Let's rewind history back to 1947. Suppose the fate of Jammu and Kashmir is decided, like most of the other 500-odd princely states, according to the June 3 partition of British India plan. Now, 63 years later, where do you see Pakistan and India and the quarter of humanity living here? Whatever your answer may be, at least I'm convinced, the situation would have been quite different.
The two countries have been at odds on the Kashmir issue since they emerged on the world map. Neither side is ready to budge, adding to their mutual acrimony and dimming hopes for a negotiated settlement of the dispute. Political extremists are playing politics on the issue. And sane voices die down in the cacophony of extremists.
Take Arundhati Roy. She becomes a ‘traitor’ when she says Kashmir isn’t an “integral part” of India. Not only that, political extremist groups, like the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Bajrang Dal, call for trying her on sedition charges.
Cross the border and the situation isn’t any different. Militant organisations, or jihadists as they call themselves, are resurging after a hibernation of four years or so. The United Jihad Council, an umbrella group of a dozen Kashmiri militant outfits, proved its strength in Muzaffarabad on this Kashmir Day. And now, they are mobilising supporters for breaching en masse the Line of Control (LoC), the de facto border between Pakistan and India in the disputed territory. It's natural. When 100-plus unarmed Kashmiri protesters are killed by Indian forces in just over four months, Kashmiris on this side of the LoC will definitely feel the pain. India’s reluctance to discuss Kashmir is serving no purpose. It's only adding to the jihadists’ appeal, it’s only feeding hate-mongers and filling pan-Islamic radicals in the Pakistani society with hatred against an ‘infidel’ India.
Conflict between Pakistan and India is in neither side's interest. It only benefits weapon-producing world powers who need conflicts around the world to keep their ‘war economies’ going. Proof: Britain’s BAE Systems and Rolls Royce won over $1 billion deals in India in June and America’s Boeing clinched $4.1 billion in contracts this month. Pakistan is also trying to catch up, setting aside each year a major chunk of its meagre resources for defence purposes.
Now the question is, do Pakistan and India need stashes of weapons while hundreds of thousands of their citizens are living below the poverty line? Answer: a big ‘no’. Instead maximum resources need to be diverted to improving the living standards of people in the two countries. This is possible only if peace is restored. So for this to happen, let’s bridle our hawks and allow sane voices to be heard, let’s find an out-of-the-box solution to the Kashmir dispute, let’s stop sabre-rattling and talk peace.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 16th, 2010.