Scotland’s referendum stirs Kashmiri demands for vote on future

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Mirwaiz says Kashmiris’ demands for a say on their future could be solved peacefully through a similar referendum

Kashmiri leaders have seized on Scotland’s referendum on independence to demand that India follow through on a promise to grant a similar vote in the disputed Himalayan region.

Kashmiri leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq said this was an example of how Kashmiris’ demands for a say on their future could be solved peacefully.

“We hope India will also change its approach and realise the fact that people’s rights can’t be trampled upon,” Farooq said on Wednesday.

“It is encouraging that in a peaceful manner people will be deciding their future.”

Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan since a war after independence from Britain in 1947, and the two nuclear-armed neighbours have fought two of their three wars over the territory.

India has never carried out a promise made more than six decades ago to hold a plebiscite that would determine the wishes of the Kashmiri people.

It now considers the entire region of snow-capped mountains and fertile valleys “an integral part” of its territory and maintains a massive military presence in Jammu and Kashmir, its northernmost and only Muslim-majority state.

Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj blurted out her horror at the thought of New Delhi’s former colonial master splitting apart, when questioned at a news conference last week.

“A break-up of the UK? God forbid,” she said. “I don’t think any such possibility exists at the moment.”

After a senior civil servant whispered in her ear, Swaraj corrected herself, commenting: “It is up to the people of Scotland to decide.”

Hardline Kashmiri leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani praised the United Kingdom for giving Scotland the vote, adding that London should now put pressure on India to grant Kashmiris a referendum.

“India should learn lessons from UK and honour its commitment of granting right to self-determination to people of Kashmir,” Geelani said.