- A survey shows the Kashmiris still want liberation
While the world is still grappling to come to terms with the onslaught of COVID-19, India’s lockdown of Kashmir for the last seven months comes to haunt it as all of India is now forced into lockdown because of the coronavirus. India was forced to restore internet after keeping it blocked for over seven months, but a survey conducted by researchers from a University in Kashmir and New York’s Skidmore college, published in The Washington Post and on Aljazeera.com find that 91 percent of Kashmiri students surveyed in Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK) want a complete withdrawal of Indian forces from the region.
Approximately 600 college and university students were part of the survey conducted by researchers from the university in Kashmir and New York’s Skidmore College in the wake of New Delhi’s decision to revoke the Muslim-majority region’s special status last August. Fearing a backlash against the revocation of Articles 370 and 35A of its Constitution and the annexation of IOK into Indian Territory, India rushed tens of thousands additional troops to the region in addition to the more than 500,000 soldiers already stationed there, slapped curfew and suspended the Internet. Indian forces have been suppressing the just struggle for their rights by the Kashmiris for the last seven decades. Ironically, the UN Resolutions guarantee a plebiscite for the residents of Kashmir to opt for annexation to either Pakistan or India. The Indian Constitution’s Article 370 granted autonomy to the Kashmiris, while Article 35A prohibited any non-Kashmiri to acquire property in IOK. By revoking the relevant articles, India has illegally taken control of IOK against the wishes of the Kashmiris and allowed Hindu non-Kashmiris from settling down in the disputed territory and changing its demographics. Thus, if a plebiscite does take place, the majority Muslim population of the Valley will be turned into a minority with the influx of illegal Hindu settlers, who will vote for IOK to merge with India.
Adversity calls for strange bedfellows. The advent of COVID-19 prompted Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to invite SAARC leaders to a video conference to seek a collective strategy to combat the threat from the coronavirus. Pakistan responded positively despite Modi having scuttled SAARC Summits for three consecutive years in a bid to isolate Pakistan. Modi had been browbeating neighbouring Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan into boycotting the SAARC Summit
New Delhi claims that the military has been deployed to quell the armed rebellion that erupted in 1989. Kashmir is dubbed the most militarized region in the world. Human rights organizations, as well as the United Nations, have accused Indian forces of carrying out systematic human rights violations against the people of Kashmir, including widespread killings, torture, rape, and enforced disappearances.
According to the survey, which was conducted between October and December 2019, 91 percent of the respondents wanted a complete withdrawal of Indian forces from the region. The same percentage backed the holding of a referendum to decide the future status of the Muslim-majority region; the survey, published in The Washington Post recently, said. While New Delhi maintains that the region is an integral part of the country, conducting a plebiscite that lets Kashmiris choose to accede to either India or Pakistan has been a long-standing demand of Kashmiris who, for the most part, consider India an occupying power.
In 1953, in accordance with the UN Resolutions, India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru promised to conduct a plebiscite in Kashmir to resolve the conflict, but it was never implemented.
Both India and Pakistan are nuclear-weapons-equipped states and any conflict between the two, who have been to war thrice in the last 70 years, could end in the devastation of the region. Kashmir is thus a nuclear flashpoint, which must be diffused and both antagonists urged to withdraw from the brink.
Coming back to the survey, mentioned above, on the question of seeking Pakistan’s support in the potential resolution of the conflict, 64 percent of participants responded positively, while 79 percent said they would like Western mediators to consider Kashmir a central party in any negotiations.
It may be remembered that in the near past, US President Donald Trump and UN Secretary General António Guterres have offered their services to mediate in the deadlock over Kashmir. Pakistan has welcomed these offers but India has turned down the peace overtures.
The survey results appear to contradict the Hindu nationalist government’s claim that by revoking Article 370─ which granted limited autonomy to Kashmir─ it would be able to bring the decades-long conflict to an end by fully integrating Kashmir into India. If anything, the rash Indian action has aggravated the already volatile situation. Last year in February, following a false flag operation at Pulwama, India attempted a surgical strike at Balakot, which failed, but to which Pakistan retaliated the next morning, shooting down two Indian Air Force fighter aircraft in the melee. A full-fledged nuclear conflict could have erupted but restraint by Pakistan prevented that.
The main stakeholder in the festering sore of the conflict are the Kashmiris. They demand freedom from the yoke of Indian tyranny. The survey results appear to contradict the Hindu nationalist government’s claim that by revoking Article 370─ which granted limited autonomy to Kashmir─ it would be able to bring the decades-long conflict to an end by fully integrating Kashmir into India. If the Indian hypothesis is given credence, then why has it locked down IOK for over seven months? The fact is that it wants to suppress any revolt or rebellion. More than 100,000 Kashmiris were martyred since 1989, when the Kashmiris raised the flag of independence but were brutally crushed by Indian forces.
Interestingly, the so-called “four-point formula” for resolution of the dispute in Kashmir, deemed a brainchild of former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, remains popular with the young Kashmiri respondents to the study, who expressed the desire to see its promulgation.
The “four-point formula” advocates greater regional autonomy, demilitarization and free movement of people and goods across the Line of Control─ the de facto border that divides Indian and Pakistan-administered Kashmir─ and a joint India-Pakistan mechanism for governance.
However, this can be seen as a desperate, short-term response towards India’s unwillingness to engage with the core political issue in the region. While relations between Islamabad and New Delhi are at a historical low, especially since India’s moves in Kashmir last year, survey respondents were generally hopeful about sustainable peace in the region.
Adversity calls for strange bedfellows. The advent of COVID-19 prompted Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to invite SAARC leaders to a video conference to seek a collective strategy to combat the threat from the coronavirus. Pakistan responded positively despite Modi having scuttled SAARC Summits for three consecutive years in a bid to isolate Pakistan. Modi had been browbeating neighbouring Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan into boycotting the SAARC Summit.
The survey depicts the aspirations of the residents of IOK and it is time India respected the wishes of the Kashmiris.