As Scotland goes to a referendum to gain independence from the United Kingdom, separatist leaders in troubled Kashmir have demanded that India follow through on a promise to grant a similar vote in the Himalayan region.
Separatist leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq called Thursday’s Scottish vote 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,” said Farooq, the head Muslim priest on the Indian side of Kashmir, where a violent insurgency against New Delhi’s rule raged through the 1990s and resentment still runs high.
“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.
New Delhi promised more than 60 years ago to grant Kashmiri’s a referendum but has never gone through with the pledge.
Kashmir – despite its’ stunning mountain vistas and fertile valleys – remains one of the most militarized regions in the world.
Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj expressed her horror at the thought of Great Britain 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 separatist 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.