A robust response that’s viable too

Published August 10, 2019
The writer is a former editor of Dawn.
The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

INDIA’S callous annexation of the disputed territory of Kashmir and the repression that it came amidst filled my heart with enormous ache as not just the millions of faceless, nameless Kashmiris were in my thoughts but also half a dozen wonderful human beings from the valley who happen to be personal friends.

Access to the occupied valley has been restricted in the best of times but unlike so many around the world who seem to have bought into Delhi’s demonisation of the Kashmiri as a militant, obscurantist monolith that has no place in the 21st century, my friendship with the amazing individuals I have referred to makes me see clearly the absurdity of the Indian position.

By revoking Article 370 of the Indian constitution, the BJP government has furnished evidence of its fascism where the will of the people of the Valley is subservient to the Hindutva agenda of the governing party and the RSS, the parent organisation it draws its inspiration and cadres from.

While the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah-Ajit Doval troika has sought to take away Kashmir’s special status which implicitly acknowledged that it was a disputed territory in constitutional-legal terms, in practical terms, it makes little difference to the Kashmiris who will continue to be denied their just rights and live their nightmare of a life under Indian occupation.

The diplomatic option is the only one available, although in 72 years it has delivered nothing.

The complete communication shutdown and a news blackout from Srinagar and the rest of the disputed territory were meant to successfully cloak any reaction to this arbitrary and fascistic move by the Hindu nationalist BJP. And by and large it has worked so far.

The only scraps of news and the occasional situational pieces on what is happening on the ground have managed to reach the outside world through thumb drives that the odd reporter has managed to smuggle out of Kashmir via passengers travelling out.

Do not be mistaken. While it seems the glee with which the Indian media has received the news and showered its government, representing values that would make Steve Bannon look like a dove, with all forms of accolades, there are voices of conscience calling out their leadership on this gravest of follies which, they believe, will lead to more violence and turmoil.

If the idea behind the revocation of Article 370 was to finally give legal cover to attempts aimed at altering the demographics of the valley by making it possible, for example, for non-Muslim outsiders to purchase land and property in the valley and increase their share in the population, many Kashmiris I have talked to who are currently abroad say the local fury will obviate any such move.

Pakistan has rightly maintained for 72 years that along with the Kashmiris, it is the main party to the dispute with India. So, when last month President Donald Trump told his White House visitor “the great athlete” Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan that he was ready to mediate in the dispute between Islamabad and Delhi, the Pakistani media and analysts jumped for joy.

The prime minister returned home on a commercial flight and the satellite gate where the plane docked to allow passengers to disembark was heaving with the weight of both cabinet members bearing garlands and his de facto deputy who cannot have a de jure position because of a Supreme Court verdict.

The cabinet members were jostling to be among the first to garland their leaders, and elbowing, pushing and shoving each other; the scene was reminiscent of the return of the victorious Pakistani cricket team after winning the World Cup in 1992.

Although the number of those welcoming that team was much greater, the enthusiasm of the ministers and key PTI officials was equal to the one witnessed on that historic day. Little wonder someone quoted the prime minister as having said he felt as he was returning home after winning the World Cup.

Tragically, the euphoria was short-lived as first the Indians and then the US State Department denied the Trump claim that Modi had asked him to mediate. Then, of course, if the 1992 World Cup example was still relevant, the Waterford Crystal trophy came crashing down and shattered into uncountable pieces with the unilateral scrapping of 370 by Modi.

The corps commanders’ conference went into session presided over by the army chief who would have remembered how he was feted in Washington, D.C. just a few days earlier.

The conference’s much-awaited statement condemned the Indian move and pledged to go to “any extent” to defend the rights of the Kashmiris. This was a bold statement coming from the high command of a military with both strategic and tactical nuclear weapons at its command, besides an array of state-of-the-art conventional arms and half-a-million battle-hardened troops.

With a joint session of parliament assembled in Islamabad, the prime minister seemed to be waiting to take his cue from the conference as he was missing from the assembly for a long time. When he finally arrived, he made the usual statement of condemnation but also spelt out the limitations before him in formulating a strategy.

He responded in a mocking tone to Leader of the Opposition Shahbaz Sharif’s call for a robust response by rhetorically asking: “Should I go to war with India?” This clearly also interpreted what the parameters were when the military was pledging to go to any extent.

Given the FATF pressure, resorting to any jihadi or military option is unlikely (I am not advocating any such adventurism). This means that the diplomatic option is the only one available, although in 72 years it has delivered nothing.

I don’t wish to contemplate the future of my Kashmiri brothers and sisters under these circumstances. Is Kashmir fated to become another Palestine, left at the mercy of occupation forces while the global conscience conveniently looks the other way? The only wild card is the indomitable will of the defiant Kashmiris who have always somehow found the strength to defy Delhi and foil its plans.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.


Published in Dawn, August 10th, 2019


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