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Canadian Peace Activist’s Reflections on Situation in Indian Occupied Kashmir

Ken Stone

I would like to share some thoughts about the need for solidarity between Canadians and the people of Indian-occupied Kashmir (IOK) who have been living under an illegal and unjust occupation for 71 long years.

I know President Masood Khan of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK). Eighteen months ago, I had the privilege of being personally welcomed into his residence in Islamabad for a press conference in the context of the International Parliamentary Seminar on Kashmir that was held in January 2017. The seminar, sponsored by the Young Parliamentarians of Pakistan, attracted parliamentarians from both the UK and European Union, peace activists (such as myself) from a number of countries, Muslim scholars, and hundreds of young Pakistani activists and university students. Activists from inside IOK were skyped into the seminar and relatives of jailed fighters spoke passionately on behalf of their loves ones.

The main purpose of the seminar was to popularize throughout the world the urgent need to hear the cries of the oppressed people of Indian-occupied Kashmir in their very justifiable resistance against the brutal repression of the Indian army of occupation that denies them their universally-recognized right of national self-determination.

President Khan helped to facilitate a short visit by some participants from that International Parliamentary Seminar to Azad (literally, “free”) Jammu and Kashmir (AJK), that is, the part of Kashmir which is inside of Pakistan, following the close of that conference. I was one of the lucky ones who got to go.

While the visit lasted only a few days, I was able to come away with some distinct impressions about Kashmir, beyond the majestic setting of that territory nestled among the Himalayan Mountains. My first impression was that everyone in Azad Kashmir seemed keenly aware and seized by what is happening on the other side of the Line of Control, the ceasefire line of 1947. At a welcome reception at a local hotel in the capital, Muzzafarabad, everyone, including the kitchen staff and waiters whom I was pleased to see, was involved in the event, was originally from, or had relatives living in, Indian-occupied Kashmir and had an opinion about the terrible human rights situation there.

At the University of Azad Kashmir the next day, about two hundred students showed up for a meeting on very short notice called by the vice-chancellor of the university to express the institution's commitment to freedom for the people in IOK and to hear what we westerners had to say in solidarity with them. Finally, we also got to visit a refugee camp on the outskirts of the capital which housed refugees from a previous uprising against illegal Indian rule from thirty years earlier where we observed women of the camp being trained in marketable skills such as embroidery in order to support themselves.

Previous to my arrival there, I was completely unaware that there were such things as refugee camps in Azad Kashmir. It makes me realize that the struggle for self-determination in Kashmir has been going on for a very long time.

From the point of view of the peace movement, Indian-occupied Kashmir is not only a concern because of the denial of basic human rights and the brutal repression of a people’s right of self-determination, it is also concerning because of the potential for yet another disastrous war between India and Pakistan.

Let’s start with the human rights nightmare in IOK. At long last, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has issued a 49-page report dated June 14, 2018, entitled,

“Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Kashmir:

Developments in the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir from June 2016 to April 2018, and General Human Rights Concerns in Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan”

I read it in its entirety. If you haven’t, I strongly recommend you read it too. In reporting on IOK, the High Commissioner lists all the barbaric practices of the Indian army of occupation under the following subject headings:

- Excessive use of force

- Killings perpetrated in 2018

- Use of pellet-firing shotgun

- Arbitrary arrests and detention, including of children

- Torture

- Enforced disappearances

- Violations of the right to health

- Restrictions on the right to freedom of expression

- Reprisals against human rights defenders and restrictions on journalists

- Violations of the right to education

- Sexual violence

- Administrative detention

The above are all violations of international law, crimes against humanity, and war crimes, which my colleagues in the peace movement, such as Zafar Bangash and the Friends of Kashmir Committee, have railed against for years but which seemed to fall on deaf ears.

I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the Friends of Kashmir for lobbying the High Commissioner to undertake the research and publication of this important report. If it were not for their lobbying and support for the petition that garnered some 50,000 signatures worldwide, this report might never have been undertaken. Certainly, it’s the first such report issued by the UN in 71 years on the catastrophic human rights situation in Kashmir.

Now that the High Commissioner has corroborated some, but definitely not all, of the crimes of the occupying Indian army, we should collectively see that this report is widely circulated in Canada in the media, to politicians, and to ordinary people in our communities.

