ANKARA/ISLAMABAD 

Expressing concern at the rapid transmission of coronavirus or COVID-19 pandemic in Indian-administered Kashmir, President of Pakistan-administered Kashmir, Sardar Masood Khan has said that India is utilizing the time to increase operations on the ground and wipe out Kashmir from the international diplomatic agenda.

In an exclusive interaction with the Asia-Pacific Desk of Turkish global wire Anadolu Agency via video conferencing, Khan said he was particularly worried that the COVID-19 pandemic and continuous violent incidents are creating havoc on the other side of the Line of Control (LoC), the de facto border that divides disputed Kashmir between Pakistan and Indian.

According to data Indian-administered Kashmir has so far reported 934 infected cases with 10 deaths. But since March, violent incidents have also killed 74 people in the region.

Khan also voiced his concern at the poor health infrastructure and heavy militarization in the region. He pointed out that there is just one doctor for 3,900 people, but one soldier guarding nine people in the region.

Admitting that external factors like Brexit, focus on the impeachment proceedings of the US President Donald Trump and then COVID-19 lockdown has pushed the Kashmir away from the international radar, Khan said that it was just a matter of time that it will return to diplomatic agenda.

“There was some progress, but then Kashmir disappeared from the radar screen of the international agenda. And COVID-19 has been used by India as a device to wipe Kashmir off the international diplomatic agenda. And under the cover of COVID-19, they have accelerated the pace of killings of young men and changed domicile law, “he said.

Apprehending that India may launch some military operation against his territory, Khan said the people of AJK and his administration is ready to face any false flag operation.

“We do not know what form of attack that would be. Because it cannot be a nuclear war, I can tell you for sure. Indians want to try something below the nuclear threshold. So, we are prepared for all eventualities, “he said.

Born in Rawalakot, in Pakistan-administered Kashmir also known as Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) Khan, a former career diplomat and a TV news anchor thanked Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkish society, and think-tanks for standing by the people of Jammu and Kashmir at these tiring times.

New maps and weather bulletins

Anadolu Agency: After issuing a new map of Jammu and Kashmir, India has now started relaying weather bulletins of Muzaffarabad and Gilgit-Baltistan. What does it mean in political terms?

Masood Khan (MK): You will recall that India had issued these fake maps on Oct. 31 last year. And this is the first step that they have taken now to assert their irredentism because they want to show Azad Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan as part of the Indian Union and not as part of Jammu and Kashmir. But Jammu and Kashmir is one unit and it comprises Gilgit Baltistan, Azad Kashmir, Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir, no doubt about that.

What they have done is mischief. Pakistan’s state-run media has also started broadcasting weather forecasts of the entire territory. They have been doing it in the past, this is not for the first time that they are doing it. But this time, they are going to granular details. So, I think that India’s intentions are not good. Because there have been threatening, particularly the BJP ministers to attack Azad Kashmir and asserting their sovereignty over Gilgit Baltistan.

So, this was their part of that strategy. But it has backfired because this step or misstep that they took, has thrown a light on the plight of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, once again.

AA: It is now nine months since India dissolved the state of Jammu and Kashmir. You had been emphasizing the approach of using diplomatic, moral, and political means to prevail upon India to settle the issue of Kashmir. What has been the progress so far?

MK: You know, immediately after Aug. 5, the world focused on the plight of the Kashmiris. It was an invasion. For the time in years, the international media, parliaments, think tanks, and decision-makers made statements and there was a groundswell of support for that. You will recall that after 50 years, the UN Security Council met in an informal session, although it did not produce any statement. But this was the kind of progress of sorts.

But it was halted because of internal and external factors like Brexit, focus on the proceedings for the impeachment of President Trump and now COVID-19 locked down. So, attention has been diverted. Let me tell you that the people of Azad Kashmir, the leadership of Azad Kashmir, and the leadership of Pakistan and the diaspora community all over the world are energetically and passionately creating awareness and racing for building public opinion against Indian actions.

