SVI In-house Seminar/Panel Discussion: Report – February 26, 2019 Kashmir Conflict: Human and Strategic Challenges

SVI In-house Seminar/Panel Discussion: Report – February 26, 2019 Kashmir Conflict: Human and Strategic Challenges

Compiled by: Waqas Jan
Reviewed and Edited by: Dr. Anjum Sarfraz
STRATEGIC VISION INSTITUTE (SVI), ISLAMABAD

The Strategic Vision Institute (SVI) has been organizing seminar on Kashmir issue in tandem with the Kashmir day on 5th February every year and President of AJK is invited as a chief guest. This year convenience of President was obtained for 26 Feb 19 for in House Seminar but he could not attend because he had to go to Jeddah for OIC Meeting. This time Ms. Mushal Hussain Mallick, Chairperson Peace and Cultural Organization, wife of Mr.Yaseen Mullick chaired the seminar as a Chief Guest and key note speaker. Other speaker was Lt Gen (Retd) Naeem Khalid Lodhi, former Defence Minister and Secretary Defence. Lt Gen Syed Muhammad Owais (Retd), Former Secretary Defence Production and Senior Member BoG, SVI was the Chief host and moderator of the seminar because Dr Zafar Iqbal Cheema, the President and Executive Director of SVI had gone abroad to attend an important meeting. A lot of eminent scholars
attended as audience.

Formally inaugurating the session, Lt. Gen Syed Muhammad Owais warmly welcomed all participants and expressed his heartfelt gratitude for their attendance. In his introductory remarks, he highlighted the Kashmir issue as an unfinished agenda of partition that has always remained in the hearts of the Pakistani people. He explained how since the death of 22 year old Burhan Wani in July 2016, the Kashmiri struggle has struck a resounding chord amongst the region’s youth. It has over the last decade escalated into a full blown indigenous insurgency with the current generation of Kashmiris expressing a renewed vigor for independence. Increased heavy-handedness by Indian troops through the use of torture, pellet guns and the eradication of their culture and identities has brought even further radicalization amongst Kashmiri youth. Even neutral observers and local representatives within India have also recognized this, and are calling for a radical review of India’s overall policy and approach to the issue.
These dynamics are evident in the fact that 2018 served as the bloodiest year in over a decade with over 324 people killed out of which more than a 100 were civilians, based on UN estimates. According to the Indian government’s own estimates more than 70,000 people have died as a result of the movement. This excludes the 18,000 missing persons estimated by human rights groups. There is thus a definite need for peace which has become so vulnerable in the South Asian region. This is evident even in present circumstances that regional peace has become so fragile and precarious that it is often held hostage by a single terrorist incident. The Pulwama attack, the 2006 Mumbai attacks and the 2001 Parliament attacks, have all served as singular instances that have time and again brought both India and Pakistan to the brink of war. Hence, it is this precarious position of maintaining peace within the region that needs to be thought on not only by India and Pakistan but also international powers such as those in the West. Laying out the context of the discussion, he invited the speakers to present their views on the issue at hand.

The first speaker former Minister of Defense, Lt. Gen (R) Naeem Khalid Lodhi laid out his premise for a more realist stance. He began by stating that despite what we would like to ideally believe, the world’s power politics was not based on a level playing field. While the ideals of peace, truth and justice were definitely worth knowing and aspiring towards, the reality is far from the ideal, and characterized more by unequal power relations. He went on to further explain that the very concept of a ‘balance of power’ involved a continuously shifting and changing balance. That unless there was synergy and a combination of multiple aspects of power such as political, economic, military and media power, there is little merit in understanding what maintaining this ‘balance’ truly means. He also took exception to the argument that there was a difference between geo-strategy and geo-economics. He believed that both concepts were closely intertwined since historic times and stemmed from an essential condition of humanity, from even an anthropological standpoint.

He did however note that, in first clarifying the premises and assumptions he has made with regard to his viewpoint, it is also important to understand how even the very concept and definition of terrorism has changed over the years, especially in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. He explained how under the rubric of the US led War on Terror even legitimate freedom movements had been labeled under terrorism. This includes the Kashmiri struggle for freedom, which has had to since increasingly disassociate itself from being labeled under terrorism. One of the defining factors of this difference is the fact that terrorism in its indiscriminate use of violence and fear, targets citizens and innocent civilians. Freedom Movements, especially indigenous ones such as those in Kashmir are directed at fighting against the forces occupying them. This difference should be kept in mind going ahead.

