Over 100,000 Kashmiris have lost their lives in the past 23 years. 8,000 to 10,000 people have disappeared. 2,700 mass graves have been discovered in the town of Kupwara alone. It is well documented that hundreds of thousands of Indian armed forces have made Kashmir the largest occupation on earth. The conditions in our homeland have become so ugly with rapes, beatings, shootings and other crimes inflicted by the occupation that we are condemned as a lot in the eyes of the world to be ignored and forgotten because, aside from any intentional bias in the press, no one wants to think about it. Kashmir has almost become a forgotten land, a forgotten people.
These facts, as I have stated, have become well known in Kashmir. The grassroots leadership has acted frequently, as individual men, to these problems with calls to action, and the people have responded, as well they would, and have taken to the streets by the thousands, and on occasion by the millions. The press has reported such events dutifully, with minimal fanfare. Indeed, the world also knows that a European parliamentary delegation, after visiting Kashmir, announced, “Kashmir was the most beautiful prison on earth.” An internationally known and UN accredited NGO, ‘International Educational Development’, reported that the presence of 700,000 Indian military and paramilitary forces has made Kashmir the largest army concentration anywhere in the world. Yet, despite these facts, these atrocities, and all the evidence, after 65 years of oppression by a foreign occupation, we stand like smoking overheated cars in a traffic jam on a Washington Beltway (freeway) miles from an exit ramp with nowhere to go, running out of gas, waiting for some miracle to happen.
It’s imperative at this stage in our history for the leadership to recognize that real change is needed and cannot happen without a change in the way that we do business. Foremost, what is needed is a united front among our leaders that will inspire the people as well. A united leadership will demonstrate to them that we are Kashmiris first and foremost, and not simply members of some little political offshoot that has no real mandate. Only a united leadership can unite the people. Only a united people can bring about the change that will help us achieve our ultimate objective – the right of self-determination.
Let’s not forget how fortunate the people of Kashmir are: It was under the leadership of President Harry Truman of the United States that the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted resolution #47 on April 21st, 1948. This resolution unambiguously states that the future of Kashmir must be decided in accordance with the wishes and will of the people.
The people of Kashmir, despite all the odds, have never lost hope in the right of self-determination. The leadership does not need to remind them that. The leadership needs to simply take the reins, open the doors, pave the road, and take advantage of those opportunities that become available to express that will. History has shown that it has not been done, and it will in all likelihood not be done unless there is unity not only at the bottom but also at the top.
Since 2007 hundreds of thousands of people have participated in the popular nonviolent resistance movement. At times there were more than a million on the streets of Srinagar. Leadership exhibited by Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Mohammed Yasin Malik, and Shabir Ahmed Shah has not wavered. Their resistance will continue.
When a survey was conducted by a London-based think tank Chatham House, which was released by BBC on May 27, 2010, asking a simple question, what do you want? An overwhelming 90 to 95 percent of the people of the Valley of Kashmir demanded Aazadi, (Freedom from occupation). The people know this. They know what they want. The challenge given by Syed Ali Geelani to the chief minister of Kashmir, Omar Abdullah to allow him to address a public rally in Lal Chowk, if allowed, will be attended by more than a million people. I’m sure the call given by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq on May 21st 2012 to go to Martyrs Cemetery would have been attended by more than 1 million people had there not been restrictions imposed by the government. We know it for sure that Mohammad Yasin Malik was able to obtain more than 1.5 million signatures from the people of Kashmir. Likewise I’m sure that there will be a similar response by the people if and when a call is given by Shabir Ahmed Shah and others. It is important that these leaders work together to make the voice of the people strong and effective through such unity.
Each leader is like a flower that one places in a vase as a gift to his loved one to brighten her day. It’s time, my fellow Kashmiris, for a bouquet. It’s time to see all the flowers together, working together, gleaming brightly in the sunlight of Kashmiri beauty. It’s time that we fill that vase with all the flowers that Kashmir has to offer, the people. It’s time that the leadership gives all that flows from its heart, because it is only then that the people will respond with theirs and demonstrate the power of their love for their country, Kashmir – the paradise on earth.
The role of our leadership becomes much more pertinent and important during the changes occurring at a global level. They need to understand that a leader has to sacrifice his ego for the good of the people. A leader cannot be tossed about by the waves of the wind but he should be able to correct his course accordingly. Leadership always sets the pace. Leadership must always inspire. A leader wittingly or unwittingly cannot say and should not say something which gives the impression that he or she is the mouthpiece of the oppressive forces. A leader may be tired because he worked for so long. But he must understand that his assertion of fatigue may weaken the movement. The fact that more than a million people have taken to the streets of Srinagar is living proof that the people are not tired. Their enthusiasm and their sacrifices will persuade both India and Pakistan and the rest of the world, as President Obama said in New Delhi on November 9, 2010, that “the resolution of Kashmir is in the interest of India, Pakistan, the region and the United States.”
Dr. Fai can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org