We the people of Kashmir must be as much ready to tell the world about us as much as we must listen to them and answer their questions on our own conduct
Much is being made of the ongoing visit of the European-African delegation of envoys to Kashmir, the latest in a series of such visits at the behest of New Delhi since the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A of the Constitution of India in August 2019. The latest visit comes in the backdrop of the successful and peaceful conduct of DDC elections in the new Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir. But questions have been raised on the credibility of conducting such exercise, which many critics have dismissed as politically sponsored, stage managed, and as propaganda events conducted as a mere public relations exercise to cater to the international audience. A genuine question that arises on these visits is whether they serve any purpose at all, especially for the people of Kashmir valley?
It is important to mention here that after the 9/11 attacks in New York, the Kashmir dispute, which used to garner much international support before, has been witnessing a gradual disengagement of the global community. Since then, the Kashmir dispute has slowly been relegated to a “bilateral dispute” between India and Pakistan and, in the past few years, is increasingly being accepted only as an internal political problem of India. Even Muslim majority nations, including both the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, seem to be following that line and so does the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).
There are many complicated commercial, defence, strategic, business and political reasons for this state of affairs, covering which is beyond the scope of this article. But the fact is that today the international scrutiny and interest in Kashmir stands at its lowest. While a few articles did appear in international news after the abrogation of Article 370, the world soon turned its head away from Kashmir, as the coronavirus pandemic started ravaging the globe. No one takes Pakistan’s propaganda-laden support to Kashmir seriously in the global community. Under these circumstances, what should the people of Kashmir do?
Honestly speaking, the people of Kashmir have very few choices left. Like it or not, the people of Kashmir have to make their voice heard within the limited space that is left for them in the dramatically changed political circumstances. The active involvement of Pakistan, the operation of militancy, and the rise of religious radicalism has created an image of Kashmir that does not help its case. We also have an additional shame of the mass exodus of our religious minority community at the beginning of 1990s. All these factors are important when we try to make outsiders listen to our political grievances. This political whataboutery is something that every Kashmir has to face and answer.
On top of everything, Kashmir valley has been going through earth-shattering political changes in the past two years, regarding which there are many genuine grievances and questions that need to be answered, especially the manner in which things unfolded during and after the abrogation of Article 370.
But will raising questions on the credibility of the individual members of the visiting European or African delegation or on the collective motive of the entire delegation help us, the people of Kashmir, achieve anything? Even if there are serious ethical questions regarding the transparency and objectivity of the intention of the visiting delegation, there is no harm in reaching out to them. We the people of Kashmir must reach out to anyone who is coming to meet us. The question of credibility is a subjective one. One man’s hero is another man’s traitor, and in a highly politicised dispute like Kashmir, it is naïve to expect any transparent and unbiased intervention. Every party to this 7-decade-old dispute has some political backers, so what if the visiting delegation also has one.
It is not that there is nothing concrete that we the people of Kashmir cannot talk about with the visiting members of the delegation. If we want our voices to indeed reach out to the wider global community, we must not push for only one-sided narrative, which will not give us access to the wider global community. We have the full right to apprise the world community regarding some of our very serious concerns on issues such as our fear of change in demography of Kashmir valley after the abrogation of Article 370 and change of administrative status of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir. But at the same time we must also acknowledge that some of the political changes that took place on the ground, like the successful conduct of DDC elections, was indeed one of the positive outcomes of the changes that took place after August 5, 2019. The wide-scale participation of women and tribal community mandated by law did indeed open a level-playing field to many aspiring politicians for whom such endeavours would not have been possible otherwise. The DDC elections also opened space for many aspiring young politicians from poor and non-political families to formally enter into electoral politics in Kashmir.
Therefore, the wholesale casting of aspirations on the credibility of such international visiting delegations as state-managed tours and thereby rejecting them does not do us any good, especially when the global interest in Kashmir remains at its lowest in view of long fatigue, changed international political equations, and the raging pandemic. We the people of Kashmir must make the best use of every single opportunity of outreach that comes our way and that will be possible only if we present our grievances before the world community in a holistic manner, without misusing them for pushing political propaganda. We must be as much ready to tell the world about us as much as we must listen to them and answer their questions on our own conduct. This might actually lead to a sustainable peace in Kashmir valley.
The writer is a leader of the Jammu and Kashmir People’s Democratic Front. He can be reached @Javedbeigh across social media platforms. Views are personal.