” and “bereft of any historical background”. Jitendra had said that ‘Kashmir has always been an integral part of India and will continue to do so’ and had cited an “evidence” of passing of a parliament resolution in 1994 in this regard. A Hurriyat (G) spokesman said: “Kashmir can neither become an integral part of India by passing resolutions in the parliament nor can the freedom sentiments of Kashmiris be suppressed this way. The disputed status of Kashmir is supported by strong legal evidence and the integral part theory (of) Jitendra Singh has no historical background.” No matter what Indian government says and claims on Kashmir, the real stakeholders of Kashmir issue are its people who haven’t given such mandate to anyone to decide their future. He also termed Singh’s statement that ‘Pakistan had forcibly occupied one part of Kashmir’ as “false and incorrect”. “Pakistan hasn’t occupied that part of Kashmir and has never opposed the right to self-determination of Kashmiris. Pakistan is a supporter of Kashmiris’ freedom struggle,” he went on to say.

The 13th OIC Summit, held in Istanbul from 10-15 April, called on India to implement pending UN Security Council resolutions on Jammu and Kashmir, expressed concern at the gross violations of human rights committed in Indian occupied Kashmir by the Indian security forces, affirmed support to the Kashmir struggle, and called upon the United Nations for implementation of its Security Council’s resolutions on Kashmir which guarantee Kashmiris’ inalienable right to self-determination through a UN supervised plebiscite. It called upon India to allow the OIC Fact Finding Mission and the international human rights groups and humanitarian organizations access to IOK.

Indian leadership needs to recognize the Kashmiri leadership as a party to this humanitarian dispute and should involve them in the dialogue process for peaceful settlement of this longstanding dispute that will augur well for peace and stability of whole region.

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About the Author

Khalid Iqbal
Air Commodore (R) Khalid Iqbal is Consultant Policy & and Strategic Response at IPRI. He is on the panel of experts for Spearhead Research and Centre for Pakistan and Gulf Studies. He is a member board of advisers of Opinion Maker and member National Academic Council, Institute of Policy Studies. He is on the visiting faculty of Quaid-i- Azam University, Islamabad. He is a former Assistant Chief of Air Staff, Pakistan Air Force.

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