The fifth of February marks the Kashmir Solidarity Day in Pakistan. The day is held to recognize the struggle and plight of Kashmiris as they have been systematically deprived of a claim to their land. Rallies and processions are staged throughout the country by freedom fighters to protest the human rights infringements that take place in the region and to pay tribute to those who were martyred for the cause.
Kashmir originates from Sanskrit and can be taken to literally mean “a land worth going to”. Renowned for its scenic beauty, the valley is unfortunately tainted with bloodshed and enmity due to a decades-long struggle for sovereignty and democratic rights. Present-day Kashmir is divided into regions controlled by India (Jammu and Kashmir), Pakistan (Azad Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan), and China (Aksai Chin).
It was in 1990 that then-Punjab chief minister Nawaz Sharif called for a strike to protest the human rights abuses by Indian armed forces in the valley. Later, prime minister Benazir Bhutto declared the day a national holiday in cognizance of its historical and strategic importance.
Prior to partition, Kashmir was controlled by a Maharaja who answered to the British. After partition, the region was given the option to accede to either India or Pakistan. The Maharaja signed a standstill agreement with Pakistan as riots broke out. He sought help from the Indian governor-general to handle the escalating situation on the condition that an accession agreement with India is signed even though the province had a majority Muslim population.
Then, Pakistan contested the accession, as Kashmir became the source of an identitarian conflict between the two newly-forged countries.
In 1948, India appealed to the United Nations for a resolution to the conflict. The United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan (UNCIP) was formed and the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 47 which called for a ceasefire along the Line of Control (LoC). The commission declared that a “free and impartial plebiscite” should be held so the citizens of Kashmir could decide which side they wanted to belong to.
The plebiscite is still pending as India and Pakistan fail to reach an agreement and Kashmiris choose not to vote to be a part of either India or Pakistan and demand an autonomous state. This occurs as Indian forces continue to militarise Kashmir, spreading terror in the once-peaceful region. An estimated 50,000 people have lost their lives in Kashmir since 1947.
This day is observed with the objective of seeking a peaceful solution to the Kashmir problem, besides delivering a pragmatic message to the international community.