• Tahir Qazi
  • Publish Date: Feb 20 2016 12:14AM
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  • Updated Date: Apr 8 2016 12:30AM


It’s time to shift the paradigm from what’s not achievable in Delhi and Islamabad to what is possible in Srinagar and Muzaffarabad 


For decades now, Kashmir has been robbed of its rightful place on the world stage as a model pluralistic, inclusive, and modern democracy. We have been deprived of the leadership role that we can play to develop a modus vivendi between India and Pakistan and their one and a half billion nationals. We have a legal and just right to self-determination; exercising that right will pave the way for lasting peace and progress in the Indian sub-continent.


Kashmir, with its geographical appendages of Jammu, Ladakh and Northern Areas, is a nation where people have lived mostly in peace and harmony for hundreds of years. We have centuries of coherent history with a cultural and social fabric as warm and resilient as the cashmere wool that we produce. Our values of tolerance and respect for diversity were used as examples to emulate, when the religious strife turned Indian sub-continent hellish at the time of the partition. People of different religious and ethnic backgrounds in Kashmir generally found peace and amity in each other, despite reigns of autocrats, despots, and puppet regimes. Though an unsettled item with United Nations as a disputed territory, Kashmir’s potential for an irenic role is rooted in these timeless values of tolerance, kindness, hospitality, spirituality, and respectful co-existence.


After independence from the British rule, the political class of India, and its doppelganger Pakistan, have failed their people terribly. They have given their people death, destruction, income inequality, fanaticism, corruption, and utter misery. On different dimensions of human development index – a long and healthy life, knowledge, and a decent standard of living – both are in the bottom third of the nations of the world and are behind countries like Namibia, Palestine, El Salvador and Vietnam. And they have dragged us down into their spiral of misery, treating Kashmir as a property or a prize to own, never mind the human cost of such a macabre desire. In recent times, their machinations resulted in a blot on our social fabric, when our Kashmiri Pandit population left their ancestral homes in a mass migration out of the valley. I reckon that this was an aberration and our Kashmiri ethos was on display again during the Great Flood of 2014, when our youth saved and helped thousands of people of all religions and ethnicities. Kashmiris do have a better claim to the mantle of principled leadership in the region and it is time to shift the paradigm from what has not been achievable in Delhi and Islamabad to what is possible in Srinagar and Muzaffarabad.


People of Kashmir have a moral argument – that our land is a disputed area per United Nations resolutions and this dispute needs to be settled. Moreover, we have a right of self-determination, a legal right to decide our own destiny as enshrined in international law. Our right of self-determination is protected in the United Nations Charter and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Kashmir has been physically occupied and subjugated through neocolonial policies of Indian politicians. Any dissenting voices have been brutally silenced through the barrels of the guns of their soldiers. Putting draconian laws in place for impunity, India’s politicians have unleashed brutal military tactics to suppress our popular uprising for freedom, resulting in thousands of deaths, hundreds of thousands injured, thousands disappeared, thousands of half widows, thousands of orphans, and severely arrested social and economic progress.


Indian politicians have had seventy years to show how best they can treat us and what they have given Kashmir is a farcical democracy, puppet regimes, and a brutal military crackdown to mute our cries for freedom from their tyranny. Why would we ever want to be part of India, especially when their territorial control is illegal to begin with. Pakistan has lost its right to court us, with a poor record of keeping what it had, with its military having a chokehold on its democratic institutions, and rampant sectarian strife crippling its progress. The politicians in both countries covet Kashmir, hate each other’s guts, and have misled their citizens about the Kashmir issue. They have weapons of mass destruction and maintain persistent combat readiness against each other, tying up $50B in a combined annual military budget that can be drastically reduced with the settlement of the Kashmir issue. It is time that they look to us to help them solve the issue to free up these tied up resources and reutilize them on the betterment of the standard of living of their citizens. A reduction of 40% in the military budget will free up $200B over a 10 year period. Imagine what progress can be made with that kind of money! For reference India’s annual budget is only about $250B.


There is an immediate need for a new paradigm in the Indian sub-continent, where Kashmiri leadership takes center stage in resolving this thorny issue. There are four things that Kashmiris need to do to craft a path for success: 1) We need to change the self-loathing colonial narrative and firmly believe in our ability to assert our rights, 2) We need to keep the memories of our losses alive in our collective conscience and derive inspiration from those sacrifices to continue our struggle for justice, 3) We need to build a vibrant economy to lay down a foundational structure for our human development, and 4) We need to strengthen related local and civic institutions to build a foundational structure for a pluralistic democracy, in which people of different ethnicities or religions from Jammu, Ladakh, and other areas are not forced to live with us but where they aspire to live.


