My dream cannot be forsaken, Dr Syed Ghulam Nabi Fai
It is in everyone’s interest to settle the Kashmir conflict peacefully without further delay.
At United Nations
The Kashmir question is one of the oldest unresolved international problems in the world. The experience of six decades has shown that it will not go away and that an effort is urgently required to resolve it on a durable basis. It is imperative, whatever be the rights and wrongs in the equation as far as arguments go, real populations with a pronounced sense of identity of their own, with their suffering and their aspirations rather than just legal title and merit are involved.
When the Kashmir dispute erupted in 1947-1948, the United States and Great Britain championed the stand that the future status of Kashmir must be determined by the will of the people of the territory and that their wishes must be ascertained through an impartial plebiscite under the supervision and control of the United Nations. US was a principle sponsor of the resolution 47 which was adopted by the Security Council on April 21, 1948 and which was based on that unchallenged principle. Both US and Great Britain sponsored all of the Security Council resolutions, which called for a plebiscite. These were not resolutions in the routine sense of the term. Their provisions were negotiated in detail with India and Pakistan and it was only after the consent of both Governments was explicitly obtained that they were endorsed by the United Nations. They thus constitute a binding and solemn international agreement about the settlement of the Kashmir dispute.
The commitment of the United States and Great Britain was indicated by a personal appeal made by America's President Harry Truman and Britain's Prime Minister Clement Atlee that differences over demilitarization be submitted to arbitration by the Plebiscite Administrator, a distinguished American war hero: Admiral Chester Nimitz. India rejected this appeal and, later on, objected to an American acting as the Plebiscite Administrator. India also created controversy only after India realized that she could not win the peoples vote in Kashmir.
More than 2,700 mass graves were discovered in Kashmir in August 2011 where tortured victims have been dumped, while "half-widows" are unable to officially bring closure to their lives since their husbands have disappeared. The abuses are so pervasive as to extend beyond those directly affected. The pattern of abuses reaches every man, woman and child in the Valley of Kashmir. The people live under the constant threat of the abuses. The prevalence of military personnel and bunkers serve as a constant reminder to Kashmiris of the potential for them to fall victim to such horrible occurrences.
The scale of the popular backing can be judged from the established fact that virtually all the citizenry of Srinagar (Capital city of Kashmir) - men, women and children - came out dozens of times on the streets to lodge a non-violent protest. The fact that they presented petitions at the office of the United Nations Military Observers Group shows the essentially peaceful nature of the aims of the uprising and its trust in justice under international law. At times the number of people in these peaceful processions exceeded 1 million. India has tried to portray the uprising as the work of terrorists or fanatics. Terrorists do not compose an entire population, including women and children; fanatics do not look to the United Nations to achieve pacific and rational settlement.
This popular and non violent resistance is a living proof that the people of Kashmir will not compromise, far less abandon, their demand for self-determination which is their birthright and for which they have paid a price in blood and suffering which has not been exacted from any other people of the South Asian subcontinent. Compared to the sacrifice Kashmir has had to endure, India and Pakistan themselves gained their freedom through a highly civilized process.
Therefore, the world powers must realize that there is only one solution to the problem we face and that is to bring Kashmiris to the table. It is only the people of Kashmir who can decide their own future, not by military means or by the use of violence, but through peaceful negotiations in which democratic process is available for people to freely decide for themselves whether they want to accede to India or Pakistan or want to remain independent. This is our answer, and it is the answer to the threat which now exists of nuclear annihilation throughout the whole region of South Asia – home to one-fifth of total human race.
Kashmir: My Story
While American youth grow up idolizing their favourite football stars or Hollywood heroes and yearning for the latest technological innovation, it is no surprise that by the time Kashmiri youth go to college their most driving passion is to exercise their right to self-determination.
My own passion for the plight of Kashmir is clearly nothing unique. As a child of Kashmir, born and raised in this environment myself, I am just one of the hundreds of thousands of youth who, through no fault or choice of their own, have become directly or indirectly involved and deeply and passionately motivated to do something positive for their country, however insignificant in the context of global affairs, to make a difference. A country can be destroyed but a nation cannot be defeated. Our hope is in our unity, in our love for one another as a people, as a nation, and as a divine spirit that pervades our history as a people with a unique cultural identity regardless of race, religion or creed, and our lasting belief that we cannot be denied our birth right to self-determination.