The COVID-19 has been used by India as a device to wipe Kashmir off the international diplomatic agenda. And under the cover of COVID-19, they have taken two or three, steps. In the past month alone, I think more than 40 youth have been killed in the cordon and search operations. These are not cordon and search operations stage-managed fake encounters and blasting houses.

The second thing is that, in the dead of night, stealthily, they introduced rules related to domicile, which is an evil plot to grab the land of Kashmiris to deprive them their political and civic rights, displace them and to import Hindus from all over India and settle them there. So, this is a vicious plan that they have started implementing.

Broader outreach needed

Already in Kashmir, there are hundreds of thousands of migrant workers from all parts of India, and they are these so-called Hindu refugees of West Pakistan refugees. So, we are talking about millions here, who would be settled in Kashmir to change its demographic composition. I think that I do not have a very optimistic scenario to project here right now. And our fight has become tougher, challenges have become stronger, and therefore we need to accelerate our pace. And we need to work in different areas.

For instance, it is not just more diplomatic and political campaign, we should reach out to civil society into the parliaments and we should, in fact, and I am grateful to Anadolu agency, you have been one big voice for the people of Jammu and Kashmir in these dark days. And we are all thankful to you for that.

The biggest challenge and the biggest barrier that we are facing right now is that the governments, the powerful government, the Western governments are tight-lipped. They are not saying much about Kashmir. That silence, I would say is criminal. It is tantamount to underwriting crimes against humanity in the occupied territory.

AA: How will this domicile law affect the demography of the region and what are the measures your government is taking to prevent its effects?

MK: We have been trying to reach out to the international community to learn more. I am about to alert them about this development, the sinister development and you know that India is not just trying to alter the demography of the occupied territory, they are also trying to reduce the number of representatives of Muslim seats in the puppet assembly that they would create because once again they are creating an artificial political class there, and maybe they would give them representation in that assembly. They are resorting to gerrymandering. And they are using delimitation processes to reduce the number of Muslims in different constituencies.

So, what we are doing is that we are informing the international community. There has been no direct contact with India, although protests have been made, statements have been issued by the Foreign Ministry of Pakistan. We have been writing to the president of the Security Council and the UN Secretary-General.

We appreciate the efforts that the Government of Pakistan is making. But I think this is not enough. I think that outreach should be much broader. And not only the government officials or the political leaders here, but the international civil society, Kashmiri diaspora, and Pakistani diaspora should write directly to the UN Secretary-General, to the president of the Security Council, to the High Commissioner for Human Rights to the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, because of communications matter. And these communications can be in the form of letters. These can be memoranda, but also through social media.

Kashmir domicile rules and Nuremberg laws

Let me also tell you that when I was talking about the domicile laws, I wanted to draw a comparison between these laws and the Nuremberg laws that were introduced by Hitler in the 1930s. Because those laws were meant to disenfranchise Jews snatch their German identity and later on, push them to the concentration camps where they were incinerated and killed. Precisely the same sort of design has been prepared for the Kashmiri people. So, the first they have been made aliens in their state, their status stands reduced. So much stress is created, that people would start migrating and become stateless in some parts of the world. So that is what is happening.

I have been warning that something sinister is taking place and get your act together and respond assertively, otherwise, it would be too late. If we do not have the support of the international community, then we might see a changed scenario in Kashmir altogether, two or three years down the road. in the same breath, I would like to thank Turkey for its principal stand as leadership president Erdogan and the entire Turkish nation, which has stood by us in these difficult circumstances.

AA: From 2005-2008, many confidence-building measures (CBMs) were taken to allow people from two parts of Kashmir to meet and trade. What is the position of these CBMs now? Is there any chance of their revival?

MK: Well, these confidence-building measures are suspended because Kashmir has been invaded. So, there is no confidence left between Srinagar and Delhi and there is no confidence left between Islamabad and Delhi. We have downgraded diplomatic relations. So, the step that India took in August last year was a big blow to CBMs.

