The president of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) has deplored the role of international community, mainly the United Nations, in the long-standing Kashmir dispute, calling it “conspicuously disappointing”.
“The UN role in [occupied] Kashmir has been conspicuously disappointing because practically it has taken a hands-off approach, though they realise Kashmir is the elephant in the room,” Masood said in an exclusive interview with Anadolu Agency on the occasion of Kashmir’s national day, which is being commemorated on Tuesday across the Line of Control (LoC) that divides the region.
People across the dividing line are observing the 90th anniversary of the killings of dozens of Kashmiris in the city of Srinagar on July 13, 1931, when they were protesting against the Hindu Maharaja Hari Singh, then ruler of Jammu and Kashmir.
Commonly known as “Martyrs Day”, the event is seen as the starting point of the current phase of Kashmiris’ longstanding freedom struggle.
“The US wants the status quo, an option preferred by India, and the European Union is hamstrung. But the citizens of the world can be mobilised. Today, for the Kashmir cause, the streets are more promising than official chambers – bilateral or multilateral,” he added.
By ignoring the Kashmir issue, the AJK president said, powerful nations which claim to be the custodians of international law are “underwriting impunity for crimes against humanity” in Jammu and Kashmir.
Muslim-majority Kashmir has been the main ingredient in the long-simmering rivalry between Pakistan and India since the two nuclear-armed neighbours gained independence from the British Empire in 1947.
Some Kashmiri groups in IIOJK have been fighting against the Indian rule for independence or unification with Pakistan.
According to several human rights organisations, thousands of people have been killed and tortured in the conflict in the region since 1989.
Already heightened tensions between the two countries touched a further low after India stripped the longstanding semi-autonomous status of the valley in August 2019, prompting Islamabad to downgrade diplomatic relations with New Delhi and suspend bilateral trade.
India wants ‘cosmetic’ engagement
President Masood, a veteran diplomat who served as Pakistan’s permanent representative to the UN from 2012 to 2015, contended that New Delhi is looking for a “cosmetic engagement” with Islamabad for “good optics” following the scrapping of the valley’s decades-long special status.
India “wants to give a false impression that Pakistan is ready to live with the changes India has made since August 5, 2019. But Pakistan has not. Pakistan has made it clear that it would not hold any bilateral talks until it reverses its actions of August 2019”.
Replying to a question about the resumption of long-stalled peace talks between India and Pakistan, Masood said bilateral talks in the past on the Kashmir issue have never produced results because India’s sole purpose is to “bury the issue for all times to come”.
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“That’s not acceptable to Kashmiris. I see little utility of such talks if the Kashmiris, whose fate is at stake, are not sitting at the negotiating table. The official international community has no desire for playing a role to resolve the issue,” he added.
Referring to the reaction of the international community to India’s actions in August 2019, he said: “In the immediate aftermath of New Delhi’s move, influential parliaments and international media called out India and castigated it for its illegal actions.”
“India was held accountable. The UNSC [United Nations Security Council] also met informally to discuss the perilous situation in the region, and there was a groundswell of support for the besieged Kashmiris. But the momentum frittered away after three months,” he said.
“Now the unfolding tragedy in Kashmir is buried under the heavy burden of the global geostrategic agenda.”
The controversial move, he said, could not even get support from pro-India politicians in Kashmir, and has further bolstered the “legitimacy and appeal” of pro-freedom leaders.
“Even before August 2019, pro-India politicians had completely lost their credibility. The bulk of the captive Kashmiri population saw them as henchmen of Delhi and in fact facilitators of the reign of terror in Kashmir,” he said.
After August 2019, the AJK president argued, these leaders were “disparagingly dumped by their masters”.
“India looked for their substitutes but had limited success. These pro-Indian leaders bent over backwards, their blackmailing caveats notwithstanding, to stage a comeback,” he said.
“The Modi government wants to co-opt them for getting their support for illegal demographic changes in the state and delimitation of the constituencies to give more representation to the Hindus in a future legislative assembly.”
On the other hand, he added, the “legitimacy and appeal” of the Hurriyat Conference leaders – Syed Ali Geelani, Yasin Malik, Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, Asiya Andrabi and Shabir Shah – remains “as strong as ever”.
President Masood said that Kashmiris should be seated at every table that discusses the issue and should be part of any political or diplomatic process that is initiated on Kashmir.
“Kashmiris should not be pushed to the sidelines as spectators when their fate is being decided. We know they want to join Pakistan. But until they do so, through a referendum, their voice is sovereign,” he said.
Referring to the Ladakh standoff between China and India, he observed that the development has made a difference.
India’s “Lebensraum”, he added, has been stopped in its tracks and Kashmir has gained more visibility and prominence worldwide.
“It has, ironically, also accentuated the issue’s complexity and intractability, which suits India. Kashmiris want a solution, not a perennial status quo and the vicious cycle of violence to which they are subjected every day,” he contended.