President of Pakistan-administered Kashmir, Sardar Masood Khan, has said that threats of war and use of nuclear weapons have made the situation in South Asia highly volatile.
He charged that India was foisting a military solution, contrary to Pakistan and the people of Jammu and Kashmir, insisting on a diplomatic and political solution to the longstanding issue of Kashmir.
Born in Rawalakot, Poonch district of Kashmir, Khan, 68, has served different diplomatic positions for Pakistan. He was the spokesman of Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry and also represented the country at the UN, both at Geneva and New York. He became the 27th president of Azad Kashmir in 2016.
In an exclusive interview with Anadolu Agency (AA) at its headquarters in Ankara, Khan spoke of variety of issues linked to Kashmir, currently reeling under a communication blockade since Aug 5, when India dissolved the state and revoked a degree of autonomy, it was enjoying over past 70-years, under the provisions of Indian constitution. President of Pakistan-administered Kashmir, also known as Azad Jammu and Kashmir called for international support, to ensure a definitive, final and just solution of Kashmir and end turbulence and turmoil in South Asia.
AA: Whether Kashmir is a crisis only between India and Pakistan. What we must understand when you mention the Kashmir crisis or conflict?
Sardar Masood Khan (SMK): Kashmir is not a bilateral issue. It is a trilateral issue because there are three parties to the dispute — Pakistan, India and the people of Jammu and Kashmir, who are the most important party to the dispute, because way back in 1947 their aspirations were not respected, by the Indian government.
And then the UN Security Council recognized these three parties. In a way, they have said that Kashmiris are the most important party. Because while India and Pakistan would prepare the conditions or work with the UN to create the right kind of environment and right kind of infrastructure, the people of Jammu and Kashmir have to determine their political future, they have to make a final decision. So, when we talk about the Kashmir crisis, we are in fact talking about four constituents — Pakistan, India, the people of Jammu and Kashmir and the UN. Because the UN was the guarantor or for the implementation of the Security Council resolutions and the guarantor for the protection of rights.
AA: Last time, when you were in Turkey, you said bilateral process between India and Pakistan has failed and it is time to take Kashmir back to the world stage. What has been the progress?
SMK: When I was here last time [in May at Anadolu Agency], I said that the bilateral process was not working. But now I can say that the bilateral process is broken.
There is no bilateral regime. Because India has taken a raft of unilateral measures on Aug. 5 and implemented it on Oct. 31. These are all unilateral steps that India has taken in the disputed territory. Because of these actions that India took on these two dates, the Kashmir issue has been internationalized.
For the first time after many years, on Aug. 16 this year, the issue was discussed in the UN Security Council, in an informal setting. And there have been many international conferences.
One conference was held a couple of days ago here in Ankara. There was sitting on Kashmir in the European Parliament. They had a plenary session. The French Parliament held a session for the first time. In the U.K., the House of Commons held a debate.
The U.S. Congress so far has held two hearings. One was by a Congressional Subcommittee and the other was by Tom Lantus Human Rights Commission. So, what has happened, since I came here last, that the Jammu Kashmir dispute has been internationalized. It is receiving attention from international media.
But I would like to add, that while the issue is receiving attention from the media from the parliaments and from civil society organizations, the most powerful nations who influence decisions with regard to evolving a final solution of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute, are inactive. They are reluctant to give a signal to the UN Security Council that it should deliberate on Kashmir and come up with a fresh initiative for the resolution of the dispute. The governments are tight-lipped and they are not acting, because of the economic and strategic interests tied with India.
That is why I was drawing an analogy between the events happening in South Asia currently, with those prior to World War II, when countries were cozying up with Nazi’s and fascists in Europe. The world paid a heavy price for that.
AA: India took a major decision stripping the autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir. What are its implications on your part of Kashmir?
SMK: Its implications are serious. India had absolutely no right to take these steps. India has been calling the repeal of Article 370 and Article 35A of its constitution, as something which ended the special status of the Jammu and Kashmir state. But it did not have a special status, it is a disputed territory, it is under occupation.
