Syed Rabia Bukhari
I walk barefoot, all alone through a deserted street with half burnt, torn down buildings on both sides, smoke still rising from the rubble. The setting looks strangely recognisable. At the far end of the street I see a familiar building, now covered in dust and smoke, about to crumble but somehow still managing to stand, like a column of ash. I frantically run towards the building, terrified and shivering, and carefully stretch my hand to touch the fragile wall. All of a sudden fighter jets appear roaring in the sky above me, the ash walls come undone and I wake up; shivering, perspiring.
27th February, 2019 – midnight. It took me a while to realise that it had just been a nightmare, primarily because Indian fighter jets were actually still roaring above in the dead of the night, flying towards Uri in the north, after Pakistan brought down two Indian jets the preceding day in retaliation to the violation of its airspace by India a day before.
War is no alien concept to Kashmir. A disputed Himalayan territory located between three hostile nuclear power countries, where killings, enforced disappearances, encounters, torture and rape are the order of the day – it calls for no formal declaration of war to understand what it entails. Kashmiris have known war for over seven decades now. A war that has transcended borders as the only battlegrounds and is being fought on multiple frontiers as it infiltrates into people’s homes, bodies, and psyches.
The current dispute that caught international attention in bringing the two arch-rival, neighbouring countries, Pakistan and India, to the brink of a fresh war, escalated two weeks back when local Kashmiri rebel 20 year-old Aadil Ahmad Dar, who had joined Jaish e-Muhmmad (JeM) – an Islamist group based in Pakistan headed by Moulana Masood Azhar to fight Indian cccupation – rammed a car full of explosives into a convoy of vehicles carrying Indian soldiers in Lethpora Pulwama. At lesat 40 troops were killed on the spot; such a significant loss of soldiers in Kashmir is uncommon.
As a revenge measure, and largely to appease the electorate in India, Narendra Modi’s government intensified its aggression against Kashmiris, launching a massive crackdown on members of Jamaat e-Islami (a socio-religious Islamist organisation), Hurriyat Conference (an alliance of social, political and religious parties advocating the cause of freedom of Kashmir) and various political activists, arresting hundreds of them mostly during night raids. The anti-Kashmir sentiment generated in the wake of this incident was further fuelled by Indian media; Kashmiris studying or doing business in India were hounded, and on the night of 25th February, India carried out airstrikes in Pakistan.
While Pakistan has continuously reiterated its call to give peace a chance, address the core issue of Kashmir through dialogue, and even decided to free a captured Indian pilot as a good-will gesture, India obstinately wants to put the blame on Pakistan and JeM thereby justifying its military aggression against the Muslims of Kashmir. This is primarily to ensure the electoral success of India’s ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) in the upcoming elections, and conceal the brutal truth of the ongoing occupation.
Whilst the two countries teetered on the brink of a war, the suffering of Kashmiris under Indian occupation has again been downplayed.
The past week has been the hardest; India stoked psychological warfare in Kashmir by creating mass hysteria. People were told to stock supplies for two months, hospital rooftops were painted with Red Cross signs visible to fighter jets, over 12 thousand more Indian army troops were brought in and as they paraded the roads of Kashmir with heavy weaponry, the fear of an imminent war only deepened. And to top it all, the Indian media, that has behaved as a cognisant mouthpiece of the state, played along by echoing and establishing state propaganda, bringing fear into the living rooms of every household in Kashmir.
As a Kashmiri, I have continuously been asked this question over past two weeks: do I condemn the initial Pulwama attack? We Kashmiris, who have seen nothing but blood and destruction for over seven decades, find no pleasure in death unlike the cheerleaders and warmongers who ask for revenge and bay for blood from their cosy newsrooms, away from the conflict and all its violence. We do not rejoice in death and we would very much like to enjoy life like people in other parts of the world.
Having said that, why then does a Kashmiri man, in the prime of his youth, voluntarily go and put an end to his precious life by covering himself with explosives and blowing himself up? Why is there an increase in local rebel fighters; young people do not fear death, but embrace it out of their own free will? Do we not love life?
Yes we do. We are a life-affirming, positive people who never take the actions of the oppressor as something to emulate or seek inspiration from. But these actions must be seen in context, as last-resort acts of defiance against Indian control over Kashmiri lives, a testimony themselves to the horror of living under an occupation.
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While people have been campaigning against war, and even India (ironically and selectively) has been invoking the Geneva convention for the safety and return of its captive pilot, no one seems to raise the issue of Kashmir and seek the end of Indian occupation, which has resulted in the deaths of almost 100,000 people since 1989.
It would bode well for the global peace if the alarmism of the international community, who became concerned about a possible nuclear confrontation between the two countries, instead directed their concerns towards the core issue of Kashmir and arriving at a permanent solution. It would be more consistent if they raised their voices against the horror of a war that is an everyday reality for millions of Kashmiris, not just when it threatens to roost in their nests as well.
As I write these lines, Jamaat e-Islami, the biggest socio-religious party in Kashmir that runs over 300 free schools and orphanages in this conflict region, has been declared unlawful by the government of India and hundreds of its members have been arrested. Moreover, article 370 of the Indian constitution that grants special status to the state of Jammu and Kashmir and forms the basis of its accession to India, has also been tampered with.
So once again, the threat of a direct Pakistan-India confrontation is over, whilst the core issues of Kashmir remains untouched. Indian occupation in Kashmir is a festering wound in the skin of subcontinent, and unless this wound is treated, peace is a delusional concept in this part of the world.
For Muslims around the world, the plight of Kashmiris should warrant particular interest, not simply because the occupation violates human rights, but because we are all part of the ummah of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. The outrage over this situation cannot be dependent on fleeting media coverage, but must derive from the Islamic injunction to always call to justice and stand against oppression.
“And what is wrong with you that you fight not in the Cause of Allah, and for those weak, ill-treated and oppressed among men, women, and children, whose cry is: “Our Lord! Rescue us from this town whose people are oppressors; and raise for us from You one who will protect, and raise for us from You one who will help.”