Palestine and Kashmir: different locales, same problem

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

Waseem Shehzad

Rajab 02, 1435 2014-05-01

News & Analysis

by Waseem Shehzad (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 43, No. 3, Rajab, 1435)

The problems of Palestine and Kashmir date back to the same time period but the world knows one—Palestine—far better than the other—Kashmir; why?

The Muslim world is beset by many problems. Since media attention is focused on places like Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan because of their immediacy, Muslims too only think of these areas. These are important locales and cannot be ignored but there are other equally important areas worthy of attention that have not received as much focus as they deserve.

Palestine and Kashmir are two such areas where people are suffering immensely. Of the two, Palestine is far better known, thanks to the Palestinians’ efforts not to let the issue fall off the international radar screen. They have also been helped by the fact that the Zionist state is a favourite child of Western imperialist powers and any development or crisis there immediately grabs international news headlines. There are other factors at work: many non-Zionist Jewish activists have stood up in support of the Palestinian people. Similarly, many peace activists in the West have made common cause with the Palestinians.

There are campaigns of boycott of Israeli products, calls for divestment and sanctions as well as the annual Israeli Apartheid Week observed at university campuses worldwide. These were launched in Canada in 2005 and have now spread to more than 50 countries. Church groups have also joined calls for boycott of Israeli products and goods. The Zionists’ own atrocious behaviour — repeated invasions of Lebanon, frequent military assaults on the besieged Gaza Strip and the habitual brutality of Zionist settlers — has all added to keeping the issue alive.

What about Kashmir? It is fair to say that if an average person in North America were asked about Kashmir there would be a blank stare. Many people do not know whether Kashmir is a place or a fruit. It is not their fault.

What about Kashmir? It is fair to say that if an average person in North America were asked about Kashmir there would be a blank stare. Many people do not know whether Kashmir is a place or a fruit. It is not their fault. How many times has the Kashmir issue made it to the international media or even the media of the Muslim world in recent times? Apart from Pakistan, which has a direct stake in Kashmir, there is scant media coverage anywhere else of what is taking place in Kashmir.

Before we analyze why the Kashmir dispute, which dates back to the same time as that of the Zionist occupation of Palestine, has received scant media attention, we must consider some basic facts about Kashmir. Where is Kashmir, how did the dispute arise and what do the people of Kashmir want? Kashmir literally lies at the top of the world bordering Pakistan to the south, west and northwest, Afghanistan and Tajikistan to the west, China to the north and east, and India to the south. Its total population of 16 million is divided with one-third, about five million in the Pakistani side of Kashmir referred to as Azad (Free) Kashmir and the rest under Indian occupation in what is commonly called Maqbooza (Occupied) Kashmir.

Of Kashmir’s total area of 86,772 sq miles (224,739 sq km), India controls by far the largest portion — 39,145 sq miles (101,386 sq km). Azad Kashmir on the Pakistani side comprises 33,145 sq miles (85,846 sq km) while China has 14,500 sq miles (37,555 sq km) under its control. Much of the Kashmiri land comprises mountains of the Himalayan and Karakoram ranges. The capital of the Vale of Kashmir (Kashmir Valley) that is under Indian occupation is Srinagar while the capital of Azad Kashmir is Muzaffarabad.

Like so many other disputes — Palestine/Israel and Cyprus, for instance —t he Kashmir dispute is also the legacy of British colonial policy. In 1947 when Britain was about to leave, India was partitioned into the dominion states of Pakistan and India. The principle agreed was that Muslim majority areas would constitute Pakistan while Hindu majority areas would remain part of India. There were also about 560 princely states that enjoyed some measure of autonomy. In typical divide-and-rule policy, the British had installed Muslim rulers on states that had Hindu majorities while Hindu rulers on those with Muslim majorities.

These states were free to accede to either India or Pakistan provided two conditions were taken into account: geographical contiguity, and the wishes of the people. Naturally, Muslim majority areas wanted to join Pakistan while Hindu majority areas were keen to join their Hindu co-religionists in India. The vast majority of states were little more than large land estates and their future did not matter much. There were three states that were of importance: Junagarh and Manawadar, Hyderabad Deccan and Jammu and Kashmir. The first two had Muslim rulers but Hindu majorities while the third, Jammu and Kashmir had a predominantly Muslim population (99% in the Vale of Kashmir, for instance) but a Hindu ruler. When rulers of the first two showed inclination to join Pakistan, then Indian Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru put paid to their desire. He dispatched the army to impose Indian ruler arguing that their populations were predominantly Hindu and must therefore form part of India.

In the case of Kashmir, the overwhelming majority of people wanted to join Pakistan and when the maharaja (ruler) prevaricated, the people rebelled.

In the case of Kashmir, the overwhelming majority of people wanted to join Pakistan and when the maharaja (ruler) prevaricated, the people rebelled. He fled the state in the face of the people’s uprising aided by Muslim tribesmen from Pakistan. It was under these circumstances that British intrigue in connivance with Hindu India came into play. Lord Louis Mountbatten, the last British viceroy of India, had become the governor general of India. He together with a number of Indian politicians persuaded the maharaja to accede to India in return for Indian military help to crush the people’s uprising as well as the tribesmen that were on the verge of capturing Srinagar itself.

