October 20, 2020

Silence over Kashmir in the Caribbean, as India seeks the support of OIC states in CARICOM

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ray-chickrie3By Ray Chickrie From Caribbean News Now

Kashmir, a disputed territory, claimed by both India and , has never been a foreign policy issue for the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). is an exception; it has in the past issued statements on Kashmir at the United Nations and at the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

Guyana, like , and Trinidad has strong emotional bonds to India, about 50 percent of the population in these countries are made up of ethnic who are mostly Hindus or Muslims. Interestingly, former Guyanese President Cheddi Jagan’s administration, before it joined the OIC, was very concerned how this would affect its ties with India.

In the past, Guyana has called on both India and Pakistan to resolve the Kashmir dispute in accordance with UN resolutions and through bilateral negotiations. However, the UN still considers Kashmir a disputed territory, claimed by both India and Pakistan.

Quietly India has sent envoys to OIC member states to seek their support amidst a new wave of violent protests for independence in Kashmir. The OIC is made up of 57 predominately Muslim countries. But there are Muslim minority states like Guyana, Suriname, Cameroon, Mozambique, Benin, Togo, Uganda, and large secular states like Egypt, Algeria, Syria, Lebanon, and Malaysia, who are also members of the OIC.

Ironically, Prime Minister Narendra Modi who has pandered to communalists at the expense of Muslims in India in his orgy for power, and which has seen the rise of the radical Rashtriya Sayamsevak Sangh (RSS) lynching Muslims, is now seeking the solidarity of the 57-member OIC bloc on the Kashmir issue.

India is now lobbying for the support of Guyana and Suriname at the OIC and will send envoys to these countries to counter Pakistan’s diplomatic frenzy to internationalize the Kashmir issue. When India launched a diplomatic offensive against Pakistan in 1968, Mrs Indira Gandhi visited Guyana.

The history of the Kashmir conflict may be unfamiliar to leaders of CARICOM countries and their top diplomats. However, Muslims and Islamic organisations in the English-speaking Caribbean are very familiar with the Kashmir issue, especially among Muslim leaders in Guyana, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago.

Muslim groups and organisations in these countries have in the past issued press statements on terrorism, Kosovo, Bosnia, Palestine, Syria, Iraq, among other issues, but there has been a noticeable silence on the recent resurgence of violence in Kashmir after India killed a famous Kashmiri “terrorist,” Burnham Wani, who locals there see as a “freedom fighter.” Since his death on July 9, the valley of Kashmir has been under lockdown and locals have been denied internet, land, and mobile phone services.

Why this silence? Do Muslim groups in these countries see themselves as Indian first? Or are they intimidated by the strong Indian political and economic presence in Guyana, Suriname, and Trinidad? The governments of Guyana, Suriname, and Trinidad, which have received significant economic and financial aid from India, have remained silent on the Kashmir issue but, more interestingly, the Muslim groups in these countries, due to their alignment to the political establishments in these countries, may continue to ignore the escalation of violence, human rights abuse and deaths in the valley of Kashmir. By raising the Kashmir issue, they may be perceived as anti-India or anti-Hindu.

Kashmiris are yet to be allowed a promised referendum on self-determination, which India has denied them since 1948 in accordance to United Nations Security Council Resolutions 39 and 47. The princely state of Kashmir has never been part of modern India and has always been independent.

At the time of the division of the sub-continent in 1947, India demanded that there must be referendums in Hindu majority states with Muslim rulers. One such princely state with a Muslim ruler and a Muslim minority population was Junagadh. When the Nawab declared accession to Pakistan, India replied by imposing its democratic views and declared that the people must choose between India and Pakistan. India then sent its army to occupy the territory.

On the other hand, this democratic principle wasn’t allotted to the Muslim majority of Kashmir. India failed to consider the democratic values and rights of the Kashmiri citizens. As opposed to Junagadh, Muslim Kashmiris, the vast majority of the state’s population, wasn’t allowed the right to choose between India and Pakistan.

