Lessons From UNGA

While speaking to the media ahead of the 73rd United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) session, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister (FM) Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi appeared quite upbeat that the Kashmir issue would figure prominently in the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) meet scheduled on the sidelines of UNGA. He said that because of the first ever report on Kashmir released by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the discourse would be “different this time.” And by claiming that “There has been a surge in the people’s interest in human rights abuses taking place in Kashmir” he raised hopes that there would be some spectacular and positive Kashmir related development.

After Qureshi delivered his address, Hurriyat (G) chairman Syed Ali Shah Geelani called him a “friend and well wisher” of Kashmir for “courageously” highlighting the Kashmir dispute at the UNGA. However, by adding that “We are neither surprised nor did we expect anything substantial to be delivered there (UNGA) because most people under the toxic influence of power and might fail to accept truth,” Geelani sahib tacitly accepted that Islamabad had yet once again failed in its attempt to internationalise the Kashmir issue. And this brings up the question of why Islamabad which boasts of its “principled stand” on Kashmir is unable to get the international community to condemn what it calls the “illegal occupation” of Kashmir by India? Something is surely wrong somewhere as a principled stand against an illegal occupation would certainly find many supporters!

Geelani sahib has attributed Islamabad’s failure to get support for its viewpoint on Kashmir to the “toxic influence of power and might” and accused New Delhi for remaining in the “cocoon of its denial.” He has also expressed surprise that the “deviation from the universally-accepted and recognised (Kashmir) issue was softly and quietly tolerated without causing any ripples in the conscience and commitment of those sitting and listening in the august house (UNGA).” However, since the international community has consistently been adopting an indifferent attitude on the Kashmir issue ever since militancy took root here three decades ago, there is really no reason for being astounded. However, the Hurriyat (G) chairman’s keen observation regarding the apathy of the international community on the Kashmir issue is very pertinent and deserves thorough deliberations.

To identify what exactly is discouraging nations from supporting the self determination movement there is a need for our leaders to introspect without getting emotional or cynical. The present tendency to accuse the international community of hatching a conspiracy against the people of Kashmir and giving vested interests more importance than moral obligations needs to be curbed as it deflects attention from the main issue. Instead, we must carefully scrutinise the case on Kashmir being presented by the Hurriyat and supported by Pakistan to ensure that it doesn’t have any factual discrepancies. For example, while both Islamabad and the Hurriyat say that India is in illegal occupation of J&K, no other country (including Pakistan’s ‘all weather friend’ China) or internationally recognised organisation (including the UN and OIC) shares this point of view.

Thus, Islamabad and the Hurriyat should either convince the world of India being in “illegal occupation” of Kashmir or stop raking this issue as the international community has no appetite for entertaining unproven claims. And if Pakistan is so confident of its claim then it needs to immediately move a motion against India’s “illegal occupation” in the UN since this is the core issue of the entire Kashmir dispute. The next (and most critical) issue is the mismatch in Pakistan’s approach on resolving the Kashmir issue because while it demands that New Delhi should resolve the Kashmir issue in accordance with UN resolutions by holding a plebiscite, Islamabad is reluctant to fulfill the stipulated preconditions to facilitate the same. UN resolution 47 which contains details of how plebiscite in Kashmir should be held clearly mentions that the first step in the process of self determination can only commence once Pakistan withdraws all its nationals from Kashmir. However when Islamabad itself hasn’t shown any inclination of abiding by this pre-condition, it’s not at all surprising that the UN and international community doesn’t take Pakistan’s demand for subjective implementation of UN resolutions seriously.

An associated issue concerns the dichotomy in Pakistan’s approach on the Kashmir issue. While Islamabad maintains that the ‘K’ issue should be resolved peacefully through dialogue as per UN resolutions, it simultaneously approves of militancy in Kashmir by referring to it as freedom struggle and declaring that it can’t “be equated with terrorism.” At a time when the specter of terrorism is threatening to engulf the world, openly endorsing violence in Kashmir in the guise of “freedom struggle” or “armed resistance,” lacks diplomatic ‘correctness’ and by doing so both Islamabad as well as Hurriyat are only giving more credibility to New Delhi’s claim of India being a ‘victim ’of Pakistan sponsored terrorism. Espousing militancy is also making the international community more wary of coming out in support of the ‘self determination’ movement.

Playing to the gallery is poor diplomacy and thus Islamabad needs avoid running with the hares and hunting with the hounds on the issue of Kashmir. By espousing use of violence, Islamabad and the Hurriyat have ended up demonising the ‘self determination’ movement and even Pakistan’s closest allies do not support this view. And this was evident when Islamabad brought up the UN report on Kashmir during the OIC meet held on sidelines of the recently concluded UNGA session. While Turkey wholeheartedly supported Pakistan’s efforts to resolve the Kashmir issue, its Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu made it absolutely clear that what Istanbul wanted was a “peaceful solution.” This clearly indicates that despite all attempts to justify violence, militancy in Kashmir remains the vulnerable underbelly of Pakistan’s and the Hurriyat’s Kashmir narrative.

Even a cursory recap of what happened at the 73rd UNGA session will reveal that New Delhi played the ‘victim of violence’ and Islamabad’s “glorification” of terrorism” cards throughout. It cancelled the Indo-Pak FM meet scheduled on sidelines of the UNGA session blaming Pakistan backed militants for abducting and killing three JK Police men just days before this scheduled meeting and also accused Islamabad for “glorifying a terrorist and terrorism” by issuing postage stamps. And though the Pakistani FM maintained that these were “flimsy grounds”, New Delhi’s decision seems to have struck the right chord with the international community as no country condemned it. Similarly, while the Indian FM squarely put the onus for the sorry state of affairs in Kashmir on Pakistan’s support to terrorists, no other country challenged New Delhi’s claim.

With UN resolutions calling for self determination as well as the OHCHR report on Kashmir in its favour, for Islamabad to convince the world that people in Indian administered Kashmir  are facing overwhelming oppression and gross violations of their fundamental human rights by the Indian occupation forces” shouldn’t have been difficult task. However, it failed and this obviously shows that there’s something fundamentally wrong in Islamabad’s Kashmir strategy. Thus, instead of only making tall promises and pledging complete support to the Kashmir cause, Islamabad would do much better if it moves beyond rhetoric and concentrate on how to resolve the Kashmir issue!






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