Shift in Kashmir stance or just UN posturing?
India made a sharp and strong case for itself last week at the UN when Pakistan raked up the Kashmir issue. Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj remained unmoved by yet another jumla from a Pakistani head of government and dismissed the 4-point formula suggested by Nawaz Sharif.
Swaraj instead spoke about Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir in relation to terror attacks on Indian Kashmir. She said, “We all know that these attacks are meant to destabilise India and legitimise Pakistan’s illegal occupation of parts of the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir and its claim on the rest of it.”
She said these attacks are meant to legitimise Pakistan’s illegal occupation of parts of the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir and its claim on the rest of it. Pic/PTI
Even before she made this speech, Indian TV channels had run visuals of atrocities on citizens in Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir, known as ‘Azad Jammu Kashmir’ in Pakistan. Nothing is Azad in ‘AJK’. There is an overwhelming presence of Pakistan Army, its ISI and there is no democracy whatsoever. The people have neither liberties nor power to choose their representatives in actuality. It is the writ of Islamabad that runs there. But if you were to scan Pakistani media, you would not see any reporting from ‘AJK’ or Gilgit Baltistan other than if a terror strike takes place there. The woes of the people there are never reported because of the iron curtain on the media. However, about Indian Kashmir, there is constant harping from the jihadis and politicians in Pakistan.
The Indian media too has largely remained uninterested in what happens in ‘AJK’ or in Gilgit Baltistan. Both are technically part of the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir, which India, by constitution, claims as its own. But why blame the Indian media alone, when successive Indian governments have remained silent on this, not countering Pakistani usurpation, and then counter-claims with facts.
Even today, 25 seats in the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly are reserved for the people of Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir. Those seats remain vacant. Why should it be a mere symbolic gesture to keep them vacant? Why not open it out for people of Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir origin who live anywhere in the world. Why should they only be living in PoK or the so-called AJK or Gilgit Baltistan? In the Pakistani part, the MQM and PPP occupy the reserved seats under some tenuous connection with that region. So, even if mainline Indian parties stay away from those seats, there are enough expats of PoK origin, who would gladly occupy the reserved seats in the Jammu and Kashmir assembly and bring to light the plight of people of occupied Jammu and Kashmir, i.e. PoK. The move would be legitimate, not really out of line with the J&K Constitution, and strengthen India’s hand.
Let’s take this one step further; why not include seats for PoK in Parliament too? After all, if PoK is part of India then people from PoK should be represented in the Parliament. The seats should be thrown open to people of PoK origin living anywhere in the world.
This way the voice of the people India has abandoned due to Pakistani occupation, will be heard in the Indian Parliament. For example, Pakistan has handed over large tracts of land to China for the construction of the China-Pakistan economic corridor, which runs through Gilgit Baltistan. Abdul Hamid Khan, chief of the Balwaristan National Front had this to say to Pakistani authorities: “The area is disputed. It is not legally or constitutionally a part of Pakistan. The UN has kept Gilgit Baltistan as disputed. The decision of which is yet to come. In such circumstances how can you build permanent structures like dam there? Who gave you the authority and right to hand it over to China?” Now, this was heard on a TV channel in the US, it was played on European TV channels, but it never made it to the Indian TV networks. And, of course, Pakistan and China would never run it.
So, while Sushma Swaraj’s speech was strong and well delivered, the BJP, which tom-toms itself as the strongest nationalist party, will have to carry forward the theme, else the UN stance will be another flash in the pan. At one time, India used to call it Pakistan’s ‘annual itch’ of bringing up Kashmir at the UN. Is India’s response of talking about Pakistani occupation of Jammu and Kashmir also just an annual jerking of the knee? Or is it going to be sustained?
Smita Prakash is Editor, News at Asian News International. You can follow her on Twitter @smitaprakash