It is time the Pakistani establishment and its agents in the Houses of Commons and Lords terminated the nonsense they’ve been perpetrating on Kashmir since 1947. It is time they told the truth instead of ceaselessly misleading British political parties and politicians on the issue.
For a start, the controversial August 2019 abrogation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status, granted by virtue of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, is a matter between an integral part of India, namely the state of Jammu and Kashmir, and the union of India. Pakistan has no locus standi on this whatsoever. Indeed, Islamabad has underlined this impotence in no uncertain manner by not seeking remedy at the International Court of Justice or any other forum or tribunal. It has no case to argue.
Similarly, the downgrading of Jammu and Kashmir from full statehood to union territory status and the de-linking of Ladakh from Jammu and Kashmir is also for internal debate and deliberation in India, where the Supreme Court, albeit ploddingly, is seized of the difference of opinion.
What is, of course, an international dispute is the territory of Jammu and Kashmir, consequent to United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions defining it as such. Indeed, a line of control drawn by the UNSC delineates the administrative authorities of India and Pakistan, which is to be respected until the conflict is resolved.
A contentious clause in the Indian Independence Act passed in the House of Commons in 1947 – from which flows the freedom of India and the birth of Pakistan – was about the future of princely states who were empowered to merge with India or Pakistan or neither. In these grey circumstances, Maharaja Hari Singh of Jammu and Kashmir, recognised as an absolute ruler, sought standstill agreements with India and Pakistan to lend himself time to consider his state’s future. India did not sign the document, but stood still. Pakistan put its signature to it, but did not stand still.
Pakistani infiltrators entered Jammu and Kashmir and were on the verge of capturing the capital Srinagar when the maharaja appealed to the governor-general of India, Lord Louis Mountbatten, to come to his aid. This, India rendered, but only after it was lawful for it to do so. In other words, an accession treaty between Jammu and Kashmir and India was cast in stone before Indian troops landed in the state to repulse the Pakistani invaders to roughly where today’s line of control is.
A peace-loving and statesmanlike Jawaharlal Nehru, independent India’s first prime minister, approached the UNSC for a ceasefire and offered a plebiscite. While the maharaja was not exactly a favourite of his people, there was no dispute about the popularity of Sheikh Abdullah, leader of the National Conference, who had made it abundantly clear to Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, that his mass movement was in favour of joining a secular India and not a theocratic Pakistan. In fact, Azim Hussain of the Indian Civil Service who served as information secretary in Jammu and Kashmir at the time, was convinced India would have swept the referendum proposed by Nehru.
Pakistan knew so. There for it deliberately did not fulfil the preconditions prescribed by the UNSC for a plebiscite; among these was the complete withdrawal of Pakistani armed forces and militia from the province. If Islamabad and Rawalpindi was serious about a referendum, it needed to first implement the UNSC-mandated prerequisites. It is also required to reclaim Jammu and Kashmir territory arbitrarily and in violation of UNSC resolutions ceded to China. They cannot have self-determination at a whim and a fancy.
Attempting to mislead foreign governments, aided and abetted by its cold war ally the United States, has been Pakistan’s perpetual practice. It may have swayed Jeremy Corbyn, who was desperate for support from any quarter in his tunnelled pursuit of power. But Sir Keir Starmer is a broad-church politician who was expected to examine the issue rationally. Indeed, he appears to have adopted a correct stance for a British political party – that it should have nothing to do with interminable Indo-Pak wrangling. It is an altercation to settle between India and Pakistan. There is no scope of third party mediation, as agreed between Prime Ministers Indira Gandhi and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto at Shimla in 1972. Starmer and the Labour party have a right to demand a peaceful atmosphere. But that’s about all.
It was a Labour government of Clement Attlee that conceded Indian independence and the demand for Pakistan. Thus, loyalty to this party was a natural response of post-1947 Indian migrants to Britain, not to mention the Indians who were forced to flee East Africa in the 1970s. As they scaled up in life from austerity to affluence, a section of Gujarati extraction people drifted towards the Conservative party; whereas the Pakistani electorate gradually gravitated almost wholly towards Labour. Some Pakistanis briefly sided with the anti-Iraq war Liberal Democrats; but for most an allegedly Islamophobic Conservative party was a no-go area.
In 1971, Pakistan was stung by its eastern wing separating from it and becoming Bangladesh. It blamed India for the split, failing to appreciate that unceasing western Pakistani hostility towards Bengalis in East Pakistan was the fundamental cause of disaffection. From refusing to recognise Bengali as a language of Pakistan, thrusting Urdu on its eastern wing, to the genocide of Bengalis by the Pakistani military, which killed at least half a million people, the Pakistani armed forces were squarely responsible for the Bangladeshi uprising. It did not deserve to retain East Pakistan.
If India assisted the liberation of Bangladesh, it had justification to do so, for 12 million refugees had poured into India from East Pakistan because of the murderous persecution of Bengalis by the Pakistani military junta. The international community was lackadaisical of mitigating India’s burden. This left India without a choice.
