Feb. 5, observed worldwide as Kashmir Solidarity Day, stands as a stark reminder that the people of Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir — IIOJK — deserve to live in peace and dignity. Today, it marks the completion of 73 years of the Kashmiri people’s persistent struggle against egregious human rights violations and continued military siege imposed on them by India.
The struggle of the Kashmiri people has its roots in the colonial project of the British East India Company, which, following the first Anglo-Sikh War, sold the territory of Jammu and Kashmir to a Dogra Hindu ruler under the 1846 Treaty of Amritsar. At the time, Muslims constituted 77 percent of the total population of the northern state. The Muslim majority of Kashmir only accumulated grievances during the next 100 years of Dogra rule.
For a brief moment in the mid-20th century, there was hope. As the spirit of decolonization pervaded every colonized territory of the world, the people of Kashmir were hopeful of exercising their right to determine their own destiny. However, the greatest misfortune for the Kashmiri people came in 1947, when they were once again written off to a neo-imperial Indian state without their approval.
Fearful of a popular uprising by the Kashmiri people, India took the matter to the UN, thereby acknowledging that Kashmir was an international dispute and its resolution would only come from its people through a UN-mandated plebiscite (as stated in UN Security Council Resolution 47 of 1948). India, in its 1954 constitution, acknowledged the special status of the Kashmiri people and gave special semi-autonomous status to Jammu and Kashmir, the country’s only Muslim-majority state.
Today, IIOJK is the largest open-air prison in the world and the most heavily militarized zone. With more than 900,000 Indian military and paramilitary forces stationed there, the ratio of security personnel to civilians is about one to nine. In order to perpetuate its occupation, India has been using the draconian Armed Forces Act of 1990, the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act of 1967, amended in 2019, and the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act of 1978 — a preventive detention law condemned as lawless by the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society — to give unprecedented powers to its forces. This has resulted in a brutal and repressive crackdown on Kashmiris for demanding the right to self-determination in accordance with UNSC resolutions.
Aside from the political question, this is also an issue of human rights and international humanitarian laws.
Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Bilal Akbar
Several reports by the UN, international humanitarian organizations and nongovernmental organizations, including some based within India, have documented crimes against humanity perpetrated in Jammu and Kashmir. At the 46th session of the UN Human Rights Council, held in February last year, High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet showed concern for the deteriorating situation in the state. She said the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights would continue to monitor the situation in IIOJK, where restrictions on communications and clampdowns on civil society activists remain of grave concern.
The Organization of Islamic Cooperation Secretariat and its Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission have also issued multiple statements and reports condemning India’s illegal and unilateral actions, as well as serious human rights violations in IIOJK. The OIC Contact Group on Kashmir in its meetings, the last held on Feb. 5, 2021, has unanimously called for rescinding India’s unilateral actions, condemned human rights violations against Kashmiri people, and reaffirmed support for the Kashmiris’ right to self-determination.
The Kashmir dispute is one of the oldest unresolved international conflicts in the world today. Aside from the political question, Kashmir is also an issue of human rights and international humanitarian laws. Some experts are predicting a genocide against Muslims in India, especially in Kashmir, but the world could not care less. In the last two decades, the international community has regressed in its ethos, as it now exhibits symptoms of arrested moral development.
Pakistan will not allow the people of Kashmir to become a footnote in the history of our region. Pakistan will always stand by the rights of Kashmiri citizens and will lend all moral, political and diplomatic support to the valiant people of Kashmir. There cannot be long-lasting peace in the region without solving the Kashmir dispute as per UNSC resolutions.
• Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Bilal Akbar is Pakistan’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia.