[ The writer is the secretary-general of Washington-based World Kashmir Awareness Forum.]
Kashmir is internationally recognized as a disputed territory whose final status has yet to be determined by its people. Both India and Pakistan have nuclear weapons and have fought three wars during the past 73 years. This is a matter that urgently needs to be put on the road to finding a just and viable solution.
Any effort to resolve the conflict requires confronting the issue directly and honestly, and it is something that seems difficult for the Indian government to do. India does not want to resolve the Kashmir conflict but to dissolve it. India wants the Kashmir issue to be buried under the rug when the subject is raised by the international community, alleging that it is a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan and no one else's business. If forthrightness was involved, it could be a strictly bilateral issue.
It may also be mentioned here that India presents a wholly false picture of the situation in Kashmir. The Indian government's agenda and its various mouthpieces continue to mislead the public about the dispute and Kashmir, appears to be unimpeded.
New Delhi has tried to weave a smokescreen with some unfounded myths, which seek to discredit the genuine struggle of the people. But these ploys will never be able to cover up the reality and sufferings of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. India has particularly failingly tried to equate Kashmiri people with fundamentalism. I want to debunk this myth created by India that Kashmir is an issue of fundamentalism.
The term fundamentalism is quite inapplicable to Kashmiri society. A hallmark of Kashmir has been its long tradition of tolerance, amity, goodwill, and friendships across religious and cultural boundaries. It has a long tradition of moderation and nonviolence. Its culture does not generate extremism or fundamentalism. Its five chief religious' groups – Buddhists, Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims and a small minority of Christians – have for centuries flourished in harmony and mutual bond: no religious ghettoes, no religious apartheid, no economic or sharp cultural divides. All religious persuasions rejoiced at each other's holidays and times of celebration, attended social gatherings together, lived in harmony as neighbors, and treasured their mutual trust.
The various faiths of Kashmir eschew fanatical or extremist dogmas that distort and debauch their doctrinal origins. Tolerance and mutual respect are their watchwords. For example, Kashmiri Sikhs feature no antagonism towards other religions. Indeed, their trust in Muslims is so strong that they have refused bribes from the Indian army to blame Muslims for the killing of 36 Sikhs at Chittisinghpura, Kashmir, on March 20, 2000, during then-President Bill Clinton's visit to New Delhi that the Indian military itself had covertly organized.
Kashmir has been haloed as the land of saints. Its culture embraces diversity and Kashmir has been the confluence of a rich mixture of philosophies and ways of life that merge without losing their distinct identities.
Here are few latest shining examples of diversity in Kashmir:
Daily Kashmir Observer reported that Muslims helped a Hindu family in the cremation process of a man who died in the Maisuma area of Srinagar city on Feb. 8, 2021. According to reports, one Rakesh Kumar breathed his last on Monday. Muslim neighbors arranged everything required for the cremation process. Locals said they arranged a priest and shouldered his body up to the cremation ground.
India's leading newspaper, the Hindustan Times, reported on May 1, 2020. Muslim men helped Hindu man's kin perform his funeral rites in north Kashmir's Uri. Due to the lockdown, the relatives of the deceased could not reach the place for his funeral, and no vehicle was available to carry the body to the cremation ground. Members of the Muslim community helped perform the last rites of their Hindu neighbor (54-year-old Shekhar Kumar) in north Kashmir's Uri town amid the nationwide lockdown. Deceased's son Gautam Kumar said the Muslim community has always helped them in difficult times. "It was not possible to perform my father's last rites without their support," he said.
India's other daily, The Hindu, reported on June 5, 2020. "Local Muslims made special arrangements to perform the last rites (of Mrs. Rani Bhat, a Hindu). Firewood was arranged for cremation. The body was also shouldered by Muslims. It's our duty to ensure that we are with our Pandit neighbors in thick and thin," said Abdul Qadir, a Muslim villager.
Joginder Singh Raina of the All Party Sikh Coordination Committee said, "Kashmir is about Kashmiriyat, which means brotherhood… Sikhs settled in the city during the turmoil but never went away, but now Kashmiri Pandits should also come and live together like us."
I believe that the best solution to this dilemma is that the Pandit brethren should return to the valley and the majority community must open their hearts and minds to give them moral support and a sense of security. The rights and culture of Kashmiri Pandits must be respected and protected at all costs.
Dr. Syed Nazir Gilani, president of the Jammu and Kashmir Council for Human Rights, expressed the sentiments of the majority community in these words: "My teachers at higher secondary school, college, and university were Kashmiri Pandits. Men and women of great character and stature. Many close friends were Kashmiri Pandits. They allowed me to enter their homes, except kitchens. It did not bother me. The atmosphere of trust was overwhelming, and I did not have time to consider the merits of the 'kitchen' being a no-go area. I felt sorry for their exodus in 1990. The sense of glee and emotion is uncontrollable whenever a Kashmiri Pandit visits his or her home in Kashmir. Therefore, I raised the issue of their rights at the UN Human Rights Commission and the Sub-Commission in Geneva."
The people of Kashmir are fully aware that the settlement of the Kashmir dispute cannot be achieved in one move. Like all qualified observers, they visualize successive steps or intermediate solutions in the process. It is one thing, however, to think of a settlement over a relatively extended period. It is atrociously different to postpone the beginning of the process on that account.
The people of Kashmir do not wish anybody to take a partisan side. Nevertheless, Kashmiris are convinced that impartial observers will support the Kashmir cause based on universal principles, democratic values, the rule of law, and international justice. It is high time that all concerned parties – India, Pakistan and the Kashmiri leadership – sit together and chalk out a strategy for the sake of peace and stability in the region of South Asia. Because ultimately, negotiations, not violence, are the only way to resolve the Kashmir conflict. Kashmiris cannot be excluded from the negotiating table if a peace process is to be profound, meaningful, and result-oriented.
The Biden administration faces two options concerning Kashmir. First, it can continue the Trump administration's policy of ignoring the Kashmiri dispute while warning India and Pakistan against going to war with each other. Besides condoning the atrocities being committed in Kashmir, this policy rests on a tacit agreement between India and Pakistan that war between them is unacceptable. However, with the growth of the fascist ruling party in India, such an agreement is extremely vulnerable. The prospect of a nuclear exchange in the subcontinent, which contains a fifth of the world's population, cannot be dismissed in the event of an outbreak of hostilities.
The second US option is to play a more activist mediating role by initiating a new peace process for Kashmir. This could take the shape of a quadrilateral dialogue involving the US, India, Pakistan, and Kashmir or appropriate use of the new mechanisms and abilities of the United Nations. In either case, the US will supply the necessary catalyst for a settlement.
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