India needs to reverse its repeal of Kashmir’s special status and create conditions for a result-oriented dialogue with Pakistan and the legitimate representatives of the Kashmiri people.
Our government came into office in 2018, focused on fulfilling the promise of delivering Naya Pakistan (New Pakistan) to our voters. We wanted to provide education, jobs and better healthcare by leveraging our connectivity infrastructure to foster regional trade and investment. We knew that this would require a peaceful neighbourhood.
Accordingly, shortly after his election, Prime Minister Imran Khan declared that Pakistan "will take two steps towards peace, if India takes one." He hoped that Pakistan and India would fight poverty instead of each other.
Unfortunately, the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in India has no interest in peace. India's ruling party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is steeped in the racist, hate-filled Hindutva creed of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a paramilitary organisation whose founding fathers wrote admiringly of Hitler and Mussolini.
The BJP government thrives on inciting hate and violence against religious minorities - especially Muslims - and builds political capital by sabre-rattling against Pakistan. Indeed, India's penchant for brinkmanship brought our two nuclear-armed countries to the brink of war in February 2019. If tragedy was averted, it was only because of Pakistan's restraint and no thanks to India.
We thought that a close brush with war would have sobered the Modi government. But we had underestimated the extent to which RSS ideology had infected the Indian government's DNA.
New Delhi continued to spurn Pakistan's offer for dialogue on the core dispute of Jammu and Kashmir as well as other issues that bedevil our relationship. Prime Minister Modi, it appears, confused Pakistan's desire for peace with weakness.
On August 5, 2019, India imposed an armed siege and communications blackout on Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu & Kashmir (IIOJK). Since then, thousands of Kashmiris, including minors, have been arrested and tortured. Popular Kashmiri leaders, like the 91-year-old Syed Ali Shah Geelani, have always been at the receiving end of Indian state repression. This time India did not even spare those political leaders, including three former chief ministers, who are seen by ordinary Kashmiris as enablers of the Indian occupation.
More than 8 million Kashmiris remain inmates in the largest open-air prison camp in the world today, with 900,000 Indian military and paramilitary forces standing watch over them. No credible observer or human rights organisation can visit them lest their voices be heard. India has forbidden US Senators from visiting Kashmir. It has detained and deported a sitting British Member of Parliament because she had criticised Indian human rights violations in Kashmir.
Since August 5 last year, the first anniversary of India's military siege and lockdown in IIOJK, its security forces have killed 390 Kashmiris. In 2021 alone, some 85 Kashmiris have been murdered in extra-judicial killings. Indian security forces routinely stage fake encounters to kill young Kashmiri protestors, and use pellet guns against women and children, blinding and maiming hundreds.
As Pakistan had warned, the Indian government is proceeding with the enactment of illegal measures to effect demographic change in Kashmir. The displacement of the local population by non-residents in an internationally disputed territory is a violation of international law and, in particular, the Fourth Geneva Convention. The entire spectrum of Kashmiri political leadership has rejected these moves by the Indian government to create "settler colonies".
Mr Modi's actions have landed India and the region in a cul-de-sac. Baffled by its inability to crush the Kashmiris' struggle for self-determination, India is looking for a new generation of collaborators from among the Kashmiri leadership to lend a gloss of legitimacy to its occupation. Meanwhile, a systematic campaign to erase the Kashmiri people's religious, cultural and linguistic identity continues apace.
This, too, shall fail -just as all other attempts at quashing the Kashmiris' demand for independence have failed.
What will the Indian government do then? Will it resurrect the familiar bogeyman of "cross-border terrorism" to smear the Kashmiri freedom struggle? Will it manufacture another crisis with Pakistan to deflect attention from the never-ending stream of scandals (including the recent revelations about India's attempts to spy on Prime Minister Imran Khan) that keep rocking the BJP government?
India harbours ambitions to be a great power. Indeed, it has powerful champions who want to help India become a great power, but look the other way when India makes a mockery of the democratic values and human rights that they espouse.
It is incumbent on the international community to call India out on its atrocities against the Kashmiri people and push it towards a peaceful resolution of the Kashmir dispute. While a tenuous ceasefire has been held across the Line of Control since February, the situation remains tense. And with the situation in Afghanistan rapidly deteriorating, renewed regional tensions over Kashmir are in no one's interest.
There is only one solution. India needs to reverse its actions of August 5, 2019, and create conditions for a result-oriented dialogue with Pakistan and the legitimate representatives of the Kashmiri people towards the resolution of this long standing dispute.
The people of South Asia - one of the poorest regions in the world - yearn for peace, prosperity, and a better future for their children.
They should not be held hostage to India's stubborn refusal to face reality: that there can be no peace in South Asia without the peaceful settlement of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute in accordance with the relevant UN Security Council resolutions and the wishes of the Kashmiri people.
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