Unreconciled to its self-inflicted wound, the Pakistani army has been hankering for revenge against India ever since. In the spring of 1989, Soviet Troops withdrew from Afghanistan. The West took it for granted the Mohammad Najibullah government in Kabul would collapse imminently. But this didn’t happen. The Afghans held out. Pakistan – “a bulwark against Soviet expansionism” as British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher described the General Zia-ul-Haq dictated country – had been assigned by its western allies to act as a conduit for aid and armaments for religiously-oriented Afghan rebels. Instead, American satellites observed it was diverting these resources to destabilizing Indian-controlled Kashmir.
So, for over 30 years it has been Pakistan’s constant endeavour to whip up an insurrection in the Kashmir Valley. In resisting this, there have undoubtedly been human rights violations by Indian para-military forces and Jammu and Kashmir police. It is simplistic to suggest this should not have happened, when the ground reality is violent separatism, which no security personnel can take lying down. Self-defence is a legitimate counter-action. But there has been collateral harm; innocent women, children and the elderly have been ill-treated. Many have died, although the bulk of fatalities have occurred to militants.
The revolt is not all exported or instigated by Pakistan. There is an indigenous freedom struggle and a wider aspiration for autonomy. In the only opinion poll ever to be simultaneously carried on both sides of the line of control – by King’s College London and Chatham House in 2010 – less than 2% of residents of Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir wanted to join Pakistan; while more people in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir wanted independence from Pakistan than did their counterpart in the Indian-run territory from India.
Pakistan is in no position to point fingers at human rights violations in another country. Such transgressions have been rampant in Pakistan, especially under its various military regimes and even during proxy civilian governments, when the army has continued to hold a whip hand. From Balochistan to Sindh and even in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab and the segment of Jammu and Kashmir over which Pakistan has hegemony, crushing of civil liberties has been the norm. Indeed, even if one were to compare the conduct of American troops in post-Second World War scenarios, from Vietnam to Iraq, not to mention Somalia, to Indian forces’ demeanour in Jammu and Kashmir, the latter emerge with greater distinction for their restraint. Tens of thousands of Indian security personnel have in fact perished because they by and large did not resort to indiscriminate firepower.
The bottom line is – as the European Union spelled out a long time ago – an armed revolt is acceptable if there is no ballot box option on offer. In Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir this opportunity is omnipresent. If the secessionists and their Pakistani handlers are so sanguine about sentiments of Jammuites, Kashmiris and Ladakhis being against India, they should fight elections and stake a claim to office. That they have not availed of this democratic process only establishes the illicitness of their campaign. It also exposes the invalidity of the bloodletting they indulge in.
In the north-eastern Indian state of Assam, an organisation with fissiparous tendencies – Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) – fought and won an election and ran a government for five years. They were subsequently defeated. Whether it is the Hizbul Mujahideen or the Hurriyat Conference, they are welcome to follow in AGP’s footsteps. The Muslims of Jammu and Kashmir are part and parcel of 200 million people who follow the Islamic faith in secular India. The former cannot be viewed in isolation from the latter.
In 1947 and subsequently, Muslims in the subcontinent were free to move to Pakistan from India. Those who rejected this opportunity included the Muslims of Jammu and Kashmir. They cannot be compelled to embrace Pakistan. There was no provision in the Indian Independence Act to set the clock back.
The effort by leaders of the Pakistani community in Britain to blackmail Labour on its Kashmir policy is desperate tactics and doomed to fail. 100 mosques in the United Kingdom have reportedly written to Starmer, Labour leader, threatening to withdraw support to the party. It’s a naked playing of a communal card, outrageous at the mother of democracies and offensive to a left-wing party. The intimidation follows the age-old Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) script of raising the bogey of an atomic conflagration. The purported letter says the unsettled Indo-Pak confrontation “has the potential to lead India and Pakistan into a devastating nuclear war”.
I would, though, recommend to Starmer that he equally maintains a distance from the Hindu Forum of Britain (comprised mainly of British citizens), who do not in any shape or form represent the values of India’s secular constitution. There are twice as many British Indians as British Pakistanis. Notwithstanding the erosion in Gujarati votes, Labour retained every constituency in the Commons with a concentration of people of Gujarati descent, including the ones in Leicester and north-west London. A balanced line on Kashmir could in fact re-attract those who have deserted the party and thereby make it more competitive in marginal seats.
As for British Pakistani voters, the choice before them is an Islamoskeptic Conservative party, wishy-washy Liberal Democrats and Scottish Nationalists, to whom selling whisky to India is more important than sticking their necks out on Kashmir.
Therefore, I say to General Qamar Bajwa, let us, as Imran Khan proposed at an event I chaired before he became prime minister, sit across a table and explore and secure a sensible path out of the imbroglio. A Track 3 dialogue between the Pakistani army and the progressive people of India. Let there be no illusion that the forcible occupation of 40% of Jammu and Kashmir by Pakistan is not dissimilar to Israeli takeover of Palestinian land. Yet, we are prepared to be reasonable.
Execution of a non-discriminatory market access (NDMA) agreement can be a game-changer. India’s purchasing power will become available to Pakistani manufacturers. Even minority Indian investment will expand Pakistani facilities, create countless jobs and boost internal revenue. Pakistan’s debt, its trade deficit will become a thing of the past. Its dependence on aid will be diluted. It’s a roadmap worth selecting. We owe a better future to the people of India and Pakistan.
(Ashis Ray is a broadcaster on BBC and formerly CNN’s editor-at-large. Mr Ray is the longest serving Indian foreign correspondent.)