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October 20, 2016



The footprints in the snow

The footprints in the snow

The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor.

There is every reason to be outraged by the situation faced by Kashmiris. Their tragedy is a genuine one, rooted in a division of the Subcontinent made clumsily and far too hastily by its British colonial rulers as they scrambled to escape the ruin and bloodshed they had created as their rule of nearly a century came to an end.

Kashmir was among the casualties, its destiny left undecided, its people denied a say. Two wars and an insurgency waged by Kashmiris since the 1990s in the Indian held portion of the territory has not altered this and the terrible images we see once more today, as blinded children ask why they were targeted, is another reminder of how we and the world have failed the essentially peaceful people of Kashmir whose young men eventually saw no option but to fight back.

We quite correctly lash out today at the brutalities and actions of an aggressive India driven by the Hindu supremacist policies of its leaders, who in some cases seem to have been driven to insanity. But are we ready to look towards the broader and more subtle realities? Doing so is after all central to devising a solution and giving back the Kashmiris a voice that has remained muffled for far too long.

In the first place we need to accept that this voice must also be given to the Kashmiris in the smaller portion of the valley that Pakistan administers. While there is little discussion about these people and their sentiments, they too want the right to determine policy and their future. Many Azad Kashmiris – in the absence of authentic surveys we will never know the precise percentage – resent being ruled essentially from Islamabad, or, more accurately Murree. There is anger too over the ban on electoral contest of groups that advocate autonomy for Kashmir, and this goes towards explaining low balloting turnouts.

We need to keep these factors in mind when we consider the Kashmir question. Self-determination would involve all Kashmiris, and there is absolutely no surety that the verdict delivered up by the Kashmiris would suit Islamabad. Our notions about how we believe people will act can sometimes be delusional.

It is however no delusion that non-state actors continue to operate within our country, despite the continuing war on them. Yes, even today, elements in the country see them as ‘strategic assets’, a term we are familiar with. New Delhi’s instant deflection of blame onto Pakistan after the Uri attack was undoubtedly opportunistic and backed with no credible evidence.

Perhaps it was a deliberately planned gambit to detract attention from its own security failures or perhaps it was simply a manifestation of the Modi government’s hostility towards Pakistan. Certainly, India needs to conduct an investigation into its own lapses.

We need to deal with these elements. If indeed a message in this respect has already gone out from our civilian leadership to the military, as reports suggest, this is a good sign. The furore caused was unnecessary. The next question is whether there will be actual action on the basis of this sense.

The Kashmir question should not then revolve around simply building up war hysteria or attacking India as hatred is created. We have lived with this hatred for too long. Yes, India is guilty of whipping up the highest fervour this time round as it repeatedly hurls a poisoned spear Pakistan’s way. We have responded for the most part with greater maturity.

This approach must continue, but at the same time we must also look at the problems tied into the greater one of Kashmir, problems which are contained within our own territory. These include granting true liberty to the people of Azad Kashmir, who strongly believe that they are a unit separate from the main body of Pakistan.

It also means looking at groups who with or without support from other quarters move ahead and act according to plans of their own, making it harder for the government to follow any meaningful direction. The disruptions caused by these terrorist attacks have come again and again, essentially damaging hopes of a dialogue process.

Dialogue is the only way to move towards some resolution of a problem that has remained with us for over 66 years. There can obviously be no question of war. History indicates that Pakistan should have understood this well by now, and should be making an effort to persuade people too of this. Talks need to involve the Kashmiri leadership and the people of a territory that has remained without anchor for decade after decade. Its situation also affects Gilgit-Baltistan, as well as adjacent regions in India including Jammu and Ladakh. All have become hostages to politics and to history, which seems to make politicians believe they can be used to further specific interests.

It is time to let go of such notions. We need a realistic solution. Perhaps the closest we came to this was during the Musharraf tenure when a formula under which the LoC would be considered a soft border for a 50-year period and Kashmiris on both sides allowed much greater access to each other was apparently worked out and even penned down on paper. It unfortunately never moved off the paper it was written out on.

But we need to find a similar method set of principles that can first of all allow peace in Kashmir and then permit the people to have a say in determining what their future is to be. They must be granted a free role in stating what they want. It is difficult right now to see this point being reached. There is too much hostility and too much anger in the air. But the effort has to be made, for the sake of a people who have suffered enormous deprivation, whose children have been pushed away from schools because of the conflict and who have been demeaned, brutalised and used as pawns for more years than is the case with perhaps any other people in the world.

Pakistan’s failure to draw greater international attention to this crisis is essentially an enormous one. At the diplomatic and foreign policy level, as our own parliament has suggested, the failure must be taken up and a different strategy worked out for the future. Even today, the voices raised for Kashmiris are muted.

In Pakistan, the confusion over extremism, the Pakistan military and linkages with the Kashmiri freedom struggle are a factor in this as far as liberals go. Many ordinary people, for reasons that are not difficult to understand given their own hardships, simply care very little.

This too is something we need to understand as we work towards building a mechanism that can draw in other nations from around the globe and persuade them of the need to rescue Kashmir from its unending cycle of misery so that lives can be lived in some degree of normalcy.

Email: [email protected]