India, Pakistan Exchange Harsh Words on Kashmir : Asia: At separate independence ceremonies, leaders give little sign of compromise on territorial dispute.
India and Pakistan entered their 48th year of independence this week by exchanging harsh, in-your-face remarks over Kashmir, showing yet again how acrimonious their relations remain after nearly half a century as unhappy neighbors.
“With you, without you, in spite of you, Kashmir will remain an integral part of India,” Prime Minister P. V. Narasimha Rao, vowed Monday in a no-nonsense message directed at Pakistan.
In his Independence Day address, which will be scrutinized for clues about India’s foreign and domestic policy agenda, Rao insisted that Pakistan quit the one-third of the disputed former Himalayan princely state that it has seized and held. “The one unfinished task is that Pakistan vacate its occupation of those areas of Kashmir which are under its control and should form part of India,” he declared.
The Indian leader mischievously borrowed terms used by Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who on Sunday termed the territorial dispute over Kashmir “the unfinished agenda of the 1947 partition plan” that dismembered British-ruled India into two new states, mostly Hindu India and predominantly Muslim Pakistan.
“I want to make it clear to the government of India,” Bhutto said, “that Pakistan would not come under any Indian pressure and continue to apprise the international community of ongoing human rights violations and atrocities being committed by Indian forces against the innocent people of Kashmir.”
Bhutto, speaking at a flag-raising ceremony in Islamabad marking the anniversary of Pakistan’s creation, said her country would always support Kashmiris fighting Indian rule.
Since independence and the blood bath of partition, in which an estimated 15 million people were uprooted and 200,000 died, India and Pakistan have fought three wars, two over possession of Kashmir.
The territory had been the realm of a Hindu maharajah and playboy who opted at the last minute to join India, although most of his subjects were Muslims.
Today, the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, India’s only state with a Muslim majority, is home to the most widespread separatist struggle faced by the New Delhi government. Pakistan wants the Kashmiris to be allowed to choose between India and Pakistan in an internationally organized plebiscite.
Rao has ruled that out, though on Monday, apparently for the first time, he said “we are progressing towards elections” in Kashmir. He gave no dates. The tenor of his speech left no doubt that the elections will be a purely Indian affair.
Citing Bhutto’s remarks the previous day, Rao said it was crystal clear, despite Islamabad’s official denials, that Pakistan is arming and aiding “terrorists” battling Indian rule in Kashmir. By some estimates, 17,000 people have died in the uprising that began four years ago.
The unrest continued right through the Independence Day holiday. As Jammu and Kashmir Gov. K. V. Krishna Rao unfurled the Indian tricolor and made a speech Monday morning, Muslim militants fired a rocket aimed at the Srinagar stadium where the ceremonies were taking place, a report quoting official sources said. The rocket fell about 400 yards short and exploded in a residential compound, killing one man and seriously wounding another.
Domestic and international human rights groups accuse the Indian army and police of waging a brutal campaign of repression to snuff out the Kashmiri rebellion. Despite Bhutto’s tough talk the previous day, Rao said Monday, “we want to tell Pakistan that we will continue to take steps to stop terrorist activities in Kashmir.”
But by talking of elections, Rao was tacitly extending an invitation to more moderate Kashmiri groups to forsake armed struggle and get involved in the electoral process.