Feb 12 2020
The world is yet to fully grasp the gravity of the situation in South Asia springing from the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan, according to Sardar Masood Khan, president of Pakistan-administered Kashmir, also known as Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK).
He said that India’s recent acts of dividing the state of Jammu and Kashmir and revoking its autonomy and continues communication blockade in the region has further aggravated the situation.
In an exclusive interview with Anadolu Agency, Khan, a former career diplomat who served as Pakistan’s envoy at the UN and China, said the Kashmir has become an elephant in the room which global powers cannot ignore.
“If I may put it like that, you cannot ignore it. Everybody sees it from all directions whether you're sitting in Washington or Tokyo or Beijing or Australia. You see Kashmir as a threat to peace and security,” he said.
Predicting an apocalypse, in case issues are not resolved between two nuclear-armed South Asian neighbors, Khan said that the danger of nuclear war and annihilation of 130 million people was real.
"It would be not just for South Asia, because, according to the estimates given by scientists, 130 million people would be killed instantly, and 2.5 billion people all around the world would be affected directly or indirectly by radiation and nuclear fallout," Khan said. He further added that such a situation will also cause mass migration.
Born in Rawalakot, in AJK's Poonch district, Khan, who has also worked as a TV news anchor, thanked Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkish society, and think-tanks for realizing the severity of the situation and standing by the people of Jammu and Kashmir.
He said U.S. President Donald Trump’s recent road map on Palestine has been a disappointment and it amounts to legitimizing occupation. Asked about Trump’s offer to mediate between India and Pakistan, he said the Palestine plan has created a kind of credibility deficit. He said the UN charter makes it obligatory for the UN secretary-general to mediate to avoid conflicts. Khan asked: Why can't António Guterres be the mediator with collaboration and help from Trump?
Anadolu Agency: First brief us on the current situation of Kashmir and then tell us if your government was able to create a kind of consciousness and understanding about Kashmir internationally?
Sardar Masood Khan: On your question, whether we are doing enough, I would say that Jammu and Kashmir issue is already internationalized. It was internationalized way back in 1948 when India took this issue to the UN Security Council, which passed dozens of resolutions saying that India and Pakistan should agree to hold a plebiscite. So, it was internationalized then, it is internationalized today because as you would see that international media is writing about Kashmir. You may also know that after the illegal steps that were taken by India on Aug. 5 last year, the Security Council has met three times or two times substantively.
But the point is valid that we need to do more, to make it more internationalized and to raise more consciousness. There is a lockdown. The entire territory of Jammu and Kashmir is under siege. So, yes, we need to do more and the international community, particularly the powerful states of the world need to step forward. They should take sides and this time they should take the side of the Kashmiris.
Q: Recently your prime Minister Raja Farooq Haider said that he may be the last prime minister of AJK. There are rumors of Gilgit-Baltistan region will be merged with Pakistan. Why is prime minister apprehensive? Is anything going on behind the scene?
SMK: The identity of AJK will be maintained. There has been no change in the policy of Pakistan in that regard, either at the international forums or domestically. But you know, that India on Oct. 31 issued fake maps and in those fake maps perhaps showed Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan as part of the Indian territory. They do not reflect the recognized status of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Gilgit Baltistan is slightly different because the people of the area for decades have been demanding that this territory should be made part of Pakistan as a province and the leadership of AJK has had a dialogue with their lawmakers. We have been trying to persuade them that they should take steps which are necessary to safeguard their rights and they should get all their constitutional rights but at the same time, they should keep in mind that such a step or which ensures their constitutional rights should not affect Pakistan's principal position on the Jammu and Kashmir issue. The people of reign have always given sacrifices for the right to self-determination of the people of Jammu and Kashmir.
Q: After almost six months of lockdown in Indian-administered Kashmir, can you tell us what your government has done for the Kashmiris on the other side of the Line of Control?
SMK: Our primary goal has been to mobilize support for the people of the Indian occupied Jammu and Kashmir. We went to the international forums, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the UN, various capitals, the European Parliament, Nordic countries, the British Parliament, US Congress.