Firstly, we need to change the current narrative. The colonial narrative that has been rammed into our psyche is that Kashmiris shouldn’t trust each other. This narrative has created a make believe identity for a Kashmiri as a duplicitous and dishonest chameleon. When we meet our friends and relatives, we don’t see them like that. Far from it, we see decent, hard working, trustworthy, and kind people. The dehumanized version of the generic Kashmiri identity is a straw man used as a tool by the occupying propaganda machine. It serves two essential purposes, one to remove collaboration and trust from our society and two to spare its military machine any pangs of guilt for its barbaric acts. This only furthers the occupation in a unique way. We must change this narrative. After what has been meted out to the inhabitants of Kashmir in the last 25 years, that a Kashmiri talks kindly to someone from India or walks with his or her head up is a miracle in itself. This is because Kashmiris are decent, honorable, and tolerant people with a rich heritage and are rooted in sound values. We need to treat each other with respect and honor and change the narrative from what is wrong with us to talking about acts of kindness and decency we encounter in our day to day interactions with others. In addition, we need to treat resistance leaders with respect, as they have spent their lives striving for our just cause. Leaders like Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Yasin Malik, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Maulana Abbas Ansari, and countless others have sacrificed their comforts, faced torture, have been incarcerated, exiled, and yet have remained steadfast to demand a settlement of the Kashmir issue. We need to give our resistance leaders a benefit of doubt and not believe in unverifiable rumors and libelous propaganda. They, in turn, need to be open and transparent and come clean by maintaining constant contact with people. They need to declare their financial assets and remove any doubts that have been sown in clever ways to break the resistance movement. If someone is proven to be tainted, they certainly do not belong at the helm.


Secondly, the ruthlessness with which Indian politicians have devastated hundreds of thousands of lives in Kashmir, cannot be simply forgotten. At some point, there have to be Nuremberg like trials for those who committed war crimes. Between now and then, we need to keep alive in our collective conscience the memories of our losses and our pain. We need to derive inspiration from the sacrifices of those who have been killed or brutalized to continue our struggle for justice. We must promote music, poetry, drama, film, and other forms of art to respectfully remember our pain. Not only is it cathartic, it helps preserve our unique culture and identity. We need to help collect data and statistics and publish well-researched reports. We need to tell and retell stories of human beings that have been affected, regardless of their religious or ethnic background. We need to research and fact-find stories of the heroes and the villains of our struggle and tell them through as many mediums as possible.


The third element of our strategy needs to be to build a vibrant economy that revolves around the knowledge of our human resources and not as much on heavy industrial infrastructure. Economic activities that are sustainable, do not disturb our fragile environment, fit with our cultural ethos, utilize available human resources, and help us become a relevant global contributor are fundamental to our struggle now as they are to our prosperity in future. There seems to be an erroneous view, held by both the Indian establishment and some resistance leaders, that if people of Kashmir have economic prosperity and money, their thirst for the settlement of the Kashmir issue will die down. Not true, as this is not an economic progress issue at all. Kashmiris hold the view that we have been denied our just right and unless we have that right, this struggle for justice will continue. Kashmiris didn’t take up arms in 1988 because our economic growth had receded. Quite the opposite. Hence it is critical to continue with activities that promote building of a strong economy and robust services. Most of our effort as a community should be focused on this element of our strategy.


The fourth element of our strategy should be to strengthen Kashmir focused civic institutions both in the valley and outside. We should build citizen run organizations that operate professionally and can deal with local city and town level issues. They should be represented at a larger civic organization. These organizations need to be run professionally and with robust governance and accountability. Such civic organizations need to represent all ethnicities, regions and religions. The purpose of these organizations should be to build an inclusive social structure and create essential learning to build a vibrant democracy. It is a tall order to get organized like this, given the fractured nature of the current resistance movement. As an initial step, it is perhaps easier to engage in and become part of the existing civil society organizations and make them stronger, more accountable, and better. We equally need sustained representation at the international bodies and specific engagement with media that reports on social and political advocacy issues like ours.


What does this mean for a student and a common person in Kashmir? The first duty of the students and those entering the job market is to focus on learning relevant skills and becoming the best learners they can be. We need experts in international law and human rights advocacy. We need economists, engineers, investigative journalists, doctors, teachers, administrators, entrepreneurs, and technicians. We need people who use their creativity through art and other pursuits to communicate societal issues and solutions. We need trained human resources and we must support education first and foremost. A common person in Kashmir or anywhere in the world should set aside 5 percent of his or her disposable income and spend it on any activity that helps people of Kashmir. Those with means should lend a hand to those without. We should help students in need, give tools to people, and support local efforts focused on social and economic development. Kashmiri diaspora should play a part by lending support and help advocate the issues facing our people.


Kashmiris have been forced into a multi-generational struggle that is not of our choosing. Our unfaltering belief in the just nature of our struggle will be the difference between success and failure in the resolution of this dispute. We must paint a vision of a model democracy in which people of different regions and ethnicities peacefully and respectfully coexist with each other, adhering to traditional Kashmiri values of tolerance, kindness, hospitality and spirituality. Political leaders of India and Pakistan need to see Kashmir as an opportunity to build lasting peace and eradicate decades of enmity and hostility between their own countries. They can seize on that opportunity by engaging with Kashmiri intellectuals and leaders in Srinagar and Muzaffarabad. Leaders with vision, integrity, and compassion in India, Pakistan, and Kashmir can help create a better future for one and a half billion people of the region. Great leaders are pragmatists who can identify difficult realities, communicate them, and still have the optimism and courage to act. It is time for true leaders to act.


(Tahir Qazi is a non-resident Kashmiri, who lives in United States. Feedback at tahirqazi@gmail.com)