Given how shocking images, videos and news emanating from Kashmir are, the silence over Kashmir is criminal.
It has always been difficult for Islamabad to strike a balance in its strategy over Kashmir, keeping in view local, regional and international dimensions of the conflict. Other than the occasional solidarity calls, it has failed to garner international support or open up channels of communication with New Delhi to force the BJP-led government to shun its suppressive policies and disproportionate use of force in Kashmir.
Also, the much-talked-about personal intimacy between Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his counterpart Narendra Modi has yielded nothing in these testing times.
The Kashmiri resistance has intensified in the last two and half decades, and has transformed its image from a gun-wielding militant movement to one led by educated protestors. The digital revolution has increased peoples’ participation in many ways. Its indigenous character has defeated the traditional narrative that Kashmir is merely a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan or Pakistan sends infiltrators to commit terrorist acts.
The huge public participation in the protests and funerals shows that no external power can even imagine inspiring people to participate in the processions which might lead them to a violent end.
Kashmir is resonating with modern ideas of civil liberties, human rights and peoples’ aspirations to decide their destiny. The United Nations Security Council resolutions and the presence of its military observers in Kashmir lend credence to the resistance.
Presently, Pakistan is in a catch 22 positions, facing a multi-layered complexity while articulating its stance on Kashmir. Domestic audience demands that it plays to the gallery and creates a jingoist environment to gain political mileage as well as divert public attention from more pressing local issues such as bad governance and corruption.
Across the Line of Control (LoC) common people expect that Pakistan would demonstrate strong political and diplomatic muscles as a response to ‘Indian bullies’. When Islamabad talks about Kashmir, it leaves a massive impact, no matter negative or positive, in the streets of Srinagar. When Pakistan talks tough and reassures sustained diplomatic and political support, it boosts morale of Kashmiris, and inspires them to pitch a strong fight against the occupation.
Here is a caveat, though. If Pakistan champions the cause of Kashmir, it might lose local character, and become an India-Pakistan issue, which is highly undesirable. If it does not extend support, it might discourage people banking on Pakistan’s support to run the resistance struggle. There is a very thin line between an inclusive and localised resistance struggle and a struggle backed by Pakistan against the Indian rule.
How must Pakistan hedge against such risks? It is a known fact that Pakistan is a party to the dispute since its inception. So, it must talk about Kashmiri aspiration and human rights conditions inside Kashmir. However, since the last couple of years, people of Kashmir, their political representatives, civil society and academics have been fascinating advocates of their own cause. I see young Kashmiris speak straight from the heart with Indian politicians, even in New Delhi, without fearing future consequences.
The material that Kashmiri writers and filmmakers are generating reminds me of the resistance literature written in 1930s and 40s in the colonised British India. Above all, when the people of Kashmir talk, the world listens to their side of story, and do not ignore it as India-Pakistan squabbling.
The killing of Burhan Wani has triggered the deep-rooted Kashmiri mass uprising. Young Kashmiris who have grown up in the midst of violence, have transformed stories, which have hugely changed hearts and minds.
In this context, those in Pakistan or Azad Jammu and Kashmir must act with utmost restraint. Projection of the Kashmir resistance movement must not translate into empowerment of radical elements in Pakistan, as was the case in the past years.
Hafiz Saeed’s Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), Syed Salahuddin’s Hizb-ul-Mujahadeen, Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil’s Ansar-ul-Umma, and leaders of banned outfits such as Jaish-e-Mohammed (JEM) staged a protest in Islamabad on the arrival of Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh for the Saarc meet. Several other religio-politico organisations are also actively campaigning for the Kashmir cause across Pakistan, collecting funds and food items for victims of the Kashmir uprising. No one asks how a jihadi organisation can send relief goods across the LoC?
It has been witnessed several times that once extremists groups occupy centre-stage to promote Kashmir cause, civil society actors, human rights defenders and liberal segment of the society disperse, as they do not want to share a platform with the rest. Besides, when JuD’s Chief Hafiz Saeed is given space to freely roam around and stage protests, it validates Indian claim that Islamabad is not interested in respecting concerns of the international community regarding terrorist outfit operating from its soil.
This is a self-defeating act as Pakistan loses the narrative that Kashmir resistance has local character and defiance against the occupation runs in their blood.
But, perhaps, it is premature to debate on the future of Kashmir.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif stated in Muzaffarabad that “Kashmir banay ga Pakistan”. This is a double-edge appraoch. It might further divide the embattled Kashmiris. Secondly, it contradicts Pakistan’s traditional stance that people of Kashmir are free to make decision regarding their future. It would be a serious mistake to send a massage across the LoC that they would have to opt for Pakistan at the end of the day. Not other option is thinkable.
Last but not least, Pakistan and India have exhausted all channels of direct communication. National Security Advisors seem least interested in engaging each other.
People are getting killed in Kashmir and conflict between security forces and local people are taking an ugly turn. The alienation between Srinagar and New Delhi looks irreparable. And Islamabad is glad to see India lose face in the Kashmir valley, as it has not talked about the conflict resolution since 2008.
Mediation between Islamabad and New Delhi has reached a deadlock. Sadly, international powers wake up only when things get out of hand in South Asia.