We have felt that the international opinion or the international community is attentive to Kashmir, which was not the case before Aug. 5 last year. So this is a breakthrough. Let me also tell you that at the same time, we think that the international community needs to do more. They should do more to stop crimes committed in the Indian part of Jammu and Kashmir. let me also tell you, simultaneously people in Azad Kashmir, on this side of the Line of Control have been suffering. Last year was the worst in terms of ceasefire violations. More than 60 people were killed, 250 others were seriously injured because of ceasefire violations along the Line of Control. The people have been asking the government to take some military action. Because they think that India is using military instruments in the Indian occupied Jammu and Kashmir and political and diplomatic response is not adequate. It has been a great challenge to manage the anger of youths in Azad Kashmir.
We wanted to send humanitarian assistance to the people across the line of control, and many humanitarian organizations mobilized such support. But India said no to all such offers. All over the world when there is a crisis or a humanitarian crisis, the international community gets very activated to establish a humanitarian corridor. But only Kashmir is an exception. Nobody has reached there. Whether it is the UN Office for Humanitarian Affairs or the office of the non-governmental organizations. Let me mention during my diplomatic outreach Turkey was my destination and the response there from the top leadership from President Erdogan to the secondary leadership, to the civil society, to think tanks, from the media, has been fantastic.
Q: Recently you held a meeting with the Pakistan Army Chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa. Did you convey grievances and anger of the Kashmiri people as you said that around 60 people were killed in ceasefire violations by Indian forces?
SMK: Yes, I appraised him of the situation. He was already very well briefed. He knows about the anger that is there in Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistan. Let me tell you, the armed forces of Pakistan are ready to respond to any misadventure by India, which has threatened to attack Azad Kashmir by military means.
Their defense minister says that he will use nuclear weapons against Pakistan. So, the armed forces of Pakistan are fully ready, the nation is ready to respond to India's false flag operations or its military adventures. There should be no doubt about the solidarity that the armed forces of Pakistan are showing with the people of Jammu and Kashmir.
Q: You have often referred Kashmir a nuclear flashpoint. When you look back, the Kargil War and then India’s Balakot strike has exposed this nuclear deterrent theory. What is Pakistan’s threshold? Is India’s attack on AJK also included in the threshold?
SMK: Nuclear thresholds can never be predicted. They are never announced. They have to be kept deliberately ambiguous. But if I will tell you that India has already declared war against Pakistan by acting against people in Indian occupied Kashmir. I would say, we are in a state of war. The Pakistani side, the armed forces of Pakistan and the nation of Pakistan are demonstrating what we call restraint and responsibility. Because if there is a war if we retaliate right now, the instant peril would be that the conventional exchanges could lead to the nuclear war with devastating consequences. So, there should be no doubt about Pakistan's resolve and preparedness and nuclear threshold cannot be predicted.
But when your national security is threatened, you retaliate, you retaliate massively, with little impact. And let me tell you that the people of Jammu Kashmir, especially the people of Azad Jammu and Kashmir have always considered themselves to be part of Pakistan. Although the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir has to exercise his right to self-determination. So, what I want to emphasize here is that it is easy to talk about nuclear wars. But if a nuclear war starts, it would be an apocalypse for the entire world. It would be not just for South Asia, because, according to the estimates given by scientists, 130 million people would be killed instantly, and 2.5 billion people all around the world would be affected directly or indirectly by radiation and nuclear fallout. And that could mean failed crops that could mean global recession that could mean migration, mass migration of people. One should not wantonly plunge into a nuclear war. And therefore, I would say that our message to the world when the prime minister of Pakistan spoke to the UN General Assembly or when we are reaching out to the Western audiences or friends like Turkey, what we are saying is that if nothing is done against India, or if nothing is done to stop India from what it was doing in Kashmir, there would be a natural escalation, there would be a drift towards war and that war can turn into a nuclear conflict with all the unspeakable consequences.
Q: As you mentioned in the grave situation that 130 million people can die instantly and another two billion will be affected in case of a nuclear war. Then why you are unable to make the international community understand or they do not want to understand this grave situation?
