Arif Shahid Murder Harms Kashmir Peace

The assassination of Arif Shahid is a big loss for the peace movement in Kashmir and will harm peace prospects.

Shahid-KashmirThe murder of nationalist leaders in Balochistan has unfortunately become a sad routine. However the news of the assassination of Arif Shahid, the most important figure of Pakistan’s Kashmiri independence movement and widely respected chairman of the All Parties National Alliance which opposes the Pakistani occupation of Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan, came as a big shock.

According to reports by the Pakistani press, Shahid was arrested after a meeting with Held Kashmir, an NGO supporting peace in the region, and released after protest against his imprisonment. Soon after he would be murdered in front of his home on May 13, in a scenario that closely resembles the pattern of elimination of Balochi leaders followed by intelligence agencies.

Like many other Kashmiris, Shahid advocated for the unification and independence of the divided former principality of Jammu and Kashmir but he also strongly championed for the rights of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan. Gilgit-Baltistan was originally part of the Jammu & Kashmir principality. A mostly mountainous area, adjacent to the one occupied by China after the Indian-Chinese war of 1962, it was ceded by Pakistan to China. The remaining part was transformed recently into the new province of Gilgit-Baltistan, and the Pakistani controlled former principality became Azad Kashmir.

Kashmir National Party leaders have strongly condemned the murder:

“The deceased leader was a true Kashmiri and throughout his life he struggled against those who occupied his motherland. He was a brave soldier of struggle of unification and independence of forcibly divided Jammu and Kashmir.”

It is unlikely that the murder of the most prominent figure of Kashmiri nationalism in Pakistan could have been done without the consent of Pakistan’s highest “de facto” authorities and it sends a very negative message on the prospects for peace in this country.

Pakistan has been strongly sponsoring the cause of separation of the Jammu and Kashmir province from India

It has been doing so under a pure Islamist agenda, under the assumption that Muslim majority countries or regions – such as the former principality of Jammu and Kashmir – cannot be governed by infidels.

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The apparent truce between Pakistani authorities and the Kashmiri nationalist movement could not last, as the objectives of both are mutually exclusive. By deciding to open this new front of hostilities, Pakistan’s military leadership sends a chilling message to the country and to the international community.

For all of those who thought this time we would see power devolved to a civilian government, the message is loud and clear: the so-called national issue will be kept tightly in the hands of the military structure, and it is to be tackled the way it has been for decades: by eliminating nationalist elites.

Whereas in Turkey, authorities seem to have at last come to the notion of the need to respect different national identities, nothing of the sort seems to be happening in Pakistan.

And yet, as it was widely demonstrated in history, totalitarian ideologies cannot suppress the identities of people, even when they use the most extreme and shameful strategies, like the physical elimination of cultural and political elites.

The assassination of Arif Shahid is a big loss for the peace movement in Kashmir and will render yet more troublesome the prospects for this unstable region of the world. The international community should send a clear sign of regret and disapproval of such an act.

Paulo Casaca, founder and executive director of the Brussels-based NGO Alliance to Renew Co-operation among Humankind, has been a MEP from 1999 to 2009 and a Councillor of the Portuguese Permanent Representation from 1996 to 1999. He has taught economics at the University of the Azores and the University of Lisbon, and has served as an economics adviser to the Socialist Group in Portugal. Paulo was a member of the Portuguese National Parliament and the Azorean Regional Parliament. Read other articles by Paulo.