Kashmir Looks to America for Moral Leadership | Opinion

I'm not an American, but I love the Fourth of July. America's spirit and its fundamental belief in human freedom inspire the world—making this a holiday that is celebrated beyond its borders.

My diplomatic career has taken me many places, and I have been incredibly blessed to have spent much of it in the United States. On the Fourth, it's impossible not to get caught up in the excitement and celebration. One cannot help but enjoy the sight of all the Stars and Stripes flying atop buildings and hanging from windows. And the Fourth of July fireworks, of course, are the highlight of the day for the young and old alike.

COVID-19 cast a shadow over the celebrations this year—but even a pandemic can't dampen the magic of this holiday. It prompted me to reflect on why the rest of the world continues to look at the United States as the "city on the hill."

What I realized was that American values have become universal values. The moral compass at the heart of this country is one that people around the world, regardless of religion, race, or nationality, would love to see embodied in their own countries.

Like freedom-loving people everywhere, the people of Pakistan have been inspired by the American example. Pakistan and the United States have been partners for peace and prosperity. Together, we have fought many a battle together, notching up victories and successes under our belt. Ours is a partnership rooted in common interests and informed by shared values.

Today, those values are under assault in Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir. India has occupied the region and brutally oppressed its people since 1947. But in August 2019, India went a step further. Thumbing its nose at the international community, making a mockery of international law and the reams of UN resolutions that recognize Kashmir as an international dispute, violating bilateral agreements, not to mention its own commitments to the Kashmiri people, India tried to unilaterally annex the territory.

Even before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Kashmiris were reeling under an oppressive lockdown. Instead of easing restrictions, India doubled down on its lockdown and oppression in Kashmir. Imagine having no internet access, no information, no contact with your loved ones, while a pandemic rages outside. As if that was not enough, we also witnessed a rise in fake encounters, extrajudicial killings and intensified crackdown on the media, and renewed internet restrictions in Kashmir, duly documented by credible international organizations.8 million Kashmiris would have lived a full year in a state of complete lockdown this Aug 5 – turning Kashmir into the largest prison on earth.

Most ominously, India also recently promulgated an ordinance to entice tens of thousands of Indians to buy Kashmiri land and take Kashmiri jobs. India wants to change Kashmir's demographics by force, turning its majority into a minority. This domicile law—for those of us who still care about international law—is a blatant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which expressly forbids an occupying power from transferring its own civilian population into a disputed territory.

To fully contextualize the horror of India's actions in Kashmir, one only needs to understand the present Indian government's agenda.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was once banned from entry into the United States because of his role in a 2002 religious pogrom that left more than 1,000 people dead in the Indian state of Gujrat. His party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, is the political arm of a Hindu paramilitary organization that promotes an ideology of racial purity.

The BJP wants to remake India into a Hindu Rashtra (a Hindu nation). There is quite simply no place for religious minorities including Muslims, Christians and others in this Rashtra. A few months ago, the BJP passed the Citizenship Amendment Act, which granted citizenship rights to several minorities while specifically excluding Muslims. Large detention centers have been constructed across India to house minorities who would be stuck off the National Register of Citizens in a drive reminiscent of ethnic cleansing that the world saw in the late 20th century.

Meanwhile, random and senseless killing remains a fact of life in Kashmir. I am sure we have all seen the heartrending photograph: a 3-year-old boy, sitting atop the dead body of his 65-year-old grandfather who had just been gunned down by Indian security forces.

Kashmir today is a burden on the conscience of the international community. The world cannot remain a bystander while systematic attempts are underway to deprive Kashmiris of their identity as well as fundamental rights through stealth and deceit. The international community, particularly the United States, cannot let India get away with its brutal oppression of the Kashmiri people under the cover of the coronavirus pandemic. The world must join the United Nations and other international human rights organizations in demanding an end to India's egregious human rights violations in Kashmir.

Last year, the spirits of millions of Kashmiris around the world were lifted when President Donald Trump offered to mediate the Kashmir dispute between Pakistan and India, when he met Prime Minister Imran Khan at the White House. The president recognized that peace in South Asia would remain elusive until Kashmiris are able to choose their own destiny. This would not be possible without U.S. leadership.

As recent events have forced us to confront the long shadow that historical wrongs and injustices continue to cast on our lives, we will do well to remember the great Martin Luther King Jr.'s words: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

Asad M. Khan is Pakistan's Ambassador to the United States.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.​​​​​