In autumn when the diplomats and top politicians from India and Pakistan go to the United Nations for long speeches blaming each other for Kashmir, the valley is literally on the edge. In a bid to stay in news, both sides use their influence to create “supportive” news, reports Khursheed Wani
Every September when world leaders converge in the New York for the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) summit, the conflict between India and Pakistan, in and over Kashmir, renews and intensifies at several levels. Kashmir is one of the few regions in the world where the UN has a presence to monitor the territorial dispute that exists since the creation of India and Pakistan as sovereign states in August 1947. Ineffective though, the existence of United Nations Military Observers Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP), which biennially operates from Srinagar and Rawalpindi, contextualizes the Kashmir dispute and offers credence to the pleads of resolution.
The annual UNGA summit of 2017 was held a month after India and Pakistan completed seven decades of their existence as independent sovereignties. To their discredit, however, the people of J&K continued to suffer due to pending settlement of their political future. Worse, like most Septembers of the past, the UN summit dawns heightened hostility along the de-facto border that divides the region between the two countries. People straddling the Line of Control (LoC) often see the UN summit as a bad omen. Instead of bringing peace, the guns roar on the borders as the leaders and diplomats of the two countries spat over the situation in the region insides the conference halls of the UN headquarters.
From customary addresses of the state representatives of India and Pakistan to the subsequent explanatory speeches from the diplomats, Kashmir remained at the center stage when India and Pakistan explained their polity to the world leaders. Unlike last year when Premiers Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharief represented their countries, this time the ranks were much lower. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, who got the top post after Nawaz Sharief was dismissed by the Supreme Court, could not create an impactful aura much like the Indian foreign minister Sushma Swaraj couldn’t.
Eventually, the summit ended with a plethora of performances without bringing about any change on the ground situation in J&K. Like the rare contests on cricket grounds between the archrivals, the fence sitters rate the performances on the basis of their inherent tilt and biases. The gaffe of Pakistan’s permanent representative in the UN Maleeha Lodhi to showcase the pellet-terror perpetuated by the Indian forces in Kashmir with the picture of a bartered Palestinian girl (as if there was no picture of a Kashmiri victim), the Indian representative, pinpointed the error and in turn, showed another Kashmiri, an Indian army’s off-duty junior officer Umar Fayaz, a Kashmir resident, who was kidnapped and subsequently killed by suspected militants. This reflects the status of a Kashmiri in the hostility between the two neighbouring countries.
Like the last year’s UN speech when Nawaz Sharief devoted almost three fourths of his time to highlight Kashmir situation besides declaring Burhan Wani a freedom fighter, Khaqan Abbasi’s focus also remained on Kashmir and ‘Indian hostility’ towards his country.
“Unfortunately, from day one of its creation, Pakistan has faced unremitting hostility from its eastern neighbor,” Abbasi said in his speech. “India refuses to implement the unanimous resolutions of the UN Security Council, which mandate a UN supervised plebiscite to enable the people of Jammu and Kashmir to freely decide their destiny.”.
“Instead India has deployed nearly 700,000 troops in to suppress the legitimate struggle of the Kashmiris to exercise their right to self-determination,” he said. “As in the past, today the Kashmiri people are waging a heroic and popular struggle to rid themselves of India’s oppressive rule. They come out in the streets daily to call on India to leave Kashmir.” Pakistan accsed India of using massive and indiscriminate force to suppress Kashmiris, shooting indiscriminately at children, women and youth. Hundreds of innocent Kashmiris have been killed or injured. Shotgun pellets have blinded and maimed thousands of Kashmiris including children. These and other brutalities clearly constitute war crimes and violate the Geneva Conventions, Abbasi said.
