Opinion: Kashmir Deserves the Rights to Decide Its Own Fate

Kashmiri men shout freedom slogans during a protest against New Delhi's tightened grip on the disputed region, after Friday prayers on the outskirts of Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Aug. 23, 2019. The image was part of a series of photographs by Associated Press photographers which won the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography. (AP Photo/Dar Yasin)

By Asim Iftikhar Ahmad, Pakistan’s ambassador to Thailand

For its eternal beauty and serenity, Kashmir has for ages been called a paradise. Unfortunately, this heaven on earth is now one of the world’s most oppressed and brutalized places.

Illegally occupied and heavily militarized, Kashmir is in the news sadly for atrocities, killings and human rights violations rather than its charm and splendor and its loving people. A disputed territory and a conflict zone for decades, Kashmir is also known as the nuclear flashpoint of the world.    

People often ask what was the Jammu & Kashmir dispute about, and how could it be resolved.  A short yet precise answer to that is ‘self-determination’. The genesis of the Kashmir issue was in the right to self-determination of the Kashmiri people. The solution to the dispute also lies in the exercise of that very right.

Women shout slogans as Indian policemen fire teargas and live ammunition in the air to stop a protest march in Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Aug. 9, 2019. (AP Photo/Dar Yasin)

Yes, the State of Jammu & Kashmir has been the subject of a territorial dispute between India and Pakistan ever since the two countries gained independence from British rule in 1947. The dispute has an international character in that it has been on the agenda of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) since 1948.

Over the course of years, UNSC adopted several resolutions to promote a peaceful settlement of the dispute. The crux of those resolutions was the right to self-determination, wherein the Security Council stipulated that the final status or the question of accession of Jammu & Kashmir to either India or Pakistan was to be decided by the will of the Kashmiri people expressed through the democratic method of a plebiscite to be held under the auspices of the UN.

It cannot get clearer than that. Kashmiri people’s right to determine their own future was therefore enshrined and guaranteed by the UN. And to start with, it was endorsed and accepted by both India and Pakistan.

So why has the issue remained unresolved? That is because India backtracked on its commitments. Fearing that given the free choice, Kashmiris would never join India, it refused to let the UN plebiscite take place. For over 72 years, India has illegally and forcibly occupied Jammu and Kashmir against the wishes of the Kashmiri people, and in flagrant violation of the Security Council resolutions.

An Indian paramilitary soldier stands guard as Kashmiri Muslims offer Friday prayers on a street outside a local mosque during curfew like restrictions in Srinagar, India, Aug. 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Mukhtar Khan)

Then on 5 August last year (which Arundhati Roy termed as India’s Day of Shame), India sought to change the status of the occupied territories illegally and unilaterally. With over 900,000 troops, it imposed a military siege on 8 million Kashmiris, incarcerated the entire Kashmiri political leadership, and abducted and detained incommunicado thousands of Kashmiri youth.

Curfew, total communications blackout and denial of access to international media and observers, created a climate of impunity in which use of brute force, human rights violations, imposition of collective punishment, enforced disappearances and extra-judicial killings of innocent Kashmiris has continued unabated.

Kashmiri media and those daring to raise their voice have been systematically harassed and intimidated. Nevertheless, the atrocities have been well documented by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, mechanisms of the Human Rights Council, civil society and human rights organizations including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International whose office was recently closed down in India.

The military siege is being followed by India’s moves to change the demographic structure of Kashmir, a blatant attempt to obliterate the distinct Kashmiri identity and to undermine the UN plebiscite. All these actions are in violation of the UN Charter, Security Council resolutions and international law, particularly the 4th Geneva Convention according to which altering the demographics of an occupied territory is a war crime.

Kashmiri men dismantle a portion of a house destroyed in a gunbattle in Tral village, south of Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, March 4, 2019. (AP Photo/Dar Yasin)

It is evident that the Kashmiri people will never submit to Indian occupation and oppression. Their struggle is for a just cause i.e. self-determination that has been sanctioned by the UN. We are asked about Pakistan’s position on Jammu & Kashmir. It is clear. 

The government and people of Pakistan are fully committed to support the Kashmiri people in their legitimate demand for self-determination. More than that, Pakistan’s position is completely in line with the UN position on Kashmir that represents international legitimacy and international law. 

That is what distinguishes Pakistan’s approach on this issue vis-à-vis India’s manifest disregard and breach of UNSC resolutions on Kashmir.  

Consequences of the unresolved Kashmir dispute are grave and multi-dimensional, from the threat to peace and security, to the humanitarian crisis and human rights violations. It is also the major stumbling block for regional cooperation and development, holding back Asia’s great promise.

Kashmiri Muslim devotees offer prayer outside the shrine of Sufi saint Sheikh Syed Abdul Qadir Jeelani in Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Dec. 9, 2019. (AP Photo/Mukhtar Khan)

In the interest of durable peace and stability in South Asia, the Jammu & Kashmir dispute must be resolved peacefully on the basis of international legitimacy. To this effect, the UN Security Council has to shoulder its Charter responsibility and secure the implementation of its own resolutions.

The international community must also play its due role to impress upon India to rescind its illegal actions, end the military siege and human rights violations, and agree to resolve the Jammu & Kashmir dispute in accordance with the relevant UNSC resolutions.

Kashmiri people have seen too much suffering. They have waited for far too long. It is time to end the illegal occupation of over seven decades. The best possible peaceful and legal way of doing that is to enable the people of Kashmir to exercise their right to self-determination as promised to them by the UN Security Council.

Let the people decide their own future. Let Kashmir speak.

About the author
Asim Iftikhar is the Ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan to Thailand. A career diplomat, Asim also served as the Minister of the Permanent Mission of Pakistan to the United Nations from 2012 to 2014.