The Kashmiri people have tried everything — from peaceful protests to armed struggle all these years to highlight their cause, but the international community has largely remained unmoved.
Some people are born unlucky as they remain unheard and are unable to get justice. Among them are the Kashmiris and the Kurds, who have suffered long due to the compulsions of world politics. The Kashmiris are divided as they are made to live under the administrative control and political systems of two countries — India and Pakistan — across a heavily barricaded and fenced Line of Control (LoC) in one of the most militarised piece of land in the world.
Most Kashmiris yearn for “azadi” (freedom) from the Indian rule in Jammu and Kashmir and wish to be reunited as they were in the past. The Kurds are even unluckier as they are living in five countries and are kept apart and often oppressed due to their demand for a united and independent state of Kurdistan.
Presently, the Kashmiri people are passing through yet another painful phase of their wretched existence in the aftermath of the assassination of 22-year old Hizbul Mujahideen commander, Burhan Muzaffar Wani, by the Indian forces and the unprecedented protests that the martyrdom of this popular internet-savvy militant has sparked.
They are protesting daily and in large numbers but are being made to pay the price by the Indian forces that are armed with the sweeping Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act and believe they have the license to kill and maim whoever dares to defy the Indian rule.
Already, 51 Kashmiris have lost their lives, mostly the youth who are showing defiance like never before. More than 2,000 have sustained injuries with a surprisingly high number of over 100 youngsters being hit in the eyes by air gun pellets and at risk of losing their eyesight. This alone should put India and the world to shame, but the lack of response to their plight explains the duplicity of countries and organisations that are more concerned about keeping New Delhi in good humour than caring for the human rights of an oppressed people.
The ongoing protests in the Kashmir Valley are generally peaceful, but the youth who are protesting in the streets could easily become radicalised in case they are continuously subjected to violence by the Indian soldiers and cops. This has happened in the past and it looks would happen again.
Until now, India has got away by presenting the agitating Kashmiris as Islamic radicals and even terrorists and linking them with Pakistan, but this cannot go on forever. Like Pakistanis, the Indians, too, point fingers at outsiders for their troubles instead of conceding their mistakes, excesses and weaknesses. Unless such facts of life are admitted, it is unlikely the gravity of the situation would be realised and remedial measures are undertaken.
It is true that New Delhi has been able to hold elections in Jammu and Kashmir and give some autonomy to the only Muslim-majority state in India on account of its special status, but the basic issue at the heart of the problem is the realisation of the will of the Kashmiri people through self-determination enshrined in several UN Security Council resolutions. This hasn’t happened and India is in no mood to allow it to happen as it knows pretty well that the outcome of such a vote would go against it.
The plebiscite vote may go in Pakistan’s favour and that cannot be acceptable to India after having invested heavily there these past 68 years in the hope that it would be able to win the hearts and minds in Jammu and Kashmir. Even if the self-determination vote doesn’t favour Pakistan and the Kashmiris opt for an independent state in case they are given this third option, the new country would be much closer to Pakistan than India.
Pakistan, no doubt, has to do better in terms of serving its people, strengthening institutions and improving its image in the world in order to not only attract wider support from the Kashmiri people to eventually join it, but also obtain support internationally for its Kashmir policy.
Surprised by the widespread protests in the Kashmir Valley and pro-Pakistan sloganeering and frequent public display of its flag by the protestors, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government observed ‘Black Day’ in the country on July 20 to condemn the atrocities by India and express solidarity with the people of Indian-occupied Jammu and Kashmir.
Voices of dissent with the strong-fisted Kashmir policy of Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led BJP government were also heard in India. However, there was no real international condemnation of the killing and maiming of Kashmiri protestors.
Most disappointing has been the inaction of the United Nations despite being the repository of resolutions of its Security Council promising the right of self-determination to the Kashmiri people and still maintaining the UN Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) to oversee the ceasefire that came into force in January 1949.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who is nearing completion of his ineffectual term of office, has yet to react to the high levels of violence that has lately engulfed the Kashmir Valley and led to deaths, injuries, arrests, curfew, internet blackout and three days of closure of the newspapers.
According to a press release, Pakistan’s ambassador to the UN, Dr Maleeha Lodhi was told by UN officials that the Secretary General was concerned about the deteriorating situation in Kashmir, but Ban Ki-moon has yet to give any such statement officially.
In this hour of need, when the world showed little interest in the happenings in Jammu and Kashmir, China like a true friend made the Kashmiris and Pakistanis happy by issuing a timely statement expressing concern over the unrest in Kashmir and calling for a proper settlement of the issue through peaceful means. Indian officials and analysts found the Chinese statement as coming out of the blue and, therefore surprising, but some of them took comfort by arguing that it was carefully couched in “stock phrases” that doesn’t change Beijing’s position on the Kashmir dispute.
It is possible the Turkish government could have taken note of the violence in Kashmir had President Recep Tayyip Erdogan not been fighting to save his life and government from a section of his rebellious soldiers who unsuccessfully tried to oust him from power. He had earlier stepped out to criticise Prime Minister Hasina Wajid’s government in Bangladesh for sending to the gallows elderly leaders of the Jamaat-i-Islami.
Other Islamic countries with friendly ties to Pakistan also showed indifference to the subjugation of Kashmiri Muslims by India. They have mostly been busy tackling their own difficult internal situation and some in the process of improving relations with India don’t want to undo the effort.
The Islamic countries were content to let the OIC issue a statement condemning the killing of Burhan Wani and the innocent Kashmiris peacefully demonstrating his assassination. It also deplored the use of force by the Indian security forces. Such statements are largely innocuous that can neither hurt India nor help the Kashmiris in concrete terms.
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However, the current Kashmiri agitation has made an impact on the political situation in Jammu and Kashmir. The coalition government of Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and BJP has come under strain and could become unworkable. The PDP is fast losing support and so could Omar Abdullah’s National Conference as the Kashmiris, particularly the youth, turn away from the pro-India parties and into the arms of pro-azadi groups.
Pro-Pakistan leaders, such as Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mir Waiz Omar Farooq-headed Hurriyet Conference could find the ground more fertile for their brand of politics in future. More importantly, the armed struggle could receive an impetus after having lost momentum in recent years as young educated Kashmiris inspired by late Burhan Wani pick up the gun and fight back against the marauding Indian forces. This time it would be a more indigenous battle than in the past when Pakistan was blamed for whatever was happening in Kashmir.