India-Pakistan Talks: Are Kashmiris Forgotten?

IRFAN RAJA — By modern news standards, COVID-19 deaths fall under “regular news,” but the imprisonment, torture and deaths of innocent Kashmiris are often overlooked by mainstream media. Kashmiris are silent victims mainly because oppression hardly gets a fair space in headlines.

British journalist John Pilger asked a significant question: “Why are wars not being reported honestly?” Pilger finds a stunning reason, “media is a secret weapon” in the elite’s armory. That means power elites decide what to disclose to the public and what to discard.

For some time now, India and Pakistan have been in a dialogue mode over Kashmir. On what terms? That’s a hidden part of the news story. However, the known fragment of the Kashmir story is also worth recalling as both countries step into the negotiating room.

The ‘jugular vein’

Millions of Pakistanis of my age were taught in school the all-time popular slogan “Kashmir is the jugular vein of Pakistan.” Seven decades on, and Pakistan is still alive and surviving without its healthy “jugular vein.” That’s a miracle, isn’t it?

Think about India’s annexation of occupied Kashmir by revoking provisions of Article 370 of its constitution back on Aug. 5, 2019.

Isn’t it that India had cut or at least damaged Pakistan’s jugular vein? So what is the cure for it? How will Pakistan fix it?

At this moment in time, many young Kashmiris and ordinary Pakistanis think “jugular vein” is only a catchphrase that has lost its real meaning.

Umair Jamal raised a question, “Has Kashmir ceased to be Pakistan’s Juglar Vein?” and then argued that “Pakistan’s policymakers trim the size of their Kashmir narrative to match the evident realities.”

Now, the expression “jugular vein” is argued as nothing but a popular political mantra that only serves elites.

Is diplomacy dwindling?

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) are facilitating the current dialogue between India and Pakistan. What is on the negotiating table? Will the peace talks reach mutually agreeable terms? Only time will tell.

Though it must be said that UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed (MBZ) honored India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi with the highest civilian medal at a time when Modi abrogated articles 370 and 35A, striped Kashmir’s special status and imposed a curfew.

At that moment, a few other Arab countries now facilitating the peace dialogue were criticized for their “silence” on Kashmir on the Pakistani TV screens.

But that was the past, and as Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa said, it is “time to bury the past and move forward.”

Maybe, for some people, this sounds like a pretty cool plan because war will send the two nuclear powers back to the Stone Age.

But will this plan be accepted by the Kashmiris and also common Pakistanis? Look at the Twitter trend #WeWontBuryThePast. Thousands of people in Pakistan and Kashmir are calling it a “betrayal” of Kashmir.

Now, Americans are pulling out from Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia is talking to Iran, Turkey is signaling a shift in its foreign policy, and China and Russia are making new alliances in the Middle East. Even the current border dispute between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan is all part of a great game.

Is this an American policy shift in the Middle East and South Asia? Will peace prevail in the region? What about the Kashmir issue? How will it be resolved between stakeholders?

Few specialists think the U.S. has a plan: Possibly an independent Kashmir! Where the U.S. could set up a military base to keep an eye on China. A new threat!

Pakistan’s leading anchors and analysts have shown concern over mixed opinions of secret dialogues on Kashmir even though they hold different opinions on the issue.

The crux of discussions reveals that Pakistan is retrieving its Kashmir policy, while India is buying time to address its own internal challenges, such as Indian farmers’ revolt against Modi, the Sikh factor and China’s “victory” against India in Ladakh. On top of it, India is failing the COVID-19 challenge, and in these circumstances, it can’t afford to open up another front.

It is logical to conclude that a shift in Modi’s government mood is wobbly. The point is whether or not the peace talks will be fruitful and persistent. What about the Kashmiri victims?

Past experiences of the India-Pakistan talks are evidence they often end in disappointment.

In February of each year Pakistan’s government and private institutions, both political and religious, spend millions in advertising on the front pages of newspapers in a bid to announce solidarity with the oppressed Kashmiris.

I have attended a series of seminars, conferences and talks in Islamabad’s luxury hotels and enjoyed sumptuous three-course meals with participants wearing extravagant dresses.

Mostly, such exercises end in a waste of time and money where too often non-Kashmiris or self-appointed leaders and self-declared scholars deliver speeches nicely wrapped with emotional words and empty slogans mainly to get into the newspapers.

The fact of the matter is that despite an increasing Kashmiri diaspora in Europe and the U.S., successive governments in Pakistan have failed to convince the world that Kashmir is in serious trouble.

Why are voices missing?

Fine, both sides are talking, but where are the Kashmiris? Is the fate of the Kashmiris in the hands of generals and politicians? Who decides on behalf of oppressed Kashmiris?

Strange, though, that peace talks have resumed unconditionally and without addressing the core issue that is the removal of Article 370. Moreover, the world’s longest curfew, which has imprisoned Kashmiris, still continues. So what is the agenda of the peace talks?

It is high time for people in power in Pakistan to rethink and revisit their promises made to the people of Kashmir before decades of peaceful struggle and scarifies are in vain.

An everlasting peace in South Asia is desirable and essential for the economic and social development of people of the subcontinent.

But it should be on a fair deal for Kashmiris to decide about their future: Pakistan or independence?

The author is an academic, analyst and activist based in the U.K., Ph.D. holder at the University of Huddersfield.

The opinion piece originally appeared in Daily Sabah.