The new Kashmir challenge
The United Nations has taken a major step forward on Kashmir. It is a game changer and could pave the way for international intervention into one of the oldest conflicts in UN record. This creates opportunities and but also new challenges for Pakistan, India, and Kashmiris. While the report destroys India’s narrative on Kashmir, Pakistan will have to up its game. The annual Feb. 5 solidarity day marches and banners are no longer enough. As Kashmir’s biggest advocate who kept the Kashmiri freedom movement alive through political and diplomatic support, Pakistan should now engage the world, and embrace the international system with full force.
On June 14, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein, an unlikely leftist prince from the royal Hashemite family of Jordan, released a report on the situation of human rights in Kashmir. This is a hard-hitting, no-holds-barred report. It covers the two parts of Kashmir under the control of Pakistan and India. It was the result of meticulous work by the Office of the High Commissioner, which worked quietly for more than two years in pursuing rights violations in the disputed region since India assassinated Burhan Wani. Wani is Kashmir’s Che Guevara, the popular and beloved young activist that New Delhi sees as a militant but whose murder unleashed a tidal wave of anti-India protests spinning Kashmir out of Indian control, possibly for good.
The United Nations used what it calls ‘remote monitoring’ to collect information on the ground after India and Pakistan refused to grant it direct access to the valley. New Delhi flatly turned down the request for access. Islamabad accepted the request only if India agrees too.
The Kashmir report was a major part of the High Commissioner’s opening statement at the 38th session of Human Rights Council on June 18. This is significant because the statement underlines key issues on the global agenda and often sets the direction for big-power politics. Venezuela, Syria, Yemen and other issues were part of the opening statement. But the Kashmir report was the highlight of the policy statement, also the highlight of Zeid’s tenure as the High Commissioner. He is leaving the post later this year.
So, how does the report change Kashmir politics internationally and what challenges does it pose for key players?
This report marks the end of international silence on Kashmir. The United Nations went silent on Kashmir for more than a half-century after passing Security Council resolutions demanding a referendum. After the end of Cold War in 1991, India gradually increased its economic stature and international profile, and partially succeeded in pushing its miserable Kashmir rights record into the background. The UN Kashmir report throws cold water on this quarter-century of Indian success.
The report is a major setback for India. It destroys New Delhi’s carefully crafted narrative that depicts Kashmir conflict as Pakistan-induced ‘unrest’ and a case of war on terror. The report opens the floodgates of international scrutiny.
The report revives international interest in Kashmir, digs up cases from 1991, like the mass gang-rapes at Konan-Poshpora, and refers to rights violations over “seven decades,” alluding to the year 1947 when India invaded the State of Kashmir and launched Kashmir conflict. This is significant because India insists there is no conflict in Kashmir except the anti-India insurgency that began in 1989. The UN has formally rendered the Indian narrative wrong, and this happens for the first time.
On Pakistan, the report makes clear distinctions. While it quotes ‘experts’ referring to alleged Pakistani support for militant groups in Kashmir, the UN distinguishes between the human rights situation in Pakistani and Indian parts of Kashmir.
“A range of human rights violations in Pakistan-Administered Kashmir which […] are of a different caliber or magnitude and of a more structural nature,” says a UN press release on the report. This is a tacit recognition of the fact that Kashmir under Indian military occupation is home to serious human rights violations.
Most of the report is focused on the massive human rights violations in Indian-occupied Kashmir. India has protested this, but virtually no major country so far has supported the Indian position, mainly because the UN report reflects indisputable pieces of evidence on the ground, directly collected and verified by UN personnel.
A half-century ago, India faced a UN demand for a referendum in Kashmir. Now, New Delhi must additionally contend with a UN demand for an international “commission of inquiry to conduct a comprehensive independent international investigation into allegations of human rights violations in Kashmir,” according to the UN.
For Pakistan, the UN report represents a new challenge and opportunity. Long used to the lethargic activity of condemning international silence on Kashmir, the Kashmiris and Pakistan should now recognize that the international community has ended its silence on Kashmir and that the UN deserves credit for this, not criticism. A positive attitude is necessary to benefit from the changing environment.
The second challenge is the possible international intervention in Kashmir in view of India’s failure to resolve the conflict. This intervention could be humanitarian at first when the commission is formed but could become political later. Dealing with this possibility requires a new level of diplomatic skill. The Kashmiris should develop the ability to speak to the world in the language of proposals, ideas and scenarios, basically improve their outreach skills to meet the UN halfway.
India is divided over the report. Some elements inside the Indian government want to emulate the United States and indulge in UN-bashing. Some Indian officials believe they should adopt the Israeli approach to the UN. But India is not Israel, and this is no strategy. There is no comparison between Kashmir and the question of occupied Palestinian territories politically and legally. India’s arguments will not be a convincing response to the UN report.
Additionally, the role of Washington in any future commission of inquiry and other international diplomatic steps on Kashmir is crucial, and therefore is it in the interest of Pakistan and Kashmiris to see the US return to Human Rights Council and re-engage the UN system positively.
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