Since 1947, it did not have a special status in the sense that India was trying to project. In fact, way back in 1947, India first coerced the Maharaja of Kashmir, to sign a fake instrument of accession. Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru, then prime minister of India, listed support of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, who was then the most popular leader of Kashmir.
And that’s why this pact between Indian loyalists and the Indian elite, came into being. This pact now has been completely unraveled. As far as the people of Jammu and Kashmir are concerned, for them, the greater reality, is that they have been under occupation for the past 72 years.
This time, India has formalized its occupation. Previously, they used to delude the world that the state of Jammu and Kashmir is autonomous. They have now taken all those privileges that they have given to Kashmiris under their own constitution. It is the constitutional and legal part from the viewpoint of international law.
The second part is the campaign or brutalization of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Sexual molestation and use of rape as an instrument of war, as an instrument, to subjugate the entire population. Day to day life of people of Jammu and Kashmir, In which they face Indian terror. This is the bigger reality. These are the consequences of the steps that India has taken.
AA: There is an impression that post-Aug. 5, India’s actions were not opposed by the international community as they should have been. Is Kashmir losing relevance international front? You are an experienced diplomat. You worked at the UN representing Pakistan. How can you revive the international community’s interest in the Kashmir issue?
SMK: I would say that there has been a visible spike in the international community’s interest in the Jammu Kashmir dispute, particularly in the non-governmental realm.
The international media, civil society, and human rights organizations have condemned Indian actions. And many thinkers and correspondences and parliamentary leaders in the Western countries have also condemned and criticized India for what it has done. So, there is awareness about Kashmir; Kashmir is on the radar of the world. It is on the diplomatic radar.
But as I mentioned earlier, it is not getting equal attention on the government level. The world is distracted, the U.S. has its own problem, preoccupied with impeachment. The U.K. is busy with elections. Europe itself is trying to come to grips, with its own problems. Despite that Kashmir is getting attention. The real tragedy is that Kashmir is not getting attention from the governments of the powerful nations who can help us make the transition from awareness-raising to actions to decisions.
AA: In your speech, here at the conference, you mentioned setting up the humanitarian corridor in Kashmir. Can you elaborate more on it?
SMK: Yes. You know what happens that if there is any problem elsewhere in the world in Africa, for instance, the Central African Republic of South Sudan, or Syria or Yemen, forces working on the humanitarian front all over the world, mobilize their resources and establish a humanitarian corridor.
In fact, the UN itself provides leadership. There is an Under-Secretary-General, responsible for humanitarian affairs sitting in New York. Usually, he leads the international effort, in which governments participate and there are NGOs, and they are encouraged to establish a humanitarian corridor.
Now the UN has not taken any initiative in this regard. The individual governments or individual civil society organizations have not made any move, as if Kashmir is not on the planet, Kashmir is somewhere else as if the Kashmiri population is not suffering.
So, my suggestion is that if the international community, because of many considerations, is not making any move, countries like Turkey should lead the way.
Because you have been pursuing humanitarian diplomacy in different parts of the world. You have been trying to help them here. You have been taking care of Syrian refugees. You have been going abroad to help the communities in trouble, So, my suggestion is that Turkey should demonstrate leadership, in establishing a humanitarian corridor to the Indian-occupied Jammu and Kashmir.
Of course, this would be rejected by India, but at least a signal that Ankara cares will have the desired impact.
AA: Pakistan has been warning that if the world does nothing to stop India’s decision on Kashmir, the two nuclear-armed countries will get ever closer to a direct military confrontation. Some call it nuclear blackmail. Is Kashmir really a nuclear flashpoint?
SMK: It is not a blackmail. In fact, it is a narration of the facts on the ground. We’ve been trying to inform the world about the serious developments and these provocative statements which have been made by India, because warmongers in India who sit in the India cabinet and unfortunately that includes prime minister himself, have been holding threats. And their extremist organizations like Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), they are all mentioning that they will use nuclear weapons against Pakistan.
In their election manifesto this year, and previously in 2014, they said that they would repeal Article 370 and Article 35A. They have repealed these two articles.
