The Nicholson Report: Pakistani Propaganda Fails As Kashmiris Become The Focus

Mohd. Sadiq

25 March 2007

For several decades Pakistan's propaganda machinery sought to internationalise the Kashmir issue while seeking a global recognition for its claim on the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistan's propaganda had in fact ensured that the West's perception of the ground realities in Kashmir remained skewed despite Indian claims that the situation in its Kashmir region was strikingly different from the areas under Pakistani occupation. Despite the qualitative change in the situation in Indian Kashmir, Western perception continued to be mediated through Pakistan's negative propaganda. However, a report on the Kashmir situation drafted by British Member of the European Parliament (EP) and Rapporteur Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne has sought to project the actual ground situation in divided Kashmir. In her report, which was adopted by the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament (EP) on 23 March 2007, Nicholson has attempted to educate Western policymakers to evolve policies that focus on the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir. The run-up to the vote on 23 March 2007 was marked by an aggressive campaign by Pakistan and pro-Pakistan outfits to get the Nicholson report amended as most of its policy recommendations undermined Islamabad's position on the Kashmir issue. However, Pakistan's campaign across Western capitals failed and the report was passed with majority support to the recommendations made by Nicholson.


Assessing The Real Kashmir Situation
Baroness Nicholson had undertaken an extensive visit to Indian Kashmir and Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) early last year to assess the ground realties. The draft report to the EP titled 'Kashmir, Present Situation and Future Prospects' in fact is based on her meetings and discussions with a cross of section of people including government officials, politicians, human rights activists and Kashmiri people. In her 10-page long report with 44 recommendations, Nicholson had made several critical observations, most of which undermined Pakistan's longstanding position on the Kashmir issue. For Pakistan, the report was damning as Nicholson criticised Islamabad for not honouring its promise of ending infiltration of militants across the Line of Control (LoC). Moreover, Nicholson had also rejected Pakistan's demand for demilitarisation in Kashmir saying that such a step in the current situation would be counter-productive unless violence levels went down considerably. However, the main observation which rattled Pakistan was with regard to the demand for plebiscite to decide the final status of Jammu and Kashmir. In her report, Nicholson observed that the plebiscite demand was not reflective of the current needs of local people. Moreover, she said that the the plebiscite demand was, in fact, damaging to Kashmiris' interests. Nicholson's observations were damning for Pakistan which has for years claimed plebiscite or the right to self determination to be only possible solution for the Kashmir issue.

Though Pakistan for years had sought to keep Western focus on Indian Kashmir, the Nicholson report in fact sought to enlarge the sphere of Western understanding by including the Kashmir region under Pakistani and Chinese occupation. In her report, Nicholson urged Islamabad to revisit its concept of democratic accountability, minority and women's rights in PoK. Nicholson also berated Islamabad for consistently failing to introduce meaningful and representative democratic structures in PoK. In comparison, Nicholson was all praise for India which had held an internationally recognised free and fair elections in Kashmir few years back. Nicholson was also critical in her observations about the governance structures in the two parts of divided Kashmir. In her report she observed that PoK was governed through Islamabad-based Ministry of Kashmir Affairs. Nicholson was critical of the fact that Pakistani officials dominate the Kashmir Council besides which the Chief Secretary, the Inspector General of Police, the Accountant General and the Finance Secretary are all from Pakistan. But with regard to Indian Kashmir, Nicholson observed that the state enjoyed a unique status under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, granting it greater autonomy than other states in the Union.

Pakistan Propaganda Fails
The Nicholson report understandably rattled Pakistan as it undermined decades of propaganda undertaken by Islamabad in order to influence European powers. Predictably, Islamabad mounted an aggressive campaign to get the Nicholson report heavily amended. Pakistan's High Commissioner to Britain Maleeha Lodhi and several pro-Pakistan Kashmiri outfits based in Europe were key actors in the diplomatic offensive to convince European parliamentarians that the Nicholson report was extremely pro-India and needed to be amended heavily in order to prevent angry reactions in Pakistan. Many Kashmiri and Pakistani outfits as well as the Pakistan government launched a campaign against Baroness Nicholson accusing her of negating Kashmiri people's right to self-determination. Pro-Pakistan separatist outfits in Kashmir including the Hurriyat Conference argued that Nicholson and her delegation did not solicit the views of the separatists during her visit to Kashmir. However, observers said that since 1949 Pakistan had undermined the Kashmiris' right to self determination as it has denied this to the people in Northern Areas and Azad Kashmir (PoK). Even Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf had recently negated the possibility of an independent Kashmir. Moreover, Nicholson had observed in her report that before any plebiscite can take place, non Kashmiris including Punjabi and Pathan settlers from Gilgit and Baltistan must return to their native homes. She had also said that Pakistan and China should withdraw their armies from Aksai Chin and the Shaksgam Valley before a plebiscite could be considered. Some observers also say that the right of self-determination is a natural right of the Kashmiri people and no individual or report can deny it. What Nicholson has said in her report is that the ground realities have changed since the 1947 and today there are other pressing needs for Kashmiris such as employment and security. Observers also say that Western policymakers were not much aware of the plight of the people in Gilgit and Baltistan (Northern Areas). However, due to the Nicholson report there is now greater awareness in Western capitals about the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir.

