Friday, 30 May 2008

Round table conference on Kashmir

Round table conference on Kashmir
Shabir Choudhry

Last week Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front UK and Europe called very important and timely Round Table Conference on Kashmir in which all Kashmiri parties in UK were invited. Almost all the invitees came to the Conference and included top leadership of all the nationalist parties, ruling party of Azad Kashmir and other religious and pro Pakistan parties.

It was after very long time political parties from all shades of opinion came together under one roof to discuss and analyse situation in Kashmir and formulate a policy acceptable to all. Atmosphere of the conference was very friendly and accommodating, and all the speakers openly expressed their point of view. With invitation the Conference organisers sent out three topics for discussion:

1. The affect on the Kashmir issue after September 11?
Are elections in both parts of Kashmir the solution?
Will independent Kashmir be the breeding place for terrorists?

I was also asked to speak on the above topics, and views expressed are mine only. It is not a report on the proceedings of the conference, but my humble contribution in the conference. I thought it would be a good idea that my readers also read what I said in the conference. In my written English speech I said:

Mr President, dear friends and colleagues Aslamo Alaykam

I am grateful to be allowed to come here and speak to you, and in cricket terms speak to you as an opening batsman. Those of you who follow cricket can understand what kind of pressure and responsibility rests on the shoulders of an opener. He has to perform well, and lay down foundations of the inning, and make it easy for those who are to follow him.

My request to the President of the Conference is to include issue of Mangla Dam for discussion as well, as this issue alone will have enormous impact on future of thousands of Kashmiri lives, and their future generations.

1. The affect on the Kashmir issue after September 11?

Whether we like it or not 11th September has changed the course of history. The world and world politics will never be same again. Those activities which were considered as reasonable or which were under one pretext or the other, allowed to continue, would not be tolerated in future. And what is reasonable and what is to be tolerated is to be determined by a very small group of people in Washington DC, who has strong links with oil and gas business.

During this ‘war on terrorism’, which has no end in sight, not only that revolutionary organisations would find it extremely difficult to continue their struggle, but nation states would also find it difficult to protect their sovereignty. Yesterday it was Afghanistan, today it is Iraq, and on a list of future targets the following are on to top: North Korea, Iran, Pakistan, Syria, Somalia and Saudi Arabia.

These so called guardians of peace and liberty have assumed the right to attack any target any where in the world, and if existing rules do not allow them to carry out their desired agenda they change the rules to suit them. Any one could be killed and arrested by saying that he had links with Al Qaeeda and Taliban.

This approach of America and Britain is encouraging other countries to adopt similar attitude, and this is not good news for all those organisations who are fighting for right of self determination.

These countries claim they are fighting to eradicate ‘terrorism’, but they don’t want to look at the causes of that alleged ‘terrorism’, but their actions and method of dealing with suspects of alleged ‘terrorism’ is designed to terrorise people and nation states in to submission. And in view of many, this strategy is designed to encourage more violence, more militancy and more chaos. The Americans and their allies are breeding new generation of militants and ‘terrorists’, and that will ultimately give them an excuse to continue their ‘crusade’.

It is in light of this changed environment we have to think and plan our future strategy. I understand there are United Nations resolutions on Kashmir which have not been implemented; but there are UN resolutions which are not implemented by many other countries. Israel alone has flouted 29 Security Council resolutions, Iraq has problems with implementing 16 Security Council resolutions. There are resolutions which demand of Turkey to withdraw from Cyprus, which it invaded in 1974; and there are resolutions which ask Morocco to withdraw troops from Western Sahara, occupied in 1975. I am sure there are other countries which have problems with UN resolutions. This is not in any way to condone the Indian and the Pakistani occupation of Kashmir but to explain the situation of resolutions, and how they treated by other countries.

In Security Council if you have support of one or more powerful countries - Permanent 5 members of the Security Council - then you can virtually do what you like, and ignore all calls for implementation. This is why people say size and contacts matter; it is because of size and contacts we don’t even hear about resolutions on Cyprus and on Western Sahara. Turkey is an important member of NATO with powerful friends; and USA and French oil interests on the oil-rich coast off Western Sahara help Morocco to keep its occupation.

We must understand that whatever value the UN resolutions on Kashmir might have in today’s changed political environment, they DONOT provide solution to the complicated dispute of Kashmir. In any case they are not acceptable to nationalist Kashmiris as they limit our right to independence.

