Home to enthralling mountains, spectacular valleys and magnificent lakes, Kashmir’s legendary beauty is best described by the famous poet Amir Khusrau in a Persian couplet which reads: “If there is a paradise on earth, it is this, it is this, it is this.”
Sadly, this paradise on earth is under siege. Exactly, a year ago, India imposed an armed siege and communications blackout in Kashmir. For the people of Kashmir who have already suffered unspeakable pain and humiliation over the last seven decades at the hands of India, this was a new and unprecedented indignity, as it coincided with India’s illegal attempt to alter the internationally recognized disputed status of Jammu and Kashmir.
Thousands of Kashmiris, including minors, have been arrested and tortured. Indian security forces routinely stage fake encounters to kill young Kashmiri protesters. The ranks of young children and women blinded by India’s indiscriminate use of pellet guns continue to swell.
Today, more than 8 million Kashmiris face incarceration in what is effectively the largest open-air prison in the world. After barring two U.S. senators from visiting Kashmir last October, India has made sure that no independent observers or organizations visit the occupied territory — lest the voices of oppressed Kashmiris are heard.
Instead of letting up in its oppression, India has used the COVID-19 crisis to dial up pain for the hapless Kashmiris, thus doubling-up their inflictions and tribulations. There has been a spike in arbitrary arrests and extrajudicial killings. Following a year-long Internet blockade, Kashmiris are stuck in an information black hole, at a time when the rest of the world is using Internet-based platforms to fight a raging pandemic.
The grim human rights situation in Kashmir has attracted the attention of the people of conscience around the world. Amnesty International is alarmed while the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in its recent reports on Kashmir has reiterated the “urgent need to address past and ongoing human rights violations and to deliver justice for all people in Kashmir.”
In the United States, the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission held a historic hearing on Nov. 14 last year to shed light on human rights abuses in Kashmir. Many witnesses provided compelling evidence of the pervasive human rights violations committed by the Indian government security forces, especially since Aug. 5, in an environment of impunity.
Unmoved, the Indian government has taken new steps to change the demographics of Kashmir and implemented a set of domicile rules which allow non-residents to own property in Kashmir and eventually displace its local population. Thousands of such illegal certificates have already been issued.
These rules clearly violate the United Nations Security Council Resolutions on Jammu and Kashmir, international law, and, in particular, the Fourth Geneva Convention. All Kashmiri political parties have unanimously rejected the new rules, accusing the Indian government of using them as legal cover for creating “settler colonies.”
Kashmir is only the opening gambit in Prime Minister Modi’s campaign to remake India into a Hindu-supremacist state. The Modi government has committed itself to implementing the racist “Hindutva” agenda of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (or R.S.S.) — a militant organization that advocates Hindu supremacy. In recent months, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has moved with breathtaking speed to enact a slew of legislation that would deprive millions of Indian Muslims of their citizenship. It has already started building camps for holding nearly 2 million Muslims in anticipation of their disenfranchisement. We fear that a refugee crisis with global implications may be in the making.
Meanwhile, India continues to use the bogeyman of terrorism to justify the inhuman treatment of the Kashmiri population. Tensions along the Line of Control are already running high with Indian forces regularly and indiscriminately targeting civilian populations in Azad Jammu & Kashmir. There is real danger that India’s belligerent attitude could spark a wider conflict.
A steady drumbeat of blatant threats against Pakistan continues to emanate from India, including threats by Mr. Modi that India would defeat Pakistan in a war in less than 10 days. The Indian army chief said that his forces would act to annex the parts of Jammu and Kashmir under Pakistani control if they were ordered to do so. It is difficult to imagine more irresponsible rhetoric in a nuclearized environment.
We are concerned that India would try to deflect attention from the dire situation in Kashmir by orchestrating another escalation with Pakistan, just as it did in February 2019, when Mr. Modi whipped his country into a frenzy that nearly sparked a war between Pakistan and India that neither could afford. Never in the history of relations between two nuclear powers has one country so recklessly and cynically put the lives of billions of people at risk.
We had hoped that such a close brush with war would have been a sobering experience for the Indian leadership. Regrettably, they have refused to seriously consider the offer that Prime Minister Khan had made shortly after assuming office in July 2018. He had promised that Pakistan “will take two steps, if India takes one.”
The people of South Asia, one of the poorest regions in the world, yearn for peace, prosperity and a better future for their children. Pakistan and India should be fighting poverty instead of each other. But we can only get there if the most fundamental reality is understood by our neighbor: Peace requires resolution of outstanding differences through dialogue.
Over 70 years of attempts to put down the Kashmiri people’s struggle for self-determination has not worked. It is time for us to find a just and peaceful settlement of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute in line with the U.N. Security Council resolutions and the wishes of the Kashmiri people.
In the meantime, as the siege of Kashmir enters its second year, Kashmiris await attention of — and action by — those who espouse the causes of freedom and human dignity to compel India to end one of the longest and most humiliating sub-humanization of Kashmiris in recent history.
• Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi is Pakistan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs.
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