In less than six months from now, thirty years would have passed since the Kashmir elections were rigged. An incident which perpetuated three decades of violence bringing hell to the valley that has been described as heaven on earth.
An unfinished business of the partition of the subcontinent, Kashmir is one of the largest and most militarised territorial disputes between India and Pakistan. It's also something the world should always worry about as it may trigger the next nuclear conflict on the planet.
A peaceful resolution of the conflict, which drains most of the resources of the two poor nations, should be a priority of the patriotic politicians on both sides. It is mind-boggling that the conflict has gone on for seven decades and no voices of reason have prevailed even though a large part of the population in India and Pakistan is under the yoke of poverty and disease.
By estimates of the World Bank, only 34 percent of Indians have access to a toilet. In Pakistan, only 48 percent of the population has access to ‘facilities and services for the safe disposal of human urine and feces'.
Yet this festering and dangerous conflict remained unresolved for the last 69 years, causing hostility, and over which India and Pakistan have fought more than one war. I cannot fathom the resources that these two neighbors have squandered on their respective war machines when the people in both countries grind under the burden of misery.
In the pursuit of a resurgent India vis-à-vis the Chinese behemoth, the West has largely ignored this flash point which by some estimates can bring the world to a nuclear doom. The possibility of nuclear winter is not far-fetched. The West would rather look for a counterweight to emerging China and forget about its moral sermons that are all too often delivered in its own interests.
Remember Palestine, Bosnia, Kosovo, Rwanda, and now Syria? Why should Kashmir be different?
Over the years, the voices of reason have periodically emerged exposing the sinister effect of the events in India-held Kashmir — mass graves, extrajudicial killings and innumerable human rights violations documented by none other than international organisations like Amnesty International, the UN, Human Rights Watch and others like Panjak Mishra and Gautam Navlakha.
The case of human rights lawyer Parvez Imroz who won the Ludovic-Trarieux International Human Rights Prize by Human Rights Institute of The Bar of Bordeaux, France, and the European Bar Human Rights Institute, is well known. This is the same prize that Nelson Mandela won in 1985. Not only Imroz was denied an Indian passport to receive the prize, but the security forces in Srinagar even tried to kill him and his family.
In spite of deployment of the Army with powers unbefitting a democracy, the Congress government had largely been successful in concealing the events in Kashmir, and thus, avoid discourse over this conflict. It also succeeded in placing in some form of obscurity with Western complicity.
How would the world know about the plight of Kashmiris when travel to Kashmir was impossible? But thanks to the advent of social media in the last 10 to 15 years, the world would come to know about what goes on in J&K.
Despite its ruthless suppression, Congress rule was successful in insulating the conflict from the international community, in which 100,000 people were killed. But the recent events by the BJP government have brought it out in the open. In its pursuit of nationalist agenda, the BJP government may have blundered by once again internationalising the issue which on the surface may have remained dormant. As late as July 2016, the leading intellectuals of the world have written a letter to the Indian government to stop its repression in the valley. Most notables among the more-than-850 who signed the letter were Noam Chomsky and Meena Kandasamy.
Interestingly, the hawkish media on both sides of the border is relentless in voicing claims, counter claims, denials and counter denials.
Personally, I don’t know what to make of all this rhetoric and hoopla that is damaging to the cause of peace. The media on both sides has become a propaganda machine of each other’s government, and frankly, it is useless to look for any objective analysis in a discourse full of insults, harangues, lies and half-truths. It has been almost two weeks since Uri. While there is non-stop and nonsensical coverage of Kashmir in the media both in India and Pakistan. I only find reasonable voices about the incident when I scour the world media including today’s Jerusalem Post, The New York Times, Le Monde, or any other major newspaper of the world that comes to my mind.
In the West’s ambivalence for whatever reasons aside, Pakistan and the Kashmiri people found an opportunity a fortnight ago to bring the issue to the fore in the international arena when India supposedly made a surgical strike across the Line of Control (LoC) in Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir (PoK). Although the timing may have been carefully calculated by New Delhi since the Americans are busy in their presidential election, it doesn't seem to have as much impact as India may have expected, or hoped, and without impunity.
The respective claims of Indian and the Pakistani governments aside, buttressed by the clamour on the media of both countries, the Indian surgical strike across the Line of Control for whatever aims, domestic or international, were albeit partially successful or even a failure. Nonetheless, it was something dangerous and irresponsible whether one believes the Indian or the Pakistani version of the incident.
While Modi government may have succeeded in satisfying the demands of the Hindu nationalist at home, with the deployment of more than 700,000 troops in the Kashmir valley (that amounts to one soldier for seventeen inhabitants), the Modi government may have miscalculated, and brought the Kashmir dispute, once again, into the international arena.
