Saturday, 19 January 2013

Kashmir dispute and right to travel

Kashmir dispute and right to travel
Dr Shabir Choudhry              19 January 2013
It was sad to note that respectable citizens of State of Jammu and Kashmir, Vijay Abrol and Darvinder Singh Behal were arrested and harassed by Pakistan’s secret agency, ISI that is known as ‘state within state’ and that has no respect for human rights. It is unfortunate that citizens of Jammu and Kashmir are forcibly divided by India and Pakistan and we have to obtain a visa for either India or Pakistan if we wish to visit the other part of the State. Both Vijay Abrol and Darvinder Singh Behal reside in Jammu, and entered Pakistan on a valid visit visa; and yet they were arrested because the Pakistani establishment and their puppets have little respect for human rights and legal documents.
Right to assemble and right to movement (travel) are fundamental human rights. By illegally arresting these guests of people of Azad Kashmir, authorities have violated: Universal Declaration of Human Rights; the UNCIP Resolutions, Pakistani Law, International Law and Islamic Law. It won’t be possible to give details of all laws mentioned above; however, I will quote relevant sections of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 13 of which states:
1)      ‘Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.’

2)      The authorities are also in breach of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights article 2, which states:

‘Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.’
Those who arrested these guests and respectable citizens of Jammu and Kashmir demonstrated that their action was also discriminatory and communal in nature. In the past, especially after July 1988, Muslim Kashmiris came in thousands by crossing the LOC without any documents, and authorities and the secret agencies of Pakistan welcomed them with open arms just because they wanted to get arms, training and funds that they can go back to fight Indian army in Kashmir.

Darvinder Singh Behal and Vijay Abrol, on the other hand were non Muslims and came here with a message of peace. They represented Jammu and Kashmir Peace Forum and wanted to promote peace, good will and better understanding among the forcibly divided people. The local people welcomed them and held various functions in their honour. Their message was very encouraging and advanced the cause of peace and unity. Darvinder Singh Behal said:

‘We people of Jammu and Kashmir are one nation; and we want to be united and live as a nation. We are one and must remain one.’

He further said: ‘Attempts are being made to divide people of Jammu and Kashmir in name of religion. The Kashmir dispute is not religious in nature. It is a political issue and must be resolved peacefully. The use of force will not help us to resolve this issue.’

On issue of All Parties Hurriyet Conference which is promoted by Pakistan as a representative of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, Darvinder Singh Behal said:

‘Hurriyet Conference does not represent people of Jammu and Kashmir. They don’t represent people of Jammu, people of Ladakh, people of Gilgit Baltistan and people of Azad Kashmir. One can say, at best, they represent people of the Valley of Kashmir’.

Those who arrested Darvinder Singh Behal and Vijay Abrol did not appreciate the agenda they were promoting. However, their message was very well received by all peace loving people here. Azad Kashmiri civil society, political parties and newspapers arranged various functions to promote this message of peace and co existence; and those who advanced communalism and hatred were alarmed by this. They did not like their presence and their message, as they thought this message of peace, love and coexistence was a serious threat to their agenda.

Furthermore, they thought the kind of welcome these people had in Azad Kashmir would encourage other people from there to visit this region, and that could strengthen the bond among the divided people. Interaction between the divided people would surely result in better understanding and boost the Kashmiri nationalism. The prospect of an independent Jammu and Kashmir, peace and harmony is against their interests; so despite the valid documents they arrested them. They also arrested Arif Shahid, President of Jammu Kashmir National Liberation Council, who was taking them from Mirpur.

The secret agencies thought this harassment and intimidation would send a clear signal that they don’t want anyone coming from there with a message of peace and coexistence; and they don’t want anyone from Azad Kashmir to accommodate them and promote this kind of message. Furthermore, they don’t want anyone to criticise their sponsored Hurriyet Conference and expose them.

This strategy proved to be counter productive, as civil society of Azad Kashmir, political parties and ordinary members of the society strongly opposed this; and demanded their immediate release. Demonstrations were held in various towns of Azad Kashmir condemning the arrests and demanding their immediate release. This show of strength and strong resentment forced the authorities to release the visitors. However, Arif Shahid was released a day after, may be just to make him realise that his crime of providing a lift to these guests was very serious.

The arrests were made on flimsy charges that their visas were only for Pakistan. If this claim has any merit then one may ask, why Muslims who crossed over the LOC to obtain weapons and training were not arrested; and why they were welcomed, accommodated and dignified. Furthermore, Hurriyet Conference or other Muslim leaders when they visit Pakistan, why they are allowed to visit Azad Kashmir and provided with full protocol?

In a case reported as Ayub Azeez Khan V Jammu and Kashmir Council (PLD 1995 Azad J&K1), citizens of Jammu and Kashmir from the Indian control Kashmir entered Pakistan on Indian passports and then shifted to Azad Kashmir. They sought directions from the High Court that they should not be pushed ‘back to Indian held Kashmir’, and should be allowed to reside in Azad Kashmir permanently. The High Court observed that they had ‘valid right to reside in any part of the Azad Kashmir, and thus, they could not be forcibly deported to Indian held Kashmir’. It was further observed that ‘the mode of travelling on passports could not place embargo on the vested rights of the State Subjects to reside permanently in Azad Kashmir’.
So one can see from the above that the secret agencies of Pakistan had ulterior motives in arresting these people; and that it was clearly human rights violation aimed at inflicting fear and intimidation. I urge both India and Pakistan to ease visa restrictions and open all traditional routes linking the former Princely State of Jammu and Kashmir that people of the divided State could interact and trade with each other. This process will help to promote peace and stability and find amicable solution of the Kashmir dispute.

Also I urge people of Jammu and Kashmir to continue their struggle for fundamental rights, including unfettered right to determine their future that we can live as a nation and protect our history, culture and identity. I further request them to visit the regions divided by the LOC and build bridges of understanding to promote peace, stability and unification of the State of Jammu and Kashmir.

Writer is a political analyst and author of many books and booklets. Also he is Director Institute of Kashmir 

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