By Owei Lakemfa
THIS week has been one of the most dramatic in Kashmir, India, and certainly in Hong Kong where protests and a general strike locked down the city resulting in train disruptions and cancellation of over 100 flights. Also, the protesters carried the fight to police stations and barracks.
Hong Kong, compared to Kashmir, is a far less complicated case given the fact that it is an internal fight within Greater China. The demands and stated aims of the protesters continue to evolve from what was supposed to be a protest against an extradition bill that would have authorised the movement of persons for trial in mainland China. When the government-backed down over the bill, the protesters went after the Hong Kong chief executive, Carrie Lam, demanding her resignation. Now, they are calling more or less for secession under the slogans: “Free Hong Kong” and “Restore Hong Kong. The revolution of our time.”
There are two contending ideologies at the heart of the struggles: Hong Kong elements who do not want to be weaned from their capitalist birth and the neo-colonial notion of democracy, and a socialist mainland which while desirous in maintaining the ‘One Country Two Systems” agreement, wants to retain its grip on Hong Kong.
Following a war in 1842, the British colonialists took part in Hong Kong and got what was called the New Territories, ceded to it for 99 years. In 1984, the British reached an agreement for a peaceful handover of the territory to China in 1997. There was a proviso that until 2047, Hong Kong would have “a high degree of autonomy, except in foreign and defence affairs”.
Given the presence of pro-China persons amongst the populace and the political class, the protesters are uncomfortable with the growing influence and powers of China in the territory. They are uncomfortable about what will happen 28 years from now when the special powers given to the territory would end. So they want to assert complete autonomy before then.
Former colonial master, Britain is, as expected, supporting the protest movement. It’s Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, told the media: “The UK signed an internationally binding legal agreement in 1984 that enshrines the one country two systems rule, enshrines the basic freedoms of the people of Hong Kong and we stand four-square behind that agreement, four-square behind the people of Hong Kong…There will be serious consequences if that internationally binding legal agreement were not to be honoured.”
However, the Chinese do not seem perturbed by such declarations. A spokesman for the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Council, Yang Guang said: “We would like to make it clear to the very small group of unscrupulous and violent criminals and the dirty forces behind them: Those who play with fire will perish by it.” He added: ” Don’t ever misjudge the situation and mistake our restraint for weakness … Don’t ever underestimate the firm resolve and immense strength of the central government.”
In expressing the Chinese government’s confidence in the leadership of Carrie Lam, he said: “We are confident that with the full support of the central government and the mainland … our Hong Kong compatriots will be able to govern, develop and manage Hong Kong well, and Hong Kong will overcome the difficulties and challenges going forward.”
The on-going battles in Hong Kong are mainly mass protests, hurling bricks and bottles, throwing eggs and disrupting the flow of governance while the government’s responses are threats, use of teargas, water cannon, pepper spray and arrest of 148 protesters.
On the other hand, Kashmir is a far more complicated and violent case. First, it is international; a quite passionate disagreement between India and Pakistan, the first two nuclear powers in history to have engaged in direct bombing of each other’s territory. Secondly, it involves international terrorism, including Al Qaeda. Thirdly, it has religious undertones: a passionate and unbending strand of Hinduism and an infectious and a fanatical element of Islam.
This week, India locked down Kashmir, cut off the internet and took the unprecedented and potentially explosive step of revoking Article 370, a constitutional provision that empowered Kashmir to make its own laws except for finance, defence, foreign affairs and communications.
The Kashmir Question is a colonial creation. The British colonialists had coupled together with a huge colony, British India. This ‘Mother India’ gave birth to several countries: Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Afghanistan, Singapore, Myanmar (formerly Burma) Pakistan and Bangladesh.
However, the most painful birth was Pakistan (which then included Bangladesh). The colonialists sent Sir Cyril Radcliffe as chairman of the India Boundary Commission to slice off a new country, Pakistan from India. Radcliffe who had never been to the country before carried out the separation within seven weeks by simply drawing a line in the colony calling one part India and the other Pakistan.
Kashmir was on the rough edges of the so-called ‘Radcliff Line.’ The territory was given the option to choose between the two new countries. The thought might have been that the Kashmiris would go for Pakistan which was mainly a Muslim territory just like Kashmir, but they choose India. That choice made 71 years ago, has led to both countries going to war four times.
Former Pakistani Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, made peace gestures when in 2014, he visited India, the first-ever visit by a Pakistani leader. The following year, his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi, reciprocated. But the peace efforts collapsed.
Current Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan sought to revive the peace moves. He said the crisis in Kashmir would be resolved not militarily, but through negotiations and sought to present it not as territorial claims, but as a humanitarian issue. However, this Tuesday, Khan in reaction to the abolition of Kashmir’s semi-autonomy seemed to have lost his cool: “I want to make it clear that we will fight this issue on every forum, (including) at the UN Security Council…If the world does not act today… (if) the developed world does not uphold its own laws, then things will go to a place that we will not be responsible for.”
The Pakistani chief of army staff, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, added: “Pakistan Army firmly stands by the Kashmiris in their just struggle to the very end. We are prepared and shall go to any extent to fulfil our obligations in this regard.”
I think Hong Kong will go fully Chinese and become wholly integrated with mainland China no matter the prevailing ideology in the latter, but Kashmir still has a long journey in the wilderness of sectarianism, secession and anarchism because the resolution of its crises is dependent on the resolution of the 71-year-old Indo-Pakistani conflict.