The Way Forward: Issues Of Democracy, Demography In Kashmir
6 September 2004
The Times of India
New Delhi: The Pakistan foreign minister is in Delhi to continue the comprehensive dialogue on various issues that have been plaguing India-Pakistan relations, including that of Jammu & Kashmir. There have been secretary-level and expert level talks on a range of issues, such as Siachen, Wular lake and other irrigation issues, Sir Creek, trade, restoration of road and rail communications and cross- border security. In the ministerial talks what the Pakistanis call the core issue, or J&K, is to be discussed. The issue has been alive for 57 years, dating back to raids by tribal leaders from the North West Frontier Province into Kashmir under the leadership of Pakistani brigadier Akbar Khan, who called himself General Tariq. Three wars - 1947-48, 1965 and 1999 - were fought specifically over Kashmir. A fourth war in 1971 ended in the Simla agreement and creation of a Line of Control. The issue, according to Pakistan, is self-determination for the people of Kashmir. The administration cites the UN resolution of August 13, 1948, in its support. That resolution could not be implemented because Pakistan did not abide by the primary demands of the resolution, of withdrawing its armed forces from the occupied areas and restoring the demography of the areas under its occupation to the situation before August 15, 1947. Further, the UN secretary-general declared that since the resolution was under Chapter VI, where the UN role was purely advisory and not mandatory, it was no longer implementable. About 56 years have passed since the resolution. In the state of J&K (the Indian side), influx of people from outside the state into its territory is prohibited by law. But this is not the case in respect of areas occupied by Pakistan - more so in the case of Northern Territories. There has been an influx of people even in the area called 'Azad Kashmir' by the Pakistanis. Pakistan, and to some extent countries like the US and those belonging to the European Union, have argued that any solution to the issue of Jammu and Kashmir should have the broad consent of the people of the state. The Indian assertion is that the views of the people of J&K (the Indian side) were ascertained when the constitution of the state was formed, and thereafter in repeated elections. Pakistan disputes this. However, the moot point is: How is one to ensure that the demography of Northern Territories and Azad Kashmir be rid of all foreigners, or those who did not belong to these areas before August 15, 1947? Only after this is done can the views of these regions be ascertained. India would like to learn from the Pakistan foreign minister what his ideas on this issue are. The northern areas are not part of Pakistan, even according to the views of Islamabad. The people of this area are stateless and under the illegal military occupation of Pakistan's forces. India is rightly interested in the human rights situation in the northern areas. There are continued reports of oppression and sustained attempts to change the demo- graphy of the area by flooding it with Sunni Muslims. There are stories in Pakistan that the oppression of Shia Muslims in the northern areas led to Shia officers of the Pakistan army assassinating General Zia- ul Haq. The Pakistan media has carried stories of Shia servicemen who were killed in the Kargil war, who were not given a proper burial - their bodies were discarded in Indian territory. Since Pakistan argues that the whole of J&K is disputed territory, India has a right to information on the human rights situation in the Northern Territories and the so-called Azad Kashmir. On the Indian side, elections have been held and certified as free and fair by international observers. In Northern Territories there have never been any elections, while the administration of Azad Kashmir is under the tight control of a joint secretary in Islamabad. Before the views of the people of the entire state of J&K can be democratically ascertained, there needs to be a symmetry in democratic rights on both sides. India would be keen to learn about the steps Pakistan proposes to take on introducing democracy in the northern areas and Azad Kashmir on a par with Jammu and Kashmir. The European Union observers who monitored Pakistan's elections were highly critical of the fairness of the process. These are not issues on which India can expect immediate answers from the Pakistan foreign minister. They have not been considered seriously in the past between the two countries. It would be of help if the Indian high commissioner in Islamabad can meet the leaders of northern areas just as the Pakistani high commissioner in Delhi meets the Hurriyat leaders. Perhaps, India should invite some leaders of the northern areas to visit Jammu & Kashmir so that they develop an understanding of the nature of the democratic process in J&K. Before the people in the northern areas and Azad Kashmir consider expressing a choice, they should be able to grasp the Indian federal system and its contribution to prosperity and democracy in the Indian side of J&K. A discussion on these issues can only be a beginning between the foreign ministers of India and Pakistan. We have a long way to go before a satisfactory solution can be found.