Now, all the channels of communication are blocked, what is happening right now is that India is violating a ceasefire frequently, and they’re using heavy weaponry to target civilians. We have our armed forces also engaging them and targeting their military posts. So, I think that the process of confidence-building has been eroded.

And your question whether this can be revived, you know, for reviving a confidence-building process, you have to have the right kind of environment. We do not have a diplomatic process right now. What India did last year, it characterized these steps as an internal matter. They used to say that it was a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan. And we always rejected that stance because we used to say that no, it is a trilateral issue. It is an issue between Pakistan, India, and the people of Jammu and Kashmir, and the UN was guarantor for the realization of the right to self-determination of the people of Jammu and Kashmir.

No CBMs in present situation

But lately, India started saying this is an internal matter, and that there cannot be any negotiations on Kashmir with Pakistan. They are saying that they are going to attack Azad Kashmir, how can we have confidence-building in this kind of toxic environment? Let me also underline that, when we talk about confidence-building when we talk about dialogue, a diplomatic engagement.

India is using the lexicon of war, confrontation, attack, and annihilation. The annihilation is already taking place in the Indian occupied Jammu and Kashmir. Right now, a genocide is taking place in Jammu and Kashmir in this kind of atmosphere. You cannot have a confidence-building. How can there be a confidence-building between a killer and a person who’s been killed? What kind of confidence-building are we thinking about?

AA: Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan has been often raising the issue that India was preparing for some operations. Are you about war? Is your administration making any preparations for the worst?

MK: We are prepared and the armed forces of Pakistan are prepared, the nation of Pakistan and people in Azad Kashmir are prepared to frustrate any evil designs of India. Yes, there are some rumblings that India is planning something. It has been killing Kashmiris since January this year. But after COVID-19 it accelerated the pace of killings of young men. They have accelerated the ceasefire violations, and they have started crafting lies.

They are also saying that probably there are new outfits or new organizations, indigenous organizations within the occupied territory. Conveniently they used to say that the total number of militants was 250. Now they say there has been a sudden spike in their numbers and they are saying additional 350 militants are there backed by Pakistan. Now a couple of days ago, the Indian Army chief and the intelligence chiefs and also the National Security Adviser met together and they have plotted something that has a conspiracy, and therefore, we are prepared for a false flag operation.

You cannot rule out some sort of attack against the territory of Azad Kashmir, because this is what they have been saying openly in the press conferences that they would attack AJK. This has been coming from the defense minister, and also from Prime Minister Modi. On Republic Day, he said that he would wipe out Pakistan in 10 days. So, I mean, that kind of aggressive language is being used. We are prepared, but we need to do more. What I have been telling people is that, yes, armed forces there, but we need to be ready at the level of the population for civil defense for better military operations. We do not know what form of attack that would be. Because it is it cannot be a nuclear war, I can tell you for sure. Indians want to try something below the threshold of below the nuclear threshold. So, we are prepared for all eventualities.

Battle against COVID-19 satisfactory in AJK

AA: The whole world right now is reeling under the coronavirus or COVID-19 pandemic. What is the situation in your part of Kashmir and how effectively you have controlled the pandemic?

MK: Well, we have been very fortunate because the number of confirmed cases is very small. It is 88 and one death has been reported. We have the lowest number of coronavirus cases in our territory. Let me also tell you that right from the beginning, we enforced a very effective lockdown.

And the government took effective steps. I think that in the beginning, we had some problems but later on, we got the ventilators, the PPEs, the masks, the sanitizers, but this was one aspect. We established 60 plus quarantine centers and we are going to establish isolation hospitals in all the 10 districts. So, we’re doing well, and the doctors and nurses and paramedics and police officials and administration officials have done a wonderful job. And they’ve been on the front lines.

