Pak’s ‘Muslim’ claim over J&K is bogus

July.16 : Once again with US President Barack Obama’s prompting the Kashmir issue has come to the forefront. In the last few months, Pakistan has seized every opportunity to voice its concern about a solution to the Kashmir issue at every possible international forum. This is in sharp contrast to the near-absence of the issue during the past two or three decades. The question then is how valid is Pakistan’s claim to be a party in the Kashmir issue?

The Indian Independence Act passed by the British Parliament had vacated the sovereign power of Britain and placed it fairly and squarely on the 700 princes. The Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir exercised his option to join India. India also promised that there would be a plebiscite and this was incorporated in the United Nations-supported Peace Agreement. With the maharaja’s decision to opt for Kashmir on the strength of the law passed by the British Parliament, that should have been the end of the matter. But Jawaharlal Nehru formally appealed to the UN, declaring Pakistan as the aggressor. The result was that a ceasefire brokered by the UN has lasted ever since, with sporadic and spasmodic attempts by Pakistan to make incursions into India’s territory. Unfortunately, this plebiscite demand remained and the dispute has continued.

Even if the UN-brokered truce enjoined upon India a duty to hold a plebiscite after the withdrawal of Pakistan forces, that commitment has lost its validity as the Pakistan Army never withdrew from the Muzaffarabad-Gilgit area. The UN resolutions, which were adopted around 1948-49, are no longer valid, to quote former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. For some unexplained reason, India has avoided reference to this important announcement. It is time India raises this in international fora to resubmit our credentials and to say that no UN resolution on Jammu and Kashmir is valid.

Pakistan does not have a case regarding Kashmir. We should refuse to discuss it with Pakistan and boldly assert that India claims sovereignty over the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir, including the so-called "Azad Kashmir" which is under Pakistan’s illegal control and also some stretches in the border areas in the north which Pakistan handed over to China several years ago.

The geopolitical changes in 1971 viz the break-up of Pakistan and the emergence of Muslim-majority Bangladesh as a sovereign country completely altered the situation. This split drastically changed the situation and Pakistan can no longer legitimately claim Jammu and Kashmir on the ground that it has a Muslim majority.

Bangladesh has a much larger population of Muslims than Pakistan. But it has never claimed to be a party in the dispute over Kashmir. The number of Muslims in India is more than Pakistan’s entire population. Why cannot the claim of the Indian Muslims, who prefer Kashmir to be a part of India, be treated as superior to the claim that Pakistan has made?

Jammu and Kashmir has had a number of general elections, along with other states of India, whereas Pakistan has been under the rule of its Army most of the time since independence. The Pakistan Army, to keep itself in power, has kept the Kashmir issue alive. It is a strong, omnipotent force in Pakistan’s body politic.

The international media is abuzz with news about China helping to build an illegal railway station in no-man’s land along the Munabao-Khokhrapar train link. India must protest as vehemently as it can.

Unfortunately, we were generous towards a defeated Pakistan at the Shimla Conference (1972) and repatriated many prisoners of war. This was a gesture of which there is no parallel in history. Why Indira Gandhi, in return for these, did not make Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto accept the 1948 ceasefire line as the effective boundary between the two countries remains a mystery.

Nonetheless, Pakistan stopped raising the Kashmir issue during the next two decades. It came back only with the Kargil conflict of 1999 and after Pervez Musharraf’s controversial visit to India. The National Democratic Alliance government, by tactlessly accepting his controversial self-created status as President of Pakistan, gave him the opportunity to raise the Kashmir issue in discussions with India. This is how the Kashmir issue returned to centre court. It has stayed there ever since, helped by the advent of jihadi terror following the rise of the Taliban in Pakistan and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

Interestingly, India’s strong legal case comes under moral scrutiny when we come to the issue of alleged atrocities perpetrated by India’s security forces in the Kashmir Valley. Why are we unable to prevent such incidents? These are very unfortunate and affect our moral claim. They also lead to a rather shame-faced attitude in a section of the media, which often takes up such issues of abuse of human rights in the Valley.

Exemplary punishment should be given to all those officials and men who are responsible for violations of human rights. There is some force in chief minister Omar Abdullah’s demand for the withdrawal of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and other paramilitary forces from the Valley. For law and order to prevail, the Kashmir police should be held responsible.

Also, there is a case for suspension of the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act. If the Army keeps the Line of Control under its strict control and successfully prevents intrusion by the members of militant outfits, then the Jammu and Kashmir police force can be successfully in charge of the Valley.

There will be little or no scope for men in uniform to indulge in the kind of offences they are often charged with. In that event the secessionist forces cannot give calls for bandhs so frequently and bring life in the Valley to a standstill.

Liberals in India should remember that there are many cases of suppression of civil rights in other parts of the country, such as Chhattisgarh. If such cases also take place in Kashmir they need not be linked with the general issue, thereby weakening India’s strong case.

Nitish Sengupta, an academic and an author, is a former Member of Parliament and a

former secretary to the Government of India

Nitish Sengupta

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