The people of Kashmir are hoping that the LoC ceasefire will not be an isolated event and that it will be followed by normalisation of Indo-Pak diplomatic ties and partial demilitarisation of the Kashmir Valley
In a landmark development on February 24, Pakistan and India have agreed to strict observance of all agreements, understandings and ceasefire along the Line of Control (LoC) and other sectors. The move has been hailed on both sides of the LoC and in major world capitals and at the United Nations. The breakthrough has kindled hope that sanity will prevail and the current thaw will not be treated as an isolated event, but will lead to further positive developments such as the resumption of full-fledged diplomatic relations, trade ties, and above all, a serious and result-oriented dialogue on Jammu and Kashmir, the bone of contention between the two neighbours for the last seven decades.
The people of Indian-held Kashmir and those close to the LoC have been living in a hell since August 5, 2019, when India announced the abrogation of Jammu and Kashmir’s limited autonomy and bifurcated the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories — Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh.
Although firing across LoC is not a new phenomenon, the locals have faced a double jeopardy on account of the Covid-19 pandemic. Several people have lost their lives as they were unable to move out for medical treatment due to the on-going violence.
According to official sources, 49 women and 26 children have lost their lives over the last four years in Azad Jammu and Kashmir due to the firing from Indian military posts. Kashmiris living along the LoC on the Indian side too have faced death and destruction due to retaliation from the Pakistani side. Therefore, people from across the globe, particularly Kashmiris, including Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, Mehbooba Mufti and Farooq Abdullah have applauded the long-awaited diplomatic initiative.
Some cynics have described it as a part of a larger game plan which might bury the Kashmir conflict without any settlement and accept Indian actions taken on August 5, 2019. Yusuf Jameel, a senior journalist based in Srinagar tweeted the day after the ceasefire announcement: “A prelude to making the LoC permanent border? Many people I interviewed today believed so. Sticking to the ceasefire pledge is important, rather vital, but what next? Asked some of them.” This tweet indicates that a significant section of society is worried about its future and the role of Kashmiri leadership in the possible political developments in the months to come.
It is widely believed that the sudden reiteration of the ceasefire came amidst a successful back-channel initiative facilitated by the British authorities between the two countries that finally resulted in this proclamation. Keep in mind that Chief of Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa had already been making peace overtures towards India. Prime Minister Imran Khan, on his visit to Sri Lanka, had also stressed the need for a regional dialogue especially with India to bolster trade and connectivity in South Asia.
On the other hand, despite a huge political investment and bearing international scrutiny; New Delhi has been unable to persuade the people of Kashmir to accept the decision taken on August 5 as a legitimate act and lend political support to the ruling BJP.
In the recently-held elections to the district development councils (DDC) the BJP has not been able to bag a significant number of seats in the Muslim majority areas of Held Kashmir. The pro-India political parties, known as the mainstream representatives of Kashmir, have also upset the applecart by not pandering to the Indian authorities and instead demanding the restoration of Articles 370 and 35 A.
Additionally, the Kashmir issue is not fading away. From Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council to the British Parliament, the Kashmir issue has been discussed in recent weeks. Recently, the United Nations human rights experts released a report on Kashmir wherein they acknowledged the fear of demographic change in Kashmir for the first time in history. Consequently, the demand to make New Delhi accountable for its dismal record of human rights violations is gradually rising and gaining significant international support.
Unlike President Donald Trump, President Joe Biden has decided to make the protection of human rights a priority in the US foreign policy. The announcement to “reengage” with the Human Rights Council is a vivid manifestation of this fact. The possibility of rejoining the Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC) is also in the offing. In this context, a vigorous push is expected from the US administration on India’s human rights record in Kashmir. In a nutshell, India’s current stance on Kashmir does not seem to be sustainable.
The ceasefire announcement generated a lot of excitement in the Indian media. Many senior analysts and known Pakistani experts predicted possible subsequent steps towards full normalisation of relations between the two countries. People privy to the policies of the ruling BJP’s leadership publicly stated that the government of India has signalled the possibility of convening the South Asian Association of Regional Countries (SAARC) conference in Islamabad where the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is likely to make an appearance. This indicates that significant groundwork has already been done and that the next few months might usher in a new period of confidence building measures (CBMs) between India and Pakistan, most likely including some on the issue of Kashmir.
The people of Kashmir are hoping that this ceasefire will not be an isolated event but will be followed by a process of normalisation of diplomatic ties and partial demilitarisation of the Kashmir Valley so that the existing political suffocation is reduced and political activities can resume. Over 4,000 detained political activists must be released to create a conducive environment. If not followed by tangible steps, the ceasefire announcement will be at odds with the reality of the common man’s life in Kashmir, frisking at the hands of security forces, his unending ordeals and the overall insecurity that prevails in the region.
The writer, an analyst, divides his time between Islamabad and Rawalakot. He can be reached at [email protected]