If they are saying today that they would attack Azad Kashmir, and they would disintegrate Pakistan. And they would use nuclear weapons against Pakistan, should we not believe them? Why should we give them the benefit of doubt? Because they are saying that they will do it.
So, all Pakistan is doing is informing the international community that this is what India intends to do. And if the international community does not intervene, or it does not activate a political and diplomatic process or processes, then the people of Azad Kashmir and the people of Pakistan will have to fight back and defend their own territory and their own people.
So, this is an existential threat. That’s what we are saying; we are saying that if there is a war that starts at the conventional level and spirals into a nuclear exchange, then the consequences would not just be confined to the South Asian region.
I mean, of course, scientists are projecting that if such an exchange takes place, nearly 120 million people will be killed instantly, and 2.5 billion people all around the world would be affected directly or indirectly.
But what we are saying is that now it is the time to intervene. When Kashmiris have been killed, when they have been ethnically cleansed, when they have been displaced, totally, it would be too late for the UN Security Council to intervene.
We also know that in the Balkans when the serious situation was developing, when people were killed there. And there was a genocide and organized genocide and there were pogroms and when there was genocide in Rwanda and Burundi in the mid-90s, the UN did not do anything.
So, it is not blackmailing the international community. We are telling them about the realities as they are developing and emerging in the region, and that the international community should act under the UN Charter and in accordance with international law. So, it is a very, very real threat to Pakistan and to the entire region and the globe.
AA: Considering the sensitives of the U.S. Congress on issues such as Uyghurs, Hong Kong and Rohingya, how should we evaluate its attitude towards the Kashmir dispute?
SMK: The United States in the past has been very cautious in regard to the issue of Jammu and Kashmir and it has been trying to balance its statements when it made the best statements. But recently, I mean before Aug. 5 when the Prime Minister of Pakistan was in the United States, the President of the United States offered mediation, but that was rejected by India.
And after that, in September this year, the President of the United States has been repeating or reiterating this offer of mediation, but he made it conditional.
He said that he would mediate if both countries — India and Pakistan — concur. You have to look at the pages of history to substantiate that India has never ever agreed to third party mediation from the 1960s onward.
So, the United States has expressed this desire to do something. But I think that the United States itself is distracted by impeachment proceedings in the U.S. Congress. There are also elections. But let me add here that for the first time, in many decades, this taboo that India cannot be held accountable for its crimes against humanity in the Indian-occupied territory has been broken.
Because, now, several Congressmen, in fact, more than 50 Congressmen, have criticized Indian actions and have raised questions about the way it is conducting its war operations in the territory and they have asked for lifting telecommunications blockade and ending the security lockdown. There are many senators who have written to the U.S. president to intervene in the situation.
So, I think that all around the world, there is this new awareness about the seriousness of the Kashmir dispute and that many parliamentarians, including U.S. Congressmen and senators, are rejecting India’s one-sided narrative, and they know more about more facts about Kashmir on the ground.
So, I think that this is a positive change.
AA: We see that the restrictions in Kashmir are also the subject of debate and criticism among the Indian public. Also the opposition parties and other people, renowned people. Do you have any message to those who raise these objections?
SMK: Well, I, on behalf of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, the people of Azad Kashmir in particular, and Pakistan, want to thank Indian civil society, Indian political parties, and many human rights groups who have condemned and castigated Narendra Modi for the actions that he’s taken. And they have criticized this rise of Hindutva extremism, this kind of exceptionalism that is being tolerated in the world, vis a vis Indian crimes, heinous atrocities in the Jammu and Kashmir territory. So, I want to thank all those organizations and political forces in India and they are not Muslims, the majority of them are Hindus or from other faiths, and they have criticized Narendra Modi, for what he has done.
They say that this is not India that they belong to, or they would like to belong to. So, we want to thank them. We’ve been our hopes on them. In fact, in my public addresses, I have always advised people to establish contacts with Indian civil society, because these people who have raised their voices they have done it under very difficult circumstances because the moment an Indian politician speaks up for the Kashmiris he or she finds excoriated, criticized, and some of them have been jailed as a matter like P. Chidambaram, former minister and in fact, there was this BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] leader Yashwant Sinha, who has been pilloried and criticized and in public he has been attacked by Hindu extremists. So, people are taking the risk, to tell the truth in India, and we are thankful to them.
