A collective moment

  • Time to transcend the barriers of hate

“Peace is the only battle worth waging.”

Albert Camus

The manner in which India and Pakistan have chosen to live next to each other over the last seventy odd years reminds one of the poignancy of Faiz Sahib’s celebrated poem “Subh-e-Azaadi” (The Morning of Independence) where he bemoaned the pain of a vast multitude of people who had to leave their home and hearth in quest of a place they would call their own.

But, in certain respects, we have travelled far from those agonising days that witnessed the unfurling of grave tragedies and tribulations – when families were rent asunder, when homes were razed, when humans were desecrated. It is like crossing the vastness of turgid seas to find a shore to bring peace to the tortuous hearts that have lived in constant pain, moving from the unleashing of one crisis to the next, from one tragedy to the other. This has been a devastating journey which, somehow, has kept bringing us back to the beginning – again and again!

Though the quest for peace has not been fulfilled, the hope has not deserted either.

The latest flare-up between the two neighbours started with the attack in Pulwama by a Kashmiri youth, Ali Ahmad Dar, resulting in the tragic death of more than 40 Indian military personnel.

India retaliated with an alleged strike on a Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) hideout inside Pakistan, claiming to have eliminated over 300 ‘terrorists’. Then it was Pakistan’s turn to respond: it hit six targets inside the Indian-administered Kashmir. When Indian planes chased Pakistani aircraft, two of them were brought down with the wreckage of one falling inside Pakistani territory. The pilot was arrested.

While Pakistan successfully demonstrated its capability, capacity and resolve to strike back, it has since then climbed many rungs on the ladder of moral ascendency. Prime Minister Imran Khan has consistently offered dialogue to his Indian counterpart saying that India and Pakistan cannot indulge the luxury of miscalculation in starting a war. He has warned that, once triggered, it may not be within the control of either of them to bring it to an end.

In a rare overture, the Indian pilot, Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, was released as a‘gesture of peace’.

It is very difficult to escape the tragedy of Kashmir which remains the key outstanding issue that has plagued the relations between the neighbours ever since the partition of the subcontinent into two separate countries.

In a piece titled “Our captured, wounded hearts”, the celebrated Indian author and activist, Arundhati Roy, says that“…the attack that killed at least 40 men was yet another hideous chapter in the unfolding tragedy of Kashmir. Since 1990, more than seventy thousand people have been killed in the conflict, thousands have “disappeared”, tens of thousands have been tortured and hundreds of young people maimed and blinded by pellet guns. The death toll over the last twelve months has been the highest since 2009Associated Press reports that almost 570 people have lost their lives, 260 of them militants, 160 civilians and 150 Indian armed personnel who died in the line of duty”.

It is in times of heightened tension that the desire for peace increases. This may be that time to transcend the barriers of hate. What the two countries need to do is to take a step back, rise above their respective egos, bury a past replete with death and destruction and grab this moment. Such a moment will not be India’s moment. Neither will it be Pakistan’s. It will be a collective moment which holds the promise of peace

Over years, an insurgency which was allegedly Pakistan-sponsored to begin with has been extensively indigenised, mostly in reaction to the use of excessive and brutal force by the over 700,000 strong Indian army stationed in the valley to quell the trouble. The use of the pellet guns has blinded many protestors.

The former RAW chief, AS Dulat, during an interview with Vinnet Malhotra, said that “when villagers come out in support of militants, there’s very little the army can do”.

India’s growing frustrations have been further augmented by the release of a report on the situation in Kashmir by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). It particularly deals with the developments in the Indian-administered Kashmir from June, 2016 to April, 2018.

In its recommendations to the Human Rights Council, OHCHR has asked them to “consider the findings of the report, including the possible establishment of a commission of enquiry to conduct a comprehensive independent international investigation into allegations of human rights violations”. It has also asked the Indian government to “fully respect the right of self-determination of the people of Kashmir as protected under international law”.

Virtually everyone agrees that the only way to peace goes through the annals of a dialogue. But, instead of moving to the table to talk about the outstanding issues including terrorism and Kashmir, India has remained intransigent in its refusal to engage Pakistan — this coinciding with a substantial increase in the occurrence and intensity of agitation in the Indian-administered Kashmir.

India’s refusal to talk is also contrary to what a large number of Indians are advocating.

Arundhati Roy believes that “…Kashmir is the real theatre of unspeakable violence and moral corrosion that can spin us into a nuclear war at any moment. To prevent that from happening, the conflict in Kashmir has to be addressed and resolved. That can only be done if Kashmiri people are given a chance to freely and fearlessly tell the world what they are fighting for and what they really want”.

War not being an option, it is its futility that is also being projected. In a recent piece, the Indian writer, Shobhaa De, opines that “…from the safety of our homes, we can express wholehearted admiration for those fighting on our behalf and risking their lives so we can sleep soundly at night. It was only after Abhinandan’s moving saga that we were forced to think of his family and the families of our martyrs”.

A former finance minister and a Congress Party leader, P. Chidambaram, has said that “…there was no other option to avoid war than to hold talks with Pakistan”.

Former chief ministers of the Indian-administered Kashmir, Farooq Abdullah and Mahbooba Mufti, have strongly pleaded for talks between India and Pakistan. There are scores of other Indians who are speaking about the need for a dialogue to commence which, except for the prospect of plunging into a horrific nuclear nightmare, remains the only option for forging peace between the two countries.

The current level of insurgency in the Indian-administered Kashmir is not of Pakistan’s making alone and it is also not in a position to control it. It can urge restraint, but the levers have moved beyond to the younger generation fighters – the likes of Burhanuddin Wani and Ali Ahmad Dar — who believe that India is bent on keeping them captive which they are unwilling to accept. This is the core contention. The attendance in hundreds of thousands at the funerals of the fighters who die in the cause of freedom is a telling proof of the grassroots support which this movement has garnered in the last few years.

It has been seven decades since this painful journey commenced. It has taken innocent lives. It has destroyed homes. It has nipped adolescent dreams. This cannot go on. This caravan of pain must come to a stop. Let the remnants of hope not be crushed under the growing heaps of frustrations and let the burgeoning dreams of the young not be consumed in the scent of blood. Let the beauty of life take precedence over a disastrous plunge into the valley of the dead.

It is in times of heightened tension that the desire for peace increases. This may be that time to transcend the barriers of hate. What the two countries need to do is to take a step back, rise above their respective egos, bury a past replete with death and destruction and grab this moment: India should stop beating the drums of war and Pakistan should introspect seriously to evaluate what it needs to do internally to rectify its past failures.

Such a moment will not be India’s moment. Neither will it be Pakistan’s. It will be a collective moment which holds the promise of peace.