By Nilofar Suhrawardy, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS) India Correspondent
NEW DELHI: While there is nothing new about Indo-Pak differences on Kashmir, of late, the issue has been a major diplomatic irritant for India at several levels. These include the decision of Organization of Islamic (OIC), a group of 57 Islamic countries to appoint Abdullah Bin Adbul Rahman Al Bakr, a Saudi national as a special OIC envoy on Jammu and Kashmir. The OIC made this announcement following the meeting of its Contact Group on Kashmir at the United Nations headquarters last week.
â€œIt is regrettable that the OIC has commented on Indiaâ€™s internal affairs. We condemn and reject this,â€ Vishnu Prakash, Indian ministry of external affairsâ€™ spokesman said last week (October 3). â€œInherent in OICâ€™s statements and actions on the issue of Jammu and Kashmir is a complete inability to understand Indiaâ€™s position. Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India and it is our firm position that the OIC has no locus standi in matters concerning Indiaâ€™s internal affairs,â€ he stated.
The OIC Secretary General, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, however, is of the opinion that special envoyâ€™s appointment would help India and Pakistan to solve their differences. â€œThe role of the special envoy is to help in bridging the gap between the two countries namely Pakistan and India,â€ he said in Washington (October 3).
Hurriyat leader Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, who visited New York and Washington at the invitation of OIC, welcomed the developments regarding Kashmir at the international level. During his visit, Mirwaiz addressed the OICâ€™s contact group on Kashmir, met ministers of several Muslim countries and also US officials. On his return to Srinagar, Mirwaiz said: â€œKey headway is being made on the Kashmir issue for the first time, and along with Muslim nations, the US and China too are serious about solving it, which is the outcome of sacrifices of the Kashmiri people.â€
Behind the scenes, however, India does not expect OIC to play any major role. It is not the first time that OIC has taken this step. Suggesting that significance of OICâ€™s latest move is just a cosmetic exercise, a top Indian diplomat said: â€œAn administrative decision was announced replacing one OIC official for Kashmir with another official, both of whom are from Saudi Arabia.â€ On whether India should be concerned at this development, particularly as it is projected as â€œsuccessâ€ of Pakistan to â€œinternationalizeâ€ the Kashmir issue, he replied: â€œAn official has always been there.â€
Projecting the announcement of the new special envoy as a â€œroutine change,â€ observers pointed out that previously Izzat Kamal Mufti, also a Saudi, held the position. As his tenure had ended, a new special envoy had to be appointed. There is no change in Indiaâ€™s position. India views OICâ€™s stand on Kashmir as biased and remains against its interference in its internal affairs. Mufti was denied a visa to visit India several times. Indiaâ€™s approach towards Al Bakr is expected to be the same.
While there is nothing new about OICâ€™s stand regarding the Kashmir-issue, India has substantial reason to be alarmed by a disturbing stand taken by China. Without giving any explanation, since this May, China has begun issuing hand-written visas on loose sheets of paper to Kashmiri people. The â€œnewâ€ visas have so far been reportedly issued to only about 100 people. These include businessmen and students, who frequently travel from Kashmir (in India) to China. The Indian immigration authorities view these visas as â€œfakeâ€ and â€œnot valid.â€ As a result, most of those who have tried traveling from Delhi to China on the basis of these â€œloose visasâ€ have not been granted permission by Indian authorities. The Chinese embassyâ€™s stand, according to a Kashmiri who procured such a visa, is: â€œThey (Chinese) were using loose visa only for people from Kashmir.â€
India conveyed its concern to Chinese embassy in New Delhi last week (October 1). â€œIt is our considered view and position that there should be no discrimination against visa applicants of Indian nationality on grounds of domicile or ethnicity. We have conveyed our well-justified concern to the Chinese government in this regard,â€ the official spokesperson for Indian ministry of external affairs said.
Several leaders of the Congress party, which heads the coalition Indian government, have spoken strongly against Chinaâ€™s move to issue separate visas to Kashmiris. â€œCongress believes in the oneness of the country — from east to west, north to south without any difference between the regions,â€ party spokesman Shakeel Ahmed said. Senior Congress leader from Kashmir, Saifuddin Soz said: â€œIt is wrong, it is not acceptable to us. Kashmir is an inseparable part of India and China cannot question that position.â€
A few Kashmiri separatists have, however, welcomed Chinaâ€™s visa policy for Kashmiris. These include the United Jihad Council (UJC). The UJC spokesman Sadaqat Hussain said: â€œChinaâ€™s policy to issue visas to people of Jammu Kashmir as Kashmiris and not as Indian citizens is a realistic step. It is really encouraging for the people of Jammu Kashmir and will reinforce their freedom struggle. This just decision of China makes amply clear to the world that it (China) does not recognize Jammu Kashmir as part of India but as a disputed territory, thereby drawing the attention of world community to the resolution of Kashmir issue.â€