There are plenty of actors to blame for the fact that Kashmir has been under illegal occupation for more than 70 years. The fault primarily lies, of course, with the Indian occupiers themselves but the international community, including the United Nations, must share some responsibility too. Since 1948, the UN has passed multiple resolutions calling for the peaceful resolution of the conflict between India and Pakistan and for a plebiscite to be held to allow the Kashmiris to determine their own future. For India, the idea of Kashmiris having any say is anathema and so these resolutions have always been vetoed, first by then-Indian ally the Soviet Union and now by the US. If there is ever to be an end to the occupation, it will require the UN to finally step up and play its proper role. This is the gist of what Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told United Nations General Assembly President Maria Fernanda Espinosa during their meeting in Islamabad on Friday. Realistically, though, there is very little the UN can do to force India to withdraw its troops from Kashmir. The structure of the UN, which gives permanent members of the Security Council veto power, forestalls any action being taken.
Still, the UN does have a role to play in minimising human rights abuses in Kashmir. Last year’s report by UN Office of the High Commission of Human Rights on the situation in Kashmir bought world attention to Indian atrocities and for the first time committed the UN to sending observers to the region. India has blocked this move but the UN needs to make clear which side is preventing an independent investigation. The UN also needs to be more forceful in condemning the use of rubber bullets on civilians that have blinded thousands, including many children. It should speak out against the daily humiliations inflicted on the Kashmiri people. From curfews to shutdown of internet and mobile services and censorship of media, life under occupation is brutal and dehumanising.
Unfortunately, the signs are that the UN does not want to antagonise India. Speaking at a press conference in New York, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said that it was up to India and Pakistan to engage in a meaningful dialogue without pointing out that it is India which has made such dialogue impossible. He also seemed to consider the human rights report proof that the UN has done whatever it can rather than admitting that it was just the first small step the body had to take to live up to its responsibilities. Like most countries of the world, the UN too seems to be lenient on India because of its economic and political power – and it is once again the Kashmiri people who have to suffer because of this.