On May 26, the Center for Security, Strategy and Policy Research (CSSPR), University of Lahore, organized a webinar entitled “The Vaccination of Freedom: Kashmir in the Age of Double Detention.” Moderated by Director, CSSPR, Dr. Rabia Akhtar, the webinar featured President Azad Jammu and Kashmir, H.E. Masood Khan, prominent scholar, Ms. Victoria Schofield, and ace public intellectual and former Senator , Mr. Javed Jabbar. The opening remarks of the webinar were given by Chairman Board of Governors, University of Lahore, Mr. Awais Raoof. The participants, taking stock of the current status of the simmering Kashmir imbroglio, focused on how Pakistan can revitalize its fight for Kashmir in the political, diplomatic, and media domains. Emphasis was laid on the need for Pakistan to develop a bipartisan, whole-of-nation approach while focusing on bolstering mainstream diplomacy through putting in place a robust strategic communications architecture. Here is the video of the webinar:
You can read the proceedings of the webinar below.
Chairman Board of Governors, University of Lahore,Mr. Awais Raoof: Opening Remarks
It has been more than a year but nothing has changed for the hapless people of Kashmir . While the world witnessed the onslaught of COVID-19, Kashmiris came under the burden of a double detention with no foreseeable end to their miseries in Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir(IIOJK). Despite all our efforts and hard work to keep the issue alive, Kashmiris are still far away from reaching their dreams. The world erupted in responses and cried foul to Israel’s treatment of Gaza but there is a similarity between Palestine and Kashmir in how Indian fascists and Zionist nationalists treat their people. Situation worsens with lockdowns and restrictions in Kashmir with life coming to a complete standstill because they are being restricted to even go out and earn a livelihood. A global vaccination campaign is underway but what is its status in Kashmir is something still unknown, no one knows how much vaccinations have reached Kashmiris, if at all. As Pakistanis, we need to revisit and revise our priorities because abandoning or avoiding the cause is unacceptable. We should, as a global community, at least feel how a Kashmiri lives his or her life in so much restrictions now that we have witnessed, firsthand through this pandemic, how a lockdown feels. Without Kashmir, Pakistan is incomplete and for this purpose it matters most what we do for the Kashmiris and for Kashmir. States need to make sacrifices to save their brethren when it comes to such atrocities and maybe, perhaps maybe, the time is nigh for such sacrifices to be made. Kashmiris are us, and we are them.
Mr. Javed Jabbar
The idea introduced by CSSPR in its title for the webinar identifies a hard and brutal reality of what exactly goes on in Kashmir. When the entire world witnesses the cruel and comical contrast of advanced planetary globalization and connectivity, there is utter hush on the issue in Kashmir. Mass connectivity and all the noise of news in the world, 8 million Kashmiris are absolutely blacked out as if they do not exist. A huge paradox that satellite and telecom have evolved the world into such a wonderful entity and yet, it all fails to even see Kashmir as it is. Also, despite claiming successful democratization and consistency in their power transitions there are 3 democracies that have become worse than authoritarian republics; India’s diverse and large democracy, Israel’s successive democratic system and the United States. All such democracies opt for violence and aggression to soothe political implosions and fractures. Elected majorities and absurdities of their electoral systems are fracturing how the world intends to exist and all the same, they unleash a new level of hatred and conflicts that have highlighted the need to look at the consequences of such actions. Even after securing an insignificant position in their own parliament, India under BJP begins a massive campaign to violate its own constitution and commits unbridled aggression against a marginalized community. Where the world cooperates seamlessly on all issues, ranging from internet neutrality to power sharing, it cannot take any stance or stand on Kashmir and the violence therein. No member in the UNSC’s P-5 has been able to bring their well-constructed systems and operability to reach even a single shred of consensus on Kashmir. Mechanisms must be developed that deter democracies which become dangerous for their own people and their neighbors. The current BJP setup is a horrendous demon that now holds power, but Pakistan is doing all it can to avert catastrophe and still engage in a positive way to bilaterally reach a point of reducing volatility.
