Volume 23 Issue 11, November 2019


By Laura Schuurmans

After more than seven decades of a simmering conflict between India and Pakistan over the disputed Kashmir region, once again Indo-Pakistan relations have reached their lowest level after the two came close to war following the Pulwama attack on February 14, 2019. As the security conditions between the two archrivals somewhat calmed down in the months that followed, the heat flared up again after India took a decision to abrogate Articles 370 and 35A of the Indian Constitution in August 2019.

India claimed that this decision was made to fight corruption, crack down on terrorism and give equal rights to Kashmiri women to purchase land in Kashmir in the event they married a non-Kashmiri. India also believes this would bring more development into Kashmir. Be it a coincidence or not, this decision was made shortly after U.S. President Donald Trump in a controversial move offered to mediate between the two nuclear powers. Imran Khan warmly welcomed third party mediation, which India has always vehemently opposed. India considered the U.S. President’s offer a mere flattering remark to please the Pakistani Prime Minister.

To calm down the tensions in the disputed region of Jammu and Kashmir after stripping Kashmir of its special status, thousands of additional security forces were brought into the region, curfew was imposed and the entire region was - and at the time of writing still is - in communication lockdown. A Kashmiri friend wrote to me heavy-heartedly that he felt that all they had had been lost all of a sudden. He became even more demoralized after receiving the belated news that his beloved grandmother living in the Kashmir Valley had passed away. His family could not inform him earlier due to the communication lockdown.

Another Kashmiri friend of mine uploaded his profile picture on his WhatsApp of a blindfolded and chained Kashmiri, ready to die as an Indian soldier pointed a gun towards his head. ‘You are free now’ a third person in the picture said. A third Kashmiri friend went as far as claiming that the Line of Control dividing the disputed state between India and Pakistan had effectively lost its value and had overnight been transformed into a hard border.

In an emotional speech at the UN General Assembly, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan did not hesitate to point a finger at India and the RSS, the armed wing of the BJP, of which the honourable Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is an offshoot, and compared him and the organization to Hitler and the Nazi Party. Khan also reminded the international community that both nations are nuclear armed. He asked whether the entire world wanted to see South Asia descend into a nuclear conflict if Kashmir was not resolved. Emotions were obviously running high. After all, it was Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru who had brought the issue of Kashmir to the United Nations in January 1948, offering a plebiscite to give the people of Kashmir their democratic right to self-determination. More than seventy years later, the Kashmir dispute has ended up in cold storage at the United Nations, where it is believed that the major powers are favouring India for their economic interests, leaving the people of Kashmir on their own.

In a statement at the United Nations, India responded diplomatically, stating that the inappropriate use of words and aggression of the Pakistan Prime Minister would only add fuel to the already burning fire. India clearly reminded Pakistan of its appeasement of both terrorist organizations and their individuals in Pakistan, the culprits of the ongoing antagonism over Kashmir between the two nuclear powers.

In an article published in the New York Times, the Indian Ambassador to the U.S. stated that India would talk to Pakistan once it has become a ‘normal’ nation. He also reiterated that the Line of Control had remained intact. India also reminded Pakistan of the atrocities it not only committed in East Pakistan during the 1971 Indo-Pakistan war, but also of the repression and human rights violations it has continued to commit in Balochistan where some movements favour the creation of an independent nation. Historically, the people of Balochistan simply wanted to accede to India instead of Pakistan during the partition of the British Raj in 1947. Today, some movements still feel that way. Likewise, Hyderabad located in today’s India wanted to join Pakistan in 1947 but India allegedly took it by force.

I followed developments on the Internet, and watched an interview between a western journalist and Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Maleeha Lodhi. I thought she was sincere. She, however, was bluntly interrupted when she expressed her grief over the ongoing human rights abuses and oppression on the Indian side of Kashmir. Instead, the journalist was quick to shift his questions to China and its lack of human rights. Pakistan, after all, has enjoyed all-weather friendship with China, where the Uighurs and Tibetans have allegedly been living under the oppression of its communist-supported regime in Beijing. It was a smart attempt to divert the attention from Kashmir to China’s oppression of its minorities.

