Sunday January 29, 2023

Resetting Kashmir priorities

April 01, 2021

It is a hard reality that the political landscape of Indian-occupied Jammu and Kashmir is undergoing rapid changes, unparalleled in scale and impact, since the abrogation of Article 370 and Article 35 A on August 5, 2019. In this context, an honest and objective discussion should begin about Pakistan’s priorities associated with the dispute.

India is gradually but consistently trying to alter the ground realities in IOK. As a result, the economic, political and administrative domination of Kashmiri Muslims is diminishing swiftly, and fast demographic change is becoming a reality. On top of this, an intense cultural assault is also being pursued which is meant to change the ages-old Kashmiri Muslim identity.

The lands owned by the Kashmiris are being confiscated for the expansion of the existing military cantonments, building new ones or allotting land to new settlers coming from mainland India. Indian authorities have changed laws to designate certain areas as ‘strategic zones. This will facilitate the Indian armed forces to carry out construction and build facilities wherever required. The best farmlands, forest areas and gardens are taken from people without their approval which seems to be an imitation of the Israeli model of land theft. This sabotaging process will eventually pave the way for settler colonialism aimed to replace the original population.

In the present circumstances, the Kashmiri Muslim identity and centuries-old culture commonly called Kashmiriyat are facing an imminent challenge. Secondly, Kashmiri Muslims had gradually established their political and administrative power in Occupied Kashmir during the last seven decades. Since August 5, a systematic process of its reversal has begun. It is reported that all major administrative positions are currently being held by non-Kashmiris.

Indeed, demographic change is a vital element of the BJP’s Kashmir policy. To implement it, the Indian government has scrapped a 37-year-old law that granted the right of return to residents of J&K who had fled to Pakistan during 1947-1954. Additionally, local residency rights are given to outsiders in a big way.

The Indian government has granted leases to non-state companies for mining in Kashmir. This move has created severe problems for local firms which are unable to compete with big non-state companies. Following the abrogation of Article 370, bidding for mineral blocks was also opened up to bidders from outside J&K; this has drastically reduced the prospects of winning the bid for local companies.

Recently, a delimitation commission was formed to redraw the electoral constituencies and increase assembly seats in Hindu–dominated Jammu and pave the way for the first-ever Hindu chief minister of the Muslim majority J&K.

The plan of building around 50,000 temples in Occupied Kashmir is no longer secret. The Indian government has identified several historic mosques and dargahs to replace them with temples. They claim that many mosques were built upon the sites of ancient Hindu religious sites. Besides, the BJP government abolished the 131-year-old status of the Urdu language as Jammu and Kashmir’s sole official language in September 2020.

It is reported that due to constant siege and absence of the internet facility, followed by the Covid-19 pandemic; the economic losses of Kashmir have reached six billion dollars during the last 20 months. The tourism sector, horticulture, local construction, education, hospitals and medical activities have also suffered enormously.

After August 5, 2019; Kashmir witnessed a massive increase in the incidents of state repression. Occupation forces have been setting local homes on fire on the pretext of militants hiding there. The killing of young and educated people has become a regular phenomenon. It is reported that 10 MPhil/ PhD scholars, 15 Masters degree holders and 47 graduates had been killed in various incidents. The entire population lives with a sense of perpetual insecurity, facing a collective punishment.

In brief, the people of Occupied Kashmir are facing an unprecedented existential crisis. The international media reports and human rights activists have affirmed that Kashmir is silent as a graveyard and in a state of shock.

In this context, a short-term strategy is required to meet the immediate challenges without making compromises on the long-term goals of the Kashmiris such as the right to self-determination.

The Kashmiri identity and demographic change can only be protected if all Kashmiri voices join hands and come up with a common minimum agenda for the future of Jammu and Kashmir, entailing the improvement of the humanitarian condition and restoring to some degree freedom of expression and assembly. The disintegration of the erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir is not acceptable to the residents of J&K across the LoC. Hence, the statehood should not be only restored but Kashmiris should also be assured that the demographic changes will not happen. Luckily, the pro-India Kashmiri political parties are demanding the reversal of articles 370 and 35 A which if succeeded can undo several laws and ensure the protection of the Kashmiri identity and statehood to a great extent.

A vibrant strategy is essential to stop or slow down the BJP’s political agenda in Kashmir at least for the time being. Without massive pressure from the international community and Pakistan, the present Indian approach to Kashmir cannot be averted.

Pakistan has shown immense restraint and did not attend calls to support violent means or resort to military escalation. A matching reciprocal approach is imperative to forward the peace process. Unilateral appeasement will not work for a long time. The BJP government has to realize that peace and stability in South Asia runs through Srinagar.

The writer is a freelance contributor.