It was a Labour government of Clement Attlee that conceded Indian independence and the demand for Pakistan. Thus, loyalty to this party was a natural
response of post-1947 Indian migrants to Britain, not to mention the Indians who were forced to flee East Africa in the 1970s. As they scaled up in life from austerity to affluence, a section of Gujarati extraction people drifted towards the Conservative party;
whereas the Pakistani electorate gradually gravitated almost wholly towards Labour. Some Pakistanis briefly sided with the anti-Iraq war Liberal Democrats; but for most an allegedly Islamophobic Conservative party was a no-go area.
In 1971, Pakistan was stung by its eastern wing separating from it and becoming Bangladesh. It blamed India for the split, failing to appreciate that unceasing western Pakistani
hostility towards Bengalis in East Pakistan was the fundamental cause of disaffection. From refusing to recognise Bengali as a language of Pakistan, thrusting Urdu on its eastern wing, to the genocide of Bengalis by the Pakistani military, which killed at
least half a million people, the Pakistani armed forces were squarely responsible for the Bangladeshi uprising. It did not deserve to retain East Pakistan.
If India assisted the liberation of Bangladesh, it had justification to do so, for 12 million refugees had poured into India from East Pakistan because of the murderous persecution of Bengalis by the Pakistani military junta. The international community
was lackadaisical of mitigating India’s burden. This left India without a choice.
Unreconciled to its self-inflicted wound, the Pakistani
army has been hankering for revenge against India ever since. In the spring of 1989, Soviet Troops withdrew from Afghanistan. The West took it for granted the Mohammad Najibullah government in Kabul would collapse imminently. But this didn’t happen.
The Afghans held out. Pakistan – “a bulwark against Soviet expansionism” as British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher described General Zia-ul-Haq dictated country – had been assigned by its western allies to act as a conduit for aid
and armaments for religiously-oriented Afghan rebels. Instead, American satellites observed it was diverting these resources to destabilizing Indian-controlled Kashmir.
So, for over 30 years it has been Pakistan’s constant endeavour to whip up an insurrection in the Kashmir Valley. In resisting this, there have undoubtedly been human rights violations by Indian para-military forces and
Jammu and Kashmir police. It is simplistic to suggest this should not have happened, when the ground reality is violent separatism, which no security personnel can take lying down. Self-defence is a legitimate counter-action. But there has been collateral
harm; innocent women, children and the elderly have been ill-treated. Many have died, although the bulk of fatalities have occurred to militants.
The revolt is not all exported or instigated by Pakistan. There is an indigenous freedom struggle and a wider aspiration for autonomy. In the only opinion poll ever to be simultaneously carried on both sides of the line of control – by King’s
College London and Chatham House in 2010 – less than 2% of residents of Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir wanted to join Pakistan; while more people in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir wanted independence from Pakistan than did their counterpart in the
Indian-run territory from India.
Pakistan is in no position to point fingers at human rights violations in another country. Such transgressions
have been rampant in Pakistan, especially under its various military regimes and even during proxy civilian governments, when the army has continued to hold a whip hand. From Balochistan to Sindh and even in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab and the segment of Jammu
and Kashmir over which Pakistan has hegemony, crushing of civil liberties has been the norm. Indeed, even if one were to compare the conduct of American troops in post-Second World War scenarios, from Vietnam to Iraq, not to mention Somalia, to Indian forces’
demeanour in Jammu and Kashmir, the latter emerge with greater distinction for their restraint. Tens of thousands of Indian security personnel have in fact perished because they by and large did not resort to indiscriminate firepower.
The bottom line is – as the European Union spelled out a long time ago – an armed revolt is acceptable if there is no ballot box option on offer. In Indian-administered
Jammu and Kashmir this opportunity is omnipresent. If the secessionists and their Pakistani handlers are so sanguine about sentiments of Jammuites, Kashmiris and Ladakhis being against India, they should fight elections and stake a claim to office. That they
have not availed of this democratic process only establishes the illicitness of their campaign. It also exposes the invalidity of the bloodletting they indulge in.
In the north-eastern Indian state of Assam, an organisation with fissiparous tendencies – Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) – fought and won an election and ran a government for five years. They were subsequently defeated. Whether it is
the Hizbul Mujahideen or the Hurriyat Conference, they are welcome to follow in AGP’s footsteps. The Muslims of Jammu and Kashmir are part and parcel of 200 million people who follow the Islamic faith in secular India. The former cannot be viewed in
isolation from the latter.
In 1947 and subsequently, Muslims in the subcontinent were free to move to Pakistan from India. Those who rejected
this opportunity included the Muslims of Jammu and Kashmir. They cannot be compelled to embrace Pakistan. There was no provision in the Indian Independence Act to set the clock back.
The effort by leaders of the Pakistani community in Britain to blackmail Labour on its Kashmir policy is desperate tactics and doomed to fail. 100 mosques in the United Kingdom have reportedly written to Starmer, Labour
leader, threatening to withdraw support to the party. It’s a naked playing of a communal card, outrageous at the mother of democracies and offensive to a left-wing party. The intimidation follows the age-old Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI)
script of raising the bogey of an atomic conflagration. The purported letter says the unsettled Indo-Pak confrontation “has the potential to lead India and Pakistan into a devastating nuclear war”.
I would, though, recommend to Starmer that he equally maintains a distance from the Hindu Forum of Britain (comprised mainly of British citizens), who do not in any shape or form represent
the values of India’s secular constitution. There are twice as many British Indians as British Pakistanis. Notwithstanding the erosion in Gujarati votes, Labour retained every constituency in the Commons with a concentration of people of Gujarati descent,
including the ones in Leicester and north-west London. A balanced line on Kashmir could in fact re-attract those who have deserted the party and thereby make it more competitive in marginal seats.
As for British Pakistani voters, the choice before them is an Islamoskeptic Conservative party, wishy-washy Liberal Democrats and Scottish Nationalists, to whom selling whisky to India is more important than
sticking their necks out on Kashmir.
Therefore, I say to General Qamar Bajwa, let us, as Imran Khan proposed at an event I chaired before he
became prime minister, sit across a table and explore and secure a sensible path out of the imbroglio. A Track 3 dialogue between the Pakistani army and the progressive people of India. Let there be no illusion that the forcible occupation of 40% of Jammu
and Kashmir by Pakistan is not dissimilar to Israeli takeover of Palestinian land. Yet, we are prepared to be reasonable.
Execution of a non-discriminatory
market access (NDMA) agreement can be a game-changer. India’s purchasing power will become available to Pakistani manufacturers. Even minority Indian investment will expand Pakistani facilities, create countless jobs and boost internal revenue. Pakistan’s
debt, its trade deficit will become a thing of the past. Its dependence on aid will be diluted. It’s a roadmap worth selecting. We owe a better future to the people of India and Pakistan.
15 May 20/Friday