Pakistan's campaign against the Nicholson report was based on the assertion that the British Rapporteur was anti-Kashmiri in her observations and therefore Kashmiris should reject the report in totality. However this is clearly wrong as Nicholson had sought to put the international focus on the Kashmiris by taking the debate outside the India-Pakistan prism. Most of the Pakistanis and Kashmiris in Europe who led the campaign against Nicholson were influenced by the anti-Nicholson diatribe in the Pakistani media. Observers say that while some of these outfits and individuals opposed the report for their own interests, others did because Islamabad told them to do so. However, the badly organised anti-Nicholson campaign by Pakistan only made her a household name in South Asia and gave more publicity to the report. The hate campaign against Nicholson saw her being branded as an Indian agent and anti-Kashmiri. However, by focussing on the author and not on the observations made in the report, Pakistan made a terrible miscalculation. The anti-Nicholson campaign in fact worked in favour of the Baroness and her critical report which got a wider readership across Western capitals.

Nicholson's report has been appreciated especially in the Northern Areas and PoK where people say that she had done them a favour by highlighting their plight. For years, Kashmiris living in areas occupied by Pakistan have lamented that the global focus was always on the India side of the Line of Control (LoC) and their plight was largely unnoticed. However, Nicholson's report has enlarged the global perception of Kashmiris by including those living in the areas under Pakistani control. Before the Nicholson report, very few leaders in the West were aware of the situation in Gilgit and Baltistan where thousands had died during riots in 2004. It was only after the massive international humanitarian assistance in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake in PoK in October 2005 that the West became aware of the stark contrast in the situation across divided Kashmir. For long, Pakistani policy was aimed at keeping international focus on the Indian side of the LoC by propagating a negative image across Western capitals. At the same time, Pakistan consistently sought to project a positive image of Azad Kashmir and generally sought to keep Northern Areas away from international focus. To Nicholson's credit, her report has changed all this and now the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir is on the international radar.

Amendments Fail To Kill Report
Pakistan's aggressive campaign ensured that a total of 450 amendments were proposed by several European parliamentarians of which 200 were shortlisted for discussion. However, only 28 amendments were incorporated with 60 members voting in favour, one against and 11 abstentions. Nicholson herself had proposed 16 amendments that were prepared with the assistance of shadow rapporteurs, representing various British parties in the EP. Though some of the amendments sought by Pakistan and pro-Pakistan outfits were incorporated, the Foreign Affairs Committee of the EP rejected most amendments that sought to undermine the critical observations made in the Nicholson report. For instance, Amendment No.12 deplored human rights violations in Indian Kashmir and urged authorities to undertaken steps to address this problem, Amendment No. 11 criticised human rights violations by Pakistan in Gilgit and Baltistan where more than 3,000 people died during riots in 2004. While Pakistan has always sought to internationalise the Kashmir issue, the Nicholson report has also put the Northern Areas on the radar of international scrutiny. While Pakistan sought to convince the EP to criticise the humanitarian situation in Indian Kashmir, Amendment No. 14 in fact deplored the continuing humanitarian and political situation in all of Jammu and Kashmir, including PoK and Northern Areas that are under Pakistani occupation. The vote in the EP was clearly a major loss for Pakistan. However, the approved amendments represented a major victory for Kashmiris as these focussed on the situation in the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir including the Northern Areas and PoK. Contrary to Pakistani propaganda, Nicholson accepted the amendments which indicated that she was neither anti Pakistan nor pro India but the only purpose of her report was to highlight the plight of the Kashmiri people on both sides of the LoC.

Kashmiris In Global FocusThe EP is all set to approve the Nicholson report when it meets for its plenary session on 23 May 2007. The support for the Nicholson report clearly indicated that Pakistan and its cohorts failed in their propaganda against the report. Most observers say that the anti-Nicholson campaign will die its natural death and then people will start appreciating the finer points of the report which seeks to advocate the cause of the Kashmiri people. Even on the issue of the right of self determination, Baroness Nicholson had only recommended that the ground situation in Kashmir today have changed drastically ever since the plebiscite demand was first made. By arguing that the real needs of the Kashmiri people today are food, employment and security, Nicholson has sought to infuse a humanist approach in Western perception of the Kashmir situation as till now it was looked only a potentially dangerous security problem in the Indian subcontinent. Through her report Nicholson has attempted to shift the international focus from the occasional India-Pakistan rumblings to the more urgent needs of the Kashmiri people. Even while praising the situation in Indian Kashmir, Nicholson has struck warning chords about human rights violations. Pakistan's knee-jerk reaction to the Nicholson report has turned out to be counterproductive as more people are wanting to read it across Western capitals. While the India-Pakistan bickering over Kashmir will continue for the foreseeable future, the Nicholson report marks a point of departure by projecting the Kashmiri people as the main point of reference for Western engagement with the undivided state of Jammu and Kashmir.

To read the draft Nicholson report, click the link below:
'Draft Report on Kashmir, Present Situation and Future Prospects'
Committee on Foreign Affairs Rapporteur: Baroness Nocholson of Winterbourne