Ms. Victoria Schofield
COVID-19 has derailed the normal course of life at global levels and for all societies, life itself is reshaping but still trying to catch on. India is exceptionally hit by a tragic turn of events that the pandemic has caused, but Pakistan has, statistically speaking, managed itself very well. Kashmir should have been resolved a generation ago but now that a new generation has taken roots in a conflictual environment, it has far-reaching consequences. This is not a real estate issue or a territorial matter but with 80,000 or more deaths, human rights abuses, widows and half-widows and orphans growing every day, UN’s contributions are there though small and worth reading. Until there is a resolution of the issue, there will continue human rights abuses and whatever formulas or agendas were proposed in the past, need to be revisited and new formulas be introduced to try to attract the international community. India does not accept Pakistan’s title for Kashmir as being IIOJK and the major issue is that the entire Jammu and Kashmir, including Ladakh, has to be seen in totality . The international community is confused as it cannot see the entire territory of Kashmir as it has to be seen as a princely state prior to 1947. Billions spent on military confrontations in India and Pakistan is one of the issues that does not let Kashmir issue being resolved with both states looking to be affected by water scarcity, overpopulation, demographic challenges and other issues of human security. Post-2019 environment for Kashmir is a huge challenge because prior to 2019, there was talk of resolution and settlement of issue but now Indian choice of not engaging in dialogue is a huge mess. Lockdowns and restrictions on human security resources are unconsented and will have severe consequences on the conflict. A bilateral attempt to resolve the issue with representation from indigenous people has failed in the past because the issue and its status is not clear. Even when the international community states that they cannot intervene due to the Simla Agreement bilateralization clause, there is a sub clause that allows mutually-consulted means to address the issue by other sources. India’s inclusion of Gilgit-Baltistan as a conflict area makes the issue go in a backward direction. Pakistan and India are taking steps in reverse rather than forward which is a worrying scenario. The issue should be kept alive and there should be frequency of conversations because it can get lost in the noise of other issues which have also been forgotten only because they were not advertised sufficiently.
President Azad Jammu and Kashmir, Masood Khan
There is still a national and international search to find an approach to resolve the Kashmir issue but as of yet, it has eluded one and all. The situation in IIOJK is horrendous, as it still is under siege since 2019 with a war going on; Indians, 900,000 strong and fully equipped from India against Kashmiris who are mostly noncombatants. Kashmir is being converted into a large concentration camp with killings and calculated murders of young men and able-bodied individuals, detentions and draconian legal systems catering to justify the onslaught of severe violence. Torture and violence are a normal situation and deliberate, systematic change in demography of Kashmir is violative of several international statutes. Such activities are war crimes being committed with impunity while the international community remains divided or even silent on the whole issue. India has illegally settled around 3 million Indians into Kashmir through changes in domicile laws to recalibrate the demographics in their favor. Pakistan’s foreign office and all other state institutions have worked tirelessly to keep the issue alive and with some success it has been able to create multidimensionality of issues that plagues Kashmir and its people. Fragmentation of the Kashmir issue is a serious volatility to the cause and it eventually dissects the issue to insignificance. The normalcy of violence and dealing with the issue as being ‘business as usual’ is also a great challenge to the Kashmir cause, one that is a serious challenge to be dealt with post-August 2019, which has changed ground realities. Pakistan has yet to adjust and align to this new dimensions, as India enforces its unilateral alteration of status quo. There is this reductionism on Kashmir issue in Pakistan which is also corrosive post-2019 mainly because it is a disastrous affair on how the issue has been seen through the ages. Pakistan, unfortunately, was unable to gain momentum by not being able to cash in on international support against Indian position and the galvanized response from the people of Pakistan and the diaspora community. Even though solidarity days and processions have an impact but they cannot create critical mass on the issue. The key to resolving Kashmir is not in UN at New York but in Washington DC, as America still maintains global stewardship. Indian actions also need to be scrutinized at Washington DC as it is an American ally and is reliant on American sustenance. Other states can facilitate convenience of discourse and dialogue on the issue but America hold the key to resolution, as it still continues to command superiority in global politics. Pakistani government officials need to talk to their international counterparts in mobilizing at least some sentiment for the human rights abuses being currently conducted with impunity.
Political differences and disputes of a domestic nature have also created problems for the Kashmir cause. Addressing to the world citizenry is also important and it is a dimension where diaspora can lead the way in creating a global civilian movement against atrocities conducted by Indian forces. Continuing to support Indian fascism at this frequency by the international community would eventually upset the international political order. Today it is against Kashmiris but tomorrow, such fascism and Hindutva narrative might move against Pakistani people and state as it aims to deconstruct Pakistan as part of its main agenda. Solutions for Kashmir would require consultations and communication with Kashmiris as they cannot be ignored or bypassed.
