Decimation and rewriting of Kashmir history

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By Zafar Khan

WHILE India’s right wing Hindu ultra-nationalist BJP Government’s decision to abrogate articles 370, and 35A on 5 August 2019 to annex, and bifurcate Kashmir, is illegal, her decision to do so however, is designed to disintegrate Kashmir’s heritage, destroy its religious and cultural identity, and communalise centuries’ old harmony and tolerance in the State, to further the objectives of BJP Government’s flagship Hindutva project. Primarily India’s policy is designed to bring about demographic change. This is intended to be achieved with new domicile rules which replaced article 35A.With these rules, India has literally opened up Jammu Kashmir, (full name of the internationally disputed State) to 1.3 billion Indians.

 With little over twelve months since illegal annexation of Kashmir, more than 1.2 million domicile certificates, according to Kashmir Observer 1 Sept 2020, have been issued with one or the other pretext, to non-Kashmiris. At this rate, when Prime Minister Modi’s ultra- nationalist BJP goes to the polls in the 2024 general election, a proud declaration of victory over Kashmir, will be made by Mr Modi, the political progeny of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-RSS, to heighten majoritarian extremism in his party’s bid to secure another term in government.

India’s illegal action not only betrayed people of Kashmir, but defied the UN by showing utter contempt for its numerous resolutions regarding Kashmir’s political status. With illegal annexation, and disintegration of the173 year old State, the BJP/RSS nexus has embarked upon its nefarious and malicious policy to decimate centuries’ old heritage, and identity of the interconnected heterogeneous State, by fomenting divisions on religious, ethnic, linguistic, and cultural grounds across its diverse population.

India defied UN resolutions no. 91 of 1951, 123 and 126 of 1957, which clearly stipulate that unilateral action to change disposition of Kashmir was prohibited for India and Pakistan. Since both countries control Kashmir as proxies for the UN, changes cannot be made by either country unilaterally, until a fair and transparent plebiscite takes place under UN’s auspices on final status of the divided State.

KARACHI: Activists of Gilgit Baltistan Youth Alliance shouting slogans during protest on October 11 for immediate release of political prisoners in Gilgit-Baltistan. These demonstrations are being held in other cities of Pakistan as well.

Kashmiris across the CfL hope that Pakistan will not follow in India’s foot- steps to make similar changes in Azad Jammu Kashmir, and Gilgit Baltistan AJKGB. Reports in Pakistani media however indicate, that Pakistan intends to absorb (annex) GB as its province, which no doubt, will add to complications in the issue and the region, and inevitably, will create serious disquiet among the people across the divided State. India however, did exactly the opposite with the disputed territory, and rules the bifurcated State now directly from New Delhi as union territory-UT- of Ladakh, and as the UT of Jammu Kashmir, comprising of Kashmir valley and the province of Jammu.

With abrogation of article 35A and introduction of new domicile rules, an undeclared objective of the Indian Government is to dilute Kashmir’s identity, and its Islamic heritage, and to reduce Muslim majority into an inconsequential minority within a few years. 5 August 2019 therefore, will be etched in the memories of Kashmiris as their nakba or the great catastrophe. In order to delegitimise Kashmiris’ internationally recognised right to self-determination India has projected their freedom struggle as a struggle for Muslim religious rights. In a calculated policy to vilify and denigrate the freedom struggle, Indian leadership has weaponised the Pandit minority of Kashmir valley to project the struggle as Islamic terrorism. Ironically projecting the Kashmiris as the problem, in their own homeland.

 Despite an unabated militarised violence, and the ongoing siege, Britain and other major powers like the USA, and France, the three countries that are in the vanguard of the world-wide human rights advocacy, have shown no interest in the effect of the siege in Kashmir. With the Covid-19 pandemic millions of Kashmiris are under double lockdown since March 2020, which is enforced by 900,000 Indian troops. Human rights violations including the right to life itself, are all too frequently disregarded by Indian forces, which operate with total impunity under Armed Forces Special Powers Act AFSPA. According to the UNOHCHR report on Kashmir in July 2019, not a single military personnel has been prosecuted over the past “three decades.”

A view of main shopping market in Gilgit city

The UNOHCHR referring to the UNESCO report also confirms that India was responsible for half of the world-wide internet shutdowns. While India relaxed the internet restrictions earlier this year in Kashmir, users still remain deprived of access to 4G since 5 August 2019. Restrictions on the local media continue, while journalists are monitored and regularly detained under Public Safety Act PSA on ‘security’ grounds. International media, and journalists are not allowed to report as in reality Kashmir is isolated and shut away from the world.

