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Pain and Hope of the People of Kashmir. By Mushtaq A. Jeelani

This is an edited version of Mr. Mushtaq A. Jeelani’s speech at the 26th International Congress of the Union of Muslim Communities in Istanbul, Turkey on November 15, 2017:

The people of Kashmir continue to be deprived of their inalienable right of self-determination, which is enshrined in the resolutions of the United Nation Security Council, and have remained unimplemented for almost 70 years. The UN Security Council resolution of April 1948 declared: the only way to settle the Kashmir problem peacefully was to demilitarise the state and hold a plebiscite under the UN supervision.

The Kashmir issue has dominated the geopolitics of South Asia for nearly 70 years because of continuing rivalry between India and Pakistan. They have fought three major wars since independence from Britain in 1947, two of them over the disputed region of Kashmir. The dispute between the rivals is the root of the nuclear arms race. Today, South Asia is one of the most dangerously unstable regions of the world and has the potential to triggering a future armed confrontation leading to war between India and Pakistan - given the long-standing animosity between the two nuclear-capable neighbours. The people of Kashmir are caught in the middle of this deadly tug-of-war.

Since October 1989, Kashmir has become the most highly militarised zone in the world; more than 700,000 Indian soldiers are deployed there. During 28 years, the occupying Indian forces have killed more than 100,000 civilians – many more scarred and wounded, to silence the people’s demand for the right of self-determination. The Indian army continues to carry out arbitrary detention, summary executions and custodial killings; extrajudicial executions, rape, sexual exploitation, torture, pulling out fingernails, chopping hair of women, enforced disappearances and fake encounters.

The United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF – estimates that there are as many as 200,000 orphans in Kashmir. According to Doctors Without Borders, there are more than 1.8 million Kashmiris suffering from PTSD and various kinds of mental disorders because of Indian aggression. There are more than 20,000 widows and half-widows in Kashmir. Generations of Kashmiris have grown up under the shadow of the gun; not a single family is unaffected; property worth hundreds of millions of dollars has been destroyed and the suffering and devastation continues unabated. The occupying army has already has inflicted loss of life and destruction on an unprecedented scale. The people of Kashmir continue to live under one of the most brutal military occupations in the world, sadly drawing no significant attention from the international community.

The occupation forces have been using rape as a weapon of war against civilians in Kashmir – a deliberate military strategy to punish or dehumanise the women and persecute the entire population – like the former Yugoslavia and several other areas in recent memory. The effect of rape is being felt by women, children, men, wives, husbands, family structures and communities. Under the Rome Statute, rape is an international crime, identified as both a war crime and a crime against humanity, but in Indian-administered Kashmir it continues to be the state policy designed to silence the people of Kashmir.

Impunity has become a licence for the Indian occupation forces to wreak havoc with the lives of Kashmiris. The deliberate and unprovoked attacks and other patterns of abuse have all become too frequent to report. No perpetrator has ever been prosecuted in a real manner, despite the fact that such crimes have been extensively documented by many international human rights organisations including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

Unfortunately, the international community is turning a blind eye to gross and systematic human rights abuses in Indian-administered Kashmir. It is high time the world community help India to understand that violence is not and cannot be the answer to popular demands for justice, freedom and the right of self-determination. A plebiscite under the United Nations supervision to determine the future status of Kashmir is the only answer to resolve the issue.

Moreover, there is a deteriorating humanitarian crisis and what makes it even worse is unlike other humanitarian trouble spots of the world, in Kashmir there are no international donors or aid agencies. Regrettably, there isn’t much news about it in international media.

The perception that the Kashmir issue is a bilateral matter between India and Pakistan is unfounded. Kashmir is not a territorial or bilateral issue. It is about the future of 15 million people with their own history of independence; their own language and culture. This has been an explicit explanation for the failure to resolve the Kashmir issue through on-again and off-again bilateral dialogue for the past 60 years. The people of Kashmir have lost complete faith in the bilateral process of India and Pakistan and their ability to resolve the issue.

The people of Kashmir are yearning for peace and freedom. They want a just and dignified peace that guarantees total freedom from foreign occupation and alien domination. Their struggle to achieve that right to self-determination will not be extinguished until India and Pakistan accept its exercise by the people of the State of Jammu and Kashmir.

The unprecedented sacrifices and suffering experienced by the people against this volte-face in terms of death and destruction, life and property, torture and persecution, rape and repression over the years, particularly during the past 28 years, is much too great to go unrewarded. The Kashmiri freedom movement is now in its twenty-ninth year with firm and unwavering courage and determination in the face of unspeakable suffering and injustices to achieve the right to self-determination. The ground reality is very encouraging as the people are determined to achieve freedom, therefore, the struggle is in full momentum and the demand for a UN supervised plebiscite is at an all-time high.

The conflict in Kashmir is a “political” and “human” tragedy and the world community, including India and Pakistan, have overlooked this critically important human dimension of the issue. Kashmiris’ demand is simple and in accordance with international law: implementation of the UN Security Council resolutions for a plebiscite to determine the future status of the disputed region in a peaceful and democratic way. Whatever the outcome, it will be impartial and binding for all the three parties – the people of Kashmir, India and Pakistan.

Therefore, it is high time for the international community to renew efforts to fulfil the aspirations of the people of Kashmir for freedom and address the problem to stabilize the region for regional and global peace.

The people of Kashmir highly appreciates President Erdogan’s (President of Turkish Republic) offer to mediate the Kashmir issue. They hope that Ankara would continue to highlight the Kashmir issue in its multilateral and bilateral meetings with other world leaders and underscore to them the importance of their role in finding a peaceful resolution of the issue. More importantly, the people of Kashmir want Ankara’s urgent help for an end to India’s aggression in Kashmir.

The people of Kashmir believe that Ankara’s help can encourage India and Pakistan to transform the Kashmir issue from being a bone of contention to a bridge of understanding for lasting peace and prosperity of South Asia’s billion plus people. A peaceful solution of the dispute will help to bring stability in the South Asian region, including in Afghanistan and eliminate a potential threat of another major war. This would further help lay the foundation for a new era of coexistence between India and Pakistan.

The cause for which the people of Kashmir are struggling is a just one, and deserves support from all those who cherish peace and justice. ▪

(Mushtaq A. Jeelani is former Executive Director of Kashmiri-Canadian Council and Peace and Justice Forum. He can be reached at: mj@colosseum.com)