PERHAPS the most important event in February was Pakistan’s magnanimous release of the captured Indian pilot. Prime minister Imran Khan announced that the captured Indian Air Force pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan would be released as a ‘gesture of peace’. However, in the same breath, he warned India that any ‘miscalculation’ may prove disastrous for the whole region.
The two nuclear-armed countries came very close to a major conflict when Indian warplanes used Israeli-made SPICE 2000 precision-guided bombs (weighing one tonne each) in airstrikes targeting a suspected hideout for the Kashmiri freedom fighters belonging to the Jaish-e-Mohammad. The group allegedly had claimed responsibility for a suicide attack in the Indian-occupied Kashmir earlier in February that killed at least 40 Indian paramilitary troopers. (SPICE, or smart precise impact and cost effective, bombs are the largest conventional bomb in the Indian Air Force’s arsenal.)
I am dismayed at the international media discussing their biased and faulty opinions and ideas on the crisis. They, sadly, ignored the core of the issue. They opined, either imprudently or purposely, that unless the ‘terrorist’ dens are wiped out, such crisis would never end. In my opinion, addressing the symptoms without the root causes will never solve the problem, which is all about: Kashmir, the Kashmiris, their rights and their aspirations for freedom and peace. For more than seven decades, they have been denied a UN-mandated plebiscite (per UNSC Resolution 47) to decide their own fate. Instead, they had to settle for what the UN HCHR chief has rightly noted, the ‘total impunity for enforced disappearances.’
The horrific case of Asifa Bano, an eight-year-old Muslim girl, gang-raped and strangled to death in a Hindu temple by eight men, including four police officers, in the Indian-occupied Kashmir is just one example of what the Kashmiris face day in and day out. These offenders were supported by two ministers from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. That is the sad reality in Modi’s India, which is fuelling anger, frustration and sense of hopelessness amongst the Kashmiri people.
Over the years, Kashmir has become a symbol of agony, pain, suffering, tragedies and what not. Here are some sobering statistics from the past 20 years of India’s oppression in Kashmir:
— Kashmiris killed by the Indian army: 94,479
— Custodial killings by Indian army: 7,048
— Disappearances of Kashmiris at the hands of Indian police: 10,125
— Gang-rapes by Indians in Kashmir: 10,283
— Kashmiris blinded by Indian firing: 188
— Kashmiri children orphaned: 20,085
— Kashmiri women widowed: 20,005
— Kashmiri buildings destroyed: 106,071.
While we may not like to see a repeat of the recent bloody episodes between two nuclear-armed nations, it would be utter folly to say that we do not understand why a disgruntled Kashmiri had blown himself up to inflict pain on his persecutors. Modi’s India has to answer why Kashmiri civilians are agitated today as never before, why they are tired of false promises and why they despise the Indian occupation forces in their midst.
Addressing the symptoms while ignoring the root causes is not only foolish but also inexcusable. If the international community is serious about finding genuine regional peace, it must allow the people of Kashmir to decide their own fate (much like what it did for the people of East Timor and South Sudan) — whether they want to remain part of India or join Pakistan or be an independent nation, allowing all its citizens to live as equals in a dignified way.
As long as the Kashmiri people are denied their very basic rights to decide their fate, where truly lies the root cause of the Kashmir problem, hoping for peace is simply delusional. The sooner the Indian government understands this vital truth and delivers on its promise to hold a referendum, the better for its people and the entire region.
India with the second largest population and seventh largest landmass is the world’s largest defence importer and has been investing tens of billions in updating its military equipment. India is now Israel’s biggest arms market, buying weapons at an average of $1 billion each year. In 2017, the state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries said that India would buy nearly $2 billion worth of weapons technology, making it the military exporting giant’s largest ever defence contract. The apartheid state of Israel has also been a major arms seller to the other apartheid state of Myanmar that is guilty of genocide of the Rohingya people.
In recent years, the Israelis have filmed joint exercises between their own ‘special commando’ units and those sent by India to be trained in the Negev desert, again with all the expertise supposedly learnt by Israel in Gaza and other civilian-thronged battlefronts. At least 16 Indian ‘Garud’ commandos — part of a 45-strong Indian military delegation — were for a time based at the Nevatim and Palmachim air bases in Israel.
As I noted in a 2005 article — USA-Israel-India: Semantics of ‘’Common’ Vision — ‘Gone are those days when India was one country that had been doggedly anti-Zionist and a powerful voice in the non-aligned movement.’ Just as Israel today considers the Occupied Territories of West Bank and Gaza integral parts of Israel, so does India for the disputed territories of Jammu and Kashmir. Both see the minority Muslims as common foes. ‘The BJP is the Likud in saffron, as the Zionist Movement is the BJP in gaberdine.’
In his first visit to India in 2018, preceded by a trip to Israel by Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu recalled the 2008 terrorist attacks on Mumbai in which more than a hundred civilians were killed. ‘Indians and Israelis know too well the pain of terrorist attacks,’ he told Modi. ‘We remember the horrific savagery of Mumbai. We grit our teeth, we fight back, we never give in.’ As noted recently by veteran journalist Robert Fisk, this was also BJP-speak.
Since 9/11, the United States has joined this ‘entente of evil’ to reshape the Muslim world in ways that we have not seen in the past. It was no accident that president Trump would recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city and move the US embassy there.
Nor is it difficult to understand the toxic foundation stone of the relationship between these three countries under the leadership of murderous, right-wing fascist leaders — one of Zionism under Netanyahu, another of Hindutva under Modi and the other one of New Americanism that is racist and bigoted under Trump. All these leaders have fascist leanings and share an ugly history of murder, oppression and persecution of minorities. They can say that they are not racists or bigots. But their deeds, past and present, speak volumes. That is enough for us to discern them.
Dr Habib Siddiqui is a peace and rights activist.
Want stories like this in your inbox?
Sign up to exclusive daily email
More Stories from Opinion