In 1980, an important event took place that touched my life in a very personal way. It has had the historic significance, not only in having an impact in a very real way upon my own survival and the personal vision I came to adopt for the rest of my life, but how it came to shape the very destiny of Kashmir itself.
I was in my early 30s then with a driving zeal, as is in every young man's heart in Kashmir. We all wanted to make a significant impact somewhere and somehow on life's stage. At this particular time, I had been placed in charge of the international section of a major conference being held in the capital of Kashmir, Srinagar. I was successful in inviting the Imam of Kaa’ba in Makkah whose presence became instrumental in energizing and internationalizing the issue of Kashmir on the right to self-determination.
The main conference was attended by tens of thousands of people who came to listen to the Imam. It was then that the greatest moment of my role in the conference was realized: to adopt a resolution calling for the implementation of the United Nations Security Council resolutions. The conference resolution was unanimously adopted by a show of hands. This was accomplished without a single window being broken, or a single stone being thrown but in an environment of peace and tranquillity, in the presence of thousands who were able to express on that day that the voice of the people of Kashmir was unified and firm in expressing their resolve for Kashmiri people's right to self-determination.
This was a momentous occasion in the history of Kashmir. To call for the implementation of United Nations Security Council resolutions on Kashmir is even now considered a crime by the government of India. Then, however, the presence of the Imam of Kaa’ba and his participation prevented officials from enforcing the law, at least through direct intervention. It was a day that would forever seal my fate in Kashmir as a man whose deep affection for his own country would become common knowledge and a man perhaps most loathed on that particular day by the government of India.
A few days later, after the Imam’s departure, the state administration discussed the impact of Imam’s visit on Kashmir where tens of thousands of people were able to listen to him in many cities and where the United Nations resolutions, which were considered seditious and illegal to even mention, were declared as legitimate. I was blamed for this evolutionary revolution in the consciousness of Kashmiris by raising the topic of the United Nations Security Council resolutions in every speech and the hope now more instilled that we would one day see freedom of Kashmir. The senior staff in the office of the chief minister wanted to have a word with me.
Next day, rather than meeting with the officials, I left India, knowing that I was for the foreseeable future to live in exile, honored by my countrymen, condemned to a fate that I must either embrace or die from the sheer weight of it. As it had then become clear to me, Kashmir was my friend, my lover, my country, my honor, and my dignity, and my only dream or hope of any future at all. I was not about to forsake it.
In the time since I left Kashmir, I have always worked for its freedom, justice and right to self-determination. When I reached the United States in 1981-1982, I was extremely overjoyed to discover that its official policy conformed to the wishes and aspirations of the people of Kashmir. American presidents from the Truman Administration to the current Administration of President Obama have all been public and forthright about the need to resolve the Kashmir crisis according to the wishes of all parties involved, including the Kashmiri people themselves.
I was honored to receive a letter from President Bill Clinton on December 27, 1993 saying that “I share your belief that, in order to face the dilemmas of a post-Cold War global landscape, we all must look closely at our policies with regard to human rights. I am confident that we can bring about changes that are consistent with what the UN founders envisioned. I look forward to working with you and others to help bring peace in Kashmir and I appreciate your input.”
It was most gratifying for Kashmiri American community when President George W Bush said on February 22, 2006 that the United States supports a solution of Kashmir dispute acceptable not only to India and Pakistan but also to “citizens of Kashmir.”
It was equally satisfying for us when President Barack Obama said on October 30, 2008, “We should probably try to facilitate a better understanding between Pakistan and India and try to resolve the Kashmir crisis so that they can stay focused not on India, but on the situation with those militants.”
In 1990 the Kashmiri American community became active in the United States to urge the US Administration to help resolve the issue of Kashmir. Then in 1990, we joined together to establish the Kashmiri American Council (KAC) with the same purpose. Our program has included public events, academic conferences and a constant attempt to have all the parties to the conflict – India, Pakistan and Kashmiri leadership -- meet, discuss and plan strategy without any pre-condition from any side.
The eleven International Kashmir Conferences which I organized in Washington, DC were meant to create an atmosphere for dialogue among the participants with varied opinions from India, Pakistan and Kashmir. I tried to bridge gap in understanding while at the same time to promote harmony and peace between India and Kashmir.
