No connection between Kashmir and Palestine

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Pakistan focused on highlighting the Kashmir issue and enhancing its bilateral relations with Muslim nations, especially in Africa, during the 15th summit of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) (Banjul: 4-5 May) at Gambia. The summit was preceded by the OIC Council of Foreign Ministers (CFM) (2-3 May).

The IOC has long maintained a particular stance on Kashmir and India, reflected in the Banjul Declaration. However, what Pakistan proposed for inclusion did not find space in the actual outcomes, as the OIC itself is aware of the exact position of minorities in India. Kashmir today cannot be compared to Palestine, as the former is advancing at a rapid pace. Self-determination in the case of Palestine will only happen when the world agrees to have a two-state solution. In the case of Kashmir, the only remaining leftover of history is the rightful return of territory illegally occupied by Pakistan to India. Comparisons by Pakistan of the two areas are dangerous. Pakistan should turn the light inwards and look at the shabby manner in which it has treated Pakistan-occupied Jammu and Kashmir (POJK). The reality of Kashmir today has been recognised by the international community. Only Pakistan continues to live in the past.

On Kashmir, Pakistani Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Ishaq Dar addressed the CFM, drew parallels with the situation in Palestine, and extended diplomatic support to Palestinians. In his address, the head of the delegation also raised the Kashmir issue and expressed the need for a resolution as per UNSC resolutions. He also thanked the OIC for supporting the Kashmiri cause and for Article 370. He strongly condemned the alleged oppressive actions in Jammu and Kashmir, including extrajudicial killings and media blackouts. He pledged Pakistan’s unwavering diplomatic support for the Kashmiri people’s right to self-determination as mandated by relevant UN Security Council Resolutions. Ishaq Dar stressed the imperative of joint action by the OIC to confront rising Islamophobia, which was manifested by an increasing number of incidents of discrimination, violence, and incitement against Muslims around the world.

Ishaq Dar, in his address at the Preparatory Meeting of Foreign Ministers for the 15th Session of the Islamic Summit Conference held in Gambia, called for an end to the indiscriminate use of force and return of the displaced people. Dar, who came to the Gambian capital city of Banjul for the OIC Islamic Summit, also emphasised the UN Security Council’s role in implementing its Resolution 2728 for cessation of hostilities, asking Israel to halt all settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories and relinquish all usurped Palestinian properties.

The Pakistan Deputy Prime Minister reaffirmed Pakistan’s full support for the inalienable right to self-determination of the Palestinian people and stated that the only permanent solution to the current crisis lies in the creation of a secure, viable, contiguous, and sovereign state of Palestine based on the pre-June 1967 borders, with Al-Quds Al-Sharif as its capital.

Pakistan has a panache for mixing up issues. Kashmir and Palestine are two completely different issues, and to artificially link the two for political convenience makes no sense. Undoubtedly, both are post-colonial creations, and this has led, in part, to the comparison of both in terms of the right of self-determination. However, over the years, the situation in the two cases has shifted, and today, the people of Jammu and Kashmir are a far happier lot than before. Terrorism is down, and tourism is up. While the industry is yet to recognise the state's potential, the return of normalcy has made people search for alternatives to economic progress. For instance, who could have imagined that a Formula 1 car race would be held on the banks of the Dal Lake? Last year, Srinagar hosted the Working Group on G 20 Tourism.

On the other hand, Palestine is in the throes of conflict today. Instead, one should say that peace has never really been achieved. While a young man from Jammu and Kashmir was in the US for higher studies some decades ago, he met the world-renowned scholar of Palestinian origin, Edward Said. The latter asked him about the Kashmiri movement. When he had finished, Said is believed to have summed up the difference succinctly: “Kashmiris had land. Palestinians did not”. The difference between the two Kashmir is of greater importance on either side of the Line of Control (LOC). Today, the Indian state is prosperous, and tourism is booming. Incidents of terrorist violence have gone down significantly, and despite Pakistan’s best efforts, the centrally administered Union Territory is beginning to find its feet. On the other hand, the territory of the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir, which Pakistan continues to occupy illegally, remains mired in poverty. The lack of power and electricity and, more importantly, essential food items have impoverished the people of the region. Connectivity in the region is very poor. A recent instance of this challenge is the death of 20 people when their bus fell into a ravine in Diamer district. The development indices of GB are quite poor.

