Former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir Discusses Future of Region

The Honorable Omar Abdullah, the former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, delivered his first address at an American university in Gaston Hall on Tuesday. Abdullah discussed his tenure as chief minister and the road forward for the troubled region in his keynote address that closed out the Kashmir Conclave, a series of panel discussions on Kashmir.

The School of Foreign Service Asian Studies Program and the Georgetown-India Dialogue hosted the conclave, which included panels on “Security Concerns,” “Politics and Identity” and “Kashmir’s Importance Today in the India-Pakistan Relationship.”

Abdullah, 44, completed his six-year term as chief minister in December 2014, and is the youngest Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir in the 67-year history of the state. He is currently a Member of the Legislative Assembly and former president of the National Conference Party.

Abdullah comes from a prominent political family; both his grandfather and father both served as chief ministers of Jammu and Kashmir.

Berkley Center director and Vice President for Global Engagement Thomas F. Banchoff introduced Abdullah.

Banchoff thanked professor Irfan Nooruddin, the Asian Studies Program, and the Georgetown-India Dialogue for their participation, and spoke about Georgetown’s role in the day of panels.

“We are an institution with strong expertise and robust networks around international issues, and as an institution we are committed to promoting greater understanding and collaboration in the service of the global common good,” Banchoff said.

Abdullah began his talk by expressing his discontent that, after seven decades of skirmishes and protests over India’s and Pakistan’s land claims of Jammu and Kashmir, there is still so much controversy surrounding the area.

“I had hoped long before this that the issue would have been put to rest and that we would be discussing a whole lot of other things with regard to India and Pakistan, but not Jammu and Kashmir,” Abdullah said.

Abdullah focused much of the first part of his talk on explaining the history of the Kashmir land controversy.

“Although it started to be described by various presidents here and other influential people as the most dangerous place in the world, I dare say that perhaps at one point in time it might have been; it certainly isn’t today,” Abdullah said.

Abdullah said that the 1947 partition—when India and Pakistan came into existence — led to a number of issues, especially because Jammu and Kashmir had a Muslim majority and a Hindu ruler.

“Because Jammu and Kashmir is a Muslim majority state, Pakistan felt that it should naturally have been a part of Pakistan, and on the other side India felt that Jammu and Kashmir symbolized what India is supposed to be about, which was a pluralistic, secular society,” Abdullah said.

Jammu and Kashmir decided to stay an independent state following the partition and was subsequently invaded by Pakistani militants whose occupation continue even today in some regions. Despite this, India only agreed to help Jammu and Kashmir if the maharaja, the ruler of India, signed an instrument of accession. This instrument of accession gave India power over the state’s currency, communication, defense and foreign affairs.

Abdullah said that the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution stating that the responsibility was on Pakistan to remove its uniformed nationals from Jammu and Kashmir. After the Pakistani nationals are removed, responsibility is on India to scale back its presence in the contested area so that the people can choose a course of governance.

Abdullah then turned his attention to the future of Jammu and Kashmir and the path to resolving the conflict. Many things have changed since 1947, according to Abdullah. Not only is the Pakistani side of Jammu and Kashmir currently a very different ethnic make-up than it was in the past, but Pakistan has also ceded some of its territory to China.

Abdullah said that because Jammu and Kashmir did not technically merge with India, it cannot be treated on par with other states in the area, and that this is a key aspect of resolving the conflict.

“Militancy in Jammu and Kashmir has had a number of very tragic facets including an almost complete exodus of the Kashmiri Pandit community from Jammu and Kashmir,” Abdullah said.

Abdullah added that democratic and government institutions have almost disappeared, human rights are being denied, and security forces operate with a sense of almost complete immunity from prosecution under the civil courts.

“A solution to Jammu and Kashmir is not going to emerge out of violence, war, or terrorism,” Abdullah said. “After 25 years of militancy and countless deaths in Jammu and Kashmir, but not an inch of territory has moved either towards the west or towards the east.

Although levels of violence in Jammu and Kashmir are almost 80 percent lower than they were in 2000, nothing has changed in terms of the laws giving immunity to security forces. Abdullah called for the establishment of a truth and reconciliation commission to investigate war crimes over the past 25 years.

Abdullah ended his talk by saying that though there are barely any families in Jammu and Kashmir not touched by violence, it is no longer the dangerous place it once was.

“Don’t look at Jammu and Kashmir as the most dangerous place in the world,” Abdullah said. “It isn’t. It certainly is one of the most beautiful places in the world.”

Attendee Gonzalo Figar, a first-year Master of Science in Foreign Service student, said that the Kashmir conflict is one of the most uncontrollable global conflicts and that the world should be involved and concerned.

“The speech was pretty comprehensive and honest on behalf of an Indian politician,” Figar said of the keynote address. “It wasn’t an impartial speech, although of course I didn’t expect it to be. It was of course balanced more towards the Indian point of view, but he did raise some concern about India’s attitude too, so all-in-all it was very interesting.”

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