Over the past week after the Russian annexation of Crimea, global politics have completely changed. The annexation which took place after a controversial ‘referendum’ shows that the aspirations of people are more powerful than politically drawn borders.

Yet, many political observers see the Russian backing of the referendum as damage control after Moscow lost its ally in former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych after many weeks of protests.

India which is an important and old time ally of Russia, faces a new predicament and a new set of worries after the Crimean annexation, the dilemma being, do they back Russia – their oldest friend – or oppose it? Whichever decision it makes, India will be forced to confront the reality of secessionist movements in the northeast and a Kashmiri movement for independence.

For India, holding on to Kashmir has meant dismissing the calls of referendum by the people of Kashmir, at times even using disproportionate force which resulted in massacres and crackdown on protesters including minors. Ironically, it was India that brought the case of Kashmir to the United Nations in 1949 after which the UN called for a plebiscite in Kashmir, both in Indian Kashmir and Pakistani Kashmir.

India’s political stalwart and first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, promised the people of Kashmir a plebiscite in a broadcast from New Delhi in November 1948,

“We have declared that the fate of Kashmir is ultimately to be decided by the people. That pledge we have given, and the Maharaja has supported it, not only to the people of Kashmir but to the world. We will not, and cannot back out of it. We are prepared when peace and law and order have been established to have a referendum held under international auspices like the United Nations. We want it to be a fair and just reference to the people and we shall accept their verdict. I can imagine no fairer and more just offer.”

But India backed out after making this promise to the people of Kashmir and signing the UN resolution calling for a plebiscite in Kashmir. And now the official line is ‘Kashmir is an integral part of India’.

Interestingly, they deny the war crimes committed in Kashmir by the Indian armed forces which sure doesn’t happen in any ‘integral part’. Just like the absolute mockery of justice in open and shut cases of rapes, massacres and enforced-disappearances, this claim of an ‘integral part’ is as hollow as its claim of ‘peace in Kashmir’ – peace which perhaps can be found in the pause between deaths of Kashmiris.

With the US calling for sanctions on Russia, it remains to be seen which side India will choose to be on. Will it choose to side with the west and lose a key ally in Russia – a long-term setback or side with its long-time ally Russia, essentially making it an international hypocrite?

Crimea has quite literally thrown a spanner in geo-politics. It is akin to the cold war where either you are with a country or against them. India chose to be non-aligned during the cold war but with its military progress and the possibility of becoming an economic superpower, this is no longer a choice that India has which further pushes it against the wall.

It is strange that the referendum happened in Crimea without any blood being spilled unlike Kashmir which has bled enough to give legitimacy to the calls of referendum and secession in the international polity. It is also ironic how India voted against Sri Lanka in a UN resolution indicting the island country for war crimes in Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) strongholds while India commits the same war crimes in Kashmir, with rampant impunity and with laws such as the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act which gives its troops the licence to kill.

Referendum remains a national dream for Kashmiris. They have been waiting for it since the promise made by India and Pakistan and guaranteed by the UN in 1949.

In 2008 and 2010, Kashmiris stepped out by the hundreds and thousands in peaceful rallies to call for a referendum. But it was met with brute force. Later, the Indian backed government jailed the freedom leadership, killed over 120 Kashmiri protestors most of whom were teenagers, banned SMS services and local media.

Is India, one of the largest democracies of the world, afraid that its ‘integral part’ will vote to be independent if it holds a referendum?

Vladimir Putin thanked India for its position on Crimea in his speech after signing the treaty to accede Crimea into Russia. In his speech, he also questioned the US for supporting freedom but not in Crimea.

I would ask India the same question – if it supports freedom elsewhere, why not in Kashmir?

With the developments in Crimea and the NATO pull-out in Afghanistan, geo-politics may change into another cold war. But it still remains to be seen whether Kashmir will feature in these changes or whether the Kashmiri people will have to wait a little longer for freedom.

If only Kashmir had oil, things would have changed a long time back.

The Express Tribune

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