How Imran Khan damaged the Kashmir cause

By Ishtiaq Ahmad

August 6, 2022 04:36 PM

On August 5, 2019, India annexed the state of Jammu and Kashmir and divided the disputed region into two union territories – Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh – in violation of the United Nations Security Council resolutions. It did so by annulling article 370 of the Constitution, which granted special status to the state of Jammu and Kashmir, and Article 35-A, which ensured special rights to the permanent residents of Kashmir.

Since then, the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has aggressively tried to reshape Kashmiri demography and identity. Pakistan is a party to the Kashmir dispute under the UN Security Council resolutions. Therefore, it has always extended moral and diplomatic support to the people of Kashmir – except in the run up to August 2019 and beyond, by none else than the former Prime Minister Imran Khan and his Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government.

In the current political debate in Pakistan, the previous government and its leadership is blamed for the acute governance crisis and bringing the economy close to default. It is also accused of undermining the country’s core foreign relations with China, Saudi Arabia and the United States, especially for conspiring against the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

However, in my opinion, Imran Khan and his government have caused an irreparable damage to Pakistan’s vital national interest in Kashmir by allowing India a free hand to subjugate the will of the Kashmiri people in the darkest hour of their beleaguered history. It is a criminal conduct for which the PTI leader and two of his nincompoops who served on Kashmir must be held responsible.

I say so not as an ordinary onlooker, but one who has championed the Kashmiri right to self-determination over the past three decades in my writings and presentations at home and abroad. I lobbied for Kashmir, including with Hurriyat Chief Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and other Kashmiri leaders at the UN Council on Human Rights in Geneva and other international forums in London and Brussels. I also have the pleasure of hosting them in Oxford as Pakistan Chair at Oxford University.

Therefore, my heart bleeds when I see Imran Khan and Shah Mahmood Qureshi, the ex-foreign minister, expressing solidarity with Kashmiri leader Yasin Malik, who is currently on hunger strike in Delhi’s notorious Tihar Jail. I have no qualms in saying that they have consciously led Pakistan away from the just cause in Kashmir. It is a sad tale, which synchronises with the PTI rule. The evidence is stark.

The BJP has a history of making pledges in its election manifestos and implementing them after coming to power. It did so ahead of the 1998 Lok Sabha elections by declaring to make India a nuclear power. Within months, the BJP government fulfilled that promise. Pakistan, then led by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, responded in kind, despite enormous international pressure.

In its manifesto for the Lok Sabha elections in May 2019, the BJP pledged to abrogate Articles 370 and 35-A. Rather than pre-empting India’s expected illegal action in Kashmir, Prime Minister Imran Khan wished Prime Minister Modi a second tenure in office and congratulated him upon victory. The story is not limited to different choices that Pakistani leadership makes in critical times.

After Modi’s re-election, there were clear signs about the impending hell in Kashmir: the enactment of the Indian Citizenship Amendment Act, the deliberate promotion of Amarnath Yatra (Hindu pilgrimage in Kashmir) and the intensification of Indian military campaign in Kashmir. Yet, the PTI government failed to take any diplomatic step to checkmate Indian transgression before August 2019. It even missed an important opportunity provided by the UN.

In its debut report on the state of human rights in Jammu and Kashmir published in June 2019, the UN Human Rights Office stated that the Indian security forces used excessive force that led to unlawful killings of 145 civilians during 2016-18. A subsequent report by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights released in July 2019 found that Indian security forces often used excessive force to respond to violent protests that began in July 2016, including continued use of pellet-firing shotguns as a crowd-control weapon even though they have caused a large number of civilian deaths and injuries.

While unveiling the report, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights pledged to urge “the UN Human Rights Council to consider establishing a commission of inquiry to conduct a comprehensive independent international investigation into allegations of human rights violations in Kashmir.” The International Commission of Jurists also thereafter called upon India to repeal the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and other punitive laws.

The PTI government could have lobbied for a special session of the UN Human Rights Council by mustering the required support of the member states. On several occasions in the past several decades, Pakistan has used this international platform as well as the UN General Assembly and other forums to keep the international debate on Kashmiri right to self-determination alive.

The PTI government not only missed this opportunity, but also continued to betray the just cause of Kashmiris in the aftermath of India’s August 2019 illegal action. At least four instances offer credible proof.

