As the time moved to the first stroke of Monday the 20th of May 2002 a new country was created on the world map. In an historic event, a newborn country 'Democratic Republic of East Timor' handed over to the East Timorese by the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, in the presence of world leaders from 92 nations. The new nation, was previously the 26th province of Indonesia 'East Timor', today is an independent and a free country.
When the world powers recognized, today, the quarter of a century long struggle of East Timorese, and the UN successfully transformed East Timor as an independent sovereign state - in the same continent the people of Kashmir, who have an identical condition to the Timorese, are still paying with their lives every day for their half of a century long freedom movement.
The freedom struggle of East Timorese can be related to the centuries old Portuguese rule in the region; however, today's independence of East Timor is a result of their 24 years long freedom struggle against Indonesian rule.
East Timor was a Portuguese colony outpost until 1975. When the Portuguese dictatorship was overthrown by the military in 1974, the new regime declared autonomous to its remaining colonial territories including East Timor. In 1974 the Timorese were allowed to organize their own political parties and two main parties emerged: The Timorese Democratic Union (TDU) and the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor (FRETILIN). Initially the two parties formed a coalition in anticipation of independence but the TDU allying itself with Indonesia broke away from the coalition and in August 1975 it seized power. As civil war broke out, FRETILIN gained the upper hand, and the Portuguese fled. In December 1995, Indonesian forces invaded East Timor and declared it as the 26th province of Indonesia. Since then during the 24 years long struggle for independence approximately 200,000 East Timorese are believed to have died.
In December 1975, the Security Council Resolution passed its resolution 384 for the self-determination and independence in accordance with the principle of the charter of the UN of the people of East Timor and called upon Indonesia to withdraw its forces from the territory (Article 2) and on the government of Portugal to cooperate fully with the UN, so as to enable the people of East Timor to exercise freely their right of self-determination (Article 3). In 1976, Resolution 389 of the Security Council once again reaffirmed this position. Backed by these resolutions and support from most of the Western powers, the pro-independence Timorese continued their struggle. On May 5, 1999 Indonesia and Portugal signed a landmark accord to enable the people of East Timor to vote in an independence ballot. United Nation endorsed the accord. On August 30, 1999, nearly 99 percent of 450,000 voters voted in UN-organized ballot and declared their decision by 78.5 percent in support for an independent East Timor. Due to the post referendum anti-independence terror campaign by the militia, Indonesia agreed to let the foreign peacekeeping troops in East Timor. And finally, after the two and half years of UN administration the people of East Timor reached to their destiny of being an independent nation of Democratic Republic of East Timor on 20th of May, 2002.
Looking into the freedom movement of the people of Kashmir, one will find that the history, issues and UN deal to the issue have identical situation. As a colonial territory, it was invaded forcibly by Indonesia just as India attempted to occupy the entire Jammu and Kashmir by its armed forces. The UN reaffirmed the right of self-determination of Kashmiris same as it did for Timorese.
The UN Security Council Resolution also passed its resolution on 21st of April 1948 which states; both India and Pakistan desire that the question of the accession of Jammu and Kashmir to India or Pakistan should be decided through the democratic method of a free and impartial plebiscite.
Just like Timorese, the Kashmiris have been fighting against Indian occupation for the last 50 years in which about 72,000 Kashmiris have been killed by Indian Arm forces. However, unlike in East Timor, there has been thousands of rape cases of girls and women by Indian forces which has been recorded by foreign NGOs and human rights organizations - the figure goes up to 7,000 (cases).
The case of the Kashmir before the UN is even stronger then compared with East Timor as the occupying power (India) itself took the dispute to the UN under Chapter VI (Pacific Settlement of Disputes) rather than Chapter VII. Both Pakistan and India agreed to have UN intervention and to the plebiscite - as stated in the 1948 UN SC resolution cited above. Unlike East Timor, where a sizeable minority was resisting the independent movement of East Timor - Kashmiris have rejected India and are continuing their struggle for the last 50 years.
The world powers and the UNO compelled Indonesia, forcefully implemented the UN resolutions, deputed the peacekeeping forces and international monitoring cells which finally led the process to the Independent East Timor. Why could not the same action be taken for the rights of the people of Kashmir? Why can't India be pressurized to hold the plebiscite in Kashmir according to the wish of the people of Kashmir? Why can't the international monitoring agencies be sent to Indian occupied territories of Jammu and Kashmir? Instead, America had said at one stage that there are no similarities between East Timor and Kashmir.
At the independence ceremony, the United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan, paid tribute to the estimated thousands of the people who paid their lives for the freedom movement. He said, At this moment, we honor every citizen of East Timor who persisted in the struggle for independence. We also remember the many who are no longer with us but who dreamed of this moment. It is their day, too. Why can't the Secretary General also be worried about thousands of Kashmiris killed by Indian forces up to date?
These are the double standards of the world powers, which divide the world on obvious reasons.
One cannot differentiate among the distorted people of East Timor and Kashmir except the only reality is that the East Timorese were the Catholics and invader (Indonesia) was a Muslim power unlike Kashmir, where the majority are Muslims and the intruders are the Hindus rulers. Whichever way one looks at it - it appears religion has a lot to do with why the Timorese were jointly backed by the western capitals but the Kashmiris are still being ignored. Government of Australia warmly welcomed the refugees who fled from East Timor and provided them asylum with all fringe benefits who in majority were Catholics but they refused to accept the asylum-seekers coming by boats from Indonesia as majority of them were Muslims from Afghanistan and Iraq.
East Timor and Kashmir are the perfect examples to understand the preset criteria of the western powers including the UNO. The independence of East Timor should be an eye-opener for the Muslim world. With the Kashmiris still waiting for the UN Security Council to fulfill its commitment on the plebiscite, the Muslim world should seriously ponder over whether religion is what decides if people should be given their rights as guaranteed by the UN Charter and UN resolutions.
Syed Atiq ul Hassan is a Sydney-based freelance journalist and a political analyst.