By Sabzar Ahmad Bhat
In the seventy years of the Indo-Pak dispute over Jammu and Kashmir, the third party to the conflict – the people of Jammu and Kashmir – has never been consulted in any inclusive or meaningful way on how to resolve the Kashmir dispute. This ignores the fact that the Kashmiri people are actually the first party to the conflict because this conflict is about both their homeland and their state, and also because they initiated the struggle over Jammu and Kashmir’s status in 1947 before Maharaja Hari Singh’s accession to India.
However, since 1947, Kashmiris have never been asked what international status they would like for their homeland or state. Instead the Kashmiris have been subjected to ongoing sufferings and hardships that an average Pakistani and Indian either doesn’t know, or doesn’t care about. Since the partition of British India, the Kashmiris have been striving for the basic preservation of human rights. The people in the state face oppression and aggression at the hands of Indian armed forces, whose response to Kashmiri resistance movement for self-determination has been characterized by its brutality as well as fierceness.
According to well-researched reports by human rights bodies, more than 80,000-100,000 people have been killed over the past 30 years, mostly young men; almost 8,000-10,000 persons, especially youth, disappeared which has potentially left an equivalent number of half-widows – women who cannot remarry as well as mothers who are bereaved. It is estimated that there are 7,000 mass unmarked graves in different parts of Kashmir. Thousands have been tortured, orphaned, and raped. Additionally, the report prepared by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on 14 June, 2018 stated:
In responding to demonstrations that started in July 2016, Indian security forces used excessive force that led to unlawful killings and a very high number of injuries. Civil society estimates are that 130 to 145 civilians were killed by security forces between mid-July 2016 and end of March 2018, and 16 to 20 civilians were killed by armed groups in the same period. One of most dangerous weapons used against protesters during the unrest in 2016 was the pellet-firing shotgun, which is a 12-gauge pump-action shotgun that fires metal pellets. (OHCHR, 2018: 4)
Recently, the report prepared by Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) and Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) on 31 December, 2018 stated that 2018 was the deadliest year of the last decade in Kashmir as violence peaked during the year resulting in the killing of at least 586 people in different incidents. The recent custodial killing of 29-year-old school Principal Rizwan Asad Pandit of Awantipora in police custody on 19 March 2019 and Aatif Mir, a 12-year-old held as a human shield by militants in Hajin on 22 March, 2019, add to growing Kashmiri civilian casualties.
Since 1947, more so after 1989, India and Pakistan have allocated considerable chunks of their resource and income to defence. Over the last seven decades, both the countries have fought wars over Kashmir. Due to unresolved Kashmir conflict, both India and Pakistan have consistently faced off each other. Also, the media, rulers, the analysts and intellectuals from both sides are seen to be engaged in heated debates over the Kashmir issue. As in the case of many hostile western countries turning into friends, the people in South Asia also deserve peace and progress in the region. However, the unresolved Kashmir conflict is a major thorn on the road to peace and prosperity. Let the people of Kashmir decide their political future on their own. It is apt to remember Christopher Snedden’s words in his book, Understanding Kashmir and Kashmiris: “One way for India and Pakistan to resolve this matter would be to mutually agree to devolve it to the people of J&K and allow them to discuss, debate and determine what solution or solutions they want for what are, after all, their (disputed) lands.”
The idea of letting “the Kashmiri people decide their future” comes from a speech, made by India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in 1952, in which he said that he would give the Kashmiri people a chance to decide their political future. For this approach to ever become a reality, both Pakistan and India would need to significantly change their attitudes to allow Kashmiri people to play a role in resolving the Kashmir conflict. Pakistan and India must allow and enable the people of Jammu and Kashmir to meet regularly over a considerable period of time, by crossing the Line of Control (LoC) and meeting on both sides of the line. Finally, it’s the people of J&K, the ultimate stake holders in the conflict, who must decide the fate of their land. The warring countries, India and Pakistan, will be unable to resolve this crisis anytime soon. However, the international community – the United Nations, the European Union and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, etc. – need to play a constructive role of mediation so that the future generation of Kashmir is able to live without political, human, economic, and social uncertainty.
Sabzar Ahmad Bhat is a Research Scholar at the Centre for Studies and Research in Gandhian Thought and Peace, School of Social Science, Central University of Gujarat, India. He is also a freelancer writer whose work has appeared on Greater Kashmir, Pakistan Horizon, Rising Kashmir, Kashmir Reader, Kashmir Horizon, Kashmir Observer, etc. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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