By Syed Raza

Raza is a physician born in Pakistan, serving in the Roanoke Valley for the last twenty years.

With tall mountains and picturesque pines, the Himalayan region of Kashmir is well known for its natural beauty. Unfortunately, a long-standing dispute between the two nuclear armed rivals, India and Pakistan over this great region has always tarnished the political landscape of South Asia. When the British Raj ended in 1947, two separate countries were born simultaneously. While the Hindu majority provinces formed India and the Muslim majority areas formed Pakistan, Kashmir posed an entirely unique dilemma as its twelve million Muslim majority population was ruled by a Hindu Raja, who sought to be a part of India against the popular dissent of his subjects. Hence, both India and Pakistan claimed the region of Kashmir in its entirety and labeled each other as occupiers. The ground reality evolved as a divided Kashmir with India controlling most of it, but awarding a special status to Kashmir under Article 370 of Indian Constitution, ensuring some degree of autonomy. A United Nations Security Council Resolution regarding this conflict called for a plebiscite seeking a democratic path which was never materialized. During the last 70 years the two neighbor nations have been embroiled in several wars. A local separatist insurgency has long simmered on Indian side of Kashmir, fueled by the political stance of Pakistan government which has been heavily influenced by popular sentiments of its citizenry and military establishment, claiming to promote the democratic right of their Kashmiri brethren in faith, and to rectify a historical mistake made at the time of independence.

The current crises broke out with Indian Prime Minister, Modi’s right-wing nationalist administration recently announcing the sudden revocation of the special status and the autonomy of Kashmir by decree, practically annexing it to India. On the other side of the border, in Pakistan, a former sports-celebrity turned politician, Imran Khan has been in office, fully supported by the ever-ambitious military establishment, setting the scene for a martial collision rather than cool headed diplomatic negotiations. For Pakistan’s current administration, this escalation may also offer a welcome refuge from criticism over its poor governance and a distraction from financial mismanagement resulting in eminent economic recession. For India’s ruling party, it is a long neglected vow finally fulfilled, advancing the marrow divisive nationalist ideology, it thrives upon.

Meanwhile the poor inhabitants of the Kashmir are at a greater loss. They are no stranger to the humiliating presence of Indian paramilitary in their cities and towns, but now they also are experiencing a total ban on expression of their political will and democratic opinions. Independent press and media have been totally blocked from the region. The Internet is mute, and phones are silent. Local Kashmiri leadership including the two former chief ministers, have all been arrested. The whole area is under strict curfew. This unprecedented move appears to be an expression of utter and blatant disregard for basic democratic value and human rights.

In today’s world, civility demands that democratic dialogue and peaceful negotiations should be the only means to resolve all conflicts and problems. Elections and referenda in Northern Ireland, French Canada, and Brexit in United Kingdom are recent examples of such resolutions, but it is a sad site to witness India, the world’s largest democracy, taking such controversial and draconian steps with huge geopolitical implications.

At no other time the Kashmir conflict needed more attention from the rest of the world. Today, it is largely up to global thinkers and leaders to work on silencing the trumpet of war between the two nuclear armed rivals, as well as to protect and guard the democratic values and human rights of Kashmiri people.

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