After all, with the issuance of the report, it is not just the peace movement and the Friends of Kashmir who are telling this tragic story of repression in IOK, it is the United Nations itself. It is our responsibility to share details of the crimes of the Indian occupiers in Kashmir with our families, at our places of worship, our schools, and universities, our trade unions, and, of course, on social media. We need to encourage Canadians to support the Kashmiris in their internationally-recognized right to resist, in any form they choose, the illegal occupation of their homeland.

A small digression about this report. I suppose the UN High Commissioner had to be even-handed in this report and bring some criticism against the governments of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) and of Pakistan into his report. And he does in several pages at the end. But he is clear that neither the scope nor magnitude of the human rights violations in AJK or in Pakistan come anywhere close to the crimes against humanity that take place every day in IOK. The High Commissioner writes, “However, the human rights violations in AJK are of a different calibre or magnitude and of a more structural nature.”

For my part, during my short visit to Azad Kashmir, I saw no foreign army of occupation, no shotgun-toting cops in the streets, no barbed wire barricades, no military presence on the campus of the university, no sign that the local population was being repressed. In fact, it was quite the opposite: the locals had a great deal to say and the government seemed to be encouraging them to say it. To my mind, Azad Kashmir is a very peaceful place, a beautiful and exotic tourist destination. And, in fact, many tourists go there.

So now, let’s get to the danger of war. The High Commissioner reports the disturbing trend since July 2016 of a rise in ceasefire violations along the Line of Control and Working Boundary. July 8, 2016, exactly two years ago today, was the date on which the 22-year-old, charismatic, Kashmiri militant leader, Burhan Wani, was assassinated extra-judicially by the Indian occupation forces. Despite a curfew, over 200,000 people attended his funeral. The High Commissioner also notes a further rise in ceasefire violations since the beginning of this year. It behooves us as citizens of the world to deal with this disturbing trend.

We, in the Canadian peace movement are concerned by the danger to world peace posed by the long-festering sore of the occupation of Kashmir that embitters relations between two nuclear-armed neighbours, India and Pakistan. Three wars have already been fought between them in which 27,150 people were killed and hundreds of thousands injured. Today, the Pakistani army has given operational control over tactical nuclear weapons to its generals in the field, while the Indian armed forces have scores of planes, ships, and missile sites from which to launch hundreds of nuclear missiles.

Aside from the sheer waste of resources which go into nuclear weapons that could be instead spent on ameliorating the lives of hundreds of millions of people living in abject poverty, we consider that another military confrontation over Kashmir could easily lead to a nuclear conflict, in which the entire planet could be rendered uninhabitable and the human race be rendered extinct. Nuclear fallout respects no international boundaries.

So resolving the festering issue of Kashmir is essential to world peace.

And the irony of the situation is that to avoid a catastrophe, we don’t need to invent a new formula for peace. The original UN resolutions of 1948-49 provide a simple solution. The Indian government needs to remove its troops and the people of Kashmir need to vote on their political future.

In conclusion, I wish to propose a few things:

First, since the media in Canada has not seen fit to report on the High Commissioner’s report, we need to take it upon ourselves to make a formal appointment with the editorial board of our local newspapers and TV stations and demand that they do. Secondly, since the Canadian government has not seen fit, as far as I know, to comment on the High Commissioner’s report and the deteriorating situation in IOK, we need to take it upon ourselves to prepare visits to our local MPs and lobby them to take action. After all, the government of Canada at the time of Partition was represented on the United Nations Security Council and Canadian General McNaughton, who was the President of the Security Council, supported “a free and impartial plebiscite” for the people of Kashmir.

We have to demand that the Trudeau government stop sucking up to the government in New Delhi (as he did on his last trip to India in February) and hear the cries of the oppressed in IOK. Finally, as a member of the peace movement, I promise to urge my colleagues in various other cities of Canada to bump up their support for the resistance in Indian-occupied Kashmir to a much higher priority than it holds right now, to something to the level of importance that the liberation of Palestine plays in our daily work.

In the peace movement, we often chant, “Occupation is a crime.” We should now say, “Occupation is a crime from Kashmir to Palestine!”

Once again, I am glad to welcome President Khan to Canada. I hope you come many more times to spread the urgent need of Canadians to express solidarity with the resistance of the people of IOK to their illegal occupation.

[Ken Stone is a member of the Hamilton Coalition to Stop the War. He delivered this speech twice, once at a banquet sponsored by the Kashmir Welfare Society of Canada on Saturday, July 7, 2018, to welcome President Masood Khan in Mississauga, and a second time on July 8 at a conference sponsored by the Pakistan Business Association of Hamilton in Stoney Creek.]

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