As reports filter through about increased military activity by both India and Pakistan over the disputed land known as Jammu and Kashmir, the world awaits a potential nuclear stand-off between these two neighbours which invariably will spill over into a more menacing regional war.
Various historians, statesmen, poets and journalists have written about Kashmir’s paradox – a land of profound beauty, yet a land without peace. A land of fertile meadows, snow-capped mountains and abundant forests, filled with charred villages and graveyards.
Kashmir’s turmoil is filled with the sufferings of ordinary people for more than five decades. With half a million troops from India stationed in the Kashmir valley policing a population of about eight million (another five million dwell under Pakistan’s control), Kashmir is probably one of the most militarised societies on earth.
As India prepares for war, Kashmiris are fearful of the Indian combat patrols that constantly fan out along village streets searching for Muslim “terrorists”. Their fear is real. They point out that Indian occupation of their land has filled each day with fear and uncertainty. Not too long ago, following a guerrilla attack upon India’s security forces, Indian troops opened fire on a crowded street, in a fit of blood-curding revenge. They raked a passing bus with machine gun fire, and then methodically set fire to nearby stores, bolting the doors on some buildings so the occupants could not escape. Seventy people died in this village in the heart of the apple-growing district, known as Sopore.
“Indian troops continue to summarily execute detainees, kill civilians in reprisal attacks and burn down villages as collective punishment for those suspected of supporting the militants,” a Human Rights Watch report says. Torture is routine and Indian troops regularly practice a “catch and kill” policy in which suspected militants are simply executed without a trial.
The escalating tension currently fuelled by war-talk and intense militarisation by the two South Asian nuclear powers, India and Pakistan is edging the world closer to a nuclear holocaust. The conflict over Kashmir can be resolved by both countries retreating to their own respective borders, and allowing Kashmir to emerge as a free, independent and sovereign state, fully deserving of its title – Azad (free).
(Mr. Iqbal Jasarat is Chairman of the Media Review Network, which is an advocacy group based in Pretoria, South Africa.)