Elaborating further on Kashmir, Lt. Gen Lodhi emphasized that because of it being an unfinished agenda of partition of the sub-continent, Kashmir was and still is very much a regional issue. With respect to both Pakistan and India’s present state of affairs, Kashmir forms an integral part of the dynamics of Nuclear Deterrence within South Asia. Hence, from Pakistan’s perspective it is important to thus answer why Kashmir has been often cited as ‘the jugular vein of Pakistan’. This can bet attributed primarily to two reasons. The first being the water issue and the second one being the very ideology of Pakistan. As pointed out earlier Kashmir being an unfinished agenda of partition is not just a Kashmiri issue, but very much a Pakistani issue. The people of Kashmir through their struggles and sacrifices are in fact fulfilling Pakistan’s dream. Their struggle is the living embodiment of the two-nation theory and the very meaning of Pakistan’s ideology. Furthermore, it has to be realized that the recent calls for peace and table talks have only reached this point after years of struggle. Everywhere, peace and table talks follow the sacrifices and blood of conflict. This is apparent even in Afghanistan where the realization that peace is the only way forward has been achieved after unevenly matched sides have been brought to the negotiating table. Even this peace has been earned only after hard-won sacrifices.

Hence, building on this line of thought it is also important to address the value of the Kashmir for Pakistan based on the limitations of its economic development. There is a popular argument that suggests putting Kashmir on the back-burner and putting our own house in order first. That only after getting rid of the economic strife and hardships of our country, that we should even begin to consider lobbying for Kashmir.

Well the short response to this line of thought would be to consider the timeliness of present circumstances. At the moment the international community and global sentiments are with us and against India with respect to Kashmir. The UN Commission on Human Rights’ recent report, the indiscriminate use of fear and violence by Indian forces, as well as the changing tide of political will within India all present opportunities to wrest the initiative away from India and present Pakistan’s position on the issue. Secondly, to do such a thing would be to relegate the years of sacrifices and blood shed by the Kashmiris. The human casualty side of this conflict is very real and something that neither we nor the international community can afford to ignore or even delay to address.

As evident in the presently changing scenario, there are even members of India’s own civil society that have started raising their voice against the treatment being meted out to Kashmiris. If we are to wait for Pakistan’s socio-economic conditions to improve while the Kashmiri population suffers, then we would have not only lost the present initiative, but also let go of the wave of sympathy that has gathered in support of the Kashmiri struggle. Following Lt. Gen Lodhi, Mushaal Hussein Mallick Chairperson for the Peace and Cultural Organization, wife of Yasin Malik (Chairman of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front) presented her talk on the Kashmiri freedom movement. She began by narrating the harrowing tale of how Indian forces had raided her home back in Srinagar just that morning. Based on her account, the sole objective of the raid was to simply terrorize her family. Her husband (Yasin Malik) had already been arrested five days ago, while the present raid was based on humiliating her ailing mother in law and sister in law. Both these women were forced to stand outside their house in the cold while Indian forces thrashed through their personal belongings taking with them only her wedding album. She explained how the very demeanor and modus operandi of the Indian forces was to terrorize and harass unarmed family members both physically and psychologically. She lamented how even old ailing women weren’t spared from demeaning body searches and having abuses hurled at them by uniformed personnel of Indian occupying forces.

Commenting on how such experiences had sadly become the norm for the people of Indian Occupied Kashmir, she said that the people of AJK were lucky to have an army or some force to protect them against such injustices. She emphasized that the Kashmiri struggle for freedom is unarmed and peaceful movement. Indian atrocities have united the various Kashmiri factions calling for independence from Indian occupation.
She commended the unmatchable patience and resilience of the Kashmiri people to continue with their movement notwithstanding the years of escalating violence. Despite being tortured, murdered raped and maimed the movement was still going strong. Speaking on the radicalization of Kashmiri youth she also narrated the story of Burhan Wani, who a once promising student was compelled to take up arms as part of the resistance. He was a youngster who was an active voice of Kashmiri youth and extremely popular on Social Media. His brutal murder is part of a long tale of brutal violence and subjugation where indigenous Kashmiri youth in their desperate attempts at resistance are forced into this cycle of violence perpetrated by the Indian forces. She spoke of countless youngsters, some even promising PhD students who have been compelled to take up arms for the Kashmiri cause.
She further explained how India in its attempts at subjugating the Kashmiri people has been for decades trying to alter its demographics. Despite Kashmiris being offered special rights, the Indian government has offered land and numerous incentives to industrialists to come in and take over the region in the name of development. It is because of such widespread and heavy-handed efforts that the youth of Kashmir look towards Pakistan for hope and leadership. Pakistan needs to do a lot more to counter the Indian narrative and propaganda. It is thus Pakistan that should serve as the voice of the Kashmiri youth that are being silenced.
Even on the international stage, there is a malicious campaign of disinformation that is being spearheaded by the Indian diaspora abroad. Their zeal and widespread reach is such that the Indian government doesn’t even need to hire lobbyists to further their position on Kashmir. In contrast, Pakistan is far behind in promoting its position on Kashmir on the international stage. It seems Pakistani politicians due to a severe lack of unity are content with mud-slinging and slandering each other even abroad, paying mere lip-service to the Kashmir issue.

