(Presented at the Kashmir Solidarity Day webinar in Canada on Friday February 5, 2021).
I would like to thank the organizers of Kashmir Solidarity Day 2021 for the opportunity to participate in this forum and to share the platform with President Masood Khan of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK).
I had the privilege several years ago of visiting Azad (Free) Kashmir, inside of Pakistan, where I observed the Kashmiris there had all the rights of Pakistani citizens, plus special status under the Pakistani Constitution.
On that occasion, the residents of Muzaffarabad and the students of the University of AJK used their political rights to speak out loudly against the ill-treatment of their families on the other side of the Line of Control and to demand an end to the illegal Indian occupation.
Last week, I was heartened to hear UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres offer his “good offices” to mediate between India and Pakistan in order to resolve their dispute over Kashmir.
He pointed out that there was no military solution to the decades-old conflict and stated that any military confrontation between the two nuclear-armed powers would be “a disaster of unmitigated proportions for both countries and for the whole world.”
I was heartened because the United Nations has rarely taken up the question of Kashmir at all during this century, even though it did the right thing more than seven decades ago when the conflict first began.
Canadians should be proud that it was a Canadian – General Andrew McNaughton – who sat as President of the Security Council on Dec 22, 1949, and introduced a resolution in which the United Nations voted to authorize a referendum among the people of Kashmir about their political future.
That was the right and democratic thing to do. And Secretary-General Guterres last week reaffirmed that the solution to the conflict over Kashmir had to be based on this and other UN resolutions.
He also noted the human rights abuses taking place in Indian-occupied Kashmir since the pre-Covid lockdown India imposed on the region on August 5, 2019 – which abuses were the subject of two damning reports issued by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in 2018 and 2019 - and observed that “it’s essential that human rights are fully respected in all (the) territories.”
These were fine words by Mr. Guterres and we Canadian peace activists hope he will speak out more often about Kashmir.
However, we also realize that it’s unlikely that the UN will take any collective action soon, under the UN Charter, to force India to offer a free and fair plebiscite to the people of Kashmir.
Similarly, the Trudeau government makes a few feeble noises now and then to express its concern about the deteriorating human rights situation in Kashmir.
For example, last November, former Global Affairs Minister Phillipe Champagne issued a mealy-mouthed response to three parliamentary petitions, signed by 3500 Canadians and sponsored by three different MPs, one each from the Conservative, Liberal, and New Democratic parties.
Ottawa is quick to condemn alleged human rights violations in Venezuela, China, Russia, and Iran, no matter how questionable the sources.
But, in the response to the petitions and the solid and verifiable evidence of gross human rights violations committed under the illegal Indian occupation of Kashmir, the minister completely failed to rise to the occasion.
The best he could come up with was that “the government of Canada was monitoring the situation, that many restrictions had been lifted, and Canada looks forward to restoration of normalcy and resumption of inclusive political dialogue in Jammu and Kashmir.”
The sad truth is that, unlike its predecessor government 73 years ago, the Trudeau government won’t stand up to India and demand justice for Kashmir.
Unfortunately, the Trudeau government does not follow an independent foreign policy, preferring instead to follow the dictates of the US State Department which cynically views India as a useful ally to be cultivated in its fight to contain the People’s Republic of China.
So, what are we to do here in Canada when federal and international leaders fail in their duty to provide justice?
It’s our duty as Canadians and members of humanity to step up to the plate and light a fire under the proverbial comfortable chairs of these leaders.
The people of Indian-occupied Kashmir have been engaged in a huge and continuous resistance against the illegal Indian occupation for decades.
The scale of the resistance is enormous. I note, from the Kashmir Media Service, that 308 Kashmiris have been martyred by the illegal Indian occupiers just since India imposed its pre-Covid lockdown on Aug. 5, 2019.
In addition, at least 1,701 people were critically injured due to the use of brute force, bullets, pellets, and teargas shelling by the Indian troops on peaceful demonstrators in the territory.
The troops damaged over 993 houses and structures, molested 103 women, and arrested 14,489 people during the period.
These are astounding numbers and show that the justifiable resistance of people of Kashmir is growing.
Our job in Canada is to support this resistance.
For many years, Canadian mainstream media, because of its stunning silence about Kashmir, prevented us from gauging whether or not there was a constituency in this country on which to build a solidarity movement with Kashmir.
However, when India imposed its lockdown in August of 2019, effectively annexing Kashmir to India, tens of thousands of Canadians immediately hit the streets to protest.
There were Muslim-Canadians, Pakistani-Canadians, and also members of the peace and labour movements represented in the crowds.
And these protestors took to the streets on several occasions in many cities across the country.
So now we know that not only is there a constituency in Canada for a solidarity movement with Kashmir but that it is also quite significant in size.
Under the conditions of the pandemic, it’s impossible right now to call for large outdoor actions on Kashmir Solidarity Day in support of the resistance to illegal Indian occupation.
But there are many things we can still do from home.
We can circulate online parliamentary petitions, like the three successful petitions of last year.
We can virtually lobby politicians, especially opposition politicians, and put forward our case.
We can join with the Canadian Friends of Kashmir to insert the issue of Kashmir into the widely-expected, upcoming, federal election.
We can write letters and opinion pieces to the editors of mainstream newspapers, we can hold online public forums, and share a lot of information about the resistance to India’s illegal occupation on social media.
On this Day of International Solidarity, let’s plan to redouble our efforts to help the people of Kashmir to throw off India’s illegal occupation and to determine their own political future.
Ken Stone is a long-time anti-war, social justice, labour, and environmental activist. He is a regular commentator on Press TV and RT International. Currently, he is treasurer of the Hamilton Coalition to Stop the War.