SMK: The gravity of the situation is not fully appreciated by Western capitals and the most powerful nations on earth. Kashmir is now an elephant in the global room. If I may put it like that, and you can't ignore it. Everybody sees it from all directions whether you are sitting in Washington or Tokyo or Beijing or Australia, you see Kashmir as a threat to peace and security. The people of Jammu and Kashmir do not want their territory to be a nuclear flashpoint. They want peace and amity after realizing their right to self-determination. You must have seen these six resolutions moved recently in the European Parliament. And these resolutions said that what India is doing in Kashmir or what India is doing against its citizens and minorities, it could create the biggest crisis ever of statelessness. Now Kashmiris have been stateless for the past 72 years because they haven't exercised their right to self-determination.
Q: Do you think there is enough momentum inside India that can bring Prime Minister Modi to the negotiation table with Pakistan on the Kashmir issue?
SMK: Pakistan has always been willing and keen to negotiate with India. Kashmiris have always been ready for negotiations. India has been stalling and blocking all political and diplomatic processes since the early 1950s. Now you said let us talk about the Indian civil society or Indian political forces, which can persuade the current regime. This current regime, which is the BJP and RSS regimes, is pitted against its people. In the present circumstances, there are fewer chances of formal or even informal negotiations.
We want the UN to play an active role. In the recent past, President Trump mentioned third party mediation. He said that he would lead this effort, but this was rejected by India. Then he became a bit cautious and his statements were very ambivalent, and he started saying that he would mediate only if India and Pakistan agree or concur.
And now in his latest message from Davos, he said that he is ready to help. Help with what? Any starting point for mediation or negotiations, as you put it should be the UN Security Council resolution. So, at no point, we should exclude either the UN or the people of Jammu and Kashmir who are the key party to the dispute. So, I do not see any process underway. But if the international community including a statesmanlike or a person like Trump, if they want to help, they must stop the carnage in Kashmir which is an absolute priority. And then simultaneously start a diplomatic process.
Q: As you talk about President Trump's mediation offer, recently he announced the Middle East peace plans. Can you trust him? Is it not possible that he puts up a similar roadmap for Kashmir?
SMK: Well, the announcement from the White House regarding Palestine was very disappointed. It is legitimizing the occupation. The two issues Palestine and Kashmir are comparable. There would be a credibility deficit. And I do not think that the U.S. is very keen to play that role, although President Trump has made this offer again and again. And interlocution means the other side has to be ready. India is not ready. So only Kashmiri and Pakistanis are ready.
The best solution could be to hold a referendum under the supervision of the UN as decided by the Security Council. But until that takes place, if we are starting a new process of mediation, then I think Kashmiri should be represented there in one form or the other. Pakistan, India, the people of Jammu and Kashmir the UN should be represented along with the mediator.
But why can’t the UN be a mediator under its charter? It’s the responsibility of the United Nations to play as a mediator. Why can't UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres be the mediator and he can have all the collaboration and all the help from President Trump?
Q: So far, the UN Security Council and other organizations have just remained confined to issue statements and not ready to take any practical steps. What is way forward?
SMK: You’re right. The international community or the international forums responsible for peace and security and conflict resolution have been inactive. And that is the tragedy of our times. Because of these institutions, these multilateral organizations were created in the aftermath of World War II to not only maintain international peace and security but also to take preventive steps to stop the drift towards wars or Holocaust.
So, I think it is a dereliction of responsibility on the part of the international institutions because of realpolitik, state interests, economic and strategic interests. The powerful states of the world are not stepping forward. But at the same time, the Kashmiri have been giving sacrifices for the past 72 years, some half a million people have been killed in the struggle, and the struggle goes on. We have no choice but to persevere in our endeavors. International media has been supportive. Some parliaments are speaking up. The myth that India cannot be criticized because it is a big country that it is a big market has been broken. And since India has started a war against its own population and minorities, space to make India accountable in international capitals has expanded. We should utilize it.
Q: Do you think China’s Belt and Road Initiative any impact on Kashmir as its most important part China Pakistan Economic Corridor is passing through this region?
SMK: These corridors are all about connectivity. It is leveraging the economic geography of the region and taking advantage of the geographical contiguity and proximity of Pakistan and China. Through CPEC you are connecting East Asia with West Asia and South Asia and with Central Asia. It will have a positive impact on Jammu and Kashmir as a whole. Gilgit-Baltistan is already part of CPEC. Azad Jammu and Kashmir have also been integrated into the corridor. Some projects are under completion like hydropower projects and then there will be an industrial zone and a motorway so they would become an essential part of CPEC. If you talk to the people of the Indian occupied Jammu and Kashmir their aspiration, also is to be part of this corridor because they are geographically, historically they are part of this corridor. So, this would have a salutary impact on the entire situation. It can become a catalyst for peace in the region.
