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September 24, 2016

The imperfect messenger


September 24, 2016

There are two sure-fire ways to get your liberation movement noticed by the rest of the world. First – and this is vital – pick an oppressor who is not allied to the US.

If you are being persecuted by a friend of the Leader of the Free World then you probably deserve it. Just ask the people of East Timor, who foolishly led themselves be invaded by Suharto in 1975. A couple of hundred thousand East Timorese had to be sent to the slaughter so that Communist Russia didn’t kill them first and upset the balance of power. Suharto resigned in 1997 and the US no longer had to prop him up for whatever reason it is that they propped him up in the first place and East Timor was independent a year later.

The second route to international recognition is through Western pop culture. You can bet no one would know Tibet if Richard Gere, when looking for a suitably exotic religion, had chosen the Hare Krishna instead of Buddhism. Darfur wasn’t on the map until George Clooney willed it into existence.

Kashmir isn’t the subject of Tintin comics. Pearl Jam doesn’t play at Free Kashmir concerts. Kashmir doesn’t have appropriately fashionable and sexy friends. It has Pakistan.

Pakistan is the kind of friend that shows up on weeknights and raids your kitchen. It cribs your work presentation and takes all the credit. In 1948, the first time Pakistan decided to try and free Kashmir, it sent a ragtag group of tribesmen who forgot their central mission and allowed the Indian army to reach Srinagar before they could. The Indian army hasn’t left since.

When the Kashmiri people tried to fashion their own destiny with an insurgency sparked by the rigged elections of 1987, Pakistan once again came bumbling in – this time in the form of religious militants. Their involvement, much as it has in places like Bosnia and Chechnya, only had the effect of allowing the occupying force to scream terrorism as loudly as they could and hope no one else would be heard above the noise.

Pakistan’s involvement in Kashmir has been so toxic that the international community, already inclined towards India because its markets are more inviting than Pakistan’s, is ready to accept India’s interpretation of the attack on the army camp in Uri without asking any questions.

Immediately after the attack, the Indian DGMO announced that the attackers were carrying weapons with "Pakistan markings”. We are somehow supposed to believe that these trained militants somehow managed to cross on the most militarised borders in the world and then attacked a heavily-secured army camp but forgot to rip off their 'Made in Pakistan' stickers.

A trope of British war comedies is the intrepid soldier who digs his way out of a prisoner of war camp with nothing more than a spoon, swims though shark-infested waters, survives in the woods through nothing but his own wits and is nearly home to safety. He is stopped by a German patrolman who offers him a cigarette and he blurts out, “Blimey mate, don’t mind if I do.” This, India wants everyone to believe, is what the attackers with their “Pakistan markings” did.

Anyone who expresses some scepticism about India’s rush to blame Pakistan for the attack is immediately blamed, both by Indians and liberal Pakistanis, of indulging in conspiracy theories by accusing India of carrying out a false flag operation. It takes a considerable leap to get from wondering if India wanted to scapegoat Pakistan to assume India itself was being blamed for the attack.

One can believe that the Bush Administration was so convinced Iraq had WMDs it twisted intelligence beyond recognition to get to the conclusion it was already so sure of it. That does not mean one believes George W Bush personally planted chemical weapons in Iraq. So one can doubt the Modi government’s immediate certainty Pakistan was behind the attack and not think they carried it out themselves.

What this does show is that Pakistan is such an imperfect messenger for the cause of Kashmiri freedom that it ends up hurting the very cause it is trying to promote. The Indian government can always distract attention away from Kashmir by pointing to Balochistan and we are so mistrusted because of our own actions in the province that even catching an Indian intelligence asset in Balochistan or Brahamdagh Bugti applying for asylum in India will not convince anyone of Indian mischief there.

The same principle applies to Pakistan-administered Kashmir where the situation is in no way comparable to Indian-administered Kashmir. Yet, Modi continually makes the comparison and manages to get away with it because Pakistan still prefers to have its portion of Kashmir ruled directly from the centre and does not give it the autonomy most of the country enjoys.

This is why Nawaz Sharif’s speech to the UN General Assembly, despite being one of the better speeches delivered by a notoriously poor public speaker, will have such little effect. He was armed with facts and imbued with emotion. He even came with a dossier full of pictures of people blinded by Indian rubber pellets that he handed over to Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. The only response has been bland calls for talks and negotiations.

Kashmir has the misfortune of being disputed territory between two nuclear-armed countries and that is the prism through which it is viewed by the international community. The Kashmiri people end up being pawns in the power struggle and no matter how many exhortations we make about human rights abuses, they come off as being disingenuous.

This may also explain why the small slice of the country that is liberal Pakistan does not seem to have much time for Kashmir. Every time Kashmir is brought up, they point to our own record of oppression. And it is true that we have a lot to account for ourselves. Still, that should not take away from the undeniable fact that the Kashmiris are as brutalised as the people of Palestine or any other nation under the power of an illegitimate ruler.

Indian liberals, with the notable exceptions of a few on the Left like Arundhati Roy, seem to believe the hype about Kashmir being an integral part of India and how letting it chart its own destiny would undermine the country’s much-hyped secularism.

Pakistan, for all the problems with having it speak for Kashmir, is still the only country keeping their plight alive on the world stage. But we alone will never change the status quo until it we are joined by a chorus of more trustworthy voices. Someone – anyone – else needs to start speaking out, someone who will be heard by the US. Even Third World liberation movements these days need celebrity endorsement to succeed.

The writer is a journalist based in Karachi.

Email: [email protected]


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