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Vineet Ravindran asked: Why do almost all global debates on Kashmir, irrespective of democratic or Islamic countries, seem to focus mainly on the Indian side of Kashmir and not Pakistan-occupied Jammu & Kashmir (PoJK)?

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  • Ashok Kumar Behuria replies: This is not entirely true. There has been wider criticism of the way Pakistan has handled PoJK over the years. The Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the European Union have castigated Pakistan for its high-handed behaviour in the PoK/PoJK (which includes the so-called “Azad Jammu and Kashmir” and “Gilgit–Baltistan”). 

    However, it is true that, in comparison, there has been a greater attention on Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) on the Indian side in the past. That is because of the incorrect reading of the history of J&K. A whole generation of scholars in the West have linked it to the basic principle of division of British India into the states of India and Pakistan on the basis of religion, overlooking the fact that India never accepted it on religious grounds and chose to stay secular and liberal, rather than become a Hindu state. Moreover, the issue was caught up in the super-power rivalry during the Cold War. India's emphasis on non-alignment and its tilt towards socialism and the erstwhile Soviet Russia further widened the gulf between India and the US-led bloc and impacted their perception of Kashmir.

    The Western intellectual effort wasted on Kashmir viewed it as a communal issue disregarding the flowering of pluralism and democracy in India. Interestingly, it was lost to Western analysts that there was an overwhelming public opinion in Kashmir against joining Pakistan in the wake of the tribal lashkar invasion launched by Pakistan in October 1947. Moreover, it is also widely forgotten that Pakistan refused to abide by the terms of the April 1948 UN resolution in favour of a plebiscite, primarily because in the prevailing circumstances, it could not have won the plebiscite! While the UN led by the West tried to modify the conditions to suit Pakistan, the Soviet veto made the UN resolution inoperative and a duly elected house in Kashmir, constituted by adult franchise in 1951, voted overwhelmingly in favour of the accession to India in 1954, as proof of the popular plebiscitary mood in Kashmir then.   

    The Pakistani effort to subvert politics in Kashmir took yet another leap forward in the 1990s, coinciding with the end of the Cold War, when it began sponsoring militant extremism and terrorism across the Line of Control (LoC) into the Kashmir Valley. The jihadist narrative unleashed by Pakistan poisoned the socio-religious milieu in Kashmir and worsened the security situation. Following this, the West started looking at Kashmir in a relatively unbiased manner. The West has condemned Pakistan-sponsored terrorism and acknowledged India's right to respond in the wake of 2019 Pulwama attacks. There has been a quiet recognition of the need for India to take both pre-emptive and retaliatory actions in the shape of surgical strikes, such as the one on terrorist camps in Balakot, even under the nuclear overhang. 

    The Muslim countries, especially members of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), were led by Pakistan to club Kashmir and Palestine in some of their resolutions and pronouncements in the past. However, the tide has turned even within the OIC. There is a greater understanding of the Indian position and Pakistani insincerity about settling the issue through dialogue. Therefore, many Muslim countries are now strengthening their relations with India. In recent years, Pakistan has even tried to bring together some like-minded countries like Turkey and Malaysia to rake up the Kashmir issue outside the fold of OIC, which points to its inability to generate a consensus among the Muslim countries on Kashmir.    

    In sum, the international perspectives on Kashmir are definitely undergoing a change and there is now an opportunity for India to correct the narrative at local, national and global levels.

    Posted on 1 July 2022

    Views expressed are of the expert and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Manohar Parrikar IDSA or the Government of India.