First meeting of Pak Parliamentary Committee on Kashmir

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By Dr Syed Nazir Gilani

People of Kashmir, their sympathisers and human rights defenders have a sense of relief that Pakistan Parliamentary Committee on Kashmir held its first meeting at the Parliament House on 10 May 2019. It was chaired by Syed Fakhar Imam MNA and resourced by its Director General, Nasim Khalid.Minister Foreign Affairs, Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Hussain Qureshi attended as a special invitee. He briefed the Committee on the history of the dispute and the future strategy of the Government.

We welcome the start. Kashmir Committee chairman seems to have his hands on the handle as he rightly described 2018 as the deadliest year for the people of Kashmir, as the number of martyred by Indian security forces crossed the figure of 500. He endorsed the recommendation of “a commission of inquiry to conduct a comprehensive independent international investigation into allegations of human rights violations in Kashmir” made by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights as inevitable to stop Indian oppression.

Families of Kashmiri activists and Kashmiri leaders in the Indian administered part of Kashmir, arrested by NIA and detained in Tihar jail, in Delhi have a reason to be reassured that they are not forgotten. The Committee has taken a due note of the detention of Yasin Malik and his health condition.

On the question of ‘future strategy’ of the Government, Foreign Minister briefed the Committee that “we are patiently waiting for the election results of the Indian side and whoso ever will be forming the government we shall try to engage them to the peaceful solution for the core issue of Kashmir”. So far so good as a bilateral and intra-State interest. There is a mention of Kashmiris right of self-determination but the discussions seem to have skipped, the fact that UN has finalised a package to carry out a UN supervised vote in Kashmir.

Foreign Office of Pakistan has wonderful and able people looking after Kashmir and India desk. Unfortunately, they may be misdirecting themselves, as they have on a number of occasions in the past, that Kashmir is an “issue”. It is not an issue as there are 8-13 pending issues between India and Pakistan. Kashmir is a question of “equality of people and right to self-determination”. The people of Kashmir have a title to right of self-determination. This is a basic human right. Under article 1 (2) of the principles and purposes of UN Charter, the Right of Self Determination constitutes the basis of UN Charter.

Diluting Right of Self Determination from a title to an issue is unhelpful. In addition the over-rider of waiting for the results of Indian elections, compromises the dignity of Kashmir case. Kashmir should not have to be considered as a sub-ordinate subject and linked to a happening in India. Although the press release of the Committee in item 4, has referred Kashmir as a ‘core issue’, the Government strategy should not pull it down from its status.

India and Pakistan have agreed on a UN supervised vote in Kashmir and if there is a dispute it is on the process. One of the main hurdles has been the demilitarization in Kashmir. Since there is an agreement to hold an unconditional, free and fair plebiscite, demilitarization should not have a condition. Any condition from any side, in particular, from India would make plebiscite conditional.

Demilitarization should have been an item of discussion in the Committee meeting. Killings are being carried out by Indian security forces and Committee wanted to stop it. We should be discussing the status of Indian forces in accordance with the terms of their first admission into Kashmir and as provided by the UN security Council Resolution of 21 April 1948. Indian security forces are under seven restraints and three of them are imposed by UN on their number, behaviour and location.

The only Kashmir Committee that has worked hard in the past was chaired by Nawabzada NasrUllah Khan. The Committee looked beyond its composition and invited outside independent expert opinions. It did not believe in ‘travel alone’ wasteful exercises. It involved Hurriyat (United Hurriyat) and other Kashmiris accredited for their expertise on Kashmir. Age did not deter the commitment of Nawabzada NasrUllah Khan. His work at the 50th anniversary of UN in New York and at the Islamic Summit in Casablanca, Morocco in December 1994 remains a guide for people of all ages. A man with a purpose and grace, he contributed a lot to Kashmir case and to the visit of Hurriyat chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Maulana Abbas Ansari.

Syed Fakhar Imam MNA, the new chairman of Kashmir Committee is a senior parliamentarian and one hopes that he would take the Kashmir agenda to new heights. He can not climb the new heights if he repeats the wisdom stashed in A4 size files. We had one human rights organization JKCHR from 1984-1996. All of a sudden the heavens opened from above and human rights organizations mushroomed after 1996. We were exposed to the collapse of Kashmir Centres set up at Brussels, London and Washington. Kashmir case lost its merit and dignity.

Kashmir Committee has made a good start. We welcome it. It needs to rejuvenate a culture of inclusiveness. Kashmir is an intra-disciplinary subject. Therefore, all elements including an outside independent input from within Kashmir, Pakistan and the Diaspora should remain the focus in the new “future strategy” of the Government.

Out-posts like London, with huge Kashmiri and Pakistani populations, have a lead role to play. Pakistan has a very able and reliable senior diplomat Mohammad Nafees Zakaria heading the High Commission in London. He has a reliable understanding of the Kashmir case and is highly respected and trusted by the community. If we re-orient ourselves correctly, Government of India cannot win a war against the people of Kashmir.

(The author is President of London based Jammu and Kashmir Council for Human Rights – NGO in Special Consultative Status with the United Nations.)