Pakistan demanded an international investigation into “India’s crimes in Kashmir” by asking UN Secretary-General and UNHCR to send an inquiry Commission to verify the nature and extent of India’s human rights violations, secure the punishment of those responsible and provide justice and relief to the victims. Abbasi urged the international community to call on India to: halt pellet gun attacks and other violence against unarmed demonstrators; stop the use of rape as an instrument of state policy; end media blackouts; rescind its draconian emergency laws; and free all Kashmiri political leaders. Pakistan also blamed India for LoC flare-ups insisting that it is being done to divert the world’s attention from its brutalities in Kashmir. “But if India does venture across the LoC, or acts upon its doctrine of “limited” war against Pakistan, it will evoke a strong and matching response,” Abbasi said, asking international community to prevent the situation.
Instead, Pakistan urged India to initiate dialogue or alternatively asked the international body to play its role. “The Kashmir dispute should be resolved justly, peacefully and expeditiously. As India is unwilling to resume the peace process with Pakistan, we call on the Security Council to fulfill its obligation to secure the implementation of its own resolutions on Jammu and Kashmir,” Khaqani said and suggested Secretary-General to appoint a Special Envoy on Kashmir. “His mandate should flow from the longstanding but unimplemented resolutions of the Security Council.”
The Indian foreign minister Sushma Swaraj’s retort equally revolved around Kashmir with Indian position on the dispute beginning from India’s stand on the inefficacy of the UN resolutions on Kashmir.
“Prime Minister Abbasi has recalled old resolutions that have been long overtaken by events. But his memory has conveniently failed him where it matters. He has forgotten that under the Shimla Agreement and the Lahore Declaration India and Pakistan resolved that they would settle all outstanding issues bilaterally. The reality is that Pakistan’s politicians remember everything, manipulate memory into a convenience. They are masters at forgetting facts that destroy their version,” she said.
Swaraj blamed Pakistan for reneging its commitment to initiate bilateral dialogue. She said that Nawaz Sharief had committed to her on December 9, 2015, when she was in Islamabad for the Heart of Asia conference, that “comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue” would be initiated. “The word ‘bilateral’ was used consciously to remove any confusion or doubt about the fact that the proposed talks would be between our two nations and only between our two nations, without any third-party present. And he must answer why that proposal withered, because Pakistan is responsible for the aborting that peace process,” Swaraj said.
Swaraj sought to disparage Pakistan as an exporter of terror and earn brawny points for her own country by talking about its prowess in information technology. “I would like today to tell Pakistan’s politicians just this much, that perhaps the wisest thing they could do is to look within. India and Pakistan became free within hours of each other. Why is it that today India is a recognised IT superpower in the world, and Pakistan is recognised only as the pre-eminent export factory for terror?” she asked. “We produced scholars, doctors, engineers. What have you produced? You have produced terrorists. Doctors save people from death; terrorists send them to death. If Pakistan had spent on its development what it has spent on developing terror, both Pakistan and the world would be safer and better-off today.”
The spat was taken to new levels by other diplomats who used their right to clarify issues arisen in the background of main speeches in the general assembly. This also provided fodder for TV discussions and newspaper columns.
And, in the meanwhile, the actual battle-ground continued to bleed. On September 21, when the international peace day sponsored by the UN, was being observed, a mysterious grenade blast occurred in Tral, targeting cabinet minister Naeem Akhtar. This led to death of three young Kashmiris. The border residents remained on tenterhooks as mortar shells continued to pound on them. They have cultivated a habit of remaining too vigilant during the UN summit because they fear to be targeted by any of the countries to prove a point at New York.
A few years ago, this writer visited the UN headquarters and the section there that oversees the UNMOGIP’s affairs. Out of curiosity I asked an officer as to what happens to the memoranda, the leaders and people of Kashmir, often submitted at UN office in Srinagar demanding resolution of Kashmir dispute. “We get copies of those memoranda and preserve them in our files,” she informed.
Abbasi and Swaraj’s speeches will also form a portion of records at the UN headquarters. It has not changed the ground situation in Kashmir and there seems no chance that it will do so in future. Is it the destiny of Kashmiri people to remain in a state of political uncertainty and continue to bleed on the streets and mountain passes? Nobody knows.
(The writer is a senior journalist)