Saving Kashmiris

IN the ongoing exchange of hostilities between Pakistan and India over the past several months, a large number of civilians have been killed or injured. Bad blood between the two countries and the resultant violence have put the Jammu and Kashmir region centre stage, with people calling for the start of a thoughtful dialogue process over the long-pending dispute which is the nucleus of the Pakistan-India conflict.

The dialogue must begin — for it is the only way forward to solve any crisis or conflict in this nuclear-powered world, where economics is deciding the stability and peace of regions and new alliances are being formed for the people’s prosperity, leaving less space for violence and hostilities. Looking at Kashmir, the region is maimed and has seen bloody violence for decades now. The Kashmiris want relief, dignity and respect. Only a dialogue that aims for a solution can help them realise this goal.

While the situation in the Kashmir valley has been tense since the killing of popular rebel commander Burhan Wani in 2016, the dialogue process has failed at even the basic level. To calm the post-Wani civilian uprising in which nearly 120 were killed and thousands injured, India sent an interlocutor, a former intelligence bureau chief, Dineshwar Sharma, to start talks with the Kashmiris, but excluded Pakistan. Sharma’s visit coincided with the Indian government’s ongoing anti-rebel operation All-Out, its harsh stance against anti-India voices, as well as the continuing investigation by the National Investigating Agency (NIA) against pro-freedom leaders.

Thus, for the pro-freedom conglomerate the Joint Resistance Leadership (JRL), it became difficult to entertain Sharma, leading to its openly rejecting the offer of talks until India accepted Kashmir as a disputed territory and a conducive atmosphere was created. They called the appointment of an interlocutor as “nothing more than a tactic to buy time adopted under international pressures and regional compulsions”.

A dialogue between Pakistan and India must begin.

But Sharma’s initiative was at an end when the NIA filed a charge sheet against eight second-ranking JRL members, a local and a photojournalist Kamran Yusuf. The JRL responded by calling it an activity of “building pressure on the resistance camp” but said that there was “no question of surrender”.

Continuous confrontation between New Delhi and Srinagar, the local leaders’ demands and India’s taking a tough line against Pakistan have undermined the prospect of dialogue. Even though the two countries’ national security advisers recently met, the Modi-led dispensation has not taken any measures to address the issues. This has led Kashmiris to believe that India is again buying time and is not putting in an honest effort to find a peaceful solution to the dispute.

As these developments, continue, there has been rise in exchange of hostilities. Both countries have been exchanging fire, in which locals are getting killed. This rise in violence along the disputed frontier has brought everyone out to condemn the warlike measures, rather than suggest that the countries have a meaningful dialogue. In the confrontation, it is the civilians of the area that are killed or injured in the crossfire. The situation in Kashmir where India has control is becoming worse, with more young people joining the insurgents and the voices of dissent getting louder.

According to one report, 451 persons including 125 security forces, 217 militants, 108 civilians and one pro-government personnel were killed in 2017.

The example of a young Kashmiri boy illustrates how the situation is changing. The 16-year-old’s video address was released just before he went to carry out a fidayeen attack on a government forces installation. There were shockwaves across the region, even within the security establishment and the government.

A young educated boy prepared to be a fidayeen is a dangerous trend that can only escalate if the issue is left unaddressed. The aggression between Pakistan and India must cease and Kashmiris should be given a sense of release from the frustration, destruction and loss all around them.

To find peace and calm in South Asia, many believe the road passes through Kashmir. Pakistan and China’s economic prospects and also India’s dream of becoming a major global power all hinge on peace and stability in Kashmir. In the age of economic competition, India and Pakistan cannot afford to deepen the wounds, or let Kashmiris perish as they keep up their enmity. Better sense must prevail; you are a big power only when you can find peace by sitting at the table together, not by fighting and killing. At the moment, the shadow of Kashmir darkens the prospect of prosperity in South Asia; unless the two countries show vision, matters will only get worse.

The writer is a journalist and editor of the anthology Of Occupation and Resistance: Writings from Kashmir.

Twitter: @pzfahad

Published in Dawn, February 1st, 2018