I invited Dileep Padgaonkar, currently the chairman of the Jammu and Kashmir interlocutor’s team appointed by Prime Minister of India Manmohan Singh. Upon his return to India, he wrote an article in the ‘The Times of India’ on March 12, 2005, "The talk inside and especially outside the conference hall focused on the need to adopt what Dr Ghulam Nabi Fai, Executive Director of KAC, called a 'pragmatic, realistic and tangible strategy' to resolve the vexed issue.”
Harinder Baweija, Editor ‘Tehelka’ Magazine in India, after attending our conference wrote an article on August 15, 2009, "Dr. Fai's opening remarks at the two-day conference in Washington were fairly innocuous and accurate: The meet, Fai said, was to achieve the Kashmiris' aims in the sprit of reconciliation not confrontation, through equality, not discrimination, and with hope not despair."
Another delegate from India, Sultan Shahin wrote in Hong Kong-based Asia Times on March 8, 2005, about the Kashmir conference, "The tone of realism and a sincere desire to explore options for Kashmir was set by the chief organizer of the conference, Dr Ghulam Nabi Fai of the Kashmiri American Council, who stressed the following repeatedly at the very outset: Since we are concerned at this time with setting a stage for settlement rather than the shape the settlement will take, we believe that it is both untimely and harmful to indulge in, or encourage, controversies about the most desirable solution. Any attempt to do so at this point amounts to playing into the hands of those who would prefer to maintain a status quo that is intolerable to the people of Kashmir and also a continuing threat to peace in South Asia. We deprecate rising of quasi-legal or pseudo-legal questions during the preparatory phase about the final settlement. It only serves to befog the issue and to convey the wrong impression that the dispute is too complex to be resolved and that India and Pakistan hold equally inflexible positions. Such an impression does great injury to the cause.”
I have always tried to represent the sentiments of the people of Kashmir, irrespective of their religious background and cultural affiliations. Sometimes it meant to state the hard facts which people in the halls of power in New Delhi or Islamabad might not always find agreeable. This fact can be understood from an article which was published in ‘Washington Times’ on January 18, 2004, "Finding a solution to the stalemate over self-determination in Kashmir, however, is vastly more complex than articulating the problem. Some in India profit from Kashmir's tumults. They appeal to extreme Hindu nationalists who insist on Muslim inferiority and envision India as an expanding sun in the South Asian universe. Likewise, some in Pakistan gain by keeping Kashmir unresolved. It distracts attention from Pakistan's enormous domestic faults, and provides indigenous militants with an outlet unthreatening to [its own] government."
I also wrote an article in ‘Boston Globe’ on January 5, 2002, "There are suggestions in some quarters that the United Nations should broker a deal on Kashmir between India and Pakistan. Kashmiris wish to stress that their land is not real estate that can be parcelled out between two [non-resident] disputants but the home of nation with a history far more compact and coherent than India's and far longer than Pakistan's. No settlement of their status will hold unless it is explicitly based on the principles of self-determination and erases the so-called line of control, which is in reality the line of conflict. "
My approach has been consistent and there was absolutely no reason for me to do otherwise, and that is to inform the United States Administration that India and Pakistan by themselves are not able to resolve the issue of Kashmir. They have tried over decades but failed. It needs the engagement of the United States with both these neighboring countries.
Of late, there have appeared positive signs of a change in Indian thinking on Kashmir. As a matter of fact, there have always existed saner elements in India which have questioned both the ethics and the practical advantage of India’s intransigence on Kashmir. As they have received little support from outside, they have remained mostly subdued. But the apparent failure of India’s policies, the tattered regime it maintains in Kashmir and the losses it has made to sustain in the Valley.
As early as in 1990’s, we realized that the most important constituency for Kashmiri Americans to address was the people of India themselves. The Indian public as a whole did not know the facts on the ground in Kashmir. A great deal of work was needed in this area to bring about any change in the attitudes of those who determine policy in New Delhi. It was then that I started exploring the possibility of opening the channels of communication with the policy makers from New Delhi.
I met with a three-man delegation in Washington, DC in December 1993 which was sent by then the prime minister of India, P V Narasimha Rao. The delegation was headed by former Cabinet Minister (Name withheld). During the two-days meeting a lot was discussed from militancy to the political leadership and the role of Kashmiri diaspora. And there was an understanding from both sides that this initiative could be pursued for the sake of peace in the region of South Asia.
