Ahmer Bilal Soofi speaks at the PIIA on Thursday.—Tahir Jamal/White Star
Ahmer Bilal Soofi speaks at the PIIA on Thursday.—Tahir Jamal/White Star

KARACHI: The pre-lunch session on the second and final day (Thursday) of the conference on Kashmir organised by the Pakistan Institute of International Affairs (PIIA) proved to be an extremely engaging one.

Eminent journalist and human rights activist I.A. Rehman, who presided over the session, said if issues were left [like that], they became permanent. Kashmir’s was primarily a humanitarian issue. Kashmir today was one of the most magnificent and marvellous struggles for self-determination. We should salute the spirit of freedom that had inspired people [in Kashmir]. It’s the issue of Kashmiris, not of India or Pakistan. Pakistan at best was their counsel.

Mr Rehman said the abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian constitution was not a sudden thing. Modi and his party had announced that they’re going to do that much earlier. Did we listen to them? We reacted only when it had been done. “We must remember that it is the will of the Kashmiri people that we have to defend.”

Mr Rehman said we were repeating our arguments to ourselves. “Have we examined India’s arguments? More importantly, have we examined what the other countries are saying?” In order to understand the situation we must realise that today in Kashmir there’s a national struggle for self-determination. It’s a national struggle and we shouldn’t communalise it. “How many delegations have we sent to countries which are opposing us? It’s a long haul. It’s not going to be solved tomorrow or the day after tomorrow. We should be patient.”

Mr Rehman asked, with reference to the talk about President Donald Trump’s offer to mediate between Indian and Pakistan, whether Trump had commented on Article 370. “Has Mr Trump taken a position on what India has been doing? He would only tell you baba jo ho gaya woh theek ho gaya.” It’s not a matter which would be resolved emotionally. Let’s not give juvenile responses, he argued.

Two-day conference on Kashmir concludes

Mr Rehman said our options from day one were limited. Our option was “let there be an upheaval and the world will come and intervene”. We should read the lines carefully. “Are our hands clean? We have created a problem for ourselves that no country takes us seriously.”

Quoting Riaz Khokhar’s speech on the first day of the moot, he stressed that we needed to strengthen ourselves internally. “Let’s talk to the people of Pakistan.”

Mr Rehman said great injustices were being done in Kashmir. “This is the cruellest, most brutal treatment that the people of Srinagar are being subjected to. How can anyone justify it? We must not be angry about it. We must be talking [about it] and talk to those who are not with us. Whatever we say we should be serious about it. It’s not a joke. Regardless of all of that, and whatever Modi will do, the people of Kashmir will fight on.”

Legal perspective

Earlier, Ahmer Bilal Soofi, founder of the Research Society of International Law, Islamabad, gave a speech on the legal perspective of the Kashmir issue.

He said in Pakistan we ignored research and the legal aspect of the challenges that the country was faced with. With respect to the Kashmir crisis, he pointed out that India through a legal document got something that it couldn’t get through military wars. In today’s jargon it’s called ‘lawfare’ [as in warfare], that is, to use international law in such a way that you achieve strategic targets that you otherwise wouldn’t. If you saw that Aug 5 document, it seemed [to Mr Soofi] that there was a team of 20 to 25 lawyers that worked on it for six months to a year, which was why they were able to rewire a very complex tapestry of the Indian constitution. It’s a controversial but plausible document. Whereas no legal team from our side worked like that.

Mr Soofi said there’s so much documentation on Kashmir that there had been regular moving of goalposts. The 1950s documentation tells us something else; the 1970s something else; there were international accords and official positions on them etc. The preparation in Pakistan on the Kashmir case left much to be desired. It’s unfortunate because it’s a case that the people of Pakistan had an emotional attachment to. We could give our lives for it but won’t do research (hum se jaan le lo, research na kerwao).

Mr Soofi suggested to the PIIA that it should gather some bright young lawyers at the institute supervised by him [Soofi], and ask them to use the archives from the PIIA library –– the material based on which a lawyer matured his analysis. “Let some intellectual contribution on Kashmir be generated from the city of Karachi,” he said.

Dr Rabia Akhtar, who is a member of Prime Minister’s advisory council on foreign affairs, gave a presentation on the ‘Post-Aug 5 Kashmir: political and strategic consequences’ and Altaf Hussain Wani, chairman of the Kashmir Institute of International Relations, Islamabad, spoke on the ‘Human rights violations in Kashmir’.

Published in Dawn, January 31st, 2020