JAMMU AND KASHMIR: WE WANT PEACE IN KASHMIR

report of a study tour, from 01 to 26 JULY 2013 – Published on Belgian Association for Solidarity with Jammu and Kashmir BASJAK, by Paul  BEERSMANS, September 2013 (the study – 25 pdf pages – was for the Human Rights Council, 24th session, Geneva, 09-27 september 2013).

… 3. CONCLUSIONS:

Following conclusions can be drawn, based on the experiences of previous and the present study tour to the Indian J&K State, focused on the Kashmir Valley and Ladakh.  For the latest study tour to Jammu Province, see the report of January-February 2013 ‘J&K: TOLERANCE AND MUTUAL UNDERSTANDING’ on our website BASJAK.org. Comments are welcome, to be sent here:   

a. Jammu and Kashmir, within its 1947 pre-partition borders, is a difficult and sensitive State (222.000 km2) divided in three historically, religiously, politically, geographically, culturally, linguistic and economic distinct regions: Jammu Province including Azad Kashmir, the Kashmir Valley and Ladakh including Gilgit-Baltistan.  They have nothing in common.  People’s aspirations are conflicting and mutually exclusive: a small issue can culminate in major controversies and create inter-regional tensions of extreme nature.

b. Separatist leaders confirm that a solution must be worked out for the whole of J&K within the 1947 borders. According to them, there are three stakeholders: India, Pakistan and Kashmiri. There must be a dialogue among them. Surprisingly they refused to meet the Indian interlocutors whereas they are in close contact with the Government of Pakistan. Moreover, what about the aspirations of Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan? What about inter-Kashmiri contact and dialogue with these regions of J&K under Pakistani administration? It is high time to sit together with the democratically elected politicians and representatives of all regions of J&K, as they also are state-subjects having their aspirations and expectations. Only through an open and sincere discussion in depth among them one can come closer to each other. A compromise must be found based on mutual respect and trust. This is a difficult exercise made more difficult because there are hidden agendas and vested interests. Finding a solution is only possible through sustained dialogue, through compromise, not through dictate or to stay away from dialogue. The separatist leaders should not neglect India. Everything should be done to have an open, unconditional dialogue with this important stakeholder.

c. Violence and militancy went down. It is generally agreed upon that Pakistan gives moral, political, diplomatic and much more other support to the ‘movement’: infrastructure, logistics and human resources of the militants are still there. As a result, it is too early to reduce security forces. They have been withdrawn from public places, their visibility has been reduced largely, they returned to their barracks but kept in the area ready to intervene if the militants should decide to come into action again. The ideology of terrorism remains and as long as this is the case, insecurity will remain unabated. Terrorism has become a global threat. It is foolish to think that there will be peace in the region if the Government of India gives in to the pressure of terrorists: revoking AFSPA is not a political issue, it is a question of security.

d. There is no fundamental change in the policy of Pakistan towards militancy and terrorism. Pakistan pretends to give only moral, diplomatic and political support. However, it is an open secret that much more is on hand. Pakistan spends a lot of money to promote the Kashmir-issue, militants still have their training camps in Azad Kashmir and in Pakistan and continue to receive logistic and financial support. Negotiations or peace talks between India and Pakistan have not the slightest impact on Pakistan’s stand regarding the Kashmir-issue. Declarations regarding fighting terrorism and resolving the Kashmir-issue don’t have any value: they are just for the gallery, to appease the West, to reduce pressure on Pakistan.

e. On 25 June 2012, the famous Sufi Dastgeer Sahib Shrine, situated in the old part of Srinagar, burnt down. People were mourning because of the loss of this shrine but happy that the holy relics could be saved. They didn’t allow separatist leaders to capitalise on this tragedy. They didn’t accept the conspiracy theory floated by them in order to stir up anti-Indian reactions. Rebuilding and restoration of this historical shrine is in full progress.

f. Indian parliamentary elections are due in spring 2014. J&K State elections are due end of 2014. The separatist leaders were categorically: they will not participate in these elections, as they don’t have bearing on a final settlement of the dispute. The decision regarding boycott or not will be taken in due course. The separatist leaders want a peaceful solution of the dispute but are of the opinion that elections don’t lead to a solution.

