By Jamal Hussain
The Kashmir Valley is up in flames once again. There is a sense of Déjà Vu as it appears to be a repeat of the 1989 uprising that had erupted because of the boorish manner in which the Indian government had manipulated the state election there. India was able to control the unrest partly because what had initially started as a nationalist Kashmiri movement was soon hijacked by the Jihadi elements from either side of the Kashmir state. Their austere interpretation of Islam and propensity to resort to extreme violence was an anathema to the generally peace-loving and tolerant Kashmiris. Besides losing support for the freedom movement both locally and internationally, the Jihadists provided sufficient justification to the government of India to resort to un proportionate force to crush it.
The catalyst for the current discontent and disturbance in the Valley is the assassination by the Indian security forces of a twenty-two years old Kashmiri leader Burhan Muzaffar Wani. Wani was a military commander of Hizbul Mujahideen, an indigenous outfit fighting for an independent Kashmir, which has been designated as a terrorist group by the government of India. Viewed as the Kashmiri equivalent of the historically celebrated leaders of the oppressed like the iconic Mexican Emiliano Zapata or the Argentinian Marxist Revolutionary Che Guevara, he had become the face of the new-age militancy that emerged following the 2010 mass uprising in which about 120 civilians were martyred by the Indian troops.
Skilfully exploiting all aspects of the Social Media, Wani had succeeded in attracting a sizeable following particularly among the Kashmiri youth. His symbolism and poster-boy image spread across the spectrum of the Kashmiri populace in and around the Kashmir Valley. His funeral was mourned by over 20,000 Kashmiris who had gathered to pay their last respect to the ‘hero of the freedom movement.’ Since his assassination harsh repressive measures by the Indian security forces has increased manifold. In the absence of any political steps towards a peaceful resolution of the long outstanding Kashmir dispute, the anti-India sentiment in the Kashmir Valley has grown manifold and has ignited and energised a fresh struggle. The demand for independence from India has gained considerable grounds and the new movement is galvanizing towards an independent state of Kashmir.
True, the UN Resolution 47 on Kashmir has been diluted and the likelihood of a plebiscite as envisaged in the resolution in the present circumstances appear bleak. The Kashmir problem, however, is far from over. The state of Jammu and Kashmir, especially the Kashmir Valley in the meanwhile continues to bleed and over 700,00 thousand heavily armed and trained Indian armed forces personnel have been deployed in key sectors of the Indian Held Kashmir (IHK). The figure of Kashmiris martyred by the Indian civil and military armed forces vary from 40,000 to nearly 100,000 since 1989. The State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) has discovered about 2,730 bodies, mostly of Kashmiri youths buried in unmarked graves. A recent report by Amnesty International stated that up to 20,000 Kashmiris have been detained under a law called Armed Forces Special Powers Act – 1958 (AFSPA). There is an unending list of gross human rights violation by the Indian forces, many that have been highlighted locally despite all attempts by the Indian government to silence them.
The slaughter of innocent Kashmiris involved in the freedom struggle who have risen to exercise their right on the question of staying a part of the Indian union has not abated. Unable to suppress the voice of freedom, India of late has embarked upon an even more ghastly scheme. Taking a leaf out of the Israeli model in Gaza and Palestine, the state coalition government of IHK led by Mehbooba Mufti has commenced building of residential ghettos (Sainak Bastiyan) also known as the industrial zones where Hindu Pundits and other communities from outside the Valley are being settled. Large chunks of land have been procured in Srinagar and Anantnag for the purpose and reportedly over sixty thousand families have already been settled there. This is a blatant attempt to alter the demography of Kashmir which the original Kashmiris will resists at all cost. Ironically, the same Mehbooba Mufti has been assigned to the dog house by India simply for expressing regrets over the killing of Wani.
The response of the international communities led by the UNO so far has been muted. However, as the Indian atrocities come to light especially in the Social Media, there is a growing realization by the world body that unless the Kashmir issue is adequately resolved, it willremain a flashpoint that could ignite anytime with catastrophic consequences for the region and the globe.
The western public has the power to influence their government policies and the print and electronic media in the west build and shape their public opinion. Unfortunately, the western media Moguls have become an integral part of the powerful corporations whose business interests supersedes moral or legal factors. The huge Indian middle class with its ever increasing purchasing power is a recent development and they are potential market especially for the producers of luxury goods by the western multinationals. In addition, the insatiable appetite for arms purchase by India in an effort to establish regional hegemony is an attraction that the powerful western military industrial complex cannot ignore. Their media, therefore, is reluctant to portray India in a bad light for fear of losing access to the Indian market. The Indian lobby has very skilfully leveraged this advantage and has succeeded in damage control resulting from their inhuman practices in IHK. There is, however, a limit to which business interests can subvert moral and ethical issues because history is rife with examples where unabashed greed and cruelty has destroyed nations, regardless of their economic or military might.
The plebiscite as structured in Resolution 47 gives only two options to the people of Kashmir – join the Indian or the Pakistani dominion. Today the Kashmiri aspiration includes the option of an independent Kashmir and Pakistan should have no objection if the plebiscite scope is expanded to include the independence clause.
The Indians claim that relinquishing its hold on any part of Kashmir under its occupation either as an independent state or an integral part of Pakistan is a nonstarter. They will have to review their stance once unbearable pressures from the world body and from a bulk of the Indian citizens – it would be left with no other alternative. This pressure can only be sustained and built up further at the international level and within India if the current freedom movement is viewed as a nationalistic struggle by the Kashmiris themselves. Nothing will please India more if it can portray the turmoil there as sponsored by Pakistan using the fanatic religious bodies as proxies. Given the abhorrence of anything connected with Islamic extremists at the international level, even a suspicion of their involvement would effectively end any support of the Kashmiri struggle both within India and abroad. Pakistan, while maintaining its principled stance on the Kashmir issue must ensure that religious groups, banned or otherwise are not allowed access to the Kashmiri youths who have taken up arms against the Indian state.
An ultimate and final resolution of the Kashmir conundrum does not appear likely in the near future. Pakistan’s role still remains central to a peaceful and satisfactory resolution of the long standing dispute. Following the nucleaization of the Indian subcontinent a military solution must be ruled out. That said, the current situation cannot be allowed to continue as it has the potential to seriously destabilize the entire region. The government of Pakistan must continue to pursue and promote at all international forums the Kashmir cause portraying the current uprising as a nationalistic movement by the Kashmiris demanding their right to exercise self-determination as promised in the UN charter. It must also highlight the gross human rights violations of the people of Kashmir by the Indian military.
In the given environment the Social Media is a very effective tool in galvanizing public opinion and this is an area requiring greater focus. Burhan Muzaffar Wani’s popularity as a young leader espousing the aspiration of his people by taking up arms against the Indian oppression to a large extent was built because of the skillful exploitation of the Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other aspects of the Social Media. The government and the people of Pakistan must exploit this very powerful tool to galvanize public opinion both inside India and in the western world. They must expose the Indian atrocities and lay bare the lies it exports about the uprising being foreign sponsored in an effort to malign the freedom movement and raise the specter of the Daesh and the al Qaeda that has threatened the current world order since the start of the 21stcentury.