And I think that the people of Pakistan and the people of Azad Kashmir have cooperated and so have the Ulama (religious scholars). They have been guiding people. So, this was a very successful experiment for the state of Azad Jammu and Kashmir. Let me talk about the other side. I think that they are complaints that they do not have a sufficient number of ventilators or PPEs, the ratio of a doctor to the population is very bad compared to India. I mean, there is one doctor for 3900 Kashmiris whereas this one soldier for nine Kashmiris. This figure was released some time ago and it went viral. This tells story of Indian-administered Kashmir.

But as I saw the Modi virus is more virulent and vicious than the coronavirus in Kashmir because in four weeks you kill 40 people and in the same period nine people are killed by a coronavirus. So, you can compare the ratio. Hospitals are not given full support in Srinagar and other parts because of the suspension of 4G internet connectivity. Many fatalities have taken place and people have been not given support at the right time.

So, the crux of the matter is that the people of the occupied territory who are perceived as enemies by the 900,000 occupation forces and the occupation or authorities are not given the kind of care and treatment that should have been given to the COVID-19 patients. They have used this catastrophe a cover to pursue their Machiavellian maneuvers against Kashmiri. And another thing that has come to my mind is that they are not releasing the dead bodies. They are releasing the dead bodies of COVID-19 patients in some instances to the families, but they are not releasing the dead bodies of the martyrs to their families.

Insane allegations

AA: There were reports in media that Pakistan was pushing coronavirus infected patients to AJK in Mirpur. What is reality? Did you allow people from neighboring districts of Pakistan to be quarantined in Mirpur?

MK: This insane Indian allegation is laughable. They are saying that Pakistan is pushing some 10 COVID-19 patients to Azad Kashmir and then AJK is pushing these COVID-19 patients into the occupied territory. You cannot expect a COVID-19 patient traveling with a bunch of people and cross those high altitudes. And by the time they cross the fence and reach Kashmir, will they be in a position to play some role against those military divisions deployed there?

This is a leaf directly from the Goebbels playbook, who was the propaganda minister of Hitler. And he had said that if you tell a lie frequently, people would start believing it. And this is what they are telling many other lies and the purpose is to convince their Hindutva zealots, that Muslims are up to no good that they even in these circumstances, they are trying to target the people of Jammu and Kashmir with a virus. In India, they are already blaming all the Muslims for spreading COVID-19.

Someone asked me a question was Riyaz Naiko, who was killed recently a terrorist or a freedom fighter? I said, hold the referendum in the Indian occupied Jammu and Kashmir and ask this question. And he said, but there would be no referendum. And I said, but this referendum is in their hearts and minds and souls. Leave aside the international law, which gives sanction to armed struggle for liberating such colonized nations.

The second option is to ask people if they consider Gen. Bipin Rawat commander of the occupation forces a hero or a terrorist. And again, you will find that answer in the hearts and minds and souls of the people of Jammu and Kashmir.

Jump in COVID-19 cases in Indian Kashmir

AA: Across the LoC, the pandemic has created havoc. There has been a six-fold increase in the cases in Kashmir over the last month. On March 21 four positive cases jumped to over 900. In terms of the ratio of population, this is something very large number. Is there any possibility or any effort to help people over there?

MK: Some news portal had given a headline that Indian arrangements about the coronavirus patients are so poor that Kashmiris will die like animals. And you will recall that six international human rights organizations appealed to Modi to release for God’s sake political prisoners. You will recall that an Indian women’s NGO, had substantiated and reported that India has incarcerated abducted about 13,000 young boys. I have deliberately used the word boys, it includes children as young as 10-12-year-old. We do not know about the fate of those children.

And these six international organizations had appealed to Modi and to the occupational authorities to release these prisoners, in addition to the political leaders and activists who are there in jails, in Delhi’s Tihar jail, in the occupied territory. But there was no response from India. So, India has shut it all its doors to any kind of

AA: World over we have seen that at many places’ disasters have often helped to create a thaw in relations between the countries and encourage cooperation. Over recently, governments in Yemen, the Philippines, Thailand, and Colombia and armed groups have heeded to the call of a cease-fire by the UN amid the coronavirus pandemic. But the disputed region of Jammu and Kashmir is a far cry from peace. Why is it so?