It is alleged that India coerced Maharaja Hari Singh of Kashmir to join the Indian union after the Indian army had already invaded the princely state. India claimed that the Maharaja “signed the instrument of accession to join India.”

India’s Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj recently reminded the world that Kashmir is an “eternal part of India.” What Swaraj failed to tell the world is that Kashmir today is under lockdown, a siege by half million Indian soldiers. “India is fighting terrorism,” is the mantra out of New Delhi.

Arguably, the fight against terrorism, as India puts it, has been ongoing since 1948, with the occupation and the number of Indian armed forces dramatically increased over decades. In 1948, and two other subsequent wars, Pakistan and India fought over Kashmir. They both agreed to a ceasefire in 1948 after capturing swaths of territory. Since then, they have both occupied Kashmir.

Syed Ali Geelani amongst other Kashmiri leaders whose passports have been confiscated by India and are not allowed to travel abroad, posted a question to the Indian foreign minister a few months ago. Geelani asked, “If she is true in her claims, why is India afraid of holding a referendum in Jammu and Kashmir? Why are their paid local agents hiding behind the more than 10 lakh armed forces?”

Sushma Swaraj failed to explain why India is reluctant to abide by its own commitment to conduct a plebiscite in Kashmir as promised since 1948. Could it be because both sides are fully aware that the Kashmiri people will choose freedom from both India and Pakistan?

If India wants to make good, it can start by reinstating the autonomous status of Kashmir, release political prisoners, and lift the siege of Kashmir. Over decades, Kashmir’s internal affairs were manipulated through many sinister ways to the point that Kashmir is stripped of its historical autonomous status.

Human rights groups are demanding that India repeals two laws that have been instrumental in the torture, disappearance, rape and brutality of the Kashmiri people. In July 2015, a New York Times editorial called on India to “end the abuse of Indian military” against Kashmiris. The Times cited the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which provides impunity to Indian soldiers for basically any action, and the Public Safety Act (PSA), which is used to imprison people without due process.

Amnesty International calls the PSA a “lawless law” and has been campaigning for its revocation. On the AFSPA, Amnesty International said in its report in 2015 that the impunity is a long-standing problem in Jammu and Kashmir.

“The lack of political will to account for past and present actions of the security forces, including the state police, is fortified by legislation and aggravated by other obstacles to justice, especially for those who lack financial resources or education,” the report read.

Prime Minister Modi’s “new outreach to ‘secular’ Muslim nations can only work if he aligns his domestic politics with his foreign policy,” says former Indian diplomat K.C. Singh. Singh is basically condemning Mr Modi’s Hindutva or radical Hindu nationalist politics at home. Singh said that Mr Modi is “merely milking the latter for domestic electoral reasons would be short-sighted and alienate both new and old friends.”

While India’s ties with CARICOM countries like Guyana, Suriname and Trinidad are strong, its economic and financial support to Guyana and Suriname isn’t very significant compared to what those countries receives from the OIC, China, US, EU, France, and Brazil.

Despite India’s strong ethnic and cultural ties to the Hindustani communities in the Caribbean, leaders in Guyana, Suriname and Trinidad will pursue their country’s self-interest.

For example, Suriname’s economic and political ties to the Islamic bloc in the past five years have significantly improved. The Islamic Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are currently jointly supporting the economic recovery of Suriname. The Islamic Bank has offered Suriname a loan of US$1.75 billion to fund projects and support the import of essential goods and medicines.

Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj should outline a clear solution to the Kashmir occupation because the military solution being pursued by New Delhi won’t succeed. India needs to take the upper hand, and enter into serious negotiations with Pakistan. Both India and Pakistan should respect the wishes of the Kashmir people.

IMAGE:ray-chickrie3.jpg
Born in Guyana, Raymond Chickrie was a teacher in the New York City public school system and has also taught in the Middle East

For more on this story go to: http://www.caribbeannewsnow.com/topstory-Commentary%3A-Silence-over-Kashmir-in-the-Caribbean,-as-India-seeks-the-support-of-OIC-states-in-CARICOM-31812.html

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