THREE years after the BJP-led government in New Delhi made its ill-advised move to do away with the autonomous constitutional status of held Kashmir, normality evades the region. In fact, a suffocating status quo prevails, as Kashmiris chafe under Indian rule. The top political leadership in Pakistan, from the prime minister down, weighed in on Friday to mark the grim anniversary. Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif condemned India’s “unbridled force” while Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari highlighted the shocking fact that hundreds of Kashmiris had been killed since Aug 5, 2019. Former PM Imran Khan lambasted the international community’s “selective morality”, as many self-proclaimed champions of human rights turn a blind eye to the suffering of the Kashmiris. And while Indians are quick to dismiss Pakistan’s concerns over Kashmir as ‘propaganda’, many independent voices have also slammed New Delhi’s brutal campaign in the disputed valley. For example, Human Rights Watch recently released a damning document to mark the third anniversary of the Aug 5 events that details India’s excesses in occupied Kashmir. The international rights watchdog says New Delhi has “intensified” a crackdown on media and civil society groups, while it has called on Indian authorities to “end the assault on fundamental freedoms”.
The road to peace in South Asia runs through Kashmir, and it is only by giving the people of the disputed region their due rights that the decades-old toxicity dominating the subcontinent can give way to a less combative future. Unfortunately, the poisonous nationalism mixed with religious jingoism that drives the BJP will not allow India’s rulers to see the advantages of resolving the Kashmir dispute peacefully, with input from all three stakeholders — Pakistan, India and the Kashmiris. Instead, India’s attempts to alter the held region’s demography, and dilute its unique status through constitutional trickery, have only made matters worse. If New Delhi thinks it can end the Kashmiri freedom struggle through brute force, it is mistaken as this approach has failed for the past three decades. Moreover, India’s rulers are trying to silence the moderate voices of the Kashmiri leadership, such as that of Yasin Malik, through detention and implication in dubious cases. India needs to engage the Kashmiris as well as Pakistan to resolve the imbroglio. Narendra Modi’s predecessor and fellow Sangh devotee Atal Bihari Vajpayee came close to resolving the Kashmir question at the Agra Summit. Can Mr Modi choose a similar path, instead of walking on the present destructive one?
Published in Dawn, August 6th, 2022