In 1994, I met with former Interior Minister of India, (Name withheld) who was also sent by Prime Minister Rao to explore ways and means to bring peace to resolve the conflict of Kashmir. This meeting was in Washington, which lasted for 3 to 4 hours. The next meeting took place in New York City the following week which also lasted for four to five hours and was attended by Ambassador Yusuf Buch. Later, I submitted a written brief of these meetings to Ron Lorton, then the Director, South Asia Division at the United States, Department of State in the context of the United States Government’s concern over the conflict in Kashmir. The names of all members of the Indian delegation were mentioned in the brief.
I also had more than dozen meetings with the emissaries of the Government of India, including cabinet ministers, diplomats and politicians between 1994 to 2009, which were also attended either by Dr Ayub Thuker, London or Ambassador Yusuf Buch, New York.
In late 2009, a member of the Cabinet of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (Name withheld) called me on the telephone to meet at the Embassy of India. That was the first time that I have ever visited Embassy of India in Washington, DC. We discussed the issue of peace process between India and Pakistan; the Kashmiri leadership, the role of Kashmiri diaspora and many other issues of mutual concern.
I told the guest that I am hopeful for a constructive atmosphere for dialogue. I reminded him that it has been a characteristic of the Kashmir problem that, at one point in time, hopeful signs emerge of its being solved and, at the next point, these signs prove wholly deceptive. Therefore, our objective should be not to answer what is the correct or best solution of the Kashmir problem but how that solution can be arrived at. In other words, it should by itself neither promote nor preclude any rational settlement of the dispute, be it accession to India or Pakistan or independence.
Meeting with Indian officials was fundamental to my strategy to find the means by which we, as Kashmiri Americans could contribute to peace in that part of the world and in resolving the crisis of Kashmir. Therefore, during the past eleven years, I have met with four different officials at the Indian embassy who succeeded each other periodically and introduced me to the new incoming official before leaving for a new post. An interesting call and a voicemail from an Indian official (who shall remain anonymous) called me either on July 18 or July 19, 2011, the day I was arrested. He left a voicemail that we must meet, which I heard ten days later after my release. I intended to save that voicemail but for reasons unknown to me it was deleted.
The Principle of Right of Self-determination
I have always pleaded for an unrestricted right of self-determination which means that Kashmiris are to be given the right to accede to India or Pakistan or to choose independence.
I wrote in the Washington Post on July 7, 1990. "There is nothing in the United Nations plan that is incompatible with pluralism. We do not wish to foreclose any of the three possible options for the people: independence, accession to Pakistan or accession to India (despite all the atrocities committed by India). We refuse to believe that fairness is an impractical proposition."
I wrote in Washington Times, on April 2, 2000 "Kashmiris recognize that any solution must also answer the genuine national security and communal concerns of both India and Pakistan. Thus, if independent statehood is approved, the 13 million people of Kashmir would accept permanent neutrality like Austria in the 1955 State Treaty that ended foreign occupation."
I wrote in Washington Times on July 8, 2001, "The United States should also offer India tangible rewards for acceding to Kashmiri self-determination subject to safeguards to prevent Kashmiri independence from threatening India's national security interests: support for permanent Indian membership in the Security Council: grand fathered nuclear status under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty; the ending of sanctions for India's 1998 nuclear tests; and closer military ties that would strengthen India's hand in its border and companion quarrels with China."
I again wrote in Washington Times on October 21, 2001, “As was done in East Timor in 1999, the United Nations Security Council should organize and conduct a plebiscite on Kashmir's future and deploy a peacekeeping force to ensure a free and fair voting climate. The voter registration and campaigning should consume six to 12 months. India and Pakistan should be ordered to maintain a ceasefire and to thin their military presences. The plebiscite should offer three choices: accession to India, accession to Pakistan, or independence.”
I also wrote in 1993 that “the right of self-determination, by definition, is an unrestricted right. By entering into the agreement, India and Pakistan excluded, and rendered inadmissible, each other's claim to the State until that claim was accepted by the people through a vote taken under an impartial authority. They did not, as they could not, decide what options the people would wish to consider. No agreement between two parties can affect the rights of a third: this is an elementary principle of law and justice which no international agreement, if legitimate, can possibly flout. Therefore, India and Pakistan could not tell the people of Kashmir that they can choose independently but they cannot choose independence. It would make a mockery of democratic norms.”
