Derailing a conversation on Kashmir: Autonomy vs self-determination

By Dr. Ghulam Nabi Fai

“It would be totally unrealistic, cynically so, to expect Pakistan to stand aside, unmoved and insensitive, from the desperate struggle in Kashmir over a principle of self-determination for which Pakistan throughout its history has made enormous sacrifices.” Ambassador Yusuf Buch 

A Kashmir conference was held on November 10, 2020 at Serena Hotel, Islamabad, entitled: “The challenges to restore peace and autonomy in Indian Occupied Kashmir.”  The organizers of the conference had placed autonomy on the front burner. The right of self-determination of the people of Kashmir is nowhere to be seen.  

The conference theme was very clear to discuss the issue of autonomy. I don’t know how that could be construed otherwise.  One is left with the feeling that, well, ok. the issue of self-determination won’t be brought up just now but maybe later, in some future universe, at a yet unscheduled webinar, which they will remain “prepared for,” as agreed, just in case.  I mean, after all, it isn’t constructive to try to bring up all the issues at one time, let us take the soft ones first.

Doesn’t it seem abundantly clear that such an oversight  – excluding the issue of self-determination from the theme- – was drawn up to allow our adversary to slip through the noose?  By not explicitly naming right to self-determination as a “core demand,” organizers unwittingly allowed India to slip away from any commitment and gave her an excuse to discuss in future only non-existent issue of autonomy.  

We are not surprised that  organizers overlooked the seriousness of the topic but we are undoubtedly astounded that those who were invited to speak included who’s who of Islamabad.

There have been numerous attempts, certainly, in the past to present proposals for resolving Kashmir dispute, but none has seemed to take hold. The revival now of autonomy has again been raised as a solution that offers the most promise of hope to those who have grown weary of the struggle and are willing to accept serious compromises in the interest of alleviating some suffering.

If promises are made to be broken, then Kashmir may be summoned to prove the treacherous proposition. Broken promises haunt Kashmir’s history, and explain its tragedy. The train of broken promises over Kashmir might be forgiven if the consequences were innocuous or inconsequential.  But I submit the opposite is the case.   I will confine myself to the latest as a concession to the shortness of life.   

Dr. Moeed Yusuf’s scholastic approach led him to believe that autonomy is the only feasible option to resolve the Kashmir issue. He wrote in Third World Quarter in December 2009, “ We conduct a content analysis (of 46 proposals for the resolution of Kashmir) to recognise the patterns that emerge from these formulations and identify the key elements that recur over time. Our analysis suggests that the dispute may be more ‘ripe’ for resolution today than it has ever been in the past. For the first time in the dispute’s history, there is growing convergence over a core element of the solution, i.e. granting autonomy to Kashmiris.”

Dr. Yusuf should know that any idea of autonomy given to the people of Kashmir within Indian Constitution and that too after the campaign of mass slaughter and carnages which has reached genocidal proportions is bound to be repugnant to the wishes and aspirations of the people of Kashmir. And that the concept of autonomy is a non-solution.  Here you rely on a provision of the Indian Constitution. All Constitutions of the world are subject to amendments and Indian Constitution is no exception.  If not now, in the foreseeable future, like India did on August 5, 2019, this provision can be deleted from the Constitution and the move will not even need a debate in the Indian Parliament. 

Prime Minister Imran Khan Sahib told Nancy Lindborg, the President of United States Institute of Peace (USIP) on July 23, 2019, we had three foreign ministers who were in other parties who joined us, they told us that they came pretty close (to a Kashmir solution)  in the time of General Musharraf.

One wonders if the Prime Minister had some subordinate prepare this brief, trusting him to convey the intent, but never actually realizing its consequences. By now, he should  know that Musharraf formula was rejected by a person who was awarded  Nishan-e-Pakistan on August 14, 2020 – Syed Ali Geelani.

Secondly, ‘Musharraf Formula’ says that borders cannot be withdrawn. That is a very loaded phrase. That means that the Line of Control should in fact be established permanently as an international border. Such an option is an insult to the intelligence of the Kashmiri people.

Offering the LoC as an international border is an absolute fallacy to begin with. One cannot imagine a better formula for sowing a minefield in South Asia that will lead them to a nuclear disaster. Kashmiris revolted against status quo and how can status quo becomes an option. Also, Kashmiris wish to emphasize that no settlement of their status will hold unless it is explicitly based on the principles of self-determination and erases the so-called line of control, which is in reality the line of conflict.

Foreign Minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi during a press conference on August 25, 2020 said that Gupkar Declaration was a very significant and unprecedented development. He further added that the demands of the Kashmiri nationalist parties were the same as Pakistan’s. 

Let there be no doubt that the Gupkar Declaration leads us to one conclusion: that the autonomy is the only option.

Now the question arises why suddenly series of statements and conferences talk about autonomy. It could not be a  coincidence.
Here are two possibilities:
i. It could be due to fatigue or disregard of inalienable right to self-determination.

ii. There exists apprehension that world powers are pursing the idea of autonomy with both Islamabad and New Delhi. The policy makers of these world Capitols feel that India can be receptive to such an idea and Pakistan can easily be persuaded or if need be mollified to accept it.

In conclusion, let the world know that Kashmir is at war that India cannot win, like Vietnam for the United States.  The hearts and minds of the overwhelming majority of Kashmiris have been irretrievably alienated, as indicated by the necessity of making the territory the most densely soldiered on the globe.  And the situation in Kashmir is living proof that the people will not compromise, far less abandon, their demand for self-determination which is their  birthright and for which they have paid a price unparalleled in the history of South Asia. 

Dr. Fai is the Secretary General, Washington-based World Kashmir Awareness Forum.

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