Be bold and brash, but sensible

The words Egypt and Mubarak evoke memories of a repressive bygone era and gives fresh meaning to the word ‘mubarak’ (felicitations). Any well meaning global citizen cannot fail to be in awe of how smart, subtle and sure the Egyptians were in their technologically-infused mission; to kick that most pompous of posteriors out of power.

Amongst the many lessons that can be drawn from the past month in North Africa is the sudden transformation in how the ‘West’ views Arabs and their commitment to democracy.

In turn, there is a palpable transformation in how Arabs view themselves. No longer can they be infantilised as a pretext to micro-manage and or effectively occupy their land. Gaining the goodwill of the Coptic Christians was the proverbial ‘icing on the cake’ for the Egyptians. This feature exemplified that freedom from tyranny is not just a matter of universal principle but requires strategy that brings all shades of personal belief on board for a collective cause.

There is much for Kashmiris of all descriptions on either side of the divide to learn from the paragraph above. Less emphasis must be placed on expecting the ‘international community’ to adhere to universal principles. If they were able to do so, Ben Ali and Mubarak would probably never have seen the light of day. Focus should be concentrated on displaying responsibility in action and all-encompassing sensibility in strategy. Kashmiris can ill-afford to maintain glib talk on their plight and aspirations. If they haven’t yet felt the urge to construct civil institutions that facilitate delivery of good governance for all, then there is little hope that they can emulate the ‘winds of change’ in Tunisia and Egypt. Even in these aforementioned countries, the public is conscious that removing a dictator is but one step to genuine change, transforming a repressive system requires many more significant steps.

It is important to recognise that Kashmir has a lower level of education than both Tunisia and Egypt, does not yet have the public mobilisation required for change and is complicated by the presence of India, Pakistan and China plus a dividing line in between. Despite these apparent disabilities, it can still surge ahead towards change if it identifies the structural defects that hamper it’s growth. Be it the lack of indigenous economic growth, an opaque bureaucracy and rules of business, blockage of trading routes, limitations of expression in media and academia, incorrect measurement of natural and human resources within or a multitude of other factors. Pressure must be exerted to obtain those indispensable rights that enable each and every State citizen the opportunity to prosper and progress. In other words, efforts for ‘good governance’ and ‘azaadi’ must be simultaneous and complimentary.

Whilst reading a series of discussion papers collated by Conciliation Resources (A UK-based charity committed to conflict resolution in various parts of the globe) entitled ‘Jammu and Kashmir – Trade across the Line of Control’ over the weekend, one cannot help feeling a mixture of emotion and exasperation at the abundance of evidence indicating an insatiable desire on the part of State citizens to meet, trade and an underlying emotion to re-build historical bonds. Exasperation converts to sheer frustration when studying the structural impediments imposed by India and Pakistan in light of – what can only be described – as their respective compulsions of national identity. It seems as if the possibility of Kashmiris abandoning the Manichean mantra taught by either nation state would dissolve their respective stances into insignificance. Limiting what is humane, natural and imperative vis a vis cross LOC movement is not just tragic but criminal.  

Since 1947, such has been the suffocation that activists on either side blindly followed the ‘azaadi’ ideal without regard to civil society development, alternative mechanisms for governance, a heavily restricted economic environment and peppered by holding out the communal card as and when deemed opportune; has brought us collectively to a default position barely indistinguishable from where we stood post October 1947.

No doubt there has been a noticeable increase in boldness and brashness, mainly exhibited by the facebook/twitter/youtube generation. It needs to be bolstered by recognising the socio-economic needs of Kashmiri society and tempered by a sensible approach to the requirements of governance. In Pakistani-administered Kashmir, this approach is far from reaching wide-spread acceptance. Much of what is publicly discussed either revolves around the actions or inactions of political figures in the region or stretches out into the wider world to discuss a figure or phenomenon of global significance. What is generally written in urdu newpapers or discussed on private TV channels is relentlessly paroded in the bazaar. Failing to make a direct connection between their local issues and governance is an abject hurdle to progress.

Meanwhile, the Valley of Kashmir which has by far endured the highest number of casualties has also made the furthest in-roads to change. It is also arguably the most technologically equipped region in the State. Much of what is written here would and hopefully does make more sense there compared to this side of the divide.

Author is a writer, broadcaster and activist working for civil society development in Pakistani administered Kashmir and can be mailed at sahaafi@gmail.com.