A moral victory

August 21, 2019

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The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.
The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.

INDIA-HELD Kashmir and its people are not the only ones suffering the brunt of India’s cruel and callous moment. In the Indian state of Assam, hundreds of kilometres away from the besieged territory of occupied Kashmir, another tragedy is unfolding.

On Aug 31, the Indian government will conclude a registration and citizenship drive that began some time ago. The drive has imposed new documentary requirements that require even people who lived in the region for generations to ‘prove’ their citizenship. Those who are unable to will not make it to the government list and henceforth be considered illegal migrants. In effect, the drive is being undertaken to deny citizenship to Muslims in the hilly regions near the Bangladesh border.

The terror of being rendered stateless is so acute that it has already driven many to suicide. According to the New York Times report published this past weekend, those who cannot prove that they were citizens before the creation of Bangladesh in 1971 risk being imprisoned and rendered stateless. It could even be that by the end of the month, as many as four million Muslims who have trouble producing an old pre-1971 birth certificate or some old property deed from long ago are rendered stateless. In addition to all the people who are already suffering, there could well be as many as 4m added to the numbers of those who cannot call their home their own.

To ensure that the people of Kashmir get the attention they deserve, Pakistan must lead the way.

After the revocation of Article 370 by the Indian government over two weeks ago, the most devious aspects of Modi’s rabid Hindu nationalism have come to the fore. As one commentator put it, oppressing and subjugating the Muslim population is just one way in which Modi and his followers are enacting a cruel and lurid victory that somehow erases the historical legacy of Muslim rule over the subcontinent. In this sense, harassing and disenfranchising Muslims has become an act tied with religious and historical significance beyond the present.

The lynching of innocent Muslims, the pogroms, the annexations and the fake citizenship requirements are all intended to achieve this same historical purpose. The secular India that boasted of its pluralism, its diversity, its 1,600 languages and dialects and its plethora of religions, is gone forever. In the aftermath, there is only the India that is insistent on achieving some version of a Hindu state, with nominally democratic institutions that enshrine the will of the majority.

Pakistanis know this, but the world is not yet quite sure. For every evil that Modi’s henchmen are perpetrating on unfortunate Christians and Muslims who call India their home, they cite abuses committed by Pakistan on its own minorities. While in Pakistan there is no equivalent to the thousands killed in Gujarat under the watch of the chief minister who is now the Indian prime minister, or the millions besieged in occupied Kashmir, there has been past mayhem and persecution that makes the international community wonder. As the lack of opposition within India amply illustrates, if there will be any kind of challenge to the Modi plan of ‘de-Muslimising’ India via a form of ethnic cleansing, it will come on the heels of international attention and pressure.

Some battles can only be won through moral victories. To win a moral victory over India, and to help the millions of Muslims in India and occupied Kashmir, as well as others who are completely helpless, Pakistan must underscore the moral difference between the two countries. International discourse must change so that the conflict is no longer framed as the long-standing dispute between two hostile powers; it must be reframed as one between an India moving backwards and a Pakistan moving ahead.

Moving ahead for Pakistan will mean acknowledging some of the demons of its own past. The issue of stranded Pakistanis — those in the eastern wing who wanted to opt for Pakistan following the 1971 war — is one such issue. Over 200,000 of these people continue to live a hapless existence in more than 60 camps scattered all around Bangladesh. In the past, efforts to repatriate these suffering people were unsuccessful. In 2009, a case was filed in Pakistan that reached the courts by 2015, but it also failed to provide any relief to stranded Pakistanis.

There is an acute lack of political will in Pakistan and little recognition of the fact that those who wanted to be a part of the country the moment it broke apart have the right to citizenship. To put it in terms of what the Indians are doing in Assam, it is like asking people who have long had a claim to a homeland to suddenly ‘prove’ their commitment.

One route to a moral victory would be to put right what has long been wrong. If the Pakistan of the past committed an injustice and left helpless people without recourse, stateless and bereft, the Pakistan of the present should do the opposite. In contrast to Prime Minister Modi’s atrocious actions, a decree from Prime Minister Imran Khan could suddenly deliver all stranded Pakistanis from their torment, grant them statehood and end their suffering.

Emphasising the moral difference between Pakistan and India has never been more crucial.

In the end, to ensure that the people of occupied Kashmir get the attention and consideration that they deserve from the world and international institutions, Pakistan must lead the way. This requires Pakistan to take on the difficult issues that it has historically ignored.

Instead of permitting the Indian propaganda machine to continue insisting that the takeover of Kashmir is just an internal matter, they should be silenced by Pakistan engaging in an act that is noteworthy, laudable and stands in contrast to India’s denial of citizenship to the Assamese and its snatching away the rights of the Kashmiris. Sometimes, wars are won not by the commission of increasingly destructive acts, but by morally superior and constructive ones.

The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.

rafia.zakaria@gmail.com

Published in Dawn, August 21st, 2019