Burhan Wani is dead but a new Kashmir is being born. What is happening there is not a revolt but a revolution. Not a protest but a movement. Not by a few but many. Not by politicians but by the people who have taken their destiny in their own hands and finally decided enough is enough. They are saying loud and clear. ‘We want azadi, nothing but azadi’.
Earlier this month, a senior BJP leader and former Foreign Minister, Yashwant Sinha, who led fact-finding missions to the Valley last fall, published a report on Kashmir entitled “Crisis of acknowledgment of the Kashmir problem.” According to the report, there is an increasing lack of fear in the youngsters — or so they claim — in confronting the security forces. They say they take death in their stride. Hatred towards India has grown. The vocabulary of the youth has also changed, as has their psychological attitude towards India. They talk of curfew, hartals, martyrdom and Burhan (Wani).
The fact is Kashmir stands at an historical moment. The youth of today have grown restless and are dissatisfied with the options currently available for them. They represent the third generation of Kashmiri freedom fighters. Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) has never been so popular. Kashmiris have finally started viewing it as both homegrown and as part of the Kashmiri society. HM has succeeded at using social media and internet to appeal to the youth. Additionally, the group has been steadily getting funds from Kashmiris globally.
India knows that on the ground its occupation has been rejected by the Kashmiris. Its massive military presence in Kashmir may have helped her control the territory but has invalidated its claim to it. If the territory were really an integral part of India, then you would not need to keep 700,000 military and security forces there. But if you do, surely that means it is not yours; you are keeping it by force. And that is what India is bent on continuing doing for as long as it can.
India knows that the success of the Kashmir cause depends on two facts — the strength of the insurgency and Pakistan’s support to the Kashmir cause. Kashmiris would not come thus far without Pakistan’s help. So it is not just Kashmiris that stand in India’s way, Pakistan does too. So the Indian strategy is twofold: on the one hand, unleash extreme repressive measures to bludgeon the Kashmiris into suppression and on the other launch a campaign of isolating and defaming Pakistan and put it on the defensive and off balance. The broader theme is to marginalise Pakistan to make it irrelevant in the dispute and then as a consequence weaken the Kashmiris and impose India’s will on them.
Indian plan has been helped by its rising economic profile and geo-political value, as a balancer to the resurgent China, and by the post-9/11 anti-Muslim bias and erosion of Pakistan’s own image. India has used its influence in Washington to harm US relations with Pakistan and by extension the causes it espouses. A legacy the present Administration is going to follow. So don’t expect any help from Washington in solving the Kashmir dispute. Even China and the Islamic world pay but only lip service.
There is a sad irony here. Kashmiris’ struggle has never been so energised in its entire history and the rejection of Indian occupation never so loud and clear. But in contrast to it the international community’s silence has never been so deafening, and the big powers apathy never so morally appalling. And Pakistan has never been so much at a disadvantage in helping the Kashmiris. The rise of their struggle is thus out of synch with the external support.
That means the entire burden of realising the aspirations of Kashmiris fall on the shoulders of Kashmiris and Pakistan alone. And that basically means Kashmiris because Pakistan’s ability to fight for them has diminished not just because of India’s clout and its negative campaign but also because of Pakistan’s own mistakes, Kargil being the most egregious.
The question is how can Pakistan help? Or can it really help? The answer requires some reality check. Here is the core reality. The only way Pakistan can help the Kashmiris is through a dialogue with India as military option is unthinkable. But India does not want a dialogue. Even if India agreed to a dialogue Pakistan would be entering into it with a weak hand as Pakistan has little leverage. Or whatever leverage it has or has had is a double-edged sword and is not employable. We have seen what the Jihadis have done to Pakistan. And denial of trade and transit rights to India, the other option, does not hurt India as much as Pakistan thinks. In fact it hurts Pakistan more. The equation therefore, at least for now — not good for Pakistan, not good for Kashmir.
So where do we go from here? My advice to the Kashmiris, please consider all these limitations and raise the level of your resistance. Energise and organise the Kashmiri diaspora abroad specially in the US. Learn from other resistance movements. And Pakistan can help wherever it can.
For Pakistan the important point to consider is that Kashmir is embedded in Pakistan’s history, identity and moral purpose. It should therefore continue to support the Kashmir cause diplomatically, morally and politically. But that is all it can and should do. Nothing more nothing less. It is not enough but is necessary. Beyond that it is up to the Kashmiris.
While there are obvious limits to what to how much Pakistan can it should never abandon the Kashmir cause. Kashmir should remain on the agenda of India-Pakistan issues. No economic or strategic benefit Pakistan may get from India as a pay off for backing away from Kashmir would be worth the betrayal of the Kashmir cause. But Pakistan must not gamble its own future over Kashmir. Then there will be nobody to help the Kashmiris.
What is required is a great balancing act. And for that you need not only great diplomacy but also focus on Pakistan’s central priority — to strengthen itself first. Good diplomacy and national strength go hand in hand, always.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 23rd, 2017.