First, Prime Minister Imran Khan did not meet his pledge made before the National Assembly later that month to challenge India’s unilateral action in the International Court of Justice. The ICJ is mandated to resolve disputes between states. This means that breaches by a state, of international law obligations, can be brought before the court. Pakistan could have approached the ICJ under Article 36 (1) of the Statute, as India had violated international law (UN Security Council resolutions) on an international dispute, of which both countries were legitimate parties. After securing ICJ’s jurisdiction, the government could have prepared a convincing case on the basis of India’s unlawful unilateral actions, and its subsequent subjugation and displacement of Kashmiri people. But it chose not to exercise this viable option.

Second, the PTI government could have tried to diplomatically isolate India for its illegality and aggression in Jammu and Kashmir at the UN Human Rights Council sessions in 2020 and 2021. But it could not muster the required support of the member states for the purpose, including even close allies such as Saudi Arabia (for reasons offered in the next para). This was despite the fact that, ahead of both sessions, the International Human Rights Association of American Minorities had submitted a detailed report on Indian human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir, equating them as war crimes and a genocide.

Third, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation has always served as a key international platform for Pakistan to garner the support of 57 Muslim countries on Kashmiri. Saudi Arabia is the founding leader of the OIC. The Saudi leadership was furious when Imran Khan joined hands with Turkish and Malaysian leaders to create a rival Muslim bloc in December 2019. When this attempt failed, Foreign Minister Qureshi attempted to damage the historic Saudi-Pak relations in June 2020 by publicly complaining about OIC’s unwillingness to hold a special session of its Council of Foreign Ministers on Kashmir. Pakistan could have involved the OIC’s Contact Group on Kashmir proactively in the absence of the diplomatic standoff with Saudi Arabia, which continued for a year and was resolved only through the good offices of the military leadership.

Fourth, Prime Minister Imran Khan’s speech before the UN General Assembly in September 2019 also did not serve the just cause of Kashmiri people. The speech did refer to India’s illegal action in Kashmir, but it was essentially about Islamophobia and his self-portrayal as a leader of the Muslim world. Kashmir is a humanitarian issue and associating it with a wider Islamic cause amounts to belittling its real value in cultivating a favourable international public opinion. At home as well, the PTI leader stirred controversy by proposing a referendum for independent Kashmir at an election rally in Azad Jammu and Kashmir in July 2021. The option of independent Kashmir is contrary to official policy, which calls for the holding of a free and fair plebiscite in the disputed territory under the UN Security Council resolutions.

The cost of PTI regime’s deliberate disdain and misconduct on Kashmir, before and after August 2019, has been grave. It has allowed India a free hand to extend the scope of its repression against innocent Kashmiri people, which has already claimed well over 8,000 extrajudicial killings at the hands of 700,000-strong Indian security. In the past three years, the disputed region has seen Kashmiri land being sold out for cheap to non-Kashmiri settlers, Kashmiri demography being re-engineered to accommodate Hindu settlers, and Kashmiri identity being reshaped with the exclusion of Muslim population.

BJP’s saffron project aims to Hinduise Kashmir, for which almost half a million non-Muslims have acquired residency in Kashmir through a new Domicile Order. The new Land Act allows non-resident Indians to re-purpose agricultural land, constituting 90 percent of the occupied territory. With vocal state support, Indian investors have claimed their own share of the pie in the guise of tourism and development. A systematic attempt is also underway to redraw the political map of Jammu and Kashmir to disenfranchise the Muslim population.

The Kashmiris have already paid a huge price with their blood and tears. They are at the receiving end of India’s settler colonialism, which is meant to ethnically cleanse the Kashmiri Muslim population. If there is any party and leadership to blame for this human tragedy that goes at the heart of Pakistani soul, it is the PTI under Imran Khan. History will judge them for their crimes.

I say this, because there is no accountability in this land of the pure, where lies and deceits have a longer shelf life than truth and justice. The least I can expect from the present government is to stand firmly for the right to self-determination of the Kashmiri people. Caged in the land that is rightfully theirs, the Kashmiris count on Pakistanis for support, which we must extend now without any further ado.–Courtesy The Friday Times

Ishtiaq Ahmad

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