Even while India dispatched troops to Kashmir, Nehru pledged to the world that the wishes of the people would be determined once the situation was normalized. War broke out between India and Pakistan as the latter felt it was being deprived of its fundamental right to vital territory. Nehru pledged that a plebiscite (referendum) would be held to ascertain the wishes of the people of Kashmir. As the Pakistan army, tribesmen and the Kashmiri masses made steady progress in Kashmir, India took the matter to the UN Security Council. Again, Nehru pledged that once peace was restored and all foreign troops withdrawn, a referendum would be held in Kashmir. Pakistan insisted that there should be a neutral caretaker administration in Kashmir to prepare the ground for a referendum that would be organized and supervised by international observers.

This was contained in a Security Council resolution that both India and Pakistan accepted. For Pakistan, the withdrawal of forces meant all forces — whether from India or Pakistan — while the Indians interpreted this to mean that only Pakistani forces would withdraw. How they came to this conclusion is unclear but it demonstrated their duplicitous nature right from the beginning. Pakistan could not and would not accept such an interpretation. It was contrary to the letter and spirit of the Security Council resolution.

With the forces at a standstill, India started to tighten its grip on the Kashmir Valley that it occupied while Nehru continued to issue soothing noises about holding a referendum. He repeated this in his radio broadcasts as well as in telegrams to Pakistani Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan. Once India had consolidated its military control of the Kashmir Valley, Nehru reneged on his pledge made repeatedly to the people of Kashmir, to Pakistan and to the world at large.

Kashmir remains divided to this day between India and Pakistan. There have been numerous uprisings against Indian occupation. The last one started in December 1989 and is still raging. It has intensified or ebbed depending on the ground conditions but there has been no peaceful day in Kashmir. At least 100,000 Kashmiri civilians have been murdered by the 700,000 Indian occupation troops and more than 10,000 Kashmiri women have been raped. To India’s lasting shame, not one person from the military, police or its Border Security Forces involved in such heinous crimes has been arrested, tried or punished.

At its core, Kashmir is not a dispute over territory between India and Pakistan. At one level it is because Pakistan has been deprived of its right under the rules that were agreed upon at the time of partition. But more fundamental is the right of the Kashmiri people to determine their own future free from coercion and intimidation. While claiming to be the world’s largest democracy and currently holding a parliamentary election to choose its next government, India has denied this most basic right to the Kashmiri people.

The people of Kashmir refuse to accept the occupation of their land, their villages, homes and indeed their souls by Hindu India. They have struggled for their rights for decades and appear determined to continue as long it takes to secure this right.

What is surprising is that the Kashmiris’ suffering has received scant attention in the international media. Occasionally, some story would break out because the crimes committed by Indian troops are so horrendous that they cannot be ignored. The issue, however, is soon forgotten. What is the reason for this neglect and why have the Kashmiris been deprived of the right to hold a referendum when people of East Timor, for instance exercised this right in 1999 and those of South Sudan in 2011? Neither East Timor nor South Sudan was a separate entity before breaking away from Indonesia and Sudan respectively. Kashmir has never been a part of India yet the latter stubbornly clings to it claiming it is an “integral part.” Even nature had made it so: Kashmir is separated from India by huge mountains that back onto India. Kashmir’s natural links were always with Pakistan. Its roads, telegraph and rivers all linked it with Pakistan and this is how it was until the Indian army invaded and occupied Kashmir in October 1947.

What is the reason for the indifference shown by the West, international organizations and indeed human rights and peace groups around the world? Are Kashmiri lives any less valuable than those of people elsewhere?

What is the reason for the indifference shown by the West, international organizations and indeed human rights and peace groups around the world? Are Kashmiri lives any less valuable than those of people elsewhere? True, in the current global environment, some people are considered “superior” to others but that can hardly justify the horrendous crimes perpetrated against the Kashmiris. It is often argued that since India is the world’s “largest democracy” and that it has a rapidly growing economy with some 350 million people with surplus income to spend on luxuries, the West is keen to tap into this market thus not wishing to upset Indian rulers.

Indian democracy has clearly failed the fundamental test of extending such rights to the Kashmiris. Further, the human, social and political rights of the Kashmiris cannot be sacrificed at the altar of Western economic interests. There are certain core values that must be upheld by everyone.

What is even more intriguing is the lack of interest about the plight of the Kashmiri people by civil society groups in the West. Part of the fault lies with the Kashmiris and their Pakistani friends. They have not pursued this matter in a vigorous or systematic manner. There are many good people in the West that would like to take up the cause of the oppressed anywhere in the world. A fundamental requirement for this is that civil society groups must be made aware of the Kashmiris’ suffering. A good place to start would be university campuses in North America where students are idealistic and willing to offer a helping hand.

If the issue of Kashmir were properly presented, there is no reason why it should not generate concern and interest.

If the issue of Kashmir were properly presented, there is no reason why it should not generate concern and interest. A good example is the effort made by the Canadian-based Friends of Kashmir that has partnered with the Canadian Peace Alliance (CPA). At their annual convention last January, the CPA passed a resolution in support of the Kashmiris and their right to self-determination. The CPA represents some 560 organizations across Canada. There is enormous goodwill available that can be tapped into for a just cause. Similarly, students on campuses must be mobilized to take up the cause of the Kashmiris and demand that India must honour its international obligations. This cannot be left merely to students of Kashmiri origin; there are very few on North American campuses. This must be taken up as a responsibility by students of Pakistani origin in conjunction with students from Palestine and other Muslim countries as well as their sincere Canadian and American friends.

As a follow-up step, a boycott campaign of Indian goods, cultural events and Bollywood movies would serve notice that India cannot get away, literally with murder in Kashmir. The long-suffering people of Kashmir deserve no less.

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