A Canadian Activist Picks The Wrong Rhetoric In His Fight For Kashmir

A Canadian Activist Picks The Wrong Rhetoric In His Fight For Kashmir

1 August 2012
National Post
Jonathan Kay

Toronto: Visit Habib Yousafzai’s Facebook page, and you will find a picture of an innocuous-looking middle-aged man. He lists his residence as Toronto, and his occupation as “property manager.” But Mr. Yousafzai - who identifies his hometown as “Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir” - also leads a small group called the Kashmir Diaspora Alliance, which occasionally issues press releases demanding an end to Indian control of his native Kashmir. For a Canadian activist, it is a somewhat obscure cause: While Kashmir’s status is still very much contested by some Kashmiris, and by Pakistan (which celebrates something called Kashmir Solidarity Day every year, and has supported militant networks in the area for decades), the issue generally has attracted relatively scant attention in the West. Thanks to India’s (heavy-handed) security presence, Kashmir itself has remained fairly quiet in recent years, as the war in Afghanistan has sucked in most of South Asia’s jihadi manpower. What’s disturbing about Mr. Yousafzai’s activism is that he seems to be going beyond the issue of Kashmir’s territorial status, and is seeking to delegitimize India itself - much as some Palestinian activists seek to discredit Israel’s existence. Earlier this month, he issued a press release titled “Pakistan must take the state of Jammu and Kashmir back by force from India if all peaceful means fail,” in which he listed “Khalistan (Sikh state of Punjab), State of Jammu and Kashmir, Hyderabad, Junagaragh and Munawadure [and portions of] East Pakistan (Bangladesh),” as illegitimately “occupied” real estate. Moreover, in a bid to forge an alliance with the small number of Khalistani Skihs trying to create an independent Sikh homeland in the Pujab, Mr. Yousafzai added that “The tenth Guru of Sikhs, Tenth Master Janab Guru Gobind Singh Sahib said that no one will give you power willingly; you must take it back by force if all other means have been exhausted.” The Sikhs’ goal, he said, must be to end the “occupation. In another press release, this one from 2011, he described a protest in downtown Toronto, and accused “the ‘Brahmins-Hindus’ rulers of India” of “desecrating the Holy and Historic places of the Sikhs, Muslims and non-Brahmin-Hindus minorities,” and of waging a campaign to “exterminate” India’s Sikhs. Interestingly, that press release was co-released by the “spokesperson of the United Front of Sikhs (Balkar Singh Heir),” a Khalistani group that stages events in the Toronto area aimed at vilifying India and promoting the creation of an independent Sikh state. My own view is that the residents of Jammu and Kashmir - Muslims as much as Hindus - are better off in India than they would be as part of Pakistan (or as part of a nominally independent country that inevitably would be infiltrated by Pakistani-sponsored Islamists and terrorists), notwithstanding the sometimes brutal excesses of India’s security apparatus. That is not only because India is richer and more democratic than Pakistan, but because Pakistan already is barely a unified country to begin with; and one can only guess what would be the chaotic fate of the Kashmir region in the event of a full-fledged Pakistani civil war, absent Indian oversight. But even if Mr. Yousafzai disagrees, the best way to advance the issue is not to make common cause with Khalistani extremists, or vilify India. Such tactics only raise disturbing parallels with the militant campaign against Israel, and raise suspicions that Mr. Yousafzai endorses the same discredited tactics that have been used in that bloody struggle.