Ms. Mashaal narrated her own efforts during her recent visit to Norway where she represented the case for the Kashmiri struggle. She emphasized that the Kashmiri people have a legitimate case borne out of an indigenous desire for freedom, which if presented faithfully in front of the International community does garner support and sympathy. She emphasized that there was a lot that could be done based on these efforts. She urged every Pakistani to do their part and even suggested that everyone present sign the petition on the UN’s online website to make their voice heard on behalf of the silenced Kashmiri people. She shared her firm belief that support for the Kashmiri cause has to penetrate through to the grassroots level in Pakistan. It is a legitimate cause that is enshrined within the UN resolution that has not been taken up as seriously as it should.
Agreeing with Lt. Gen Lodhi she also emphasized that Pakistan’s prosperity lies in a peaceful Kashmir. Even despite its present economic difficulties the people of Pakistan are in a much better position than the people of occupied Kashmir. These freedoms which Pakistanis enjoy relative to those of the people of occupied Kashmir should not be taken for granted. Even going ahead, Pakistan’s growth and success is directly tied to Kashmir.

Lt. Gen (R) Syed Muhammad Owais while agreeing with and thanking both speakers opened the floor for questions. The first question was posed by Puresh Chaudhry, founder of the Aagahi foundation. She posed two questions. Her first question was related to the definition of Human Rights based on the restrictions imposed on one’s freedom of movement. She asked to what extent Pakistan has presented the Kashmiri struggle in front of the international community based on the curbing of such freedoms on its own citizens. Her second question was how Pakistan’s economic prosperity could be better linked to the resolution of the Kashmir issue based on prevailing trends of socio-economic development within the country.
Taking on her second question, Ms. Mashaal Malik answered that based on present trends; a viable way forward can be to perhaps turn CPEC into a peace corridor, making Pakistan’s economic development conditional on better Indo-Pak relations. This can further be achieved by better re-defining the allegations of terrorism that have been attributed to the Kashmiri cause and recognizing the plight of the Kashmiri people from an indigenous standpoint.

Answering her previous question, Lt. Gen Lodhi stated that the reason why movement had been restricted in and out of occupied Kashmir, especially for civil society members in both India and Pakistan was because of a lack of consistency in Islamabad’s response on Kashmir. Apart from just the freedom of movement there are a whole host of issues on human rights grounds and beyond that can be justified as requiring international intervention. However, these need to be presented in a consistent and regular manner. The level of determination and political will required is highly inconsistent despite there being a genuine need and case for it.

This was followed by a series of questions and comments from Mr. Muhamad Ali (Researcher at CISS). He asked that considering that even the UN along with a number of international observers have acknowledged that India’s occupation is based on violence and suppression of Human Rights, whether there was a shift in their official policy on India with regard to Kashmir. He cited the example of the US ambassador who while acknowledging Indian heavy-handedness, had whether pushed for a change in US policy at the level of the State Department and/or White House.
He also mentioned that Pakistan needs to seriously re-visit the extent to which it can leverage its close ties with China, on the Kashmir issue, especially considering the change in the regional environment. For instance, considering how both CPEC and the BRI point towards China now having an even greater stake in the region, Pakistan needs to clearly re-visit the possibility of using China’s influence to help resolve this long outstanding issue with India.
In reply to this question, Lt. Gen Lodhi was of the opinion that while the US still has considerable interests in the South Asian region, its relationship with Pakistan has been based on the very principle of inequality owing to the unequal power relations he had referred to earlier. He explained how the US bullies Pakistan and corners it into submission. Instead of expecting the US to fight for our interests, we should have a relationship that is more transactional in nature. The present requirement of Pakistan’s assistance in promoting peace talks between it and the Taliban present a case in point. Based on Pakistan’s need to internationalize the issue of Kashmir, it should also be kept in mind that there are different value systems at play, both in and outside Pakistan. This needs to be kept in mind specifically with regard to how and to who we present the Kashmir issue, something which while being very much close to our hearts, may not hold much relevance to a neutral or even biased party.

Thanking the speakers and participants of the seminar, Lt. Gen Owais adjourned the proceedings and announced that the recommendations developed out of this important discussion would be collected and presented to the concerned bodies.

Media Coverage:
The event was widely covered by the print media:

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