World largely ignoring suffering of Muslims in Kashmir

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US president George Bush’s obsession with Saddam Husain of Iraq has eclipsed other trouble spots in the world, such as Kashmir, Chechnya and Palestine. True, Saddam is a brutal dictator who waged a vicious war against Iran for eight years, and who has tortured his own people, but is the Iraqi ruler the only tyrant in power to be guilty of such crimes? India calls itself the “largest democracy in the world”, but its crimes against the people of Kashmir are no less heinous, yet Delhi escapes censure. It has successfully projected the issue as a territorial dispute between India and Pakistan, instead of its being recognised as a question of the Kashmiris’ right of self-determination. Whenever Pakistan raises the Kashmir question at international forums, it is given short shift.

The Kashmiris deserve much more attention than they have got so far from the world. Unfortunately even Muslims neglect their responsibilities to their Kashmiri brothers and sisters. This is even more so in the case of Muslim governments, which hide behind the excuses of “national interests” and “non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries”. Violations of human rights are everyone’s concern, or should be. Kashmir is not a part of India; its separate status and identity are recognized even by the UN, although this body, currently getting worked up about Iraq’s non-compliance with security council resolution 1441, is silent about India’s non-compliance with much older resolutions concerning Kashmir.

There can be no hierarchy of suffering: the blood of the Palestinians is as sacred as that of Chechens or Kashmiris. Palestine deserves attention because it is a holy land and Masjid al-Aqsa is located there, but in terms of suffering the Kashmiris have endured greater calamities. A quick comparison confirms this. The first intifada in Palestine started in October 1987 and lasted until 1993, culminating in the betrayal by Yasser Arafat and co. of the Palestinians’ rights in the Oslo accords. After the Palestinians were betrayed, there was a relative lull until the second intifada began (September 2000). The Chechens’ first uprising lasted from December 1993 to August 1996, when the Russians were driven out, only to relaunch their war of aggression in October 1998. Even the long-suffering Iraqis had a respite of sorts after the US-led war in January-February 1991, although the economic sanctions have continued to devastate the lives of millions. The Kashmiris have had no relief since December 1989. India has continued to pour more troops into the region, bringing daily death and destruction to its people.

India maintains a 700,000-strong army of occupation in Kashmir; in Srinagar, the capital of Kashmir, there are 300,000 troops: one soldier for every three civilians. Every street corner is a bunker; even homes have been taken over by the military, and public parks have been turned into cemeteries. The unruly Indian soldiers have indulged in killing, destruction and rape. According to the Kashmir Media Centre (KMC), between December 1989 and last December 8,997 Kashmiri women were raped by Indian soldiers. Many women have committed suicide rather than live with the stigma of rape in a society where ‘honour’ is highly cherished. The Indians, like the Serbs in Bosnia, are guilty of using rape as a weapon of war. The Serbs have been condemned worldwide for their crimes, and Slobodan Milosevic, the architect of that policy, has been brought before the international tribunal at the Hague for war crimes, yet India’s rulers continue to be welcomed and entertained in international capitals. It is this two-faced behavior that emboldens the Indian army of occupation to carry on committing atrocities. Like the occupiers of Palestine, Indian soldiers guilty of such demoniac behavior are given derisory sentences, if they are charged and convicted at all. In Palestine the Israelis have perpetrated horrible crimes of torture and killing, but there have been few instances of rape. This is not to belittle the suffering of the Palestinians, merely to point a contrast between the behavior of the two moral and political lepers. There is also close collaboration between India and Israel in many fields, a point unfortunately lost on most regimes in the Middle East.

Not all Muslims, however, are oblivious of their responsibility to the Kashmiris. Every year there are rallies and conferences in Pakistan and other parts of the world on February 5 to express solidarity with the people of Kashmir. This year was no exception. As well as in Pakistan, there have been rallies and conferences in Britain, the US and Canada. In Toronto a very large gathering was addressed by Nazir Ahmed, member of the House of Lords (Britain’s parliamentary upper house) and Joe Comartin, a Canadian MP. There were also a number of other speakers: Ali Mallah, vice president of the Ontario New Democratic Party, Ritch Whyman, coordinator for the Anti-War Coalition in Canada, Elias Ishmawy of the Anti-War Movement in the US (who is working closely with Ramsey Clark, the former US attorney general), Canadian-born Nadia Abu-Zahra (of Palestinian origin), Ahmed Motiar, a retired teacher and anti-apartheid activist in South Africa, and Abdul Hamid Lachporia, also from South Africa. All the speakers drew parallels between the suffering of the Kashmiris and the Palestinians. Nazir Ahmed called for L K Advani, India’s deputy prime minister and home affairs minister, to be tried for war crimes. Joe Comartin suggested that Canadian troops be sent to Kashmir to protect civilians from Indian army brutality, rather than to Iraq or Afghanistan to wage war on innocent people.

Like all oppressors, India goes to great lengths to discredit the resistance by branding it as “terrorism”, yet India is guilty of state terrorism on a colossal scale. Figures for losses inflicted on the Kashmiri people from December 1989 to December 2002, issued by the Kashmir Media Centre, give some idea of the scale of India’s crimes.

In 2002 alone 4,093 people were murdered, including 150 women; 915 were killed in detention, 101 of them children. In the same period 713 women were raped; 1,018 women were widowed; 2,898 children were orphaned. The number of people who disappeared after being arrested by the Indian army was 554; 8,900 were tortured in detention. In the same period 1,039 houses and stores were also burnt. As well as using rape as a weapon of war, it is evident that the Indian occupiers are targeting the Kashmiris’ businesses and homes to drive them out of their land. This is called “ethnic cleansing,” with a technique popularized by the Serbs but also practiced with equal enthusiasm by the Zionists in Palestine and the Indians in Kashmir.

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