MK: India has spurned all the appeals from the UN Secretary-General High Commissioner for Human Rights and international human rights organizations. Of course, we have been making peace, but they do not pay any heed to them. It is the logic of the occupier.

Because you have a fascist government sitting in Delhi, they have not responded to the appeal made by the UN Secretary-General for a universal ceasefire, a universal cessation of violence all over the world. In fact, under the cover of COVID-19, India has accelerated the brutalization of the people of Jammu and Kashmir and it has declared a war against its citizens.

Arab states have woken up

The lynching of Muslims and thank God the Arab Street has woken up. Kuwait has woken up, so the UAE. These countries used to be silent on India’s brutalization of the people of Kashmir or systematic discrimination and violence against Indian Muslims.

Primarily they called out India for its violence against Muslims or Islamophobia rampant in the Indian state. In this awakening, they have also incorporated Kashmir. So, this is good news for Kashmir in a sense, but, what I would say that India is trying to tighten its gag order in Kashmir because recently you know, they targeted many journalists and I would mention Musarat Zehra Pirzada Ashiq who were booked to deter others from saying anything. So right now, Kashmir is, in fact, a prison house where there is no civil liberty.

AA: Soon after the 2005 earthquake that killed some 90,000 people in Kashmir, more in your part of the region had brought a kind of camaraderie between India and Pakistan and even helped to open the LoC at five places and it was followed by the beginning of cross-LoC trade as well. Why is such camaraderie missing this time to help people across the LoC?

MK: A camaraderie can take place when there are no killings. I mean Kashmir and Pakistan are in a state of war that has been imposed on them by India. The LoC is hot. The occupation forces are grabbing Kashmiris land and depriving them of their fundamental rights. Under these circumstances, you cannot have the kind of camaraderie that was there in 2005. And, you know, you have to remember that was a different era. At that time, Pakistan and India were both exploring the possibility and with the help of the possibilities, confidence-building measures, and that was supported by the Kashmiris. The US was behind encouraging countries in the region. But this time India has closed all doors or let me say that the BJP and RSS want to annex the Jammu and Kashmir and destroy Pakistan. How can we have that kind of camaraderie in these circumstances?

AJK government powers

AA: Instead of any letup along the LoC, we have seen more exchange of fire and killing of people, even during the pandemic. It also seems that both countries have moved heavy artillery to forward positions. What is the situation along LoC, which houses a large population on both sides?

MK: Since January this year, India has violated the Line of Control for 900 times and there are civilian casualties on this side. They have destroyed our infrastructure. The situation is not good at all. And they did this to divert attention from their crimes against humanity in the Indian occupied Jammu and Kashmir.

AA: India and many people in the world often say that your government in Muzaffarabad does not enjoy many powers. And you are not allowed to take independent decisions. How do you respond to criticism like that?

MK: This criticism is not correct. You know, as far as the matters related to AJK are concerned, we have full autonomy. And we make decisions, of course, we collaborate with the Government of Pakistan, we have very close ties. When it comes to four areas, they have been assigned to Pakistan and these are external affairs of foreign relations, defense of the territory, currency, and matters related to the UN. But again, there is no restriction on the president or the prime minister of AJK to reach out to the rest of the world. So, this allegation is false and unfounded.

AA: Media in India quite full of reports that militant groups are based in your territory, supported by Pakistani intelligence. What is your view of that?

MK: No militants or terrorists are going across the LoC with or without coronavirus, as they allege and there are no entities here in Azad Kashmir or Pakistan. We mounted a campaign against deradicalization. One of the complaints of the Kashmiri people is why are not such organizations being allowed to operate? Why is not asymmetric warfare being restarted? So, this is an allegation from Kashmiris and a large number of Pakistanis. So, again, this accusation is false and trumped up.

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