UNGA chief on Kashmir

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BY all definitions, the Kashmir issue is the major stumbling block to peace in South Asia, and until a judicious solution acceptable to the people of the region is reached, the subcontinent is unlikely to see stability. The UN General Assembly’s president Volkan Bozkir, on his arrival in Pakistan on Thursday, gave some constructive advice to the state on how to raise the issue at the world body. What is more, the UN official made a very pertinent point when he said that the parties to the conflict must not change the status of the disputed territory till the matter is resolved.

Mr Bozkir was making an obvious reference to the events of August 2019, when India moved to make constitutional changes paving the way for the illegal annexation of India-held Kashmir. This has allowed Indians to move into the occupied area; according to one estimate, 430,000 new domicile certificates have been issued to outsiders.

As and when the Pakistan-India peace process moves forward, the situation in held Kashmir must not be lost sight of. By all means both sides must try and work on ‘softer’, less contentious issues that can play the role of confidence-builders, helping solidify the peace process. Yet India cannot be allowed to manufacture ‘facts on the ground’ in Kashmir by settling outsiders and changing the demographic make-up of the occupied territory. This concern must be included in the dialogue process, for if it is ignored it may affect the judicious settlement of the Kashmir issue.

The other very relevant point the UN official made about the Kashmir question was the need for this country to work harder to raise the issue internationally, specifically to “bring it to the United Nations platform more forcefully”. Mr Bozkir added that the Kashmir dispute lacked the level of world support the Palestine question enjoyed, though it must be mentioned that even the Palestine issue only appears on the global agenda after Israel launches a bloody attack against the Arab side.

After India’s unilateral move to annex Kashmir in 2019, Pakistan’s foreign policy establishment did activate itself and world capitals were lobbied to bring the plight of the Kashmiris to the international stage. However, the UN representative is absolutely correct that more can be done to highlight the issue. For example, he has suggested Pakistan can initiate a debate on Kashmir at UNGA supported by other states. Indeed, there is much work ahead in this regard, and Pakistan should liaise with Muslim states as well as other countries sympathetic to the Kashmir cause to ensure the issue is brought to the fore. The Kashmiris’ cause is righteous and their struggle just. Therefore, Pakistan must give all the support it can to ensure the voice of the occupied valley reaches the hallowed halls of the UN, and other multilateral forums.

Published in Dawn, May 29th, 2021

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