Kashmir, solidarity and the Canadian state


In his essay, “India’s Kashmir Crackdown Poses Risk of War,” John Riddell argues that India unilaterally revoked the autonomy of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, flooding the region with troops, imposing a curfew, and shutting down all communications, and imposing direct rule by New Delhi, India’s Hindu nationalist government, under the leadership of Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), radically increased the dangers of regional war. The Indian left immediately denounced the measures and called Jammu and Kashmir occupied territories (further drawing parallels to Occupied Palestine). In turn, this raised questions of international solidarity for the anti-war movement, and in Canada the demands to be placed on the Canadian state. Here Richard Fidler and John continue to discuss the Indian intervention into Kashmir and solidarity responses in Canada.

Canada’s role in Kashmir

by Richard Fidler

I agree entirely that Kashmir deserves our solidarity in the face of the Indian government’s repression and denial of its constitutional rights. However, I think we should be specific about what is meant by defense of Kashmir’s self-determination. In this regard, I question some of what John says about Canada’s diplomatic role in the past concerning Kashmir.

The Kashmiri question is a product of the partition of the Indian subcontinent by Britain when it was finally forced to end its direct colonial control following World War II, in the face of a powerful independence movement. In a classic application of imperialist “divide and rule” politics, Britain established Pakistan in the predominantly Muslim territory, India in Hindu dominated territory. More than 550 princely states within colonial India that were not directly governed by Britain were to decide whether to join either of the new states or to remain independent.

The state of Jammu and Kashmir, which had a majority Muslim population, was governed by Maharaja Hari Singh, a Hindu. Singh wanted independence for Kashmir. However, Pakistan pressured Kashmir to join it. Pro-Pakistani rebels, funded by Pakistan, took over much of western Kashmir. In September 1947, when Pashtun tribesmen from Pakistan invaded Kashmir, Singh sought military assistance from India. Upon the insistence of the British governor general Lord Mountbatten, India required the Maharaja to accede sovereignty to India before it could send troops. Although India granted partial autonomy to Kashmir – now nullified arbitrarily by the Modi government – it promised that the constitutional Instrument of Accession would later be submitted to a “reference to the people,” who could “decide where Kashmiris want to live.”

Decisions delayed

No such plebiscite or referendum was held. Instead, the newly formed United Nations Organization, in successive resolutions during 1948, called for both Pakistan and India to withdraw most of their troops from Kashmir, followed by “a free and impartial plebiscite to decide whether the State of Jammu and Kashmir is to accede to India or Pakistan” under UN supervision. There was no provision for any other option, such as Kashmir’s independence.

As John states, “Canada’s government played an active role in shaping the terms of armistice, and for a time a Canadian general, Andrew McNaughton, headed the armistice commission.” McNaughton was now serving as President of the UN Security Council, his career as Canada’s Minister of Defense having been cut short when he was defeated in two successive by-elections in 1945. In his report to the UN in December 1949, he reiterated that the plebiscite, “to take place as early as possible,” would “settle this issue between the Governments of India and Pakistan.”

Mediating the conflict

Canada had only recently obtained control over its foreign policy, through the Statute of Westminster in 1931. McNaughton’s role was consistent with the intention of the newly formed Department of External Affairs to carve out a role for this country as a junior imperialist power capable of performing as an intermediary in international conflicts that the larger powers like Britain and the United States, its closest allies, were unable to do. Within this context, Canada played a major role in the formation of the State of Israel. Mediating between India and Pakistan, the two huge former colonies of Britain, was one of Ottawa’s initial attempts to make a name for itself as a “peacemaker” or “peacekeeper” in disputes that in one way or another threatened to destabilize geopolitical imperialist interests.

In 1956, Prime Minister Lester Pearson made this explicit when he got the UN to establish a “peacekeeping force” to resolve the crisis resulting from the British-French-Israeli invasion of Egypt after it nationalized the Suez Canal.

At the same time, of course, Canada was equally willing to commit its own military forces in defense of imperialist interests, as its participation in the founding of NATO and its role in the Korean War, clearly indicated.

Referring to Canada’s early role in the Kashmir conflict, John says that “in recent years, Canada has abstained from such initiatives, and its government is now an obedient ally of both the US and Israel…” But is there really such a qualitative difference between its conduct then and its foreign policy stances today?

John writes: “Given that Kashmir’s disputed status was originally established recognized [sic] by the United Nations by calling for a referendum, the UN would seem to have some responsibility to assist in overcoming” the crisis in Kashmir. He cites a June 14, 2018 report by the UN High Commission on Human Rights calling for an investigation of human rights violations. That report urges both India and Pakistan to “[f]ully respect the right of self-determination of the people of Kashmir as protected under international law” but without more – not even a reference to a plebiscite limiting voters to a choice between joining India or Pakistan, let alone the choice of an independent state.

Kashmiri people’s aspirations?

Kashmiri self-determination and Canadian solidarity

by John Riddell 

Thanks to Richard Fidler for his insightful comments on the Kashmir conflict’s origin and character. Before responding, a quick update on Kashmir solidarity in Toronto. 

The action advertised in my article, (‘Stand with Kashmir: Decolonize, Resist, Dignify’) took place as planned on August 10, with about 300 participants. Despite the short notice, the event was well planned, with effective speakers, posters, and chants. Supporters of the Modi government did not put in an appearance. Speakers pointed to the parallel with Palestine in warning that Modi appears to be planning a settler-colonial venture in Kashmir.

A more ambitious action is planned for August 18: Stand with Kashmir End India’s colonization of Kashmir, Rally at 10 am, Nathan Phillips Square at Toronto City Hall.

Now, as to Richard’s commentary, thanks to Richard for filling in the historical background and also highlighting the question of whether Kashmiri self-determination encompasses the option of an independent Kashmiri state as well as of annexation of Kashmir (to India or Pakistan).

In such situations, where self-determination may be achieved in different ways, socialists are guided by the opinion of the oppressed people themselves and the demands raised in their liberation struggle. As Richard notes on this point, “What do the Kashmiri people want? It is hard to tell at this point, especially from afar.”

A New York Times photo of a peaceful demonstration in Srinagar, Kashmir, which was later fired on by India’s security forces, showed several Pakistani flags. (The photo is no longer on line.) But at the August 10 demonstration in Toronto, Pakistan was simply not mentioned, and I saw no Pakistani flags or insignia.

The Kashmir event in Missassauga last year, to which Richard refers, was organized to honour the president of Azad Kashmir, the Pakistan-administered portion of Kashmir. Speakers compared Pakistan’s conduct toward Kashmir favourably with that of India. I do not recall hearing any call for annexation. The UN human rights (UNHCHR) investigation was hailed as a victory, and participants were asked to make it widely known. In terms of self-determination, speakers called for implementation of the original UN referendum decision 70 years ago.

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