Comments and Concerns by Mr. Javed Jabbar and Ms. Victoria Schofield
Dr.Rabia Akhtar: Over the past few decades, you have seen Pakistan’s media evolve into a powerful element and player in the country’s polity. On the back of all this experience, what do you suggest to the Government of Pakistan when it comes effectively exploiting a rather difficult global media landscape for impactful strategic communications on Kashmir?
Javed Jabbar: Simla Agreement, as pointed out by Victoria Schofield, is bound by international agreements mandated by UN. Simla Agreement is the key for a progressive dialogue but Pakistan has unfortunately borrowed Indian interpretation of Simla in letter and spirit. Restricting efforts to the Foreign Office only is counterproductive and counterintuitive to the cause as other means need to grab international attention instead of showing complacency, by holding onto a single-dimensional approach. There is a dire need to create a credible, independent and globally accessible media outlet . There should be impartiality and critique of both domestic actions and actions conducted by Indians. Pakistan’s negative image is a major impediment in opening up the Kashmir cause as it anchors down our efforts internationally. Pakistan needs to invest heavily in correcting its image in a manner where it does not look out to be a propaganda maneuver. Pakistan is underutilizing its human resources and diaspora which is also an important factor to invest into to bring the issue to international attention.
Dr.Rabia Akhtar: I cannot help but mention how appropriately you titled one of chapters in your seminal book as “Vale of Tears”. Yes, the tears are flowing with no one there to stop them. Based on years of researching and analyzing various dimensions, human and political, of the conflict, how do you think Pakistan can rejig its policy approach to deal with both a different enemy and, frankly, a different kind of a conflict altogether?
Victoria Schofield: An enormous amount has been written on the Kashmir issue, but it gets forgotten as it is not sufficiently followed up by the domestic community mainly because there is no direction or plan to where a procession or a discontent needs to go once it is verbally expressed. There have to be initiatives and formulas but there has to be practicality and workability to it. There is a deficiency of information because a lot of information is posted as propaganda which marginalizes any settlement of the issue. There has to be credibility of narrative and credibility of purpose identified by Pakistan. India holds possession of Kashmir which is a bad situation, especially when it unilaterally alters the status quo and aims to extend its reach to other areas that were once part of Kashmir as a princely state. Restrictions on talking between Pakistan and India is a complex situation because it on one end justifies Indian alterations or derails the entire process completely which is a slippery slope.
Questions and Answers
Questions from President AJK: Why Pakistan is not questioning ICRC which has stopped visiting jails in which Kashmiris are detained? Is Pakistan’s job getting difficult when Kashmiri diaspora talks about separating Kashmir from both India and Pakistan? How does the Kashmir issue connect to you at a personal level?
President AJK: Before 2019, there was an attempt to opt for third-party mediation by engaging both influential partners and neutral entities, but such offers were rebuffed because of Indian influence and intransigence . ICRC has been approached several times but India has banned international organizations to gain physical access to occupied territories. ICRC has itself remained dormant and has avoided proactivity in Kashmir. Even after such visits are planned and executed, India denies and bans them to gain access.
The issue of independent Kashmir is quite old with many leaders in history aiming for a separate status for Kashmir since the 1940s. With political suppression including banning parties and jailing leaders, such an environment is not conducive to initiate a discussion on a separate status. As for Kashmiris themselves, accepting that there is a voice to separate from both India and Pakistan, there is a landslide opinion in favor of joining Pakistan.
For me, ideology comes second as human rights and suffering of the population take my primary interest and attention, fueling my passion to serve the cause. For me, human rights of the Kashmiri population are to be granted not as a matter of charity but as a matter of necessity.
Dr.Rabia Akhtar concluded the session with the following takeaways and suggestions:
- A global communication strategy from Pakistan’s side needs to be constructed
- Introspection on current responses, with a view to generating momentum and giving a direction
- Practical, workable, and cogent long-term solutions for stakeholders
- Giving confusing signals of backchannel negotiations is risky and damaging for the Kashmir cause. Therefore, Pakistan can ill-afford to do that.