Kashmir: The world’s most forgotten conflict
By Dr. Ghulam Nabi Fai
The people of Kashmir are making an earnest appeal to humanity at large, and the world powers in particular, to pay heed to the long-standing wishes and aspirations of the Kashmiri people as they observe 90th anniversary of the Martyrs Day of July 13, 1931. It was on the tragic day on July 13, 1931 that the foreign occupying Dogra troops shot dead 22 Kashmiris, in cold blood, in front of Srinagar Central Jail. July 13th is forever scarred in the collective minds of the Kashmiri people as the day when the freedom movement was greeted with bullets. Since that ominous day, Kashmiris have organized peaceful protests, seminars and conferences throughout the world. They believe that their suffering has not ended despite the end of the despotic Dogra dynasty rule.
The fate of Kashmiris changed for the worse, as it has been replaced by tyrannies of successive Indian regimes with various garbs of democracy. But, the tyranny in Kashmir under the Hindutva nationalists has reached a new and unprecedented level of inhumanity. No one will be allowed to venture out on July 13th, 2021 to commemorate the event and pay tribute to the heroes of Kashmir history. But global Kashmiri diaspora will observe the solemn Day to reaffirm their resolve to continue their struggle for self-determination, and to pay homage to over 100,000 innocent men, women and children who have and continue to sacrifice their lives for freedom of their beloved land over the 90 years since that fateful day.
The people of Kashmir clearly have little faith in or respect for the so-called Indian democracy, and India hasn’t the slightest idea how to earn it. Kashmir is back to the same square one. Kashmir is back to the same square one. Killings, chaos, confusion, turmoil, uncertainty and dark nights. There is suffering everywhere. There is darkness everywhere.
At the same time, the studied unconcern by the world powers has given a sense of total impunity to Indian army in Kashmir. It has also created the impression that the international community is invidiously selective about the application of the principles of human rights and democratic values.
So much for the heart and possibly even more so the soul of the world powers. One can only recall the quote in Matthew and the betrayal of Jesus, “When Pilate saw that he was accomplishing nothing, but rather that a riot was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this Man’s blood; see to that yourselves.” The world powers have walked away from the slaughter in Kashmir and washed its hands of it, and the world body has told India, “it’s your problem. See to that yourselves.”
The pro-freedom leadership, including Syed Ali Geelani and Mirwaiz Umer Farooq were detained and are not able to go out of their houses for 11 years and 2 years respectively. Mohammad Yasin Malik, Shabir Ahmed Shah, Musarat Alam and other political leaders are languishing in various jails where they are being subjected to torture, isolation and healthcare deprivation and unhygienic crowded conditions. They are facing added fear of Covid-19 pandemic which is raging among jail staff and security forces. Modi regime’s goal is to totally decapitate the political leadership of Kashmir and it can trample any norms of decency and human rights.
Nevertheless, the people of Kashmir have sent a loud and clear message to the world community that the Kashmir issue is not about governance or economic packages or financial incentives as proclaimed by Narendra Modi, the prime minister of India when he abrogated Article 370 & 35 A on August 5, 2019. They want the world to know that the youth of Kashmir are dying on the streets, not asking for jobs and roads. What is their actual demand? It is the demand of the people’s right — the right to self-determination.” As the slogan that has now become talk of the town declares, “We want Aazadi and nothing else but Aazadi.”
Meanwhile the U.S., the sole superpower in the world which must bear the responsibility for setting the moral tone through disciplined and rightful leadership, sits back and does nothing. Such a behavior poorly disguises the financial incentives that have opened India up to USD $500 billion in American investment during the coming five years.
Lack of concern about the matter is reflected in the U.S. State Department’s Human Rights Report which has not and does not keep official records on killings by Indian forces in Kashmir occurring under the Armed Forces Special Protection Act (AFSPA). They don’t track them. Yet its own website, while alluding to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, declares so glibly, “We see it as fundamental to our own interests to support a just peace around the world — one in which individuals, and not just nations, are granted the fundamental rights that they deserve.”
President Biden so eloquently said on February 4, 2021, “We must start with diplomacy rooted in America’s most cherished democratic values: defending freedom, championing opportunity, upholding universal rights, respecting the rule of law, and treating every person with dignity.” Secretary of State, Antony J. Blinken spoke on February 24, 2021 that “President Biden is committed to a foreign policy that unites our democratic values with our diplomatic leadership, and one that is centered on the defense of democracy and the protection of human rights.”
Then by remaining silent, the U.S. is in fact declaring, though inadvertently that Kashmiris have no fundamental rights and do not deserve them. Otherwise, how can you explain it to a Kashmiri when President Biden says, “The United States must lead not just with the example of power, but the power of our example.” President Biden may take a leaf from President Obama who said on July 10, 2009 at L’Aquila, Italy, “We don’t want stronger nations bullying weaker nations. On the other hand, where you have nations that are oppressing their people, isn’t there an international responsibility to intervene?
The world powers need to know that the situation in Kashmir in 2021 is totally different from the past. It is a youth driven mass movement with social media savvy. They are educated and enthusiastic to achieve their birthright– the right to self-determination. The right to decide that was pledged to them by India, Pakistan and the world community.
The desire for self-determination is the one very big “element” India should be concerned about, yet continues to pretend to the world that it does not exist. However long India refuses to acknowledge it, the decades-old movement in Kashmir will not simply die out.
The world powers, including the United States should persuade India to take the following steps:
1. To include the genuine leadership of the people of Jammu & Kashmir in all future negotiations with India and Pakistan;
2. To have an immediate and complete cessation of military and paramilitary action by Indian forces against the people of Jammu & Kashmir;
3. To dismantle immediately all bunkers, watch towers and barricades set up by the Indian military and paramilitary forces in towns and villages;
4. To release unconditionally all those imprisoned in connection with resistance to the Indian occupation;
5. To repeal the draconian laws, including Jammu Kashmir Armed Forces Special Powers Act;
6. To restore the right of peaceful association, assembly and demonstration to the people of the State of Jammu & Kashmir.
In conclusion, India and the United States should listen to one of India’s prominent journalists, Vir Sanghvi who wrote in Hindustan Times, “If you (India) believe in democracy, then giving Kashmiris the right to self-determination is the correct thing to do.”
Dr. Fai is the Secretary General, Washington-based World Kashmir Awareness Forum.