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Friday, April 12, 2024

Lessons for Kashmir from the Khalistan Referendum

Thousands of Sikhs across the United Kingdom took part in a referendum for an independent Sikh homeland, Khalistan, at the Queen Elizabeth Centre near the British parliament on Sunday — the day when Indian premier Indira Gandhi was assassinated in 1984 for ordering Operation Blue Star in a bid to curb the Sikh movement. But this event has some very important lessons for the people of Kashmir, laments Dr Farid A Malik.

In the year 2019, the Hindu fascist regime of Narendra Modi decided to go after the Sikhs in Punjab and the Muslims in Kashmir, the two areas under the non-Hindu rule. East Punjab is the food basket of India, where Sikh farmers are affluent. Their hard work combined with the rich fertile land of the five rivers has given them both money and confidence. Modi conspired to take control of their lands by imposing restrictions while forcing them to sell their produce to the large Corporations denying them free market access. The Sikhs strongly retaliated. The Khalistan Referendum voting, which kick-started on October 31 in London, will continue to take place across the UK throughout the month of November

They marched to New Delhi, demanding freedom from the Hindu State. Their protest and ‘Dharna’ are ongoing. For a united front, the International Sikh community decided to hold referendums in all the important international capitals. After the very first referendum in London, where the Sikhs overwhelmingly voted to leave the Indian Union, ‘Hindutva’ caved in.  The Prime Minister (PM) decided to withdraw his Agriculture Reforms package. Like the Kashmiris, the Sikh community now realizes the past blunder of their leadership in deciding to stay in the union. It may prove to be the unbundling of India where secularism has failed. A ‘Hindu Brahmin’ state may be in the making where minorities will no longer exist.

Read more: Sahiwal coal plant and the smog crisis

The big question is, Why have the Sikhs succeeded while Kashmiris have not?

The answer is simple, ‘Internationalization of the Conflict’. For a unified stand, an international forum called ‘Sikhs for Justice’ (SJF) was created. Through SFJ, the community reached out for the world to understand their plight under ‘ Hindu Fascism ‘.  India declared the Sikh struggle for freedom as terrorism as it called for the dismemberment of the Indian Union. Now India was at the receiving end. In 1971 it succeeded in convincing the world that the Indian supported ‘Mukti Bihani’ armed struggle against Pakistan was a freedom movement that eventually led to the creation of Bangladesh.

In the recently concluded T-20 Cricket matches, there was nostalgia to see the Pakistani flags in the hands of our Bengali brethren who had started the movement for the creation of an Islamic state. The Islamic Republic in the Indian sub-continent was their idea, for which the All-India Muslim League (AIML) was formed in 1906 at Decca. It was this party that created the land of the pure. During the martial law regime of Ayub Khan, when they protested for their democratic rights, they were asked to leave. Their answer was, “We are Pakistan how can we leave”. Finally, East Pakistan became Bangladesh which was a great tragedy for the Muslims of the Indian Sub-continent.

The Kashmiri struggle for freedom is much older which has always been misunderstood and mismanaged. While the people of the sub-continent were struggling against the British Colonists, the Kashmiris were fighting against the repressive Dogra Rule in addition to getting rid of the Raj. The issue of autonomy and freedom was important for them. Their leadership was divided. Some wanted freedom while others had leanings for secular India or Islamic Pakistan. While Sheikh Abdullah was lured by Jahawar Lal Nehru, Sardar Ibrahim decided to launch his struggle from Azad Kashmir. He led his Muslim Conference (MC) from Muzaffarabad.

The Liberation League headed by K.H Khurshid also came into being on this side of the border. Abdullah was inducted as the first Prime Minister of Kashmir after the partition of the Indian Sub-continent but when he exercised his autonomy, he was removed and imprisoned. Today after over seven decades, the Kashmiris like the Sikhs are united in getting out of the Indian Union. It is time to internationalize their struggle. The world must know about their plight. Kashmir is for Kashmiris; they have to decide their future course. Recently Imran Khan made it clear that Pakistan will stand by the results of the plebiscite even if the people of Kashmir decide on an independent state.

Read more: Pakistani politicians and their dishonourable conduct

Imran Khan’s support for Kashmir 

While two very successful models of struggle (Khalistan, Bangladesh) exist, there are lessons to be learned for the liberation of Kashmir. Indian designs of neutralizing the Muslim majority have to be exposed at all forums. Referendums have to be organized all over the world to determine the will of the people. United Kingdom (UK) has a large expatriate community. The first vote should take place in London, followed by New York where the Kashmiris should exercise their will in a free environment. Pakistan has a role to play but the Kashmiris have to lead their freedom struggle. ‘

The Foreign Office (FO) under Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (ZAB) highlighted the Kashmir cause but after that, no concentrated efforts have been made. The speech of the PM in the recently held General Assembly session of the United Nations was brilliant but after that, there was no follow-up action by the FO. The strategy is seriously flawed for which the people of Kashmir and Pakistan have to pay a high price. Kashmir issue is the unfinished agenda of the partition of the Indian Sub-continent in 1947 that has to be resolved for peace in the region. While several Asian Tigers have emerged both India and Pakistan have been held back due to the arms build-up and wars.

There have been three armed conflicts (1947, 1965, 1971) between the two countries that have now developed Nuclear Arsenals. Pakistan lost a great opportunity to liberate the valley during the 1962 Indo-China war. The effort in 1965 was botched up so was the conflict in 1971.

Kashmir has to be brought on the world’s radar. There have to be seminars and discussions on electronic media together with street marches all over the globe. In 1971, even music concerts were arranged by India in support of the Bengali resistance movement. At the peak of the civil war in East Pakistan, there were around 50,000 soldiers while in Kashmir the Indian Army strength stands around 700,000 which is one of the largest concentrations of troops anywhere in the world. India has so far succeeded in containing the Kashmiri voices from reaching the world which must be countered for the struggle to succeed.

Read more: Who dreams of Purana Pakistan? -Dr Farid A Malik

The liberation of Kashmir will bring peace to the region, resulting in the much-needed socio-economic development of the people of India, Pakistan and Kashmir. It is in the best interests of the region to settle Kashmir according to the aspirations of its people. Kashmiris have to take charge of their movement and the land where they have lived for centuries. The Khalistan approach is effective which should be replicated. Cracks have started to appear in the Indian Union which is now under the Fascist Hindu regime of the Butcher of Gujrat where minorities are unsafe, referendum is the only way out.


The writer is Ex-Chairman Pakistan Science Foundation. He can be reached at email fmaliks@hotmail.com. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy