Kashmir should be free

Kashmir should be free

October 27, 1947 is forever scarred into the collective memory of the Kashmiri people as the day they became occupied. And more recently the arbitrary abrogation by the BJP government of Article 370 of the Indian constitution, which gave special status to the disputed region of Jammu and Kashmir, signaled the tightening of the armed occupation of a people and stands as a collective affront to freedom, justice and honorable people throughout the world.

The historical dilemma began in 1846 with the illegal, immoral and inhumane sale of the historic state of Jammu and Kashmir to a non-Kashmiri Dogra family for services rendered to the British Raj. From that point onwards, Kashmiris have longed for self-determination. Yet, tragically, their legitimate aspirations were crushed by the grotesque, irregular and illegal ascension of the brutal foreign ruler Maharaja Hari Singh who did not have the consent of the people. With the arrival of Indian soldiers, the historic Black Day of Occupation began its most recent and insidious manifestation.

Historically, the Kashmir dispute is a fallout from the Partition of India. The Muslim-majority parts of British India became Pakistan and the Hindu-majority regions became the Dominion of India. There were, at that time, some 575 princely states in India under indirect British rule. Lord Mountbatten gave them the choice of joining either India or Pakistan, and instructed that their choice must be guided by the religious composition of their populace as well as by the borders they might share with either India or Pakistan.

Since more than 85 percent of the population of the state at that time was Muslim, the major rivers in the state flowed into Pakistan, the state shared a border of over 750 kilometers with Pakistan, the only road connecting Kashmir with the outside world throughout the year passed from Srinagar to Rawalpindi and the majority of the people of the state had cultural and historical ties with the people of Pakistan, it was a natural assumption that the area would accede to Pakistan.

However, on October 26, 1947, the Hindu ruler of Kashmir said his Muslim-majority kingdom would accede to India and not join newly created Islamic Pakistan. Kashmir has since been claimed by both India and Pakistan, and roiled with violence, involving Indian troops and Muslim militants. So far 43,000 people have been killed, officials say, but human rights groups put the toll at 60,000.

India itself took the issue of Kashmir to the United Nations, which passed some 18 resolutions related to Kashmir, recognizing the status of the state as disputed and calling for a resolution of the conflict based on the will of the people of the state, which the first Indian Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, himself also publicly promised. Today, all that the people of Jammu and Kashmir are saying is that India should live up to the promise that it made of holding a plebiscite in accordance with the UN resolutions.

Voices in India today are calling for the same. A Hindustani Times survey late last year discovered that 87 percent of Kashmiris want Azadi (freedom). Swaminathan Aiyar of The Times of India wrote in one of his columns, “We promised Kashmiris a plebiscite six decades ago. Let us hold one now”. And Vir Sanghvi of The Hindustan Times stated, “So, here’s my question: why are we still hanging on to Kashmir if the Kashmiris don’t want to have anything to do with us?”

So, what do the people of Kashmir want? The right of self-determination is a fundamental human right and is highly valued in all societies. Kashmiris demand the right of self-determination as guaranteed to them under the United Nations Security Council resolutions. Although the majority of them have expressed an alliance with Pakistan, the UN resolutions calling for a plebiscite to be held must take place.

Kashmir today stands poised to be the trigger for an all-out nuclear war between two nations. Both India and Pakistan have much to gain if there is peace, stability, and economic cooperation in South Asia. Economic interests and other internal and external forces are pushing both countries toward a common goal and that is to have peace and economic cooperation in South Asia.

Whether the eight million Kashmiris choose to align themselves with Pakistan or India should be best left to them to choose. Kashmiris and only Kashmiris should be free to decide.

The author can be reached at talmaeena@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @talmaeena