Cannon’s Kashmir Quandary

Canadian foreign minister Lawrence Cannon kicked off a storm in South Asia besides his country’s capital Ottawa last week. Cannon wrote a letter on the advice of a Kashmiri-Canadian Mushtaq Jeelani, in which he stated the government’s plan to involve itself in resolving the Kashmir dispute.
“The Government of Canada takes the issue of a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Kashmir very seriously and continues to encourage the governments of India and Pakistan to move forward with the ongoing Composite Dialogue process, focused upon the resolution of key issues, including Jammu and Kashmir,” Lawrence Cannon wrote in the letter Jeelani. The latter is the Executive Director of Peace and Justice Forum, a group desiring peaceful settlement in Kashmir.
The apparent statement of Canada’s intention to get involved in the touchy strategic conflict between India and Pakistan was met with a mixture of shock, happiness, outrage and bewilderment, forcing the foreign minister to clarify Canada’s position some days later.
Connon had responded to Jeelani’s letter he wrote to the current government expressing concern about human rights and other issues in Kashmir, and inquiring about Canada’s position on Kashmir.
While cannon responded, Jeelani issued a press release titled “Canada wants a peaceful resolution of Kashmir.” The press release contains excerpts from Cannon’s letter. While it garnered no media attention in Canada, it reverberated across the South Asian as reactions poured in from several quarters in India and Pakistan.
“Canada is in consultation with G8 countries in a bid to evolve durable peace in South Asia and Canadian High Commission in India insists on Indian government for the assurance of respect of human rights of Kashmiri people,” Cannon wrote, according to the press release.
“The Government of Canada takes the issue of a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Kashmir very seriously and continues to encourage the governments of India and Pakistan to move forward with the ongoing Composite Dialogue process, focused upon the resolution of key issues, including Jammu and Kashmir,” Cannon continues. “Canada regularly presses India to ensure that human rights, including the rights of Kashmiris, are respected…. Please be assured that we will continue to engage with the Government of India in this regard.”
Cannon’s office refused to release the letter to Embassy but did confirm its existence. In an interview later, Indian High Commissioner S.M. Gavai said that India does not welcome any third-party participation in the issue of the status of Kashmir.
Indeed, major international players such as the United States, the United Nations and the European Union have played a hands-off role in the disputed region, respecting India’s desire for this to remain a domestic and bilateral issue.
Stories based on Cannon’s letter were published in major Pakistani and Indian newspapers such as the Times of India, the Hindu, the News International, and Pakistan Christian Post. Cannon’s comments provoked comment from political parties in the Kashmir region and beyond.
Mahaz-e-Azadi welcomed the statement, while the chairman of the Jammu Kashmir People’s League said the letter was “indicative of the fact that civilized world want to create a conducive and opinionated atmosphere between two nuclear powers of the sub-continent who are presently at political crossroads.”
The letter also caught the attention of Indian officials. A senior diplomat from the Indian high commission, on condition of anonymity, said the Indian Foreign Ministry became aware of Cannon’s letter last Friday and notified the chancery. The high commission then raised the issue with DFAIT’s South Asia division, which said that Cannon’s comments were taken out of context.
The diplomat alleged the whole affair is “obviously an orchestrated attempt to really blow the [Kashmir] problem out of proportion and to project one particular point of view.”
Cannon had a day before addressed the issue of Canada’s position on Kashmir. “Indeed, Canada’s position on Kashmir has not changed,” the minister said. “Canada has not deviated from its approach that supports efforts by both India and Pakistan to resolve the Kashmir and other issues through the Composite Dialogue Process.
“We want to see the Kashmir issue resolved through peaceful means and I was today in the position to be able to reiterate that with the high commissioner from India to Canada,” he said.
Srinagar born Jeelani denied misrepresenting Cannon’s position, saying he did not add or subtract anything from the quotes used in the press release. He said Canada is “uniquely qualified to take a leadership role” in Kashmir.  “Canada needs to take a leadership role and bring likeminded countries together in order to put a collective pressure on India and Pakistan to come up with an acceptable political solution to the Kashmir issue,” he said.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here