AFTER a considerably lengthy silence, leader of his faction of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference Mirwaiz Umar Farooq has issued a statement stressing the need to “resolve the Kashmir conflict urgently”, while pointing out that India must stop engineering demographic change in the disputed region. These demands came in a statement the incarcerated Mirwaiz released to the media.
He observed that while the renewal of the ceasefire along the LoC between Pakistan and India earlier this year was welcome, “not much has moved forward since”. He also called for the release of all political prisoners India has kept incarcerated, including Yasin Malik, who is suffering from a heart problem, and Shabir Shah.
The points raised by the veteran leader need to be considered by India, as its steps to curb the Kashmiri people’s desire for freedom by force have failed. The biggest indication of this came when Narendra Modi met a select group of Kashmiri leaders last month. Though the group consisted mostly of loyalists, even in that meeting the issue of political prisoners was raised, particularly by Mehbooba Mufti, former chief minister of India-held Kashmir. The fact is that strangulating the voice of Kashmir by incarcerating its political leadership is a failed strategy. Moreover, it is unconscionable that leaders with serious health issues are being kept behind bars by India. As the Mirwaiz pointed out, “even during Covid times, iron-fisted measures and institutional oppression continue”. But, the resistance in occupied Kashmir refuses to die down, as India claimed killing a number of Kashmiri fighters on Thursday.
If India is serious about resolving the Kashmir question, it must heed the advice of Mirwaiz and other leaders of the held region. Altering the region’s demographics by settling outsiders in Kashmir will make an already tense situation explosive, as the disputed area’s people are denied jobs, land and economic opportunities in their homeland. This will only add to alienation from India.
Moreover, as New Delhi has opened channels to loyalist Kashmiri leaders — some of whom it had detained after the events of August 2019 — it must also talk to the pro-freedom leaders of the occupied area, including the APHC factions. As Mirwaiz Umar Farooq said in his statement, “the resolution of the Kashmir conflict” can come “through dialogue among India, Pakistan and the people of J&K”. New Delhi must recognise the truth of this and send positive signals to the Kashmiris as well as Pakistan.
As we have stated before in this space, peace in South Asia largely hinges on a just resolution to the Kashmir question. Unless this is achieved, the people of the held region will continue to suffocate under Indian rule, while the wide gulf between Islamabad and New Delhi will also remain. India can send a strong message by releasing all incarcerated Kashmiri leaders, and reversing the controversial laws concerning occupied Kashmir that it has passed.
Published in Dawn, July 10th, 2021