AA: Do Kashmiris living on the Indian side expect assimilation, identity or cultural erosion in the medium term? How they will be affected?
SMK: You know, India has announced that it would bring these Hindus from all over India and settle them in the occupied Jammu and Kashmir. Now, they have made preparation for that. It’s not that this is something happening all of a sudden and they would start doing now. They’ve given these rights of permanent residence or semi-permanent residence to the so-called West Pakistan refugees are refugees from Azad Kashmir. They have also manipulated statistics by using the statistics act. There’s another act, Banking Act, which is called the SARFESI Act [Securitization and Reconstruction of Financial Assets and Enforcement of Securities Interest] and they have tried to illegally attach Kashmiri properties and give them to Hindus or non-Kashmiris. So, this process has already started.
They’ve also planned elaborately for establishing these illegal settlements to start with separate colonies for pundits and ex-army personnel. And now, they want to bring these people particularly Hindus from all over India, from Delhi or Haryana or Rajasthan or Kerala or Bangalore or Bihar and settle them in Kashmir. And bring rich entrepreneurs from India to settle them there and give them long leases for businesses, the 40-year lease or more so that they can reconfigure the population of the territory and they can reduce the Muslim majority here — we should be 70% of the entire population — to a minority. So, this is what India has planned for years. Especially Sayed Ali Geelani and his followers and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik they have been warning about it year after year. Now, this has started happening now.
This is ethnic cleansing. And they will change the names of the towns, they started it all today, they would accomplish this task. And they would kill people. They would displace them, they would create stress within the Valley of Kashmir and force people to flee the territory, either to Azad Kashmir or to other parts of the world. It would create a refugee wave, I’m sure. And Kashmiris have started thinking about it. In fact, the Kashmiri families who can afford to flee or leave the territory, they are looking at different options.
So, ethnic cleansing has already started. And you know, when I came to you last time I use these terms, I said that ethnic cleansing was taking place or crimes against humanity was taking place, the genocide was Taking place. Now, it’s not the president of Azad Kashmir who is saying, it is the Genocide Watch or the United States is saying that Kashmir is passing through different phases, different stages of genocide. So, what we used to say and was not believed, is now being acknowledged and propagated by the independent media community and civil society representatives.
AA: Okay, regarding the Turkish role you have indicated about a human corridor but overall what type of role Turkey can play for the solution of the Kashmir issue?
SMK: First, I want to thank the people, the Government of Turkey for their strong solidarity with the people of Jammu and Kashmir before Aug. 5th, and after Aug. 5th and your solidarity has been unconditional, unambiguous. We salute you, and we thank you. So and this conference that you held here in Ankara, in the past two days has been the best conference after Aug. 5th, I could say. The best way anywhere in the world.
So, I really thank the people of Turkey. We can have conferences like these in the future. Second is that here, the universities are working on different conflicts. I was at the Social Sciences University, before coming to your office. And in April and May, I was here in Istanbul and Ankara, I touched base with rectors and faculty members of many universities. So, the second thing that Turkey can do is to create a context for Kashmir here. A kind of highlight the facts about Kashmir because Kashmir’s narrative is not very well known in the West. And since most of your research is now being conducted in the English language that would help us.
The third is, as I mentioned, right in the beginning and in response to your question is that Turkey could pursue formal and informal diplomacy. Formal diplomacy would be facilitation and mediation between India and Pakistan and mediation vis a vis Kashmiris for the resolution of the dispute. So, this is one thing and they can many practical steps can be taken. You can bring people around the tables and make them talk. So, this is formal diplomacy.
