Kashmir and the West Bank are worlds apart
Some Pakistani commentators have seized upon the International Court of Justice’s ruling against Israel’s construction of a fence in the Palestinian territories as an opportunity to draw a parallel with India’s own fence in Kashmir. These attempts to draw a moral and legal equivalence between the fence in the West Bank and the fence along the LoC in Kashmir are as mistaken as the attempts to equate the two conflicts.
Israel’s fence runs through territory it occupied after acquiring it in war. And even the Israel’s own High Court deemed sections of the fence illegal because it disrupts normal lives of the Palestinians.
Many governments worldwide agree with the ICJ that the barrier is illegal. Most countries also regard Israel’s presence in the West Bank and Gaza as “occupation” and thus the Jewish settlements there as illegal—even America’s State Department has long held this view. Israel counters that the territories are not occupied but “disputed”. Many Israelis regard “Judea and Samaria”, as they call the West Bank, as part of the Promised Land that God gave the Jews.
The barrier has undoubtedly added to the hardship that Palestinians suffer from Israeli security measures. Many have been cut off from workplaces, land, schools, hospitals, holy sites and relatives. Thousands, whose villages have been encompassed by the barrier, are stuck in a no-man’s-land, unable to travel west into Israel proper nor east into the West Bank. [Economist]
The ICJ also found that the fence could create a ‘fait accompli’ that would prejudice the solution of the territorial dispute as well as impede the right of the Palestinians to exercise their right to self-determination.
India’s construction of a fence in Kashmir is well behind the Line of Control and well within its own territory. The legality of Kashmir’s accession to India is challenged only by Pakistan. The fence runs through remote, mountainous, forested, and largely uninhabited areas of Kashmir. Besides Kashmiris families have been separated into two sides since India’s partition in 1947 anyway. The only people who it keeps out are the people it is intended to keep out – the terrorists (although recent reports have questioned its effectiveness). As for the prejudicing any final solution to a territorial dispute, it is hard to see how the fence can overshadow the Line of Control as a dividing line.
This leaves commentators like Shireen Mazari grasping for the much-battered Simla Agreement – which Pakistan consistently refuses to honour on the basis that it was signed under the duress of a military defeat. One of its paragraphs reads, “In Jammu and Kashmir, the Line of Control resulting from the cease-fire of December 17, 1971 shall be respected by both sides without prejudice to the recognised position of either side. Neither side shall seek to alter it unilaterally irrespective of mutual differences and legal interpretations.” Pakistan’s way of respecting the terms of the Simla accord have ranged from proxy war through cross-border terrorism to military adventures such as Kargil. Contrary to insinuations, the fence does not “alter” or “disrespect” the Line of Control. If anything, it only further affirms it.
For its part, Pakistan is silently building a fence of its own along the Durand Line, its western e dividing the Pashtuns between Pakistan and Afghanistan.