As Pakistan observed the Kashmir Solidarity Day last month, Kashmiris in the Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK) continue living in unprecedented and appalling conditions. While Kashmiris in the IOK have been a target of barbaric human rights abuses for decades, the revocation of articles 370 and 35(A) in August 2019, by the Hindu fundamentalist BJP party has put the existence of the Kashmiri nation into jeopardy.
The Kashmiris have been in the worst form of lockdown since August 2019, as they are completely cut off from the rest of the world and are deprived of even basic freedoms such as communicating with their beloved ones outside Kashmir. This, coupled with the ongoing human rights abuses in the Kashmir Valley, is having a detrimental physical and psychological effect on Kashmiris. The physical human rights abuses are often mentioned, but it is imperative to emphasise the negative psychological effect the current turmoil is having on the Kashmiris. If Kashmiris, especially children who possess a fragile mind, are under constant pressure, fear and anxiety, it can severely damage them psychologically. It is ironic that while in most countries there are strict laws to not display any kind of violence in children movies or cartoons, the Kashmiri children witness violence in their everyday lives.
The abrogation of the Article 35(A) has consequently given rights to Indians to buy property in IOK, which could lead to demographic changes in the region. The Hindu extremist BJP, backed by RSS, has exuded emphatically in the past and present its anti-Muslim stance – be it the demolition of the historic Babri Masjid, massacre of Muslims in the 2002 Gujarat riots, or the more recent anti-Muslim violence in Delhi. In addition, the passing of the discriminatory Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019 was the first time that religion had been overtly used as a condition for citizenship in Indian law. Not only has this nullified India’s prolonged claim that the ideological basis for the creation of India was secularism, it can be perilous for the future of Kashmiri Muslims who are in a majority in IOK at the moment.
While Urdu had been the official language of IOK for over a hundred years, last year the Indian Union government passed the bill to introduce Hindi and Dogri as official languages too. It is evident in South Asian history that Urdu has always been seen as the ‘language of the Muslims’, especially as many religious scriptures were written in Urdu. The attempt by the government to erode away Urdu in IOK is undermining Islam in the region. Moreover, there have been attacks on the culture of the Kashmiris as well, such as the ban of the traditional Kashmiri attire, pheran. Destroying a nation’s culture is like killing a nation without a bullet because culture is the identity of a nation.
While the present situation in IOK is deplorable for Kashmiris, there are still some factors which could be instrumental in ameliorating the condition of the Kashmiris, who have been under long-standing Indian tyranny. Firstly, India has been recently engaged in a border dispute with China, where the troops of both countries have had aggressive face-offs and skirmishes along the Sino-Indian border as well as clashes along eastern Ladakh along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). Moreover, India is currently facing internal unrest as tens of thousands of farmers are protesting in New Delhi. This could be why India possibly caved into pressure by Pakistan and the international community to sit on the negotiating table to discuss the Kashmir issue. In the present situation, rationally, India would not want to fight from both of its borders — the LAC and the LoC — while controlling the internal unrest at the same time. It is preposterous that at one end while India aims to make advancements like reaching the moon, on the other end it has refused to even sit on the negotiating table with Pakistan to discuss the intractable Kashmir issue for so long, putting the lives of millions of Kashmiris on stake.
For Pakistan, the present time brings some optimism in resolving the Kashmir dispute politically. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan has got a dynamic personality, which has earned him immense global reputation. In 2019, he was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World and in 2020, he was recognised as the 16th most influential Muslim in the world in “The 500 Most Influential Muslims” list. In addition to being dedicated to the Kashmir cause, a leader needs to be influential and renowned internationally if (s)he is to make a significant contribution to resolving the Kashmir dispute, especially given India’s longstanding rigid and absurd stance of not engaging in a dialogue with Pakistan. It would definitely not be easy for Imran Khan given the inherent complications of this longstanding conflict, but in the present time, he is the only leader in Pakistan who possesses the potential to bring a substantial positive change for the Kashmiris in IOK. In addition, the current PTI government has had cordial relations with the military, which favours the Kashmir cause. A strong nexus between the civil and military leadership of Pakistan is imperative if Pakistan is to accomplish anything for the Kashmiris.
To the dismay of Kashmiris, they did not get enough international support after the abrogation of Article 370 in 2019. However, now there seems to be some international support, especially with UK MPs debating the situation in Kashmir in the House of Commons and several MPs agreeing to the brutal treatment of Kashmiris in IOK, in January. British MP Debbie Abrahams also wrote a letter to UK Premier Boris Johnson to take a note of the grave human rights abuses in IOK. This should be seen as a ray of hope for Kashmiris as the world is aware of their miseries even though India has callously cut them off from the rest of the world. The debate in the British parliament could potentially lead to more debates and discussions about the situation of Kashmir in various other countries too.
The year 2021 could be a life-changing year for Kashmiris as they are currently living in a vale of tears and the current Hindu nationalist BJP government poses a dire threat to the Kashmiri identity. On the positive side, Pakistan and the international community can take advantage of India’s current unstable position to pressurise it to negotiate the Kashmir Issue. Pakistan should come up with a defined and clear strategy pertaining to the dispute. A more robust, organised and aggressive international lobbying by Pakistan could be a good starting point. However, to bring any major change, Pakistan would perhaps have to do much more than that.
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