Fallacious Proposals For The Solution Of Kashmir
An indication of the misplaced focus is the wrong-headed talk about the "sanctity" of the line of control in Kashmir. It is forgotten that this line continues to exist only because the international agreement which had been concluded between India and Pakistan, with the full support of the United States. This line was originally formalized by that agreement as a temporary ceasefire line pending the demilitarization of the State of Jammu and Kashmir and the holding of a plebiscite to determine its future. As long as it will remain clamped down on the state, it will continue to impose a heavy toll of death on the people of the land. They have had no hand in creating a line which has cut through their homes, separated families and, what is worse, served as a protecting wall for massive violations of human rights. They are not resigned to its becoming some kind of a border.
Equally distressing has been the reported canvassing by some quarters of the idea of autonomy for Kashmir with the Indian Union. Kashmiri leadership has the support of mass opinion for its stand that this is totally unacceptable as:
(i) It would be liable to revision or repeal by the Indian legislature, with or without a change of Administration:
(ii) Most importantly, it would not be incorporated in an international treaty or agreement with the expressed support of all states neighboring Kashmir as well as the permanent members of the Security Council;
(iii) Kashmiris have had the experience of a limited autonomy, which was first practiced under a personal understanding between Nehru and Abdullah and later provided for by Section 370 of the Indian Constitution. It was eroded and eventually whittled away by the forces of circumstances.
One consideration becomes compelling clear that it is virtually impossible that a settlement, no matter how pleasing to the present leadership of India and Pakistan and even of certain interested foreign powers, will endure and carry a stamp of genuineness unless it has a rational framework, rests convincingly on principle and is transparently democratic.
Kashmir: A Way Forward
All that is needed for the settlement is going back --- yes, going back --- to the point of agreement which historically existed beyond doubt between India and Pakistan and jointly resolving to retrieve it with such modifications as are necessitated by the passage of time. The point of agreement was one of inescapable principle- -- that the future status of Kashmir shall be decided by the will of the people of the State as impartially ascertained in conditions free from coercion.
True, sixty-five years have passed since the resolutions were adopted but as many years have gone since the Charter of the United Nations was adopted. Lapse of time does not invalidate international agreements. However, India, Pakistan and the Kashmiri leadership must signify their willingness to consider any arrangement which conforms to the same principle as did the United Nations resolutions and may be more feasible in the changed circumstances of today.
I believe that the United Nations can, and should, lead the effort to achieve a fair and lasting settlement of the dispute – fair to the people most immediately involved and fair to its own commitments to democracy and human rights. By doing so, the United Nations can strengthen the principles of a just world order. It will also earn the gratitude of generations in Kashmir, in Pakistan and even in India itself.
The UN can play a more activist, mediatory role in regard to Kashmir by initiating a peace process. This can take the shape of a polygonal dialogue – US, China, India, Pakistan and Kashmir – or an appropriate use of the newly – developed procedures and mechanisms at the United Nations. The US by itself or through the UN would supply the catalyst that is needed for a settlement.
We urge the members of the United Nations Security Council to maintain, indeed to intensify, their watch over the situation in Kashmir and not to be lulled into the belief that the dialogue between India and Pakistan, in the form and at the level it appears to be contemplated at present, will soften the conflict or lessen the urgent need for mediatory initiatives. The policy that aims at merely defusing the situation, whatever that may mean, and not encouraging a credible settlement has not paid in the past. It is likely to do even less now.
What is desperately needed is an affirmation by the Indian and Pakistani leadership at the highest level of the necessity of taking new measures to effect the settlement of the dispute within a reasonable time frame. To that end, India and Pakistan must together prepare a plan for the demilitarization of the State with safeguards for security worked out together. Confidence that a real peace process is being launched would be inspired by the ending of repressive measures within the Indian-held area by both the federal and the state authorities. If sincerity is brought to the process in place of cheap trickery, the dawn of peace will glow as never before over the subcontinent.
The global initiatives in Kashmir will not only end the bloodshed and suffering in Kashmir, but also have a direct positive effect on international security by eliminating regional fighting, national tensions, and the risk of a nuclear war between India and Pakistan. It is in everyone’s interest to settle the Kashmir conflict peacefully without further delay. We don’t want to see the horrific nightly scenes from Bosnia, Kosovo and Darfur replaced by an even greater catastrophe in Kashmir.
Views expressed are personal
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