Notably, as of 2021-22, the Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP) of J& K stands at US$ 22 billion, whereas that of POJK was measured at US$ 6.5 billion. A quarter of the population of POJK lives below the poverty line, and a significant majority barely make ends meet. According to UNDP, 24.9% of the people are multidimensionally poor, excluding Gilgit-Baltistan, where the figure is even higher at 43 per cent. This is just the statistics at the strategic level. At a lower level, say in terms of access to health facilities too, J&K is far better off; there is an established network of 3,834 healthcare facilities, including 20 district hospitals and 84 sub-district hospitals, with nearly 14,000 hospital beds and close to 16,000 registered doctors.  POJK, on the other hand, has a mere 589 healthcare facilities, including 23 hospitals at the district and tehsil levels, 50 rural health centres, 225 basic health units, 79 dispensaries, and 201 mother and childcare centres. Despite this, Pakistan continues to highlight India and, more particularly, J&K in a negative light.

Pakistan also suggested inclusion in the final communique for the OIC Summit. One of them demanded that India ‘revoke all unilateral and illegal actions since 5 August 2019’. Further, regarding Islamophobia, Pakistan also proposed strong language which included:

(i)       Highlighting ‘rising wave of state-sanctioned Islamophobia in India’;

(ii)      Condemning ‘systematic persecution of Muslims’ ‘motivated by the extremist Hindutva ideology under the RSS-BJP dispensation in India that has led to the political, economic and social marginalisation of Indian Muslims;

(iii)      Expressing alarm at the ‘persistent shrinking and sacrilege of religious places of Muslims in India’ and condemning ‘the recent inauguration of the ‘Ram Temple’ in Ayodhya’; and

(iv)      Calling on the Indian government to ensure the safety, well-being, and religious freedom’ of Muslims in India.

Notably, the Banjul Declaration issued after the Gambia Summit does mention Kashmir. However, paragraph 15 of the Declaration uses the language proposed in (ii) above, indicating that Pakistan did manage to get its foot into the Gambian door! Paragraphs 72 and 73 of the final communique use the language proposed by Pakistan.

A reading of Pakistan’s proposed language shows it has tried to mislead the OIC by introducing matters concerning India’s internal situation, many of which have no link to reality. For instance, Pakistan equating the inauguration of the Ram temple in Ayodhya to the alleged “shrinking and sacrilege of religious places for Muslims” has no link to the reality on the ground.  Lest we forget, the Ram temple at Ayodhya was constructed on the orders of the Supreme Court of India and reflects the faith of the Hindu community. Muslims in India, who constitute around 15% of the total population of the country, continue to profess their faith as before. Further, Pakistan should not and cannot equate this with Islamophobia or the alleged marginalisation of Muslims in India. India was founded as a secular nation and remains so. To make claims of Islamophobia is only to create a political mindset at the time of the ongoing elections in India.

While the Gambian government had initially refused to hold any Contact Group meeting, including on Jammu and Kashmir, on the sidelines of the summit, this eventually took place, giving Pakistan a platform to raise the issue. In his report for the Summit, the Secretary General OIC refers to the previous OIC contact group meeting on Kashmir and the visit (23 October 2023) of the Special Envoy J&K to PoJK. Pakistan is, however, concerned that the recent decision of the Indian Supreme Court on Article 370, the G-20 working group in Srinagar, Yasin Mallik’s conviction and the recent operationalisation of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) were not mentioned. Pakistan has, for a long time, maintained an anti-India and anti-Kashmir position in the OIC. This, however, has not prevented India from directly addressing the OIC on issues relating to Jammu and Kashmir and the status of Muslims in India. This time around too, India should strongly take up the incorrect descriptions that have been inserted in the Banjul Declaration. This is the way forward!

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