There has been during the last few weeks frequent goodwill and business-related visits from India. Parliamentarians, artists, musicians, film stars and businessmen have had meetings with their counterpart Pakistanis. Why this sudden spurt of interest and this pronounced show of good feelings for us?
Is it an opportune time for India to take advantage of Pakistan’s political instability, and a weak and vulnerable government at the helm? Is it Pakistan’s poor economic condition, which can be exploited to secure beneficial deals and agreements?
How is it that there are a lot of engagements for cultural exchanges and trade linkages, but little about the problems and issues which have bedevilled relations between the two countries? Siachin and the building of dams on the three rivers given to Pakistan and Kashmir. While the governments sometimes talk about such matters, the goodwill delegates and peaceniks remain mum on these lingering disputes. Aman Ki Asha is a wholesome idea, but is it concerned merely with culture and business deals?
On Thursday night, I watched in a TV talk show Mani Shankar Aiyar, a former Indian Minister, flying lyrical about the wonderful people of Pakistan, who he said were the most lovable in the world. Yes, Shankar Ji! Will you please tell your government to take away at least a part of the hundreds of thousands of troops, the tanks and other lethal military machinery from our border and also treat the Kashmiri people a little less brutally?
A word now about the major dispute, i.e. Kashmir? Hardly any politician talks about it these days. We have a special Parliamentary Committee headed by Maulana Fazlur Rahman. The other day, he spoke at a seminar on the Kashmir issue. Said the Maulana: “Kashmir should be the focal point of Pakistan’s foreign policy.” Its foreign policy should be Kashmir-centric, rather than focusing on Afghanistan. He lamented the attitude of the ruling elite for not pursuing the cause of Kashmir: “I am bewildered to find both the government and the opposition helpless in taking decisions.”
The Maulana is right in taking the government and the opposition to task, but what about his own performance, as head of the Parliamentary Committee? What has stopped him from doing his duty?
Every year on February 5, Pakistan renews its commitment to the Kashmir cause. This year, too, there will be speeches, messages, meetings, supplements and programmes on the media. All this noise, however, will soon evaporate into thin air.
Why doesn’t the opposition keep the issue alive and compel the government to do its duty to provide moral, political and diplomatic support to the Kashmiris’ liberation struggle? And what has been the role of the Azad Kashmir government? We also have a Ministry of Kashmir Affairs. What has been its performance with regard to the resolution of the dispute?
Pakistan is committed not to allow the use of its territory for any material support to the Kashmiris in the occupied State. It, however, remains an internationally recognised party to the dispute. In the UNO, Kashmir is regarded as a “disputed territory”. This dispute has to be resolved in accordance with the will of the Kashmiri people.
For the last many years, they have been protesting peacefully with hardly any infiltration from our side. But what is stopping Pakistan from supporting this peaceful struggle? Why is the Pakistani government not highlighting the state terrorism let loose in the disputed territory? Why don’t we publicise the record of non-stop atrocities being committed on the Kashmiri men, women and children? Why doesn’t our Foreign Office take up the matter of “mass graves” in Kashmir with the UN Human Rights Agency?
Every year, Amnesty International and the Human Rights Watch prepares reports on the violation of human rights in Kashmir. Why doesn’t our government take up these reports and launch a campaign in the international media to expose the Indian security forces’ uncivilised and brutal behaviour? How can India continue calling itself a great democracy when it has more than half a million well equipped soldiers terrorising the people whose only crime is to raise their voice for their United Nations-mandated right of self-determination? Why don’t our Aman Ki Asha apostles tell their Indian friends to persuade their government to repeal the black repressive laws clamped on the Kashmiris, who are hauled up without a warrant and kept in jails (and tortured) without trial for years?
Let our Parliament debate the Kashmir issue and take a clear decision as to how the Kashmir question is to be addressed. One thing is clear: We cannot afford to put the issue aside. It has assumed an increased importance because of the use of waters flowing from Kashmir into Pakistan. For Pakistan, it is a question of life and death. We have to keep the issue alive and work for it. Let there be a full-fledged Ministry of Kashmir Affairs. The present set up is inadequate and unsatisfactory.
Let there be a fulltime Additional Secretary exclusively in the Foreign Office for the Kashmir question. Why not establish a documentation and dissemination centre, which compiles facts, statistics, publications, including write ups by internationally renowned authors and columnists, relating to the history of the Kashmiris’ struggle for liberation and Indian state terrorism. This authentic information should be provided and presented appropriately abroad and within the country to sensitise recipients on the urgency of finding a solution to the decades old Kashmiri people’s issue.
War is no longer a feasible solution, particularly now that both the countries have nuclear arsenals. Only peaceful, purposeful, persistent and well devised strategies and efforts could possibly yield desirable results.
I close the column with a few observations of the famous Indian intellectual, Arundhati Roy (from her book, The Shape of the Beast): “The reality of India, however, to every ordinary Kashmiri, is an ugly, vicious reality they encounter every day, every ten steps at every checkpost, during every humiliating search. And so India stands morally isolated - it has completely lost the confidence of ordinary people…….We know that there are approximately 700,000 soldiers present in Kashmir. So, clearly the army is there to control the people and not the militants.
“Let’s keep in mind that the US has less than 150,000 troops in Iraq. These Indian security forces are present twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, year in and year out. When there is such massive army presence, I do not understand how anybody, any agency, can say that there are free and fair elections in Kashmir, regardless of how many people turn out or do not turn out to vote. Because when you have a permanent army presence you do not need to send people on the end of a bayonet to voting booths…….This is a very dangerous situation for everybody, for the Kashmiris, for the army and for Indian society as well.”
The writer is an ex-federal secretary and ambassador, and political and international relations analyst.