As the crisis threatens to escalate in the region, the future of its people is at stake
There is a growing clamour of voices and demonstrations around the world, raised in protest at India’s revoking of the semi-autonomous status of Jammu and Kashmir. The one voice that is not being heard, however, is that of the people whose future is being so heatedly debated.
Silenced in the extraordinary clampdown by New Delhi that has seen thousands of troops pouring into the province to quell any dissent, legitimate political leaders detained and all communication with the outside world shut down, the lives of the people of Jammu and Kashmir are on hold. The situation in which they find themselves is in danger of escalating out of control, yet they themselves appear to have no agency, either over the increasingly precarious situation or their futures, which hang in the balance. The decisions that saw Kashmir divided between India and Pakistan were taken more than 70 years ago, long before most of those who are now dealing with the latest consequence of this perpetually unfinished business were born. Ever since then, it has been the unfortunate lot of ordinary Kashmiris to play the role of helpless pawns in the never-ending game of brinkmanship between India and Pakistan.
Few disinterested parties would disagree that the gift of unequivocal agency for these people is a basic human right that is long overdue, yet once again they find their voices muted and their hopes and dreams hostage to politicking. Unquestionably, Imran Khan, Pakistan’s prime minister, is in a difficult position that will test his leadership skills to the full. Rightly, he has launched a diplomatic offensive, raising the issue with the UN Security Council and seeking support for the plight of Kashmir’s Muslims from other world leaders. The Organisation of Islamic Co-operation has already been joined by countries including Germany, the US and China in condemning India’s move as a threat to peace and stability and urging talks that must include the people of Kashmir. But the threat to peace and stability created by India can only be increased by bellicose rhetoric aimed at appeasing domestic outrage. By invoking the prospect of armed conflict, of talking about fighting “till we shed the last drop of our blood”, Mr Khan is stoking fires that might not be easily extinguished.
Pakistan and India, two of the world’s nine nuclear nations, have fought two bloody wars over Kashmir. The ordinary people of the region, who have endured decades of a bitter insurgency, do not deserve to be plunged into yet another nightmare. What they do deserve is to have their voices heard in a constructive, open and long-overdue debate about their future. Both India and Pakistan must put Kashmiri interests before their own.