A Memory of Greatness: Benazir Bhutto’s at UNGA Addressing Kashmir Issue

Remembering Benazir Bhutto’s address at the 51st UNGA session, wherein she demanded a plebiscite to allow the people of occupied Kashmir their right to self-determination. She also proposed a multilateral conference consisting of major global powers and P5 UNSC members to resolve the territorial dispute between India and Pakistan.

Benazir Bhutto’s

Deceased Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s legendary address at the 51st session of the United Nations General Assembly, held on 3rd October 1996, continues to garner acclaim and applause from the international community and global leaders.

Benazir Bhutto stunned the international community of leaders and heads of state with a powerful address that shed light on a wide range of conflicts that had crippled the Muslim world. From the conflicts in the Middle East to the Bosnian genocide and the situation in Kashmir, Benazir Bhutto’s address continues to be relevant to the ongoing situation in the Muslim World to this date.

Twentieth Century: Age of Extremes

Benazir Bhutto began her address by highlighting the events that changed the course of mankind, such as the Holocaust and the specter of nuclear annihilation, and went onto welcome the advancements of technology and the information revolution, alongside the breakthroughs in energy, medicine, health, and transportation.

Bhutto said, “One historian has called the twentieth century the age of extremes. Tested time and again, the world survived. I come before this Assembly, at this time of transition from one century to the next — from the second millennium to the third — to speak of history, of justice and of morality.”

“Today, the United Nations stands at the crossroads, not just of the calendar, but of the direction of the community of nations. We confront three simultaneous challenges. The first one is the proliferation of conflicts, disputes, and tensions among and within nations, and the accompanying rise of national, ethnic and religious prejudice, intolerance and arrogance.”

She continued, “The second challenge is the persistent spread of poverty. The third challenge is the growing sense of alienation, the loss of people’s hope and confidence that the world’s Governments will address successfully the multifaceted problems inherent in the new technological era. The manner in which we address these problems will determine the quality of life that we bequeath our children.”

The Kashmir dispute has led to four direct or indirect wars between India and Pakistan between 1947 and 1971. India has the third-largest army in the world today, almost all of which is deployed against my country Pakistan.

Highlighting Pakistan’s stance on the conflicts and disputes that plagued the world back in the late 1990s, she said, “We remain deeply concerned at the conflicts and disputes in many parts of the world — in Bosnia, in Chechnya, and in Azerbaijan. Our confidence in our ability to resolve conflicts has been visibly shaken after the experiences of Somalia, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Liberia, Rwanda and Burundi.”

Independence for Jammu & Kashmir

After applauding the success of the Dayton Agreement and the restoration of peace and justice in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Benazir Bhutto stated that the world has to pass the “acid test” of preventing genocide and aggression in the future.

Raising the issue of Kashmir, she said, “Yet there is another place on Earth where there is a test of strength between the principles of law and freedom and the force of aggression and foreign occupation. After the creation of the United Nations, the people of Jammu and Kashmir were among the first to have their right to self-determination recognized by the Security Council.”

Benazir Bhutto explained to the UN General Assembly members that the waves of freedom that swept the entire world in 1989 were welcomed by a new generation of Kashmiris, who rose to demand their right to self-determination.

She said, “To suppress the brave Kashmiri youth, India sent in 600,000 military and paramilitary forces. The tools of murder, torture, rape, persecution, arson, incarceration and assassination attempts were ruthlessly used. But as the Nobel Peace Laureate Martin Luther King said, “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor. It must be demanded by the oppressed.”

The deceased Prime Minister continued, “Forty thousand Kashmiris have given their lives in opposing this oppression during the last seven years alone. India has recruited and trained renegades to subvert the Kashmiri movement, to create dissension and to tarnish the image of the struggle for freedom.”

Read more: Benazir Bhutto Leadership Program at Harvard: Who is putting the bill?

“Under mounting international pressure, India sought this September to divert world opinion by organizing a sham election. Those very people who claim to be front-runners in the elections cannot even enter the valley without armed escorts, much less muster popular support.”

Criticizing the sham elections staged by New Delhi, which were widely criticized and boycotted by the people of occupied Kashmir, Benazir said, “The Chairman of the Kashmir All Parties Hurriyat Conference, Mir Umar Farooq, declared that such elections cannot be a substitute for the Kashmiris’ right to self-determination.”

Demands for Plebiscite in Kashmir

Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto had demanded the Kashmiri right to self-determination, as guaranteed by the UNSC resolutions with regards to the territorial dispute.

Citing a UNSC resolution, Benazir said, “The United Nations Security Council declared in resolution 122 (1957) that the organization of such elections does not “constitute a disposition of the State (resolution 122 (1957), operative para. 1) in terms of the plebiscite to be held under the auspices of the United Nations. This was confirmed by a recent study by the International Commission of Jurists.”

Countering Indian arguments against a plebiscite, Benazir said, “India may argue that the Security Council resolutions that guaranteed a plebiscite to Jammu and Kashmir are old, but there is no statute of limitations on United Nations resolutions. Occupation, repression and annexation cannot nullify the actions of the Security Council itself.”

She raised Pakistan’s demands for a plebiscite to be held in occupied Jammu & Kashmir, “The resolutions of this body cannot be applied selectively only when politically expedient. Pakistan calls on the United Nations to implement its own Security Council resolutions 47 (1948), 51 (1948), 80 (1950), 96 (1951), 98 (1952) and 122 (1957) — seven specific and binding resolutions guaranteeing self-determination to the people of Jammu and Kashmir.”

Benazir stated that “Kashmir is the core issue that divides India and Pakistan.” The former Prime Minister of Pakistan said that she had proposed meaningful dialogue to the then Indian Prime Minister, however, despite his positive response, New Delhi chose to pursue a “strategy of a sham election in occupied Jammu and Kashmir.”

She said, “The Kashmir dispute has led to four direct or indirect wars between India and Pakistan between 1947 and 1971. India has the third-largest army in the world today, almost all of which is deployed against my country Pakistan.”

Read more: Benazir Bhutto: An Intangible Legacy

Benazir had proposed a multi-lateral conference in the 51st session of the UNGA, demanding the participation of Pakistan, India, the five permanent members of the Security Council, and other major powers, including Japan and Germany. She said, “This multilateral conference could cover three critical areas: first, the resolution of the Kashmir dispute and other bilateral problems between India and Pakistan; secondly, the promotion of conventional arms control and confidence-building measures; and thirdly, measures to promote nuclear restraint and avert the danger of a nuclear-arms race in South Asia.”

“I believe that such multilateral talks offer a framework for genuine negotiations that can lead to a resolution of disputes, avert the nuclear threat and promote prosperity in South Asia. I hope this proposal will receive the support of this Assembly and of India.”

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