The divide over Kashmir

Updated 25 Feb 2019

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THE voices that have been raised for peace amidst the din of war drums are worth heeding. Mercifully, these voices — on both sides of the Pakistan-India border — are less feeble than they used to be.

In the words of a former Indian spy chief, who evidently does not approve of the jingoism his country has resorted to after the Pulwama attack, the clamour for war following the Mumbai attack 10 years ago had been far louder. This may provide us with a measure of how people have progressed over the last decade.

Read: Pulwama attack

An era of free communication has, inevitably, provided new, thought-provoking information for the debate to be based on. A number of Pakistanis — including some in government — have echoed the line taken by former Indian spy chief A.S. Dulat that “war is not a picnic”. Many Indians also accept the Pakistani contention that the Pulwama suicide attack was carried out by a local Kashmiri youth in India-held Kashmir. The Kashmiri Muslims have reason enough to take on the Indian army’s might. Any other ideological influence that they may come under is of secondary importance.

Take a look: Fear engulfs Muslims living in occupied Kashmir after Pulwama attack

While jingoism on both sides must be responded to by those with an unshakeable desire for regional peace, the concerns over the calls for war remain in place. One fear relates to rumours which say that, away from the screen and the stage, a strategy is being drawn up somewhere by some adventurers who are not inclined to pass up the ‘opportunity’ for creating more tension, without providing violent proof of their own existence. These thoughts are then lent credence by official statements that talk about military build-ups, action and retaliation. The resulting emotion in that divisive moment grips the public in both countries, drowning out the voices for peace, and war hysteria continues to escalate.

Meanwhile, it is in India’s interest not to view the Pulwama attack, though spectacularly bloody, as a routine incident in a decades-old conflict. Perhaps the tendency to see such attacks in Kashmir as not unexpected is why the Mumbai incident seemed so much more violent, causing the war drums to beat louder a decade ago. There is a need for India to revisit its security policies in the occupied region, and to accept that the seething anger of Kashmiris does not need further prodding from outside elements.

The Pulwama attack killed nearly 50 Indian paramilitary personnel. But it was also an attack that once again underlined the great resentment in IHK against Indian forces that routinely humiliate, abuse and kill Kashmiris — old and young, men and women, boys and girls — with the full approval of New Delhi. It is this frustration that must be the focal point in any debate regarding the resolution of the long-standing Kashmir dispute.

Unless there is acknowledgement of that, Pulwama will not be the last tragedy of its kind in IHK.

Published in Dawn, February 25th, 2019