Then question is where do we go from here? What options do we have, and what is the best strategy to highlight the cause of united and independent Kashmir? We must remember that both India and Pakistan have entrenched positions on Kashmir, and despite threat of a nuclear war, they are not willing to show any flexibility. It is also disappointing that each time America and Britain find a new target the world attention shifts away from Kashmir; and international community only shows concern in defusing the tension rather than resolving the root cause of this tension. And once tension is reduced and threat of war is no longer imminent, Kashmir is put back on the back burner. While working out a future strategy on Kashmir we need to keep all these in mind.

2. Are elections in both parts of Kashmir the solution?

Many people, especially in the West, believe that elections are the best method to ascertain public opinion and to see which leader or leaders have public following. Whereas to take part in election and to stand as a candidate is a democratic right of every person in a democratic society, elections of any kind could not substitute a referendum. And it was a referendum which was promised to the people of Kashmir.

Elections are held in civil societies to run affairs of that society, and aim is to elect new administration. People are asked to vote who should be in charge of administration. In other words elections have strong administrative element in them, and dispute in Kashmir is not of administrative in nature, although people are not happy with administrative set ups in both parts of Kashmir. People of Kashmir are deprived of their right to determine their future, and election of any kind could not help to solve this problem especially when Kashmir is divided and occupied by two different countries with agenda of their own.

UN Security Council Resolutions of 1951 and 1957 on Kashmir very clearly state that elections could not substitute a plebiscite which was promised to the people of Kashmir. Security Council Resolution of 30 March 1951reads as follows:

‘…Affirming that the convening of a Constitutional Assembly as recommended by the General Council of the All Jammu and Kashmir National Conference, and any action that Assembly might attempt to take to determine the future shape and affiliation of the entire State or any part thereof would not constitute a disposition of the State in accordance with the above principle’. {Principle agreed in this matter was that ‘the final disposition of the State of Jammu and Kashmir will be made in accordance with the will of the people expressed through the democratic method of a free and impartial plebiscite conducted under the auspices of the United Nations.’

Having clarifying the legal position of elections and their likely impact on the future of the State, it is important to stress that we should not have double standards on the issue of elections. When elections are held in Azad Kashmir (People of Gilgit and Baltistan are not that lucky to have luxury of elections) whether they are rigged or not people are encouraged to take part in them, because they are important for democratic process and to run local administration. We all know only that party forms government in Azad Kashmir which has blessing of the Islamabad government.

But when elections are held in the Indian held Kashmir we all make every effort to oppose those elections, and if possible disrupt them. Is it because the people of that region do not have a right to elect their assembly to run local administration, or have we assumed that people of that region have no local problems that need to be sorted out?
In democratic societies it is a right of every individual to take part in elections either as a candidate or as a voter; but it is also his right to sit at home and boycott the whole process. In either case it should be his decision, his choice made without any threat or intimidation. He should not be forced to come out of his house to vote; also he should not be forced to stay at home.

As pointed out earlier elections are not substitute for referendum, and elections are not held to decide future status of the State or any part thereof, so why is it that they are considered as halaal when held in Azad Kashmir and haraam when held on the other side LOC.

3. Will independent Kashmir be the breeding place for terrorists?

Call it violent acts, militancy, armed struggle or terrorism it is not confined to one region of the world. ‘Terrorism’ as it is seen and described today, is an international phenomenon, and root cause of it, by and large is injustice, inequality and oppression. Attempts should be made to eliminate injustice and inequality and that in turn will root out militancy and violence.

It is disappointing and discriminating report, which suggests that an independent Kashmir could be a safe haven for terrorists. Very devious minds are at work behind this mischievous report and attempt is to deprive people of Kashmir their right to emerge as an independent state. If a country has violence does that mean that country should be deprived of its independence.

There are many countries which have serious law and order problem, in some countries there are separatist movements, does this mean that these countries should lose their right to exist because they have violence there? Or is this a new plan to deprive freedom to those who are fighting for independence, and more seriously is this a beginning of new era where weak countries with law and order problem could lose their right exist?

Mr President, thank you for allowing me to express my thoughts on these issues. I have taken more time than I was supposed to, and I don’t have any time left to talk on the issue of Mangla Dam, I hope some other leaders will deal with this.

Once again thank you for listening to me.

Shabir Choudhry

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