Indian news channels as well, do not hesitate to point a finger at Pakistan’s silence against the Uighur Muslims and Tibetans in China. Based on my own experiences and my work on Kashmir for more than a decade, I have also received blame for my alleged biased views on China where I was a proud postgraduate student at Beijing University for three years. I vividly recall discussions with a European embassy official who repeatedly and aggressively accused me of my imbalanced views of China where, what he claimed, democratic values were absent due to the oppression in Tibet and Xinjiang province.

I was scolded on numerous occasions and encouraged to visit Taiwan and get a more balanced view of Mainland China. He even went so far as to give me a book written by a European PhD scholar on China’s naval expansion based on research conducted by a Taiwanese University. ‘This may give you a balanced perspective’ he said, as he handed me the book.
When, some months later, I was having a few drinks with the same gentleman, I asked him why his country did not support the Kashmiri freedom struggle where millions of Kashmiris were living under the shadow of the gun. I continued saying that Pakistan, in fact, was the only country in the world giving some support to the people of Kashmir. He looked at me with an air of confidence and arrogance and stoically responded that he thought that Pakistan is an Islamic terrorist-infested nation dominated by a dictatorial military establishment where he could not even buy a beer.

He threw the question back at me cynically asking ‘why would anyone be interested in peace in Kashmir?’ He then continued drinking his beer and changed the topic of discussion as if the Kashmiris have no value and do not exist in this world. Human rights obviously did not matter to him. He probably had also forgotten about the discussion on China we had a few months earlier. Although his expressions were of a personal nature, what utterly shocked me were his heavily politicized views by siding with the Uighurs and Tibetans while having no interest in taking a tough stance to protect the human rights of the Kashmiris. I may be wrong and I hope I am but it did not take long for me to conclude that his country, which is one of the world’s leading exporters of weapons, carried more importance to penetrate into the Indian market than the life of a Kashmiri actually mattered.

Going back to Kashmir, which has continued to be under lockdown since early August, the international media has steadily withdrawn attention from the disputed region. The ongoing demonstrations in Hong Kong, on the other hand, have continued to receive headline news throughout the world. This has left Kashmir once again on its own. It seems that human rights matter provided they suit a country’s political agenda. The million-dollar question we can ask others and ourselves as well, is how will Kashmir be resolved?

The UN Security Council Resolutions and Kashmir’s right to self-determination have been put in cold storage. Seeing the fire burn between India and Pakistan over Kashmir may even suit some foreign powers in satisfying their own geopolitical agenda in the wider geostrategic and geo-economic context. The international community at large obviously does not want to burn its hands on Kashmir. Based on my humble experiences and more than a decade of research on Kashmir, talks can and probably will only start when there is sincerity from both the Indian and Pakistani top leadership to sit down around the negotiating table and move step by step to normalize relations. This means that while on the one hand, Pakistan may need to take more rigorous steps to crack down on its terrorist-sponsored activities, on the other, India should be willing to talk.
Any step towards normalization of Indo-Pakistan relations will undoubtedly improve the overall security conditions in Kashmir and the wider region. All that is needed is a joint-political will of which the Vajpayee-Musharraf framework is one concrete example that worked and from which we can all learn lessons by keeping heads cool in one of the world’s most heated conflicts. India, Pakistan and the people of Kashmir are left with a great challenge to bring about a peaceful resolution to Kashmir for which the Kashmiris as well, will need to make considerable concessions. Both nations can move a step forward to start resolving this issue, provided there is political will and sincerity from leaderships on both sides of the Line of Control.

About Laura Schuurmans
The writer was a postgraduate researcher at the School of International Studies at Beijing University. She actively works on international security issues in the wider Asian region. She has published a number of articles and research papers. Her prime focus has been on the Kashmir conflict. She has also participated in many seminars in Asia and Europe, including the European Parliament in Brussels. She has been based in Jakarta for more than 20 years and has actively witnessed the development of political Islam, which has added to her in-depth understanding of international security issues involving religion. She can be reached at schuurmans.laura@gmail.com

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