“Kashmir, World’s Most Beautiful Prison”: Cushnahan
21 July 2004
News Network International
Strasbourg: The European Parliament's Ad Hoc Delegation from the Committee on Foreign Affairs, Human Rights, Common Security and Defence Policy, headed by Mr. John Walls Cushnahan, former MEP, held a press conference on its visit to Azad Kashmir and Indian Occupied Kashmir, the later being described as 'the world's most beautiful prison.' Addressing a large gathering of international journalists, Mr. Cushnaman presented the Delegation's summary report and recommendations. Viewing Kashmir as a regional issue with international implications, the European Parliament's ad hoc delegation to Kashmir endorsed the European Union position that 'The EU can offer its own unique experience as an example of building peace and forging partnerships that will stand the test of time because they are rooted in established structures for cooperation.' Following its two visits to both sides of the Kashmir divide, the delegation made the certain recommendations We believe that there are three parties which have a legitimate interest in finding a solution to the Kashmir problem, the Indian government, the Pakistan government and the Kashmiri people and their representatives, and therefore that all three should be fully involved.' While the delegation made it clear that it supports the current India-Pakistan dialogue, they also recognized that at least one of these parties would find any form of direct involvement (classified as 'interference') as unacceptable, nonetheless as members of a democratically elected parliament, representing over 450 million people, the delegation maintained that there are three parties with a legitimate interest in being involved in finding a solution – the Indian government, the Pakistan government and the Kashmiri people and their representatives. The delegation understood the Kashmiris' fear that a solution could be imposed upon them and, therefore recommended that there be 'tripartite' talks that include all parts of Kashmir. The delegation unequivocally repudiates the use of all terrorism and violence. We also believe that continued abuse of human rights on all sides feeds the cycle of violence. In addition, we strongly recommend better monitoring of all detainees.' While urging the creation of an environment conducive to breaking the cycle of violence and human rights abuses, the delegation also recognized that the reported human rights abuses by Indian security forces continues to feed this cycle of violence. In the Indian Occupied Kashmir, there is a huge military presence, with approximately 1 soldier to every 10 civilians in Jammu and Kashmir. The psychological pressures of 'stop and search' practices and the sense of being in a war zone are strong. We support the recent emphasis on confidence-building measures as part of the current peace process and ensuing dialogue between India and Pakistan. However, we believe that the dialogue must be meaningful and have real substance.' The delegation welcomed the new emphasis which began in spring 2003 initiated by then Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee and followed up by bold initiatives on the part of President Musharraf of Pakistan, as well as the composite dialogue between India and Pakistan, which was a very positive outcome of the 6 January 2004 SAARC Summit. However, fears were expressed that this new dialogue would be no different ('no one was ready to meet the aspiration of the Kashmiri people') and that everything so far had been 'a stage-managed show.' The message that the delegation heard time and again was that unless it made a difference to life in Kashmir, the process was 'not useful.' The hopes expressed by Kashmiris remarkably modest 'We don't want to be a superpower – we just want to be allowed to join hands.' One of the ways they suggested that this could be achieved is to obtain the freedom to travel across the Ceasefire Line to visit family and friends without the need for visas. The technical difficulty with this involves documentation in that visas or passports would imply recognition of the Ceasefire Line as a de facto international border, which would clearly not be acceptable. 'We would propose that a conference involving academics and relevant experts from both sides of Kashmir, India, Pakistan, as well as from the EU, be held to examine options for conflict resolution.' The delegations encouraged further development of cross-border academic meetings and exchanges. Moreover, the delegation believed that the EU could provide an input by funding a conference, possibly to be held in two separate sessions, one in Indian Occupied Kashmir and one in Azad Kashmir, with experts on conflict resolutions. And the European Parliament could host meetings in Brussels or Strasbourg for parliamentarians from Pakistan, India and the two parts of Kashmir. We would call upon the new Indian government, in the new climate, to reconsider its position on UNMOGIP (United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan), and to enable it to properly carry out its UN mandate by once again allowing and facilitating equal access for UNMOGIP to the Indian-administered side of the Ceasefire Line.' UNMOGIP, based in Rawalpindi, Pakistan in the winter and in Srinagar, India in the summer, goes back to an engagement undertaken in 1949. Its mandate is to remain neutral, to monitor events, to investigate all the incidents which take place (incursions, shelling etc.) on and around the Ceasefire Line, and to report back to the UN. The delegation called upon the new Indian government to enable UNMOGIP to properly carry out its mandate by allowing and facilitating equal access to them to Indian Occupied Kashmir. Perhaps one of the most important objectives of the delegation's visits was to meet and speak directly with the Kashmiris themselves and to assess the situation on the ground. While many Kashmiris expressed their delight at the interest being taken by the European Parliament, it is difficult for them not to lose faith in the international community given that they have not really shown any enduing commitment to the problems of Kashmir nor have they stayed long enough to get a sense of the real dimension of the Kashmir issue. . The delegation expressed the firm conviction that the European Parliament must continue to engage with Kashmir by keeping open the lines of communication and continuing to track events. Mr. Cushnahan concluded by stating that this delegation strongly recommended that the European Parliament's Committee on Foreign Affairs appoint a standing rapporteur on Kashmir to be the focal point of contact of the European Parliament and the people of Kashmir.