Q: UNHCR recently asked India and Pakistan to give them access to investigate the human rights abuses in Kashmir. If they will ask your government access to AJK, what will be your response?
SMK: We would welcome such a mission in Azad Kashmir because we have nothing to hide. Similarly, I would invite people from all over the world to visit, AJK.
We have the highest literacy rate in the whole of Pakistan and the lowest crime rate in the region. So, we have lots to show off and little to hide, and we would welcome that. But let me tell you that in diplomacy you have to exercise the principle of reciprocity because India is not allowing any delegation to go there. They usually pick up some people from abroad who are like-minded. For instance, they picked up a group of 20 MEPs, who were known for islamophobia and took them to the occupied territory. And then they selected some diplomats from Delhi and took them to the territory to show them that everything is normal. But when they were taking these people over there, on the same day, the European Union Ambassador said that they would not go to join this guided tour. There should be no artificial equalization between Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Indian Occupied Kashmir. The rights of people in India part of Kashmir are violated with impunity, and people are being blinded. Nothing of that sort is happening in Azad Jammu and Kashmir.
Azad Jammu and Kashmir are also developing regions, and it is striving to ensure promotion, protection of human rights. But that is a different story. We want to eliminate poverty, we want to ensure that everybody has access to health and so on. So, these are some of the problems that we are facing. We want to ensure the rule of law, good governance and access to justice. But the picture on the other side is dark and dismal. The UNHRC intended to go to the Indian occupied Jammu and Kashmir and to investigate allegations of massive human rights violations. But still, in my capacity as president of AJK, I would say that we are welcome. The formal response in this regard would be given by the Foreign Ministry of Pakistan.
Q: Could you tell us the state of confidence-building measures (CBMs), implemented from 2005-2008?
SMK: They are suspended right now. One was allowing people from divided families to travel across LoC and another was allowing goods for trade. These were two successful confidence-building measures. There was aspiration on both sides to expand these CBMs to tourism and cultural exchanges. But that has not materialized right now. The entire territory of India occupied Kashmir is under lockdown. And Indians are so paranoid. I mean they kill people in Kashmir, even if a pigeon flies over to their territory, they see that it is a Pakistan spy. It is a Pakistani drone. So, in this atmosphere, you cannot invest in confidence-building measures.
Q: India’s new citizenship law has generated a debate in the world, the EU Parliament is debating it, there have been widespread condemnations all over the world. But India’s acts on Kashmir did not invoke a similar condemnation around the world, why?
SMK: The steps that India has taken are nothing but apartheid and hate as we have seen in South Africa, or the kind of fascist measures that were introduced by in Nazi Germany by Hitler, or by Mussolini in Italy. So, religious discrimination, this is the Hindutva, is a philosophy based on hatred. The U.K. and France tried to appease Hitler. They were fearful of war. They were unable to stop that war. And in the process also, you saw that millions of Jews were first incarcerated into concentration camps and then they were burnt alive.
You know these BJP, RSS are using the same techniques, the same symbolism to eliminate Muslims. First, they are demonizing them that they are bad guys and that they are terrorists and potential militants. And then they want to push them into concentration camps where they would be asked to prove their identity. And if they cannot they can be expelled. So, they would be statelessness.
And yes, you are right that the international community is not condemning all these actions. Most of them are still tight-lipped or weighing their words. Although the international media is reporting about it extensively. But I think that slowly and gradually, this realization that India has is embarked on a very dangerous path, which would, as you must have seen that many speakers in Davos condemned Indian actions and they also expressed concerns about the economic viability of India or the continuation of India as a state because you cannot build a federal state or diverse state like India into a monolith. You cannot make it a Hindu nation like what they are saying, It is very disappointed when they say that South Asia or India should be purely Hindu and Muslims are impure and therefore, India has to be cleansed of the Muslim presence. So, I think that this should unite Muslims at one level but it is not enough because in India non-Muslims have also reason to support the cause of Muslims and they know that India is not just targeting Muslims, It is also targeting Dalits and Sikhs and Christians and other minorities.
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