g. Businessmen continue cross LoC trade because it is an important CBM although they face many problems. There are no communication links with the other side, no phone. There is only contact through e-mail and this is often not working. If there is a dispute with the other side traders can’t sit together to sort is out, they are not allowed to have face to face meetings. They must be provided a permanent permit so that they see what happens on the other side. Another problem is the barter trade: this should be replaced by cash payment through banking system. Tradable items are limited. Only two hundred trucks of nine tons per week (four days, fifty vehicles per day) are allowed. This should be more.

h. Traders are convinced that if the Kashmir-issue is addressed J&K will be Switzerland of the sub-continent. Then they can develop the Silk Road to Central Asia. They have a history of trade and culture with Central Asia. This will improve the situation in India and Pakistan. Only the business community may be able to find a solution of this conflict with the help of commercial CBM. Once business is addressed, people will feel comfortable and political issues will be side-lined. Business leads to points of interest not to hatred.

i. Priority must be given to restore normalcy. This can only be realised by stopping violence and misleading people. Kashmiris want to have a future and jobs for themselves and their children. After 23 years of militancy, it is high time to give the growing up generation a chance to have a normal youth and education. The Kashmiris are fed up with violence. A peaceful, lasting solution for Kashmir, accepted by India, Pakistan and the Kashmiris, is the only way out of this uncertain situation.

j. Corruption adds to the misery and sufferings of the common Kashmiri and has a destabilising effect on the normal functioning of the civil society. At all levels in J&K State a serious effort must be made to tackle corruption. It is too easy to point to the Centre as being the origin of all evils. One should have the courage and the honesty to recognise the shortcomings in the own system and take the necessary steps to redress the situation. Some new laws like the Right to Information Act and the Public Service Guarantee Act have been adopted in order to fight corruption but the implementation of these laws remains disappointing.

k. Because of the prevailing peaceful situation, all energy of the Government headed by Chief Minister Omar Abdullah can be spent on development and improvement of the general living conditions. The challenges are multiple: eradicate corruption and improve the functioning of the administration, the educational system, health care, etc. Terrorism must be tackled. The Government must bring back secularism, mutual respect.

l. The Amarnath Yatra went on smoothly. Almost 1.000.000 Yatris (pilgrims) made the long journey to the Amarnath cave situated in Kashmir at an altitude of 3.888 m. Separatist leaders welcomed the pilgrims and assured them that they would not be harmed. Kashmiris are happy with this evolution and hope this will continue and lead to normalcy.

m. The railway from Baramulla to Banihal is a piece of art: a nice trace through the Valley with its villages, its rice fields, its rural areas, up to the wall of the Pir Panjal Range where the train is like swallowed by the tunnel to be ejected in Jammu Region on the other side after a ride of only nine minutes through the eleven km long tunnel. It is an unforgettable experience: when the train sets in motion and enters the tunnel: all passengers start whistling, shouting, applauding, smiling. Everyone is overwhelmed, photos are taken with mobile phones, people shake hands and hug each other. This is without doubt a success story. This will bring about a change in the mind of the people. One should promote, facilitate the use of this train. One should organise school excursions so that students learn more about the people in Jammu Region. One should organise exchange programs.

n. The execution of Afzal Guru (a Kashmiri sentenced to death because of his involvement in the attack on the Indian Parliament in December 2001) was seen by the separatist leaders as another Indian exhibition of array of arrogance. In their eyes, Afzal Guru is a martyr and what happened will give a boost to the resistance movement. Mainstream politicians however were of the opinion that the verdict of the Supreme Court and the President of India must be respected. He exhausted all legal instruments to get his death sentence changed into life prison but didn’t succeed. Everyone agreed that the manner in which he was executed was a mistake. There were lapses in the execution because not carried out up to the mark. The jail manual was not followed properly.

