Kashmir: Sinking into Oblivion, Rising from the Ashes

The jarring report on over 2000 unmarked mass graves in Indian Held Kashmir that came to light last month failed to elicit a response from the United Nations. When pressed for comments, Secretary General Ban Ki Moon apologized that he had ‘no comments for now.’ This is not just the UN lacking teeth; it is the UN being reduced to virtual dysfunction; that is, irrelevance to global context altogether. With emboldened contraventions of its Charter by the most powerful states of the world as well as the much larger role and unrestrained power enjoyed by regional strategic organizations like NATO, the UN, like its predecessor, grows pathetically feeble and ineffectual.

Nobody lost a lot of sleep over the contents of the report, and no uncomfortable questions were asked of anyone either. The failure of naked human rights abuse in the world’s conflict zones and occupied regions to rouse significant concern shows how violence in the world’s conflict zones has become routinized in our collective consciousness. The world’s collective conscience is sensitized to human rights violations in places that routinely experience them.  This silence implies a tacit sanction of occupation and its accompanying practices and doles out licenses to kill for trigger-happy men in uniform that help to maintain an arbitrary hold on suffering populations. We accept the brutality that is the work of human hands and the expression of men’s lust for control, dominance, power as an indelible destiny that some of the unfortunate ones among mankind have to live with. And life goes on.

Mirza Waheed, a Kashmiri journalist and author of the novel ‘The Collaborator’ writes:

Brutalized people are made to behave normally as an acquiescent citizenry… The Indian State wants the world to believe that Kashmir is an integral part of India, and hence speaks often in the language of conquest. Dehumanized conflict management impinges upon the lives of ordinary people. This is a system that allows the executor to live in comfortable moral ambiguity, and wants the victim to renounce all claims to asserting his identity. This is what violence, torture, brutality are meant to do_ to reduce a person, a mind, a collection of minds to a spiritless body; the complete destruction of the will of the victim, which ensures a people are kept in submission and slavery…

While it is possible to understand and even perhaps empathize with victims whose interminable suffering kills their hope and gradually renders them numb and insensate to the blatant injustice that happens around them, this is not so easily condonable in the case of those who are distanced from conflict and watch it as third persons on television screens. The 60-odd years of the reign of terror in the Occupied Valley , the hundreds of thousands of lives lost, the illegal detentions, disappearances and the Draconian laws to justify these and give cover to perpetrators; and most importantly the state’s refusal to bring violators to book are a damning sentence on Indian state policy on Kashmir. This is important particularly given Indian aspirations to regional dominance and permanent membership to the United Nations Security Council. These blood-drenched statistics  signify an irredeemable loss of India’s ‘high moral ground’ as an aspirant to global power and prestige.

It all adds up to a grotesque illustration of, and a powerful indictment on, the state of the world’s collective conscience and our failure to apply ethics to international affairs. The Kashmiri is doomed to suffer as long as ‘War on Terror’ realpolitik holds hostage universal ethics, human rights, justice and common decency. In the post-9/11 global dynamics, India has closely allied its Kashmir policy with the larger anti-terror narrative of the U.S by selling Kashmir as a classic case of ‘Islamic militancy’ and “cross border terrorism” against a Secular-Democracy, garnering the world’s sympathy and deflecting attention from its own dirty tactics. A world dumbed down by a media governed by corporate interests and powerful lobbies readily swallows the narrative, and Kashmir sinks deeper into oblivion.

The U.S has chosen to bury its head in the sand regarding Kashmir. This exposes the meaninglessness of its rhetoric of democracy, self-determination, freedom, human rights etc, and the sheer hypocrisy of its claim to higher moral ground. The global recession that has hit the U.S economy hard accentuates the importance of the Indian market for the U.S, underscoring the need for stronger bilateral ties. Keeping mum on Kashmir serves everyone’s interests or the interests of everyone that matters.

Pakistan, on the other hand, caught miserably as it is between a rock and a very hard place, has very noticeably loosened its hold onto Kashmir, with its focus shifted to its Western border and the bloody, nationwide fallout of its blundering into the northwestern tribal areas. The War on Terror has concentrated itself in Pakistani territory, with Pakistan desperately trying to play up to its “most allied ally” status while an increasingly suspicious, imperious United States threatens to “go it alone” as the trust deficit gapes wider.

Kashmir is the tragic casualty in the new alignment and dynamics in the subcontinent. Amnesia is imposed on Kashmir by India with tacit approval from the U.S, and pathetic, inaudible whimpers of discontent from a hapless Pakistan.

However, in a way, this new state of affairs comes with opportunity. Kashmir has previously been caught between a ceaseless tug of war between India and Pakistan with a terrible national egotism and ideologically loaded stances defining the narrative. With Pakistan loosening its grasp[3], the indigenous, homegrown Kashmiri narrative acquires greater authenticity. Kashmir emerges as an indigenous, independent struggle for freedom and self-determination springing out of its saffron fields_ regardless of Indian intransigence, Pakistani ambivalence and American caprice. Allegations by India of the Kashmir struggle being sustained by Pakistan have defined the Indian position on Kashmir and have been used to justify its highhandedness and its relentless militarism in the region. The theory loses ground as Kashmir emerges boldly as an independent movement of its own and on its own, in the face of Pakistan’s diminishing influence and national distraction.

It is this new, emergent trend that the occupier is frightened of and tries to eradicate through desperate measures: mass arrests, custodial murders, cover ups of evidence of diabolical deliberation behind all these. As India aspires to regional dominance and a permanent UNSC seat, it naturally has to be conscious of keeping up an image befitting of the world’s largest secular democracy that it goes about as. This requires gagging the voices from Kashmir and hushing up the noise made by human rights groups; it involves burying corpses in unmarked mass graves in the thick of the night, and whitewashing the blood stains.

India’s desperate strategy to crush the bolder, genuine Kashmiri counter-narrative is to create victims or potential victims out of all, using constant fear of the arbitrary occupier that creates a sense of helplessness destroying aspirations, hopes, courage; killing the resisting spirit and the will to act in defence. This impels the cycle of violence to continue endlessly and indefinitely, with little moral qualms given India’s powerful media and its global influence.

However, this false, dishonest, morally bankrupt narrative must be defeated by the Kashmiris through their stronger, deeper, genuine counter-narrative that goes beyond Indo-Pakistan conventional wrangling, beyond shifty and capricious interests of Someone Else, beyond cosmetic face-lifts by oppressor nations aspiring to global power, beyond spineless leaders and dysfunctional organizations:

“For me, what gives hope is the rise of more and more young people articulating their own narrative, their own experiences, their own policies…” (Mirza Waheed)

Maryam Sakeenah is a student of International Relations based in Pakistan. She is also a high school teacher and freelance writer with a degree in English Literature. She is interested in human rights advocacy and voluntary social work and can be reached at: meem.seen@gmail.com. Read other articles by Maryam.