Presently, the world is witnessing two major conflicts in Asia; one is of Kashmir and the other is of Hong Kong. Both of these conflicts have their roots back in the long-gone British Empire. The grubby legacy of British imperialism is still alive and kicking in these regions. Amy Hawkins, a celebrated author testifies to this very fact in following words: “the world is reaping the chaos the British Empire sowed and the locals are still paying for the mess that British left behind in Hong Kong and Kashmir”.
Indeed, in Kashmir, the British left a bleeding wound amid the partition of colonial India and in Hong Kong, a major cosmopolis that is neither truly an independent identity, nor a part of mainland China. They picked up their union Jack and departed, leaving behind a ruinous legacy for decades and generations to bleed.
'In Kashmir, the British left a bleeding wound amid the partition of colonial India.
— Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) September 27, 2019
Chronologically, Hong Kong became a colony of the British Empire after Qing China ceded Hong Kong Island at the end of the First Opium War in 1842. The colony expanded to the Kowloon Peninsula in 1860 after the Second Opium War and was further extended when Britain obtained a 99-year lease of the New Territories in 1898. The territory was transferred to China in 1997. As a special administrative region, Hong Kong maintains separate governing and economic systems from that of mainland China under the principle of “one country, two systems“.
This meant that while becoming part of one country with China, Hong Kong would enjoy “a high degree of autonomy, except in foreign and defense affairs” for 50 years. But what both China and Britain had neglected to consider was the fact that a nation of almost eight million human beings throughout a long colonial and postcolonial history had accumulated a robust collective memory of its own, which was neither British nor mainland Chinese – it was distinct. They have developed the feelings of one nation which is far different from that of the British and Chinese. They call themselves as “Hong Kongers” and are now struggling for their rights against the hostile and domineering central government.
Under Article 370, Kashmir controlled its own affairs, apart from foreign policy, defense, or communications, and Article 35A restricted outsiders from buying land.
Similarly, Kashmir came under the control of the British when in 1845, the First Anglo-Sikh War broke out, and Gulab Singh “contrived to hold himself aloof till the battle of Sobraon (1846), when he appeared as a useful mediator and the trusted advisor of Sir Henry Lawrence. Two treaties were concluded. By the first the State of Lahore (West Punjab) handed over to the British, as equivalent for (rupees) 10 million of indemnity, the hill countries between Beas and Indus; by the second the British made over to Gulab Singh for (Rupees) 7.5 million all the hilly or mountainous country situated to the east of Indus and west of Ravi” (the Vale of Kashmir).
The Treaty of Amritsar freed Gulab Singh from obligations towards the Sikhs and made him the Maharajah of Jammu and Kashmir. The Dogras’ loyalty came in handy to the British during the revolt of 1857 which challenged British rule in India. Dogras refused to provide sanctuary to mutineers, allowed English women and children to seek asylum in Kashmir and sent Kashmiri troops to fight on behalf of the British.
— कश्मीरी کوٗشُر (@TheKashmiris) April 23, 2016
British in return rewarded them by securing the succession of Dogra rule in Kashmir. A century later, Kashmir was sucked into the bloody partition of India and Pakistan in the aftermath of the British departure from the sub-continent, with both post-colonial states having a mutually exclusive claim on its territory. Thus, the British imperialists showed criminal indifference and torpor to resolve the issue of Kashmir and deliberately left it to be a bone of contention between the two rival countries for the decades to come.
Consequently, today Kashmir stands as a nuclear flashpoint between the two nuclear-armed countries and the Kashmiris are, unfortunately, reaping the chaos that the British Empire sowed nearly eight decades back. What is now happening in Indian Occupied Kashmir is quite pathetic. The Indian government has suddenly revoked the region’s special status, previously protected in the Indian Constitution. New Delhi has imposed a digital and telecommunications blackout in Jammu and Kashmir, so less is known about what actually is happening there. But few days back, the BBC released a video showing tear gas and ammunition being used against protestors after Friday prayers in Srinagar, the region’s largest city. The New York Times also reported on hospitals bereft of staff and locals beaten up for venturing outside to buy milk; one doctor described the situation as a “living hell.”
Under this new dispensation, Kashmir is to be ruled directly from Delhi as a Union Territory. The last time Kashmir was ruled directly from Delhi, from 1990 to 1996, it witnessed human rights violations on a massive scale, with extrajudicial killings, torture, rape, disappearances, firing on unarmed demonstrators, burning of homes, crops, and standing harvests, and a complete clampdown on all political activity. The possibility of repeating the same episode and this time more intensively is loud and clear.
Hong Kong too, nowadays, is witnessing huge demonstrations. The protests began in June over plans – later put on ice, and finally withdrawn in September – that would have allowed extradition from Hong Kong to mainland China. But they’ve now spread to reflect wider demands for democratic reforms.
Currently, Hong Kong’s leader, the chief executive, is elected by a 1,200-member election committee – a mostly pro-Beijing body chosen by just 6% of eligible voters.
Not all the 70 members of the territory’s lawmaking body, the Legislative Council, are directly chosen by Hong Kong’s voters. Most seats not directly elected are occupied by pro-Beijing lawmakers.
Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law, says ultimately both the leader and the Legislative Council, should be elected in a more democratic way – but there’s been disagreement over what this should look like.
The Chinese government said in 2014 that it would allow voters to choose their leaders from a list approved by a pro-Beijing committee, but critics called this a “sham democracy” and it was voted down in Hong Kong’s legislature.
However, Beijing has not explicitly scrapped “one country, two systems,” but recent events have made clear that rapid assimilation into China is a priority for the Chinese Communist Party. The patchwork arrangement that characterized the British Empire in Asia is no longer tolerated by the leaders who inherited the imperial spoils—the goal is now total control.
Constitutionally, there was supposed to be some continuity between the governance of Hong Kong and Kashmir in the transition from the colonial to the post-colonial era. Both regions were recognized as being distinct from the countries that they were part of and therefore, granted special protections on that basis. In Hong Kong, the “one country, two systems” framework was introduced to guarantee Hong Kongers the way of life until 2047.
In Jammu and Kashmir, these protections were, however, even more robust, enshrined in the Indian Constitution. Under Article 370, Kashmir controlled its own affairs, apart from foreign policy, defense, or communications, and Article 35A restricted outsiders from buying land. “Under Article 370, it’s arguable that Kashmir had more independence than any part of India. It gave Kashmir more autonomy over its own affairs on a regional basis. But both were revoked by the fascist Modi regime making good on his election promise to end Kashmir’s special status, which he deemed as a tremendous hindrance in its integration with the rest of India.
"For both Kashmir and Hong Kong, there was supposed to be constitutional continuity."
— TRT World (@trtworld) October 2, 2019
To cap it all, what the world is seeing today in Asia in the shape of Kashmir and Hong Kong conflicts, is in fact result of the ill-conceived policies of the long-gone British Empire. It is, therefore, incumbent on the UK to take a lead in resolving these matters of urgency by using its international clout and thereby redress its historical blunders. Since the UK is a permanent member of the UNSC; it must exert diplomatic pressure on the UN to get these issues resolved at its earliest.
Abdul Rasool Syed is a Legal Practitioner and a columnist based in Quetta, Balochistan. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.