Thursday, 29 May 2008

How to stop killing of innocent Kashmiris?

How to stop killing of innocent Kashmiris?
Dr Shabir Choudhry

British TV channel 4 showed a documentary on Kashmir at prime time which was highly appreciated by the viewers, as it was very balanced and it helped to see viewers the Kashmir conflict in its true perspective. Title of the documentary was ‘Killings in Kashmir’; and Channel 4, its reporter Sandra Jordan and producer Rodrigo Vazquez should be congratulated for their effort and professionalism.

It is true that in every armed conflict innocent people get killed and they are the main sufferer, and people of Kashmir are no exception to this. In Kashmir and in South Asia ‘wind of change’ has been going on for some time; and people have pinned high hopes with the peace process. All parties to the dispute appear to be serious about this peace process, and strenuous efforts are being made to create conducive environment that peace process could continue.

In view of this process, and in view of the international support for these confidence building measure which have been put in place, one wonders is it appropriate to continue with such harsh policies which increase the suffering of the ordinary people of Kashmir. Authorities need to be reminded that these actions would further alienate the ordinary people who are fed up with the continued violence, and would like to have some relief that they can start their life after losing everything which was so dear to them.

Majority of people in Kashmir and in South Asia want peace, but they also want solution to the Kashmir dispute for which all parties to the dispute have paid price. No doubt people of Kashmir are the main party to the dispute and they are also the main sufferer, but it would be wrong to say that India and Pakistan have not suffered because of the Kashmir dispute.

Now that all parties have realised that there is no military solution to the Kashmir dispute, and that it has to be resolved through a process of dialogue, we must ensure that people with vested interest DONOT hijack the peace agenda in order to further their own agenda which will bring more destruction and misery to the people.

It is sad to see that with the peace process well on the track suffering of the ordinary people has not reduced, if anything it is on the rise; and this is a cause of concern to
ordinary Kashmiris and human rights organisations in various parts of the world.

The documentary ‘Killings in Kashmir’ highlighted human rights violations by both state and non state actors, and in both cases victims were innocent Kashmiri people. It showed that ordinary people were victimised by security personnel for allegedly cooperating with the militants; and militants on the other hand victimised innocent people for not helping them, and this situation made it extremely difficult for the people and they did not know what to do.

In the past we only heard that Indian shelling caused so many deaths and injured civilians, and destroyed so many houses in Azad Kashmir, but the documentary revealed that Pakistani shells which used to land on other side of the LOC also killed innocent Kashmiri people including young children, and destroyed houses.

Authorities on both sides of the divide need to be reminded that it is they who are ‘entrusted’ with the right to preserve life and property of individuals, and protect their basic human rights; militants, individuals and groups with vested interest do not enjoy that ‘trust’ and have no ‘legal obligation’ to preserve life and property or uphold rights of the people.

Sometimes militants find it appropriate to cause chaos and inflict terror in the people that they can further their agenda. Governments need to be aware of this, and they should make every effort to win minds and hearts of the people rather than meeting violence with violence which will only add to the suffering of the people, and in a way help those who don’t want to see peace in the region.

The documentary confirmed the widely held view that people of Kashmir are in favour of united and independent Kashmir, and that they don’t want to accede to either India or Pakistan. It is difficult to say with certainty in which box they will put their vote when and if they get an opportunity to cast their vote to determine their future status, especially if they have three choices before them, but one thing is absolutely clear that they don’t want the status quo to continue.

We can leave the issue of future status of Kashmir on one side for time being, and concentrate on ways and means of bringing human rights violations to an end. Also we need to ensure that the peace process continues and more confidence building measures are put in place that the parties to the dispute could trust each other. The circle of dialogue process should be widened and leaders from other ethnic and regions must be made part of this process.

In view of the overall agenda it would be prudent that the government of India, being the bigger party to the dispute, should take initiative to reduce suffering of the people. In this regard it will help if the government of India takes some of the following actions:
Unilateral cease fire in all parts of Kashmir
General amnesty for all
Release of all prisoners who are not required in serious crimes
A strategy to involve non APHC leaders from all communities in the process of dialogue
Withdrawal of army away from populate areas

Above actions will give suffering people some relief and help them to start new life. It will also help the government to get its message across that they are genuinely concerned about their suffering. Apart from that it will help to create an environment to advance the peace process which is in the interest of all people of South Asia.

Those who support the peace process and have invested so much in it need to understand that it is governments and the suffering people who need peace, and small group of people with vested interest may have different agenda, as peace damages their ‘personal and business interest’ which only flourishes when people are killed and chaos is order of the day.

Writer is a Chairman Diplomatic Committee of JKLF and author of many books and booklets on Kashmir. He is also a Spokesman of International Kashmir Alliance.

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