The idea of simultaneous demilitarisation of Jammu and Kashmir thrilled people in the IHK and AJK alike
Sporadic exchange of fire at the LoC that started in the wee hours of last Thursday left the locals tense and worried. It came in the wake of Uri attack and subsequent threats of retaliation from the civilian and military leadership of India. Keeping in view the fact that in case of conventional or unconventional war, AJK will be a prime target, heavy military build-up was underway to counter potential Indian threat of war or surgical strikes inside the AJK.
The on-going conflict in the Indian-held Kashmir mobilised the Kashmiri community across the world. President of AJK, Masood Khan went to the New York, along with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, to apprise the international community. He did that by organising the diaspora for raising their voice in the western world, particularly in Washington.
Besides, a group of Kashmiri activists was sent to the United Nations Human Rights Council, Geneva in order to raise the Kashmir issue. Sardar Amjad Yousaf Khan, who participated in the UNHRC’s recent session, confided that India had sent a delegation of about two hundred people, comprising Baloch, Sindhis, Kashmiris, and Indians to counteract and neutralise the Kashmiri voice.
At home, Kashmiri political parties and groups are regularly staging sit-ins and rallies to register their protest. National Press Club, Islamabad has become a prime venue where different groups gather and hold demonstrations against the human rights violations on a daily basis. Recently, veteran human rights champion, Asma Jahangir, also spoke to demonstrators and acknowledged the indigenous character of the Kashmir’s uprising, announcing her full-fledged support provided that it does not blend with the right wing radical groups.
No headway is in sight so far to break the current phase of the logjam. Cutting across the political divide, all socio-political outfits are merely interested in providing help to the people of Kashmir. Sardar Attique Ahmad Khan, ex-prime minister of AJK, is planning to give a call to cross the Line of Control along with the masses in the next few weeks. Barrister Sultan Mahmood Chaudhary, PTI’s AJK chief, is also in New York, trying to raise the Kashmir issue by holding public gatherings. The UK is also a hub of several activities run by the AJK-based parties and lobbying groups.
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The Kashmir movement and the unprecedented sacrifices have remained largely unrewarding as far as generating global sympathy for the Kashmir cause is concerned.
Recently, a veteran human right activist from Srinagar, Khurram Parvez, was not only prevented from participating in the UNHRC session but he was also arrested. Public Safety Act, a draconian law, was slapped on him which ensures two years of jail. The New York Times in its editorial states, "Mr. Parvez, who was detained on spurious charges, should be released and allowed to travel." Over 50 leading activists, writers and scholars from all across the globe, including Noam Chomsky and Arundhati Roy wrote a joint letter to the Indian government, demanding the release of Khurram Parvez. However, such illustrations of sympathy and concern hardly find any space in the Kashmir-related discourse at the regional and international level.
Given the 78-day long curfew and state repression, intense debate is going on among the key Kashmiri groups regarding the utility of the nonviolent struggle in Kashmir. Some people affiliated with the resistance struggle fear that non-violent resistance might not succeed to put the required pressure on India in order to bring it to the negotiating table, which is the ultimate goal of this movement.
Young peoples’ discussion on social networks shows that most of them are frustrated at the sluggish international response to the human rights violation in the Indian held Kashmir. Radical groups are pointing to the indifferent attitude of human rights campaigners as an example of world power apathy towards the Kashmir cause to draw young people towards violent outfits.
Lack of credible leadership, association with radical and violent groups, and absence of young faces in the rank and file of the Kashmir movement are a few major causes hindering international support for the Kashmir cause.
Pictures and videos of recent demonstrations held in Washington, New York, London, Geneva and Brussels show that they were led and participated by people from different strata of society, including activists, leaders and elders of the community while local inhabitants largely stayed away from these events.
Creative ideas, which could serve as a converging point for both India and Pakistan to think together for the resolution of Kashmir conflict hardly come out. However, the idea of simultaneous demilitarisation of Jammu and Kashmir, put forward by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in the United Nations General Assembly, thrilled people in the IHK and AJK alike. It is considered a bold initiative and can be a step for further discussion with the government of India once the temperature on both sides comes down.
Surprisingly, despite all the belligerences, cross-LoC trade through the Chakothi-Uri crossing point resumed last week after three months of interlude while the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service was still operational. However, people who live close to the LoC are slowly shifting towards safe places in or outside of AJK, fearing the possibility of attack from the Indian Army.
Azad Kashmir is often geographically described as a moon-shaped strip which is 400 km long and 16 to 64 km wide. AJK’s eight districts out of ten are located in a close proximity of the LoC. In 2003, a ceasefire along the LoC was announced which brought peace and normalcy to most regions of AJK.
A blogger and civil society activist from Neelum Valley, Jalaluddin Mughal, tells TNS that "the picturesque valley has been a major combat zone between the armed forces of the India and Pakistan." Over 3000 civilians were killed, around 15,000 people were injured and a huge amount of public and private properties were reduced to ashes during the last thirteen years due to LoC firing.
The ceasefire brought peace and prosperity in the region. Consequently, the tourism and travel industry strengthened its roots in the area. Since 2003, more than 500 hotels, motels and guesthouses have been established in the region. Since 2010, the Neelum Valley has received an average of 300, 000 tourists every year, facilitating thousands of local people to earn their livelihood. It has transformed the Neelum Valley’s economic landscape into a tourist resort as tourism share in the local economy has reached up to 40 per cent.
The local people, particularly those residing near the LoC, are praying for lasting stability in the region and a peaceful settlement of the Kashmir issue as they have seen the devastation of war unlike many living in the urban centres of the country.