President Azad Jammu & Kashmir, Sardar Masood Khan was one of the speakers at the webinar titled “Kashmir in the Age of Detention: What Changes for the Kashmiris Pre and Post-Pandemic?” Appended below is his opening statement.

First of all, I wish you all health and safety. Let us hope and pray that soon we will be able to get rid of the Coronavirus that has brought our global system to a standstill.Second, I am really grateful to Dr. Rabia Akhtar for organising this timely webinar on Kashmir. You are  a mover and shaker in the political and strategic fields , and we all respect you for that.  My tribute also to Mr. Awais  Raoof, Chairman Board of Governors, University of Lahore,  for his outstanding leadership of this institution with great vision and drive.

I will begin with  my own six-point agenda on Jammu and Kashmir that I have been pursuing since 2016.

One, forge unity in your ranks. Don’t speak in different, conflicting voices. That’s cacophony, not policy

Two, go back to the international community and multilateral forums, including the United Nations, International Financial Institutions, Parliaments,  custodians of international humanitarian law and global civil society. The sporadic bilateral processes with India have proved to be illusory and counter-productive.

Three, leverage the strength of the 10-million strong diaspora community which has turned Kashmir into a genuine international movement.

Four, use all tools of communication – the traditional media, social media, research journals, think tanks, and universities – to  disseminate the true narrative of Kashmir.

Five, make Pakistan and Azad Kashmir strong economically, militarily and strategically. You cannot win freedom for Kashmir ever, if  Pakistan is weak or is perceived to be weak.

Finally, interface with the enlightened Indian political forces and members of civil society who speak up for the rights of the Kashmiris and have even advocated their right to self-determination. They should be your potential allies.

Now I turn to the changes before and after the Coronavirus pandemic.

Before COVID- 19 lockdown,  Kashmir was under siege and under occupation. Today Kashmir completes 9 months of that siege.You would  recall that shortly after the August 5 invasion of Kashmir by India’s 900,000 troops, thousands of young boys and children, as young as 10, 11 and 12, were abducted and interned in concentration camps, which Indian CDS Bipin Rawat euphemistically called “deradicalisation camps”. An Indian NGO established that   the number of these boys was more than  13,000.

That’s not all. Thousands of our Hurriyat leaders and political activists  – all are under detention. A reign of intimidation, torture, killings, blinding, disappearances and terrorism was unleashed on caged Kashmiris. Kashmiri women were objectified and were projected as spoils of war. India calls this  ‘normalcy’. Well normalcy of a graveyard, I would say. But these actions were and  are genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

During that period, fortuitously, there was a groundswell of support for Kashmiris and a palpable opprobrium against the BJP and RSS. The mainstream international media, the European Parliament, British Parliament, US Congressional Committees  – all called out India for its heinous crimes and horrifying practices. Even the Security Council held informal sessions on Kashmir after five decades.

Despite this uproar, the irony was that the most powerful nations were tight-lipped about these horrors, hamstrung  by their economic and strategic ties with India.But even before COVID-19, the attention on Kashmir was vaporising  because of Brexit, President Trump’s impeachment enquiries, and other developments.

COVID-19 brought the second lockdown for Kashmiris. So they are under a twin lockdown, the first more lethal than the second. The fascist BJP-RSS regime decided to use  this opportunity to the hilt. They hunt  down young boys and kill  them in staged encounters. Posthumously they  dub them as militants supported by Pakistan. They do not release their bodies to their families for fear of large funerals and instead inter them in unmarked graves.

But the most vicious step they took was to introduce the so-called New Domicile Rules that would open the floodgates for import of Hindus from all over India to settle in Kashmir. Kashmiris’ special  rights to permanent residence, acquisition of property, education and employment – are all gone.This is an evil plan to grab Kashmiris’ land, property, farmland, forests, livelihoods and businesses. They would be homeless in their homeland; aliens in their own state.  It is truly a scorched earth policy. This is the beginning of the Saffronisation of Jammu and Kashmir, where Muslims would be reduced to a minority.

Only the OIC has condemned these rules which are identical with Hitler’s Nuremberg Laws that paved the way for the Holocaust. Now it is the Kashmiris’ turn to face a genocide and a pogrom.No other forum has taken cognisance of these crimes.

India deliberately escalates hostile fire, with heavy weaponry, across the Line of Control to divert attention from its atrocities in the Occupied Kashmir. This year, so far, it has violated ceasefire more than 850 times,  causing fatalities and destruction. Its  purpose is to signal to the world that the turbulence in Kashmir is not about Kashmiris’ resistance but about a potential nuclear escalation between India and Pakistan. Our armed forces have given a fitting response to the trigger-happy Indian  soldiers by targeting their  military posts.

What is the way forward?Some Kashmiris have hunkered down for survival. There  is civil disobedience. And there is also fierce resistance underway even as we speak. Neither India’s coercion, nor its blandishments  are working in the occupied territory.

While Kashmiris are literally under lock and key, we in Azad Kashmir and Pakistan are free – free to reach out to opinion leaders and decision makers. The media, Parliaments and human rights organisations are amenable to our narrative. Let’s use that space. Let’s regain their attention.The challenge is that COVID-19 has eclipsed the Kashmir story and India wants to use this opportunity to remove Kashmir from the global agenda. We would not let that happen.

Kashmir has now become part of the Great Game – the game of clash of religions and civilisations. Kashmir and Indian Muslims, in the BJP-RSS mindset, are synonymous with treason and terrorism. So, it is going to be a long haul and the  fault lines of this clash are immensely incendiary. I have been proposing initiation of a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against India. Why should corporate leaders and entrepreneurs invest in a fascist regime?

We are launching a hashtag #Virtual_Kashmir_Diplomacy. Please own it, use it and propagate it.The Arab street and  governments have recently woken up to the ugly reality in India. They have warned India and Indians to discard anti-Islamism; otherwise there would be consequences. It is our historic responsibility too  to upend the Hindutva juggernaut.

I would also appeal to Ms. Victoria Schofield to convey to the  Labour Party  leader Honourable Keir Starmer that Kashmir is a cross-party issue, supported by the entire political spectrum – Conservatives, Labour, Lib-Dems and S&P. Revisionism under the pressure of Indian lobby will neither be prudent nor advisable.

Post-Corona,  the  world will be volatile. I can see that powerful nations will be pitted against one another. There would be a sharp rise in ethnic and religious  nationalism and Islamophobia. Trade wars, and stiff competition  on new technologies – Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain, cognitive cloud computing, Internet of Things, and cryptocurrency would change the economic and political landscape. Survival of the fittest and the richest will be the new order. The IFIs will take center stage  and the UN a back seat. In this milieu, the space for Kashmir will shrink unless we demonstrate leadership.

Challenges lie  ahead and they  are phenomenal. But we will not dither or back off. Silence in these circumstances is dereliction of duty. We will continue our struggle by all means, including through Virtual Reality.

Let me assure you that the people of Jammu and Kashmir will not capitulate and that they would continue their freedom struggle until they attain self-determination. Kashmiris are in shackles, but their hearts and minds and souls are free.

The full video of the webinar can be accessed here.

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