Why is the crisis in Kashmir not on the BBC, CNN, al-Jazeera or other international media? Mind you, the crisis is far from over. Supporters worldwide marked, this week, the international day of solidarity with the Kashmiris.
Why do some conflicts in the world get all the media attention and some do not? The answer lies in the media value each conflict carries. The media value of a conflict increases when leaders of powerful countries talk about it or try to intervene to solve it by means of war or peace. With world leaders now preoccupied with the war in Syria and the refugee crisis in Europe, the other conflicts, including the conflicts in Tibet and Kashmir, have lost their media value.
In deference to the influence China and India wield internationally, Western leaders do not even mention Tibet or Kashmir in passing nowadays. Weeks ahead of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s recent visit to Britain, Prime Minister David Cameron, avoided a meeting with the visiting Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader and icon of the independence struggle. Obviously, Britain feels it stands to lose inby supporting the independence struggle of the Tibetans at the expense of antagoinsing China.
This self-centred logic applies to Kashmir. United States President Barack Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign vowed to solve the Kashmir crisis. This was to make Pakistan fully involved in the war on terror. But in the face of strong opposition from India, a huge market for the US and potential military ally, Obama abandoned this policy and, ever since, has not mentioned the ‘K’ word in public.
At the recently concluded United Nations General Assembly sessions in New York, no country other than Pakistan and India raised the Kashmir issue. Pakistan did so because it feels it is its responsibility to free Kashmir from India’s occupation. India raised the issue in response to Pakistan’s speech. The world powers see the Kashmiri people’s suffering as not their problem but a problem to be sorted out between India and Pakistan.
That the world leaders do not show much interest in the 68-year crisis in Kashmir does not mean that the wolf is dwelling with the lamb and the tiger with the kid in the region referred to as paradise on earth. On Monday, two suspected rebels and one Indian army soldier were killed during an encounter. Regular ceasefire violations along the Line of Control (LOC) have brought the two nuclear-power neighbours to the brink of war on numerous occasions in recent months.
Kashmiris shout slogans during the funeral procession of a suspected rebel in a village near Srinagar on Tuesday. AFP
There are three compelling reasons for the Kashmiri issue to be on the international agenda. First, it is about the people, their suffering, their dignity and their right to self-determination. The Kashmiri people have suffered long since Maharaja Hari Singh ceded the territory to India in 1947 against the wishes of his state’s Muslim majority subjects who longed for a union with Pakistan. South Africa’s visionary leader Nelson Mandela, who inspired freedom fighters around the world by his exemplary life and resilience, recognised the Kashmiri people’s right to self-determination — and that was why he raised the Kashmir issue at the 1998 Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) Summit in Durban, although he knew his remarks would make India unhappy. He told the summit that he believed the Kashmir issue, which remained a “concern for all of us,” should be resolved through peaceful negotiations.
Secondly, since both India and Pakistan are nuclear armed countries, the international community must redouble its efforts to help the two countries sort out any contentious issue that could trigger a major war.
Some may argue that the two countries will not go to war because nuclear weapons are a deterrent in preventing a major confrontation. They may point to the self-restraint shown by the two nations since the Kargil war in 1999. But such assumptions offer no guarantee that the two nations would not resort to nuclear warfare. The threat looms large with extremist ideologies gaining political recognition. Just as Islamic extremism is a threat to Pakistan’s stability, the Hindutva ideology which the Bharatiya Janatha Party and its allies such as Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) promote is a threat to India’s stability.
With Prime Minister Narendra Modi concentrating largely on making India economically strong, the values for which India was once hailed as an exemplary nation are being trampled on by RSS bigots. Beef eaters are hacked to death. In the Kashmir assembly, a Muslim lawmaker was attacked by BJP members because he served beef at a function. Muslims and Christians are increasingly being treated like second class citizens and some RSS ‘unholy’ men even urge their supporters to rape dead Muslim women. With the RSS given free rein by Modi, India is fast straying away from Gandhi’s India. South Asian studies expert Jon P. Dorschner writing for the American Diplomacy sees a parallel between Hitler’s Germany and Modi’s India. He says:
“The BJP was founded as a Hindu nationalist party by right wing Indians who were great admirers of Adolf Hitler….. Hitler portrayed the Germans as the pure Aryans, and the master race. He blamed Germany’s problems on the Jews. He unleashed storm troopers on the Jews, and any group that opposed his agenda. Modi’s BJP characterizes Hindus as the “pure Aryans” and scapegoats Muslims and Christians as outsiders and agents of foreign powers. As Modi cements his hold on power, the RSS and other Hindu fanatics have increased their attacks on religious minorities and critics of Modi and the BJP agenda.”
The rise of Gandhi killers in Modi’s India must be a cause for concern for the international community. Imagine a bigot becoming India’s prime minister and wants to nuke Pakistan.
Thirdly, the region as a whole will prosper through free trade among South Asian countries only if India and Pakistan solve the Kashmiri issue peacefully.
Modi sent positive signals for close cooperation with Pakistan when he invited Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for his inauguration in May 2014. But soon after, the relations between the two countries soured with accusation of ceasefire violations and promotion of terrorism. It is not too late. Sharif in his UN address offered a peace plan. The ball is now in India’s court. India cannot cite the Kashmiri people’s participation in assembly elections as an endorsement by them of India’s sovereignty. On the contrary, the heavily militarised region is still under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act that allows the security forces to act with impunity. Besides, the region is still a no-go zone for the international media and human rights activists. All this shows that Kashmir is a troubled region. India should not fight shy of holding a UN-recommended plebiscite in Kashmir to decide the fate of the region.