By C. Andrew
After visiting Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK) on 24 November, former Prime Minister of Norway Kjell Magne Bondevik visited Azad Kashmir on the invitation of President Masood Khan the next day on 25 November 2018. Bondevik briefed the AJK president about his visit to Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK) and meeting with the Joint Resistance Leadership. Referring to a report of the United Nations Human Rights Commission, Former PM expressed grave concern over growing incidents of human rights violations in Indian occupied Kashmir (IOK). He said that peaceful settlement of the Kashmir issue through dialogue and other means was imperative for lasting peace and stability in the region. He expressed his wish that all the parties to the Kashmir dispute, including representatives of Kashmiri people, sit together to find an amicable solution to the seven-decades-old conflicts.
Bondevik is the founder and President of the Oslo Peace Centre for Peace and Human Rights. He was Prime Minister of Norway from 1997-2000 and again 2001-2005. He is a strong advocate of human rights and inter-faith harmony. It is to mention that earlier, Bondevik along with a two-member delegation also visited Pakistan and Azad Jammu & Kashmir (AJK) from March 29-31 2017 to get a firsthand understanding of the ongoing Indian atrocities and gross human rights violations perpetrated by Indian occupation forces against defenceless Kashmiris in IOK.
Bondevik underscored that Kashmir issue was a long-standing conflict and needed a political solution, taking into account the UN Security Council Resolutions and the will of the Kashmiri people, along with both sides of the Line of Control.
During his meeting with Norway’s leader, President Masood Khan said that the grim situation in IOK required a diplomatic and political initiative by the international community to end the suffering of the Kashmiri people. “Diplomacy can help us bridge divides and come to an understanding on a just and lasting resolution of the Kashmir dispute,” the AJK president said and added that the UN Security Council Resolution on the Kashmir Dispute adopted under chapter 6 of the United Nations Charter outlined the modalities for a peaceful settlement of the issue.
The president said that the unresolved Kashmir dispute was a danger to regional and international peace and security and, therefore, resort to negotiations, mediation and observation was important to break the current deadlock. “The unresolved dispute of Jammu and Kashmir poses a serious threat to peace and security, and therefore, the UN Security Council cannot leave Kashmir in the lurch. It must step forward to reactivate a mechanism for the implementation of the resolution that calls for a plebiscite in Kashmir,” he emphasised. Kashmir, he said, was not just a legal dispute about territory; it is about the political destiny and future of the people of Jammu and Kashmir.
Norway had a long history of constructed and impartial diplomacy, and we do hope that the country will play a role in the peaceful settlement of the Kashmir dispute; Khan said and praised Bondevik for this “role as a peacemaker”. Speaking on occasion, Bondevik while referring a report of the UNHRC expressed his grave concern over “growing incidents of human rights violations in Kashmir”. He said that peaceful settlement of Kashmir issue through dialogues and other means is imperative for lasting peace and stability in the region. “He expressed his wish that all the parties to the Kashmir dispute including representatives of Kashmiri people must sit together to find an amicable solution to it”. Bondevik also held a meeting with representatives of All Parties Hurriyat Conference (AJK Chapter) and discussed matters relating to Kashmir dispute, and visited the Line of Control (LoC).
It is perceived that his visit to both parts of Kashmir has rekindled hopes in the valley — of dialogues for the resolution of the Kashmir problem. “I feel things have started to move,” said Sheikh Ashiq, president of Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries (KCCI) in IOK, who met Bondevik. “It seems good sense has prevailed on both the countries that something should happen on the ground.” He said Bondevik’s visit to the valley came as a surprise to them. “It happened all of a sudden,” he said. “He has played some positive role in the Sri Lankan peace process, and that has generated a hope here as well,” Ashiq said Bondevik was concerned about the worsening situation in IOK and assured his help. “He told us that he is definitely concerned about the situation here, about the killings, about losses that we are suffering,” Ashiq said. “He said, will help whichever way he can and that he will take up the issues (with New Delhi)”.
Former PM of Norway Kjell Magne Bondevik also met with Foreign Minister of Pakistan Shah Mahmood Qureshi in Islamabad. While talking to Bondevik, Foreign Minister has urged the international community to play its role to mitigate the sufferings of oppressed people of IOK. He stressed for a peaceful, political and diplomatic solution of Kashmir dispute as per the UNSC resolutions. India should abolish all black laws in the held territory and respect the birthright of Kashmiri people for their right to self-determination. He said the Indian side should shun the course of military force and make progress towards peaceful resolution of Kashmir dispute.
Voicing concerns over the deteriorating situation in occupied Kashmir, the foreign minister said it is the legal and moral responsibility of the UNSC to take necessary steps towards conducting a plebiscite in Jammu and Kashmir by its resolutions. Mr Bondevik in his remarks said peace talks are the only way forward to resolve Kashmir dispute. He said the international community should give priority to Kashmir dispute. Magne Bondevik also briefed the foreign minister about his meetings with the leaders of All Parties Hurriyat Conference.
Notably, European Kashmiris have welcomed the recent visit by the former Norwegian prime minister Kjell Magne Bondevik to the Indian held Kashmir and Azad Jammu and Kashmir during which he held talks with the leaders All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) and AJK government. They hoped that the visit would help in highlighting the fact that Kashmir remains a disputed territory needing a permanent resolution. Welcoming the visit and Bondevik’s meetings with APHC leaders Syed Ali Shah Gilani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Executive Director of Kashmiri Scandinavian Council Sardar Ali Shahnawaz Khan said that the trip to Srinagar – was a significant development in the context of growing international scrutiny over gross human rights violations in IOK by security forces. He said that Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), has also recently issued an eye-opener document that exposes India’s record of human rights violation in held Kashmir.
The Council hoped that Bondevik, who later traveled to Islamabad to hold talks with a cross-section of people including Kashmiri leaders, could play a role in bringing India and Pakistan to table meant to resolve the issue of Jammu and Kashmir through negotiation and engagement.
The Council lauded that the international community was once again being mobilised to include Kashmiri leaders in the dialogue process for the resolution of Kashmir dispute. It is a positive step that must be appreciated by all stakeholders said Khan who stressed that Bondevik, who serves as the Executive Chair at the Norway-based Oslo Centre, was a credible and neutral person with right skills and experience to mobilize necessary support to facilitate a dialogue between India and Pakistan over Kashmir wherein representatives of Kashmir were involved.