Dear politicians, I hope you will read this before you huddle on Friday to discuss the deadly situation in the Kashmir Valley.
I am writing to you as a Kashmiri, not a Kashmir expert. Every word comes from my heart.
Yours won’t be the first all-party meet the central government has convened on Kashmir. There have been many. Rajiv Gandhi led an all-party delegation to Kashmir in 1991 when the valley and other parts of the state were burning.
How that visit ended is well recorded. A detailed account of the meeting Gandhi and others held is in Jagmohan’s “My Frozen Turbulence In Kashmir”. The meeting was famously titled by the Kashmir media as “nishastam, khurdam, barkhwastam” (They gathered, ate and fled.)
The fire in Kashmir kept blazing and is still blazing blisteringly hot. Tens of thousands have died in three decades of a conflict that has its roots in 1947. Rights groups say more than 80,000 have been killed. The government puts the number at around 50,000. Unfortunately, human sacrifices turn into mere statistics after a certain number.
Kashmiris were again on the streets in 2008 against the transfer of forest land to the Amarnath temple management. An all-party meeting was convened by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. It ended with an appeal for calm after weeks of deadly tension in which nearly 60 people died. A resolution was passed calling for a “dialogue” to resolve the issue. The summer of discontent gave way to a winter of calm.
Kashmir erupted again in 2010 over the killing of three civilians in a staged shootout. The civilians were passed off as foreign terrorists. Manmohan Singh again called for an all-party meeting, which announced measures to douse the fire. These included financial packages in terms of jobs, rehabilitation of families of victims of violence and reducing the number of troopers in civilian areas.
Kashmir is again on fire today. All previous all-party meetings and financial packages have failed to end the turmoil. You know why? Because these meetings have been held — as Kashmiris see it — on false pretensions that Kashmiris are demanding jobs and development.
In the last nearly 70 years, the issue has evaded a resolution. The main reason behind the repeated failure is the lies we all speak about Kashmir. When you sit down on Friday, please start by speaking the truth about Kashmir: that Kashmiris are on the streets demanding “Azadi”.
Blaming Pakistan — no one denies its involvement in the state — for everything going wrong is an oversimplification of a complex issue. Rulers — in New Delhi and in the state — have failed Kashmiris with broken promises and betrayed them every time they have reposed their faith in politicians. Admit that.
If you really want the issue to end once and for all, make a new beginning by admitting the truth that Kashmiris want their right to self-determination. Be assertive in speaking the political truth about Kashmir. Financial packages cannot hide ugly realities.
You will gain respect and earn faith from all Kashmiris. And that is when you can sow the seeds of a just resolution to this raging conflict. It was nice for a change to hear a handful of MPs in Parliament speak about the atrocities of the past one month in the Kashmir Valley.
However, if you again decide to hide the reality, it will be criminal waste of yet another opportunity. It is a wound that continues to fester. Heal it now. And there is no better remedy than speaking the truth about it.
All the best for your Friday endeavour! I will keenly watch it — like millions of others. Please don’t let it become one more “nishastam, khurdam, barkhwastam” on Kashmir.