South Asia Research and Analysis Studies

Mere regrets over historical mistakes?
Dr. Raja Muhammad Khan

This is beyond doubt that Britain is responsible for most of the interstate or intrastate territorial and ethnic issues that arose in those parts of the world where it remained as a colonial power. Kashmir is one such issue, which was left unresolved at the end of over 300 years British colonial rule in the Subcontinent. The incumbent British Prime Minister Mr. David Cameron has been bold enough in accepting this historical remorse in a recent statement, during his visit to Pakistan. The visiting Premier once questioned to play a mediatory role towards the settlement of the issue, denied to do that. However, he accepted the mistakes committed by Britain during the colonialism. He said that, “‘I don’t want to try to insert Britain in some leading role where, as with so many of the world’s problems, we are responsible for the issue in the first place.”

Whereas the Prime Minister Cameron was appreciated in Pakistan and by oppressed Kashmiri people for making such a public recognition over Kashmir, he was criticized at home, demanding public apologies by him on acceptance of British past mistakes. Those criticizing him feel that, “UK should stop being embarrassed about its colonial past.” They believe that this colonial rule over a vast majority of the world was a pride for Britain. After all during this prolonged rule Britain taught its former colonies the democratic norms of living and governing in this modern world. Even Prime Minister Cameron had once said, that, “we must never forget that Britain is a great country with a history we can be truly proud of. Our culture, language and inventiveness have shaped the modern world.” Despite, there have been many occasions where British leaders have publically accepted and apologized for the Britain’s discriminatory treatment with the local residents during the colonial rule. For instance, the former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, made a public apology from Irish people in 1997 for the “famine the country suffered in the mid-19th century.” He also expressed his “deep sorrow” over the enslavement of the Africans by Britain. Indeed, recognition of the past mistakes and apologizing on them is a good tradition by the new British leadership. But, on some of deliberate blunders like Kashmir, this may not be enough. Britain remained and still maintains a dominant position in the international politics, where it could pursue a negotiated settlement of this long outstanding global issue.

The disputed nature of the Kashmir issue in general and human rights violations there in particular is gaining the attention of international community, but hardly there have been any focused attempt to undo the past mistake. Even Britain has supported all the UN resolutions on Kashmir, calling for the settlement of the issue and its successive leadership too have been emphasizing for its solution. More recently, in January 2009, David Miliband, the former British Foreign Secretary emphatically accentuated on resolution of the Kashmir issue during his visit of India. The issue indeed is the unfinished agenda of the partition of Subcontinent, implemented through Indian Independence Act, passed by British Parliament in July 1947. Indeed it was the Last Viceroy of India, Lord Mountbatten, a representative of British Crown, who hunched on to the desires of Indian leadership and manipulated through boundary commission to include the Muslim majority areas of Gurdaspur in India to give it a geographical contiguity with Jammu and Kashmir.

Earlier, in another article, entitled, ‘war on terror was wrong’, published in ‘The Guardian’ on January 15, 2009, David Miliband particularly stated that, “On my visit to South Asia this week, I am arguing that the best antidote to the terrorist threat in the long term is cooperation. Although I understand the current difficulties, resolution of the dispute over Kashmir would help deny extremists in the region one of their main call to arms, and allow Pakistani authorities to focus more effectively on tackling the threat on their western borders”. Upon Indian protest over the statement, British Government clarified that this statement indeed is the official stance of the UK Government.

Earlier President Obama, had revealed his resilience to establish peace in South Asia by making earnest efforts to resolve unsettled dispute of Jammu and Kashmir. In an interview he said that, “We should try to resolve the Kashmir crisis so that Pakistan can stay focused not on India, But on the situation with those militants?” This statement was an indicative of the fact that unless Kashmir issue is resolved quickly and amicably, tension arising out of it would continue to prevail in the region. French Government also supported the US President‘s statement for the resolution of Kashmir issue. United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon has also offered his facilitative role for the solution of the Kashmir issue; provided India and Pakistan agree to this or else request him to do so. Chinese position is very clear on Kashmir. China declares Kashmir as the disputed state so much so that, it does not issue visas to Kashmiri nationals on Indian passport. Russia too desires a peaceful settlement of the issue, unlike the role of former Soviet Union. Under the prevailing situation, once there is a global realization also, mere acceptance and even being apologetic for the colonial blunders by British Prime Minister and may be many others, would not make much of the difference. Over the years, the unresolved issue of Kashmir has given birth to many other problems in South Asia having global implications. Nuclearization of the region is one such danger, really threatening the regional security and global peace. Today even after the passage of sixty-four years, there still remains the danger of wars without any economic integrity and long term prospects of peace.

Furthermore, the growing water problem arising between India and Pakistan having its origin in the Kashmir dispute is rapidly heading towards a conflict. This aspect was even highlighted by US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations in a recent report entitled, “Avoiding Water Wars” in South and Central Asia. Being an illegitimate occupant of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, India is in the process of building over a hundred large and small dams and water storages over the Western rivers, totally dedicated for Pakistani use, in complete violation of the Indus Water Treaty.

If international community really desires to bring peace and stability in South Asia, then there would be a requirement of a deliberate and dedicated effort to undo the historical wrongs by resolving the Kashmir dispute as per the wishes of the people of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. It is considered view that resolution of this issue would resolve all other issues directly or indirectly linked with it, including Afghanistan.