And then informal diplomacies, humanitarian diplomacy, where you send this message to the world, to the people of Jammu and Kashmir primarily that you care for their welfare, and that you would continue to pay attention to the situation. I think that civil society organizations here are very vibrant. They can play a role and human rights organizations. And when the Turkish representatives go to different parts of the world, they can talk about Kashmir. And that would be an independent perspective for the audience and interlocutors. It would not just be Pakistan or India, or the people of Jammu and Kashmir talking about the conflict at the parties that are directly involved. If Turkey is speaking, let’s say in Geneva, Washington DC or New York about Kashmir and sharing the perspective which has been distilled by the universities or think-tanks here that would be very helpful.
AA: Thank you very much. My last question about children. Wednesday was the World Child Rights Day. Pakistan has made some statements to highlight Kashmiri children’s life. What is the Kashmiri children’s problem and as most vulnerable parts of problems?
SMK: You know, children have been raped in Kashmir where the Indian soldiers or by Hindu extremists, and they’ve done so with impunity. They have not been held accountable. Young girls have been raped. Young girls and boys have been intimidated and they’ve been blinded. Now, these are some of the stark facts which have been recorded by the United Nations and by the international human rights organization, so this is the immediate threat. The other threat post-Aug. 5 is that according to an Indian NGO, which is called the Indian Federation of Women, they have compiled a report, which says that 13,000 boys have been abducted or detained. And their mothers and their families don’t know where these boys are. According to the information which we have gathered through hearsay or through the mothers who are able to track their children, they are in jails in different cities, particularly in Delhi, Agra, Varanasi, and Lucknow. And they are being tortured there. And footage or photographs of the torture of children has been released to the media. So, this is another aspect.
Children are also being deprived of education right now because of the security lockdown and because of this reign of terror. Mothers are not confident that they should send their boys or girls to school. Because they think that either a girl would be molested or a boy would be picked up by the security agencies. Because those security agencies or the occupation forces they want to spread terror. So, the people subjugate they do not resist, but my information is that throughout Kashmir — the Valley of Kashmir, in several parts of several districts of Jammu and even in Ladakh — there is resistance. There are demonstrations, there is dissociation from the government. There’s civil disobedience. So, because of this overall environment, children are being deprived of their education.
AA: Do you have any message to give.
SMK: I want to pay tribute to the people of the Indian occupied Jammu and Kashmir because they are fighting back or they are resisting Indian terror, reign of terror without any arms. The people of Jammu and Kashmir are the most unarmed people on earth. You can go to other conflict zones, in Africa, in Asia, in Latin America, wherever in Europe. The people of Kashmir have no weapons. And India tries to tell the world on the one hand, that the situation is normal and it is not normal. And they are trying to tell the world that they are fighting terrorism and they are no terrorists. According to the police chief, Dilbag Singh, the number of militants in the valley is about 200 to 300. So, and these are in fact, young boys who have fled Indian forces’ terror and are hiding in mountains, or far off places, they have no weapons, they are ill-trained and they cannot fight the 900,000 soldiers who are deployed there.
So, what I want to say is that the world has to realize the agony and suffering of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. It cannot be reduced to words. It is beyond any kind of narration. You have to be there to past through that agony and that catastrophe. So, what I want to say I want to pay tribute to these people of Jammu and Kashmir that they are resisting terrorism of the biggest, the most bigoted, fascist regime in the world today. And they are mounting this fight peacefully for the realization of their right to self-determination. But let me also tell you that they are sustaining this campaign on behalf of the entire international community.
Because when Kashmiris’ rights are being trampled, I think the rights of the entire humanity are being trampled.
This must be realized by the international community and the must come to the rescue of the Kashmiri population which is besieged and which has been killed and maimed tortured and blinded every day. So, we seek the help of the international community. And I have emphasized that while the Kashmiris and Pakistanis are keen on political and diplomatic processes, they can’t just talk to themselves. They have to have an interlocutor and the main interlocutor, India is not there on any peace table on any negotiating table, and they want to block everything that the United Nations would do, and they want to block any initiative that Pakistan would take for diplomacy. So, what should the Kashmiris do? Talk to themselves and tell them that we are pursuing the political and diplomatic processes in a vacuum completely? So, tribute to the people of Jammu and Kashmir and appeal to the international community and to our friends in Turkey, to come to the rescue of the people of Jammu and Kashmir.
This article has been adapted from its original source.