o. Kashmiri Pandits are the original Kashmiri speaking inhabitants of Kashmir. In 1990, because of militancy, some 500.000 of them fled to safer places. This exodus changed drastically the demography of Kashmir. Pandits have emotional attachment with their birth ground, their roots. After more than twenty years, efforts are made to facilitate their return. Some Kashmiri Pandits returned to their home and are enjoying life. Mainly the older generation wants to return. The younger Pandits are not that eager to return: they studied outside J&K and many settled abroad. Kashmiris want them to return but the Government put them in clusters: this is a wrong signal as they are a part of the society. Putting them in clusters is not going to serve the purpose as it will have a negative impact on the Kashmiri society and lead to more polarisation. They should go back to their native places. Panun Kashmir (homeland in Kashmir) is not a solution. Minorities (Pandits, Sikhs, Christians, etc.) are safe here. Kashmiri are not fanatics: they are a part of our society and integrated. Everyone realises that the return of Pandits will not be easy and will be a long process.

p. The Chinese factor increases. This is of concern for the Centre and the State Government. Chinese are present in large numbers in Gilgit-Baltistan, an area under Pakistani administration. In Ladakh, Chinese intrusion is not a new phenomenon. China is putting pressure on India because they don’t like the Indian attitude towards the Dalai Lama and because they want to move forward with the border settlement negotiations. It is clear that the borders are not demarcated properly, no reliable maps, no agreements in the past. India and China must come to an agreement on their common borders.

q. As far as a solution for the Kashmir-issue is concerned, according to our perception, it is clear that maintaining the status quo is the only realistic approach for the years to come. There can be granted more autonomy or self-rule, there can be installed a federal setup, there can be porous/soft borders between the divided parts of J&K, there can be a kind of joint management, etc. but it is clear that neither India nor Pakistan are willing to make territorial concessions.

Since there is not a clear-cut solution, the way out must be found through democratic, peaceful means at the negotiation table: let all parties sit together and a solution will emerge automatically is the opinion of many Kashmiris. It is often emphasised, especially by the separatist leaders, that there are three stakeholders: India, Pakistan and the Kashmiris. As a result, they should be consistent and not exclude one of the two other stakeholders: they should engage in a dialogue with India. Finding and accepting a representative for India and Pakistan is not a problem. A huge and complex problem however is to find out who the representatives of the Kashmiris are and what their expectations and aspirations are:

  • In Jammu Province an overwhelming majority favours full integration in the Indian Union;
  • Ladakh strives for Union Territory status within the Indian Union;
  • In Kashmir we find different aspirations: the democratic, mainstream parties are in favour of remaining with India, the separatist leaders are divided: some want total independence, some want ‘azaadi’ (without specifying what this means), some want accession to Pakistan;
  • In Azad Kashmir (a part of J&K within the 1947 borders under Pakistani administration), people are not free according to the survey of Freedom House, a neutral think-tank. As they are not free, it is difficult to assess what they want. It can be assumed that some will be in favour of accession to Pakistan and others in favour of total independence. We can assume that also some people are in favour of accession to India;
  • Gilgit-Baltistan, under direct rule of Pakistan, is deprived of fundamental juridical, political, democratic rights. Also here it is difficult to assess what they want, and
  • Aksai Chin, under Chinese administration, is virtually not permanently inhabited. Here it is only a territorial problem between China and India.

r. Pakistan supports the cry for the right of self-determination of separatist leaders in Kashmir. However, accession to Pakistan is the only accepted option. Indeed, according to the Azad J&K, Interim Constitution Act, 1974, Par 7. (2): “No person or political party in Azad J&K shall be permitted to propagate against, or take part in activities prejudicial or detrimental to, the ideology of the State’s accession to Pakistan”. Thus, Pakistan limits the right of self-determination for the Kashmiris to accession to Pakistan. Other options such as accession to India, azadi (= freedom), total independence, partition or any other solution are totally excluded.

s. Right from the beginning the international community confirmed that Pakistan didn’t have a legal position in J&K. Pakistan invaded J&K in October 1947. In doing so, Pakistan is at the origin of the de facto partitioning of the State. Right from the beginning it was stated in the UN and UNCIP resolutions that Pakistan had to withdraw all its forces and other Pakistani citizens from J&K and to end its illegal occupation of J&K as a pre-condition for organising the plebiscite. Pakistan never accepted this demand of the international community. At the contrary, it tightened its grip on Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan, nowadays even allowing China to be present en masse in Gilgit-Baltistan. Consequently, the plebiscite has not been held.

Links for other study tour reports (find them all and completely on BASJAK and click on study tours):

JAMMU AND KASHMIR: More study tour reports, on Kashmir and IDP, by Paul Beermans:

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