India has had a rough couple of weeks as far as Kashmir is concerned. First it was president Nelson Mandela of South Africa who in his welcome address to the non-aligned movement (NAM) summit meeting in Durban on September 2, offered international mediation to resolve the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan. The Indian prime minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, in characteristic arrogance, brushed aside Mandela’s suggestion. He stubbornly reiterated the fiction that Kashmir is an ‘integral part’ of India.
The vast majority of NAM members were aghast at Vajpayee’s brazenness. A week later, there was more bad news for Delhi. The UN secretary general Kofi Annan’s annual report released on September 8 described the festering Kashmir dispute as a threat to the ‘human race,’ because of the presence of nuclear weaspons on the subcontinent.
In what must be a slap on India’s face, Annan compared Kashmir to such other war-torn regions as Afghanistan, Cyprus, Sudan, Kosovo, and the ongoing fighting in Congo. The UN, it must be recalled, considers Kashmir disputed territory whose final status has yet to be determined. There are a number of security council resolutions that call for a referendum in Kashmir to determine the wishes of the people.
India has been backsliding on the referendum question (plebiscite in subcontinental terminology) and has used spurious excuses not to hold one. A fullscale insurgency has been underway since the end of 1989 in which more than 70,000 people have been killed by the Indian occupation army in Kashmir. The occupation troops number more than 600,000.
Despite the mounting civilian deathtoll in Kashmir, Delhi has tried to project the issue as a bilateral matter between India and Pakistan. Given the indifference of the world community, especially to causes related to Muslims, India had nearly succeeded when the subcontinent was shaken by nuclear explosions. The status quo was shattered by India itself. Its five nuclear explosions on May 11-13 provoked Pakistan to respond with six of its own two weeks later. The world suddently realised that unless the Kashmir dispute was resolved, there could be a nuclear war on the subcontinent.
Ever since the May nuclear explosions, Delhi has been trying to delink the Kashmir dispute from the nuclear issue. But so far its diplomacy has failed to allay the fears of the world community which may not care much about Kashmir but is genuinely worried about the possibility of a nuclear war. This is what prompted the UN secretary general to sound the alarm bell. President Mandela, a normally cool and composed person, also found it difficult to contain his irritation at Indian stubbornness.
Indian diplomats recognize and accept that the Kashmir issue is becoming a major concern among diplomats and delegates attending the 53rd session of the UN general assembly. Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif will address the assembly on September 23 and he is bound to raise the question of Kashmir as he has done at every forum since the nuclear tests. The secretary general’s report will strengthen his argument.
It must be noted, however, that the UN chief’s mention of Kashmir is not new. Every year since 1993, the UN report has alluded to the Kashmir dispute and called for its resolution through peaceful means. Until 1995, the secretary-general’s report included a separate chapter on the dispute giving full details of atrocities and its likely consequences.
This was prompted more by the detailed accounts of human rights abuses that emerged from Kashmir, corroborated by independent human rights organizations than any breakthroughs of Pakistani diplomacy. Gradually, however, Indian diplomacy seemed to lull the international community back into complacency. Since 1995, the Kashmir dispute had started to lose its importance in the UN annual reports.
The nuclear tests have shot it back into prominence. It will be interesting to see whether Pakistani diplomacy can utilise this opportunity and move the issue forward towards some kind of a satisfactory resolution or lose another gold opportunity.
Muslimedia: September 16-30, 1998