Kashmir at UNGA: Awakening the World’s Conscience

Syeda Mamoona Rubab

When Prime Minister Imran Khan addresses the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York on Sept 27, he would seek to catapult the Kashmir dispute and the aggravating human rights situation in the Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK) to the forefront of global issues.

Kashmir dispute has regularly featured in the speeches of Pakistani leaders at the UNGA sessions over the years, but this year is different from the earlier years in a number of ways. The Indian authorities have stepped up their brutal repression of the uprising that had entered a new phase in 2016 following the martyrdom of Burhan Wani at the hands of the Occupation forces, but more importantly the Indian government has, while bypassing its own Constitution, trampling verdicts of its superior judiciary, and ignoring the wishes of the people of the Valley, annexed the Occupied region, and imposed a clampdown there converting IOK in what is now being described as virtually the world’s largest jail with over 8.5 million people are under siege since August 5, 2019. Another nearly 20,000, including political leaders some of whom have remained pro-India, have been incarcerated and a communication blackout has been imposed.

Therefore, this year’s speech by the Prime Minister cannot be a ritual one for keeping Kashmir question alive at the UN. Rather there has to be a more focused and serious effort to attract the world attention. PM Khan realizes the situation and had rightly noted in his comments reported in the media that he would present the ‘Kashmir case’ at the UN General Assembly “like no one ever did before”. His task would be more challenging than it looks because he speaks on the same day as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his slot is after him.

Modi is expected to mislead the world presenting the situation in Occupied Kashmir as a manifestation of the global terrorism problem, while blaming Pakistan for it. He would in all certainty sidestep the historical facts of the case and the growing disenchantment of the indigenous Kashmiris to Indian rule.

Major countries, it must be acknowledged, have though in one way or the other expressed concerns over the aggravation in rights situation and worsening regional security, but there has so far been no outright condemnation of Indian move to annul Article 370. It would not be wrong to say that many of the global leaders are still struggling to comprehend the wider consequences of the Indian move, while others are too worried about their interests in India.

The reporting of the international media on the Kashmir situation has been the unprecedented help for Pakistan in projecting Kashmir issue at the international stage. Major international media outlets have regularly pointed out the repression of the protests, arrests of leaders and activists, and the communications blackout. Articles in reputed papers and commentary on international TV channels – New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, and BBC just to mention a few have not only highlighted the Indian highhandedness in Occupied Kashmir, but also questioned India’s democratic credentials, which have long been India’s strongest point in building ties with the West. One must at the same time bear in mind that this forceful reporting is just a partial expose of the situation because of the restrictions on media’s access to the Valley.

This was nothing less than a divine help because there is no denying the fact that despite having a strong Kashmir case, Pakistan had been suffering from credibility crisis – something of which Indians have been taking advantage of. Kashmir cause has in the past suffered immensely because of Pakistan’s narrative lacking credibility. Things look different this time.

“We continue to be very concerned by widespread detentions, including of local political and business leaders and the restrictions on the residents of the region,” State Department Spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said in a recent statement. One would argue that President Trump had already offered mediation on the dispute, but we must not forget either that after meeting Modi on the sidelines of G-7 Summit in France Mr Trump had tried to walkaway from the offer by asking India and Pakistan to address it bilaterally. The American president, in a first, would during Mr Modi’s upcoming trip to US attend his rally in Houston as well. And what Pakistan must not also forget is that it were US and France that stopped the Security Council from issuing a statement on Aug 16 meeting thus preventing it from becoming part of the formal UNSC record.

PM Khan would, therefore, have to ask the world to pay fair attention to the dispute by putting the plight of the Kashmiris at the Centre. But, before, looking at what Mr Khan may say or should say at the gathering of the world leaders, we need to have quick recap of the efforts made so far at the various UN forums by Pakistan government. Two major steps were the convening of an informal meeting of the Security Council on the issue in August and Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi’s speech at the UN Human Rights Council, which was followed by adoption of a consensus statement by 58 countries calling for immediate attention of the Council and other UN Human Rights mechanisms towards the massive rights abuses in the Valley by the Indian troops. India was also urged to respect the rights of Kashmiris, release the detainees, allow rights observers to visit the region, lift curfew, and end the use of excessive forces and pellet guns.

PM Khan’s speech would, therefore, be third major effort to project Kashmir issue at the world stage.

The prime minister basically has to expose Indian lies, the RSS agenda, deceit, and brutalities. He has to remind the UN and its members the responsibilities of the world forum towards the dispute under the UN Security Council Resolutions. The prime minister would have to tell the world that Indian government, to quote Azad Kashmir President Mr Masood Khan’s words, were “congenital liars”.

The sufferings of the Kashmiris have to be given primacy in Mr Khan’s speech telling how ordinary Kashmiris are suffering – in other words humanizing the tragedy that is unfolding in IOK – and making the world leaders sitting in the hall relate with the miseries and agonies that Kashmiris undergo everyday. It should be underscored that while international status of Kashmir dispute is undeniable, particularly in view of the Kashmir resolutions, brutalities by state cannot be even condoned within its legitimate territory. Therefore, there should be an unequivocal condemnation of the Indian human rights violations and a categorical demand from the world for end to the abuses and restoration of the status quo of the region pending its resolution.

It must be emphasized that the impunity being enjoyed by India because of the world’s silence over its atrocities in Kashmir must immediately come to an end.

PM Khan should call upon the UN Secretary General to set up a ‘Commission of Inquiry’ on Kashmir as recommended by two consecutive reports of the Office of UN High Commissioner on Human Rights to investigate the situation. Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who had earlier said “The position of the United Nations on this region (Jammu & Kashmir) is governed by the Charter of the United Nations and applicable Security Council resolutions”, should be urged to intervene to save the Kashmiris from the brutalities of Occupation forces.

The prime minister should through his speech at the UNGA and bilateral meetings on the sidelines build support for implementation of the UN resolutions and explore the possibility of seeking enforcement action under Chapter 7 because the dispute is now fast posing a serious threat to peace and security in the region. The threat of a “false flag” terror attack in Kashmir by India to justify its actions, it must be underscored, cannot be ruled out. Such a happening could lead to catastrophic military confrontation. The point being that UNSCRs under Chapter 6, which we are still relying on are pragmatically in a dead alley, legally and circumstantially diluted (if not superseded) and hard to operationalize if one party doesn’t agree to pre-conditions. An Enforcement Action under Chapter 7 could activate UN’s inherent jurisdiction to take cognizance, outline the path for future and then directly enforce that path.

THE DON’Ts: PM Khan should avoid making any fresh offer of resumption of dialogue to India during his speech. Any movement towards dialogue must be linked to improvement in the human rights situation in IOK.

The writer is a research fellow at Islamabad Policy Institute

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