“Kashmir & Azad Kashmir should function as a gateway to Central Asia” AJK President endorses Mehbooba Mufti’s remarks

  •  Interview of President Azad Jammu and Kashmir Sardar Masood Khan

Following is the English translation and original text of interview of President Azad Jammu and Kashmir Sardar Mosood Khan published in MO*, a leading monthly magazine of Belgium. The interview was conducted by Chief Editor of the magazine during the  visit of President AJ&K to Brussels last month.

 – By Gie Goris , editor in chief MO*.

 “But I have been clear: the better approach is the diplomatic, moral and political way. Our diplomatic approach is ultimately stronger than the weapons used now.”Sardar Masood Khan

 In recent months, the struggle for self-determination and freedom (Azad) flared up again in Indian Kashmir. Sardar Masood Khan, President of the part of Kashmir which lies in Pakistan, came to Brussels to ask for more attention to the repression and human rights violations.

“There have been tons of human rights violations in the past five months in Kashmir”, said Sardar Masood Khan. “And yet the global media do not cover these events.” It was reason enough for Masood Khan to go to Brussels, in the hope to move a stone in the slow flowing waters of the European and Belgian politics.

Sardar Masood Khan is the President of Azad Jammu and Kashmir, a region that has a special status in Pakistan as part of Pakistan’s strategy to keep its claims on the entire region of the former princely state. According to Masood Khan, the influence of India on media, economy and politics in the West is the reason why so few media report of the unprecedented repression – by the end of 2016, there were reports of more than one hundred persons killed, over 10,000 injured and nearly 8,000 arrests (see: Kashmir is burning, but the world does not see it) -. “India has managed to introduce three ideas that distort the view on the situation”, said the President of the Pakistani part of the Kashmir valley.

“One: that the conflict over Kashmir is a bilateral conflict between India and Pakistan, leading to the fact that the Kashmiris do not even appear in the story. Two: that Jammu and Kashmir were an integral part of the Indian Territory. That is not true according to the Indian constitution, and it doesn’t correspond with the UN resolutions on Kashmir. The status of J & K is not determined, it is an unfinished chapter. This is evident from the demonstrable fact that India has not really been able to assimilate the territory after 70 years. Three: India tells the world that the violence in Kashmir is a matter of terrorism, supported and enabled by Pakistan.”

– You say that the insurgency in Kashmir is unrelated to terrorism?

Sardar Masood Khan: Absolutely. Almost half of the Indian Army -700 000 heavily armed troops- is stationed in Kashmir. The Kashmiris are facing this military power, unarmed.

– You know that the reality is different.

Sardar Masood Khan: “There is nothing comparable to the arms of the Indian Army. There is no supply of weapons or ammunition. And the number of people that sees the use of violence as a legitimate form of resistance against the occupation is minimal. The mass movement in Indian Kashmir is for freedom and self-determination, and the most common method to realize that is nonviolent resistance.”

Munir Akram, Pakistan’s ambassador to the United Nations, argued in the Pakistani newspaper Dawn on August 21 that it would be a mistake to negotiate now on Kashmir with India. He proposes instead to focus international attention on human rights violations by the Indian security forces and to stand up for the right of Pakistan and other countries to support the Kashmiri struggle for self-determination -on the basis of UN Security Council Resolution 2649 from 1970, which recognizes the right of peoples to self-determination, including the right to use all necessary means, including armed struggle. That resolution was written in general terms and referred specifically to countries in southern Africa and Palestine, but Akram wants that the difference between terrorism and liberation struggles is again recognised in 2016, because from that moment, the Pakistani aid to Kashmir’s opposition would become legitimate internationally, the ambassador wrote.

Sardar Masood Khan: “We do not believe in violence as a strategy. But the people of Pakistan and of Azad Kashmir will continue to give moral, diplomatic and political support to the Kashmiris. We do not believe in violence and will therefore not support violence in Kashmir. Point. We want a political solution. War is not a solution, and a war between India and Pakistan can have catastrophic consequences. Also the people in Indian Kashmir continue to ask to dialogue, even though they are the victims of brutal repression. The small fraction of so-called mujahedeen does not affect the dynamics of the resistance today, but the protests of millions of men and women do. The approach of the armed militants is counterproductive and dirty, but you can never completely rule out armed resistance in a situation where people are pushed against the wall for such a long time and so massively.”

– And do you, as the government, take also active measures to prevent these armed militants to use the territory of Azad Kashmir or Pakistan to prepare an execute their operations in Indian Kashmir? There are indeed many groups in Pakistan that quite openly express their support for the armed struggle in Kashmir, or that claim to participate in the battle.