This gave a sound reason to Pakistan to internationalise the event while at the same time deny the incursion to begin with. Whatever may have happened, ironically, a segment of the extremists still lament the loss of a ‘window of opportunity’ soon after the attack on Uri, which in their wishful thinking, would have punished Pakistan.
What the nationalist didn’t do was entertain the possibility that rubbing the Pakistani nose could have surpassed the threshold which may have unleashed the Pakistani nuclear arsenal thus bringing havoc to the subcontinent and the world. In that case, India could not have sat back, and its retaliatory strike would have certainly caused the feared and awful mutual assured destruction.
Therefore, was the surgical strike worth taking the risk?
The conventional wisdom dictates that while the decision to carry out the surgical strike may have been made in New Delhi, the restraint that the Modi government displayed could have been due to orders coming from Washington, India’s newly found friend that still has enormous interests in Pakistan. Were the policy makers in New Delhi so euphoric in their love for the Americans, that they imagined that the US would ignore its assets in Afghanistan and beyond, just for the sake of returning a warm handshake? It was ironic that the hawkish Indian Prime Minister on 5 October admonished his sabre-rattling domestic allies to refrain from commenting on the incident unless they are cleared by the defense officials. It was a smart move, indeed.
How could the warming of relationship with Washington have been sacrificed by drumming up the significance of the strike in the first place?
The fact is that the Modi government finds itself precisely between a rock and a hard place. It is true that the nationalist Hindutva sentiment is a genie that is no longer in the bottle and no matter what Modi and his allies want to do with it, supporting the nationalist agenda is not sustainable. The BJP may have used this genie to succeed in elections and gain popularity on the domestic scene, but there is no end to the demands of the domestic nationalist, who seem to have started to meddle in the security of the Republic of India basing their actions on whimsical behaviour. With time it has become more difficult for the BJP to deliver to its constituency that is virulently anti-peace in the subcontinent. I might ask what will happen to India that is resurgent and moving ahead with a robust growth, in case a war breaks out with Pakistan? Delusions aside, after Bangladesh, Pakistan is not ready for a defeat or even a humiliation.
The talk of war is thus dangerous and mutually suicidal.
Moreover, and notwithstanding that Congress may have hailed the strikes albeit in much cooler terms, the party of Sonia Gandhi has paid only lip service to the incident and thus avoided alienating its Muslim vote bank in particular, and the voices of reason, in general. The time has come once again to peacefully resolve the Kashmir issue despite the previous, chronic and ossified intransigence.
Another earlier miscalculation by the hawks in New Delhi regarding the international opinion may have been due to the false belief that the events in Kashmir have remained concealed thus providing impunity. But that is also not true. The American election campaign in full swing coupled with the public relation spree by Modi has brought goodwill to India, but it has not been able to prevent the world’s reaction to what is going on in the valley.
Amnesty International issued a report regarding failures in accountability for human rights violations by security force personnel in Jammu and Kashmir. A detailed report addresses rape among other atrocities against the civilian population can be read here.
In the wake of the horrible Mumbai attack, the former British Foreign Secretary, David Miliband wrote:
“The issue is not whether we need to attack the use of terror at its roots, with all the tools available. We must. The question is how.”
He further goes on to say that the terrorists are not an enemy that is united in a single army acting across borders and the war on terrorism therefore cannot be binary, between good and evil, between right and wrong.
Although terrorism is to be tackled at its root, by removing its weapons supply, by eliminating its finances and by emasculating its agenda. But you can turn blue in your face if the people you call ‘terrorists’ have a backer that is a state, and it has a legitimate claim recognised by the international community. Since one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist, the problem of Kashmir can only be solved with trilateral participation of the Kashmiris, Pakistanis and the Indians, by sitting on the negotiating table. Only cooperation can work in this case.
Therefore, the blame game in which Pakistan is touted as the root cause of terrorism is not going to solve the conflict. And despite its public denial for the sake of the international decorum, why should Pakistan not deny whatever it does in the India-held-Kashmir? Just like what India does in Baluchistan. The fact remains that Kashmir is a dispute that needs to be resolved. And it must be resolved by peaceful means. Both Kashmiris and Pakistanis are part of the conflict and a triad that includes them and the Indians is the only way that a peaceful settlement can be achieved, and nothing else.
No amount of rhetoric, posturing or appeasement of the domestic constituencies is going to solve the issue and since all else has failed, the only way out of the morass is for cooler heads to prevail and negotiations to start. The sooner the better. The people in both countries have had enough of miserable existence.
The author is an American Physician of Pakistani decent.