Pro freedom politicians, dissenters and activists, languish in prisons across India on charges that are concocted, vindictive and politically motivated. For many families of the detained, it is extremely difficult to afford a trip from Kashmir to a prison in a far-off corner of India, which could involve a return journey of up to three thousand kilometres. With frequent use of PSA, and other preventive legislations and rules, there is no recourse to justice for the helpless families. These calculated and punitive methods of punishment, are colonial in nature, and designed to break the will of the people to force them into submission. According to the on- line Clarion India, a “staggering” loss of 40,000 crore rupees hit Kashmir’s economy, equalling 5.3 billion USD during August 2019 to July 2020.

To stifle political and democratic dissent systematic violations of human rights with mass illegal arrests and detentions of civilians including children, and political leaders are perpetrated with the use of most draconian laws like PSA and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, UAPA and AFSPA. The UN Secretary General’s report in June 2020 on “Children in Armed Conflict,” refers to 68 Kashmiri Children ranging from the ages of 9 to 17 who had been arrested on national security related charges after 5 august 2019. However, the figure could be in thousands rather than in hundreds. Report by the Forum for Human Rights in Jammu Kashmir, from August 2019 to July 2020, refers to “mass detentions” of political leaders including children. One of the very first Fact Finding Report by an all-female group from India in September 2019 states that in “one estimate given to us was that 13, 000 boys were lifted during this lockdown.” The group carried out its work between 17 and 21 September, and presented the findings at a press conference in Delhi on 24 September in 2019.

Many political leaders like the Chairman of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front-JKLF- Mr Yasin Malik, Mr Shabir Shah the Chairman of Democratic Freedom Party, Ms Aasiya Andrabi Chief of Dukhtaran-e- Millat, and her colleagues, Ms Naheeda Nasreen, Ms Famida Sofi, Dr Abdul Hameed Fayaz, leader (Amir) of Jamat-e-Islami, and Moulana Mushtaq A Veeri Vice President of the Jamiat-e- Ehl-e- Hadith, are held in the notorious Tihar Jail in Delhi. Like Mr Yasin Malik, they too, are held in solitary confinement.

It is dismaying to note however, that   British Foreign Office in its annual report entitled “Human Rights and Democracy” which came out in July 2020, makes no mention of India’s conduct in Jammu Kashmir let alone any details about the brutalities and inhuman treatment meted out to Kashmiris with the collective punishment inflicted on the people, with all its consequences through the ongoing siege.

Peoples’ Republic of China PRC, which is the third power directly linked with the Kashmir dispute, reacted to India’s illegal annexation of Kashmir in terms of exclusively her immediate national interest instead of taking an extended view to seek an equitable resolution of the issue based on the international legality with UN resolutions, and Kashmiris’ right to self-determination. As a powerful neighbour of Kashmir, we hope the PRC will support People of G B in their legitimate need for Self-Government, structured on the AJK model, and will encourage Pakistan to facilitate the needs of Gbians rather than to annex the region as a province of Pakistan. As people of the divided State including the Gbians, we fully support China Pakistan Economic Corridor CPEC. It is appropriate to expect however, that GB’s Government would be represented as a partner, on the all-important CPEC project.

We extend our heartfelt gratitude the governments and peoples of nations that support the rights and aspirations of our people’s valiant struggle for freedom. In particular our heartfelt gratitude to the people and the leadership of Republic of Turkey, Malaysia and the Islamic Republic of Iran, for their support. We are particularly grateful to His Excellency President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey for supporting our right to freedom during his virtual address to the UN General assembly in September 2020. We would like to thank His Excellency Mr Mahathir Mohamad, the former Prime Minister of Malaysia, and His Excellency President Hassan Rouhani of Iran, for their support to the people of Kashmir despite considerable opposition and threats of trade boycott by India.

Kashmiris wish to see their State become a cross road of peace to unlock prosperity, and amity in the region. All that is required is to take the first step based on the inherent and inalienable sovereign right, of people in accordance with the UN Charter and its relevant resolutions. Britain with its historic links in the region, is well placed to take that step. The PRC as the region’s major power, along with P5 nations, must encourage India and Pakistan, towards a people centric solution of the issue. Otherwise India’s path will lead to disintegration of Jammu Kashmir and its civilisation that has been nurtured for centuries, in the laps of the Pamirs, the Karakorums and the Himalayas. This will truly be a calamitous alternative, and rewriting of region’s history, which all concerned must do their utmost to avoid.

(The author is prominent Kashmiri leader and Head of JKLF’s Diplomatic Bureau. He may be contacted at zafargk@aol.com)