Sardar Masood Khan: ”The Pakistani government has made it clear that it will, within its constitutional obligations and possibilities make every effort to meet the expectations of the UN. We want to eradicate terrorism in all its forms. In Azad Kashmir, there is no terrorism, and the region has the lowest crime rate in all of Pakistan. But the debate about terrorism is used to hide the real story -the struggle of Kashmiris for freedom and self-determination.”

– If the presence and actions of armed militants make this broader struggle invisible, then those who may have supported and made possible the use of force would have done quite a disservice to the Kashmiris?

Sardar Masood Khan: “That’s certainly what some say in Kashmir. Personally, I would not judge what others do. Our priority is in any case diplomacy.

– One of the armed organizations is the Lashkar-e-Taiba, which transformed itself into Jawad-ud-Dawa. Their leader, Hafez Saeed, has finally been placed under house arrest after the Pakistani government had refused to do so initially after the attack on Mumbai in 2008, despite a lot of international pressure. This LeT / JuD is now reinventing itself as Tehrik-e-Azadi o Jammu Kashmir, the Liberation movement of Jammu and Kashmir. Do you find that acceptable?

Sardar Masood Khan: “I have already said that I will not judge, but as president of AJK I want to give moral, diplomatic and political support primarily to the Kashmiris.”

– If the Tehrik-e-Azadi Jammu o Kashmir disrupts your diplomatic policy, why would you not pass judgment on their approach or presence?

Sardar Masood Khan: “There are people from within Kashmir who take up arms to defend themselves …”

– Hafez Saeed and his Tehrik-e-Azadi o Jammu Kashmir are from Punjab, so they do not fall under that category of “native warriors”.

Sardar Masood Khan: “He is also under arrest and his party is (being) banned by the Pakistani government. What we want to avoid is that the broad struggle of the Kashmiris is smeared further by the actions of a small armed minority. We want to make a peaceful movement from this freedom struggle. That’s why we want to go again to the UN, so that we can question the commitment of the Secretary-General on human rights of the Kashmiris. We have to go also to the Human Rights Council in Geneva, to the European Parliament and the parliaments of the whole world. Our diplomatic approach is ultimately stronger than the weapons used now.”

– If you defend so strongly a political approach, why are not you clearer in your condemnation of those who want to use violence in their struggle for rights or use this fight to strengthen their ideological position?

Sardar Masood Khan: “But I have been clear: the better approach is the diplomatic, moral and political way. Our diplomatic approach is ultimately stronger than the weapons used now.”

– But I cannot quote you as the President of AJK which states that the Tehrik-e-Azadi Jammu Kashmir  has no place in his region or strategy.

Sardar Masood Khan: “You can note this quote of mine: The President of Azad Kashmir wants to eradicate all forms and manifestations of terrorism. We believe in diplomatic solutions.”

– But you do assume that the whole of Jammu and Kashmir will be part of Pakistan in the future?

Sardar Masood Khan: “He, who is sworn in as President of Azad Kashmir also swears that he wants to ensure the accession of Kashmir to Pakistan. When the state PM of Indian Kashmir, Mehbooba Mufti, recently said that Kashmir and Azad Kashmir should function as a gateway to Central Asia, I could agree with her, but first she should focus on the separation with India.”

– In Indian Kashmir, there are many in favour of true independence.

Sardar Masood Khan: “That’s right, and that makes the matter even more complicated. Yet I am convinced that the majority in the valley of Kashmir is pro-Pakistan.”

– What should happen to other regions of Jammu and Kashmir in that case, like the mainly Buddhist Ladakh or the mainly Hindu Jammu?

Sardar Masood Khan: “We do not want to get ahead of the possible talks on the future of Jammu and Kashmir. At the negotiating table everything can be discussed, but beforehand, it makes little sense to do so.”

– The UN Security Council voted resolutions calling for a referendum on the future of J & K. In it, the choice should be provided between joining India or Pakistan. Is independence a possible third option?

Sardar Masood Khan: “This option is not provided for in the resolutions that the UN Security Council voted in the past. If the third option should therefore belong to the possibilities of a referendum, we have to first pass again through the Security Council.”

Accompanying article: Azad Jammu and Kashmir is a small part of the disputed former Jammu and Kashmir, which was during the British colonization a huge principality in northern British India. The total area of ​​the former state added up to 222,000 km2. AJK covers 13,000 km2, almost equal to Flanders. AJK is, along with the regions of Gilgit and Baltistan, since the war between India and Pakistan in the late 1940s, under Pakistani administration.

The regions of Jammu, Kashmir Valley and Ladakh are Indian-administered within one state: Jammu and Kashmir. And the Aksai Chin region was annexed by China. In most discussions about the conflict, Kashmir is used to indicate the Valley, the current Indian state, the old princely state or the part of Azad Kashmir in Pakistan.


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