This is a watershed moment in Kashmir in the 69th year of Indian invasion and occupation of the disputed region. For regional and world peace, this moment should not pass without action.
The by-elections in Kashmir on April 9, 2017 ended with an unprecedented humiliation for India. This was the worst electoral exercise in the 69 years since India invaded and occupied the region in 1948. Never did the Indian ruling elite in New Delhi, especially the Hindi-speaking northerners who drove Kashmir conflict from the beginning, face this kind of utter failure and defeat in the scenic valley. This prompted the former interior minister P. Chidambaram to say ‘Kashmir is nearly lost for India,’ in a rare admission from a key member of the Indian establishment that echoed widespread despondency in Indian political and military circles.
Kashmir spun out of control of the world’s third largest army by size after July 2016. India has filled several unmarked graves in Kashmir with the bodies of young Kashmiri men but the extrajudicial execution of Burhan Wani, the handsome and charismatic 22-year-old social media activist was a lesson that taught Indian generals that impunity has a price. With his boyish looks and political determination that made him Kashmir’s Che Guevara, Wani’s murder by India has unleashed one of the most impressive and determined freedom movements underway anywhere in the world today.
The Indian army in Kashmir is demoralized. Cellphone video footages that spread online in the second and third weeks of April 2017, after the Indian occupation authorities in Kashmir lifted the internet blackout, include stunning videos. In one video, Indian soldiers carry assault rifles as they walk back to their camps but are too tired to respond to heckling by a jeering crowd of young Kashmiri men and boys, mostly unarmed but some wielding sticks. In another video, Kashmiri boys shield and protect beleaguered Indian soldiers who were on polling booth duty as they withdraw back to their camps.
These videos and pictures are spreading like wildfire across India and eating away whatever little image the Indian military built after the alleged ‘surgical airstrikes’ inside neighboring Burma and Pakistan in 2015 and 2016 respectively. Both strikes have already been exposed on Indian social media as hoaxes. The humiliation in Kashmir is real and documented. It is hurting morale within the Indian military. The commanders have bluntly told the closest aides of India’s extremist Prime Minister Narendra Modi they can no longer implement New Delhi’s policy in Kashmir. Some of the Indian commanders have been too blunt. They told Modi’s government the Indian army cannot be responsible for the failures of Indian politicians and governments in Kashmir. Outside India, New Delhi’s friends are increasingly warning India that ‘Kashmir is slipping away,’ as The Diplomat did in this June 2016 article, which was published almost a month before India killed Burhan Wani.
The alienation in Kashmir is complete and irrevocable. There is little chance India can now suppress and reverse the demand by educated young Kashmiri women and men who say, ‘we are not Indian. We want freedom.’ Take the case of Insha Malik, the 14-year-old. She represents over 200 Kashmiris whose eyesight was lost under an Indian Army policy of targeting the eyes of young peaceful protesters with pellet guns. Modi and his coterie in New Delhi are unable to understand how this matter is not limited to 200 persons and their families. This policy of creating what The New York Times has called an ‘Epidemic of Dead Eyes’ has sent an unmistakable message to the fourteen million or so Kashmiris: India will not hesitate to kill as many Kashmiri civilians, including school-age students who participate in protests, if that is what it takes to keep Indian rule over Kashmir.
And if this was not enough, we have two more images that will haunt India forever. One is of a young Kashmiri man tied up to the front of an Indian army jeep and paraded across Kashmiri villages. And the second of an Indian army soldier caught on camera firing a gas shell from underneath the Government College for Women at Nawakadal, Srinagar, Kashmir. Many girls, who were peacefully protesting, were seriously injured. Both of these incidents happened in April 2017.
There is no chance that dust will settle in Kashmir. And it is increasingly clear that India has decided to kill Kashmiris and keep the land. Kashmiris are overwhelmingly against the forcible and illegal Indian occupation and annexation, and Indian actions violate UNSC resolutions and India’s commitments under Geneva Conventions and the international humanitarian law. In just three months after July 2016, Indian army has burned 25 schools in Kashmir. Now the Indian army is firing shells inside colleges. Hate attacks have increased dramatically against Kashmiri students who study in India. In the northern Hindi belt, where the Hindi-speaking minority rulers of India come from, billboards have sprung up asking Kashmiris to leave.
This is the time for Pakistan to act. Pakistani diplomats have put on an impressive show at international forums, and especially at UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. On April 21, Nafees Zakaria, the Foreign Office spokesman, declared during a weekly briefing that ‘India is waging an all-out war against Kashmiri students’ studying inside India.
Pakistani action at this time does not mean complicating matters for India or disturbing the precarious regional situation. It means mitigating the humanitarian disaster and the killings that India is engaged in inside Kashmir, ensuring injured Kashmiris get access to medical aid, and convincing India to resolve Kashmir Conflict.
Here are five things Pakistan’s leaders should contemplate doing now:
1. Elevate Kashmir in National Politics
Kashmir is an international conflict that affects Pakistan more than any other country. Natural ethnic, cultural, geographic and historic links between Kashmiris and Pakistanis means any humanitarian crisis in Kashmir will destabilize Pakistan, the region, and the world peace. This is happening now. Pakistani politics are fractious and chaotic, a little more than many democracies. So, Pakistani politicians need to take a conscious decision to keep Kashmir in the news through numerous small gestures they can take.
2. Kashmir Desk at Pakistan Missions
Without creating more bureaucracy, the Government of Pakistan can appoint non-bureaucrats to this position. The persons taking charge of the Kashmir Desk in one country can preferably be picked from the Pakistani diaspora in that country or region. They can engage with the local media, politicians and researchers and encourage more coverage for Kashmir developments.
3. Engage Top Politicians in Important Capitals
Already many politicians in important world capitals have spoken on Kashmir. The international media too has increased its Kashmir coverage to levels not seen in years, if not decades. Pakistan can add consistency to this by engaging with these politicians, and creating opportunities for them to speak at events, speak to Pakistani media, and organize events on home turfs.
4. Create a National Database on Kashmir Genocide
The freedom movement in Kashmir is one of the most impressive movements for self-determination in the world. There are stories of bravery, of tragedy, of selfless devotion to cause, of women joining men in a national mission. Except for some activists in Indian-occupied Kashmir working to document the milestones in Kashmiri movement with limited resources, not much else is being done at an organized level. This can only happen through government support, and Pakistan is in the best position to do this. The Government of Pakistan can establish a Kashmir Research Library, whose sole task should be to professionally and meticulously document the Kashmir freedom movement and provide instant and online access to researchers, journalists, activists and decision makers worldwide to help formulate policy.
5. Designate a Goodwill Ambassador for Kashmir
Pakistan’s new generation is talented, resourceful and well positioned to engage the world. We have fine actors and actresses, artists, writers, authors, musicians, and novelists. Many of them are engaged in social causes. The State must encourage them and support them to get involved in resolving Kashmir Conflict and bring lasting peace. Pakistan can designate a Goodwill Ambassador for Kashmir whose mission would be to help mobilize the world for a humanitarian and political intervention in Kashmir, arrange for medical evacuations, assist needy school boys and girls, and help the world understand why peace is necessary in Kashmir.
The Kashmir freedom movement is irreversible. India cannot stop in Kashmir what Britain could not stop in India seventy years ago. India’s ruling elite should heed the call of Gandhi. You cannot stop freedom even if you have the third largest army in the world. India should withdraw from Kashmir, allow the Kashmiris to decide their future, and normalize relations with the Kashmiris and with Pakistan. We all can benefit from peace.
The author is a researcher, television host, and writer.
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