The burning souls of Kashmir

The burning souls of Kashmir

Kashmir has been burning once again since July. Since the murder of 22-year-old Burhan Wani by Indian security forces on July 8, the soul of Kashmir has been up in flames. 

According to the scarce, independent information leaking out of the region, Wani’s funeral drew over 200,000 people despite a curfew declared by the government. Since July 8, in what Kashmiris claim to be the “Kashmir Spring,” at least two people have fallen victim to security operations every day.

Pakistani Ambassador to Turkey Sohail Mahmood hosted a dinner last week in honor of two special representatives of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to brief Turkish leaders about the latest situation in Indian-held Kashmir. Conversations during the dinner with special envoys Muhammad Pervaiz Malik and Mohsin Shahnawaz Ranjha gave me an emotional revisit to Kashmir. My sole and last visit to Srinagar, or Indian-held Kashmir, was in 2003. Though I made perhaps more than two dozen trips to Pakistan over the past decades, I unfortunately could not visit the Pakistani section of the divided Kashmir. Repeated attempts to make a visit to Pakistani Kashmir failed for various reasons, be it political problems in Turkey or a devastating earthquake that not only shattered lives in Pakistan and Kashmir but our hearts here as well.

It must be up to the people of Kashmir to decide the future of their land and themselves – so ruled the United Nations Security Council decades ago, back in 1948. Since then, however, the troubled and disputed territory has remained a source of immense pain for the Kashmiri people and a permanent source of trouble between India and Pakistan. Irrespective, of course, of how many times a day India might declare the portion of Kashmir it has been occupying for so long as an integrated part of Indian territory, or of how Pakistan insists on playing the role of an opinionated mother determined to shape the fate of her crippled child, Kashmir is an independent soul whose people have been denied the right to shape their own future in their own independent, sovereign state. 

If India and Pakistan develop a strong political will one day for the resolution of the Kashmir problem, an opportunity could be grasped, and the land of Kashmir could turn into some sort of paradise on earth between two friendly countries sharing an almost identical culture, history and traditions but adhering to different religions. Indeed, India has a huge Muslim population as well and if and when the political thumb could be removed from bilateral relations, an exemplary regional coherence and cooperation scheme – together with Bangladesh – might come into being.

Be it the Kashmir problem or any other sources of conflict anywhere on the globe, taking up arms will not, unfortunately, result in a settlement. Political engagement with the intention of compromising for peace is a must.

Can India compromise on Kashmir? The avenues of compromise appear to have been closed firmly since October 1956 when the Kashmiri Assembly adopted a resolution declaring the disputed territory an integral part of India. The claims that that assembly was composed of deputies handpicked by Delhi and elected uncontested because of immense military pressure in the region are irrelevant today. If India wants to have a settlement in Kashmir, it must put aside ifs and buts and start a painful campaign of compromise aimed at finding a way out of the mess created through decades of the obsessively incorrect expansionist policies. The presence of the non-Muslim population of the region – including those settled in the region from various parts of India since 1948 – might serve to understand better the sentiments of the Muslim population. Similarly, Pakistan must try to understand the non-Muslim segments of the Kashmiri population and help Muslim groups headed by the Muslim Hurriyat Movement develop strategies embracing those groups as well.
The message carried to Turkey by the special emissaries of the Pakistani prime minister was a request that Ankara be as vocal on the Kashmiri issue as it has been on the Palestinian problem. Pakistan expects Turkey to raise the Kashmir issue not only in its bilateral contacts with India but also at international arena such as the forthcoming Islamic Conference Organization meeting.

Turning a blind eye to the root causes of problems and trying to find palliative measures in the hopes they might work is, regrettably, an approach that will lead to perdition. The Palestinian problem cannot be resolved as long as all inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, including their right to a separate state, go unrecognized. The Kashmir problem cannot be resolved without India accepting that Kashmir is a separate territory which must decide its own future. If the majority of Kashmiri people decide to be with India in a free vote, then everyone should respect that decision. But in the absence of such a vote, India cannot convince anyone to recognize that Kashmir is an integral part of its territory.