BY IKRAM ULLAH
Instead of standing in solidarity with Kashmir, many in the Arab world have only a vague understanding of its situation, which emboldens India to act with impunity.
Kashmiris were expecting some imminent danger over the past week. There had been a sudden build-up of troops as the government, currently lead by a governor, and thus, directly ruled by New Delhi, solicited the need for more troops.
More than 38,000 troops were rushed within days to add to the more than 500,000 soldiers already stationed there. The panic grew as the government issued warnings to tourists and Amarnath Pilgrims and then selectively removed every non-Kashmiri from Kashmir in buses. The fears were elevated with a flare-up at the line of control (LoC) with Pakistan.
Government officials kept rubbishing fears and kept people guessing for what was coming. Peoples fears came true on Monday, as India removed the Article 370, a constitutional agreement with the Kashmiri leadership that was signed in lieu of the Instrument of Accession in 1947, that granted a degree of autonomy to Kashmir.
A Presidential Order of 1954, called Article 35a, which inhibited non-Kashmiris from owning any properties or land in Kashmir, was also removed. Not only that, New Delhi bifurcated the state into two Union Territories, dispossessing Kashmiris of whatever little political capital we possessed.
While this massive assault was launched on the political identity of Kashmiris, not a single Muslim or Arab leader issued any response, apart from the official statement of Pakistan.
At the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the Muslim and Arab countries overwhelmingly support the right to self-determination of Kashmiri people, often reiterating the stance of the UN on the issue.
The OIC secretariat general did issue a statement on August 4, “expressing concern on the deteriorating situation in Kashmir”. However, no plan of action or future response was presented to address the situation.
When one looks at the Muslim community leaders and activists, only a tiny minority expressed concerns in a timid fashion. And mind you, this is not the first time. Kashmir has seen severe lockdown and killings in 2008, 2010 and 2016. Each time, the Arab activists have shown little to no outrage in the harsh repressions.
In 2016, after the killing of Burhan Wani, a charismatic Kashmir resistance fighter, while Kashmir was locked down by curfew for over six months, with 145 killings, mass blinding and thousands of arrests, not a single Arab activist protested. Not even, when the UAE sent its troops to celebrate the Indian Republic Day in New Delhi while the blockade was underway.
Soon after, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, overseeing the lethal action in Kashmir, visited Palestine as a ‘Grand Guest’ and again not one Palestinian or any Arab activist, stood to protest.
In fact, to rub salt in the wounds of brutalised Kashmiris, Saudi Arabia, conferred Modi with the King Abdul Aziz Sash, its highest civilian honour. Today when Kashmiris find themselves pushed to the wall, on the brink of extermination, there has been a poor show of solidarity from the global community, including the Arabs.
In contrast, Kashmiris have held innumerable rallies to show support and solidarity with the people of Palestine and Syria. In fact, in 2014, when Gaza was under Israeli bombardment, a Kashmiri teenage boy was killed by Indian forces in a protest march against the Israeli offensive.
In 2017, when the US declared its move to relocate the American embassy to Jerusalem, recognising it as the capital of Israel, there were widespread protests in Kashmir against the move.
Each time a protest is held in Kashmir, people put their lives in danger to show solidarity. It is then disheartening to see a total lack of reciprocity of our solidarity.
What is even more shocking is that very few among the Arabs, including Palestinians, know anything about Kashmir, other than its proximity to the two nuclear-armed countries.
Norman Finkelstein, speaking once about the occupation of Palestine to a packed audience, rightly said: “If I came here to speak on Kashmir, Kashmir is a very ugly place. The Indian governments have killed hundreds and thousands of Kashmiris. I would probably fill four seats.”
I have tried several times to reason the obliviousness of most Arabs about Kashmir and asked several of my friends from Egypt, Syria, Sudan, Palestine and Iraq, and none of them has ever read a report on Kashmir in their Arabic language newspapers.
Most learnt about the conflict in Kashmir for the first time from me. And that seems to be the problem. Even today, when I visited the websites of some of the popular Arabic language newspapers, not many reported in detail to what is happening in Kashmir. A very peripheral account is presented, and the Kashmir issue reduced to a mere bilateral territorial dispute.
However, it would be necessary to also mark this as a failure of the Kashmiri resistance leadership, who has done a poor job disseminating the Kashmiri narrative to the general Arab public.
In Kashmir, political conflict-related discussions on the dinner table have become a cultural part of life. This is where most of us begin to understand our political situations and those of the wider world.
In recent years, apart from Kashmir; situations in Syria, Yemen, Rohingya and Uyghur have become a part of those conversations. It would be fair to say that generally, people in Kashmir, thus, remain politically aware.
The disconnect between the Arab activists and leaders with Kashmir needs to be bridged, and the first step toward that direction would be the media. Arabic language media has to focus on producing detailed stories on Kashmir, giving their audiences the Kashmiri narrative instead of just rendering the Kashmir issue into a territorial tussle between India and Pakistan.
This will inform the general Arabic public.
At the same time, Arabic scholars and activists with influence need to take an interest in the Kashmir struggle and develop solidarity. They can engage with Kashmiri activists to inform their understanding and then disseminate the information.
There are several scholarly institutes like Yaqeen and Biyyanah, with massive influence among the Arabic people. It is essential that the scholars at such places inform people about Kashmir and the significance of solidarity. It would be prudent that the Palestinian organisations take notice of events in Kashmir and draw parallels between their plight and ours.
The latest Indian amendments have paved the way for Hindu settlements in Kashmir, and soon Kashmir will turn into a settler colony project.
This assault on the Kashmiris has begun while they probably remain mostly unaware of it, as before the news could reach Kashmir, it was turned into an information black hole, with every single mode of communication blocked. There are few reports of what is happening in Kashmir currently as it is under unprecedented lockdown, however, Kashmiris outside Kashmir fear that as the news trickles into Kashmir, a bloodbath will ensue.
It is time now that a strong message of solidarity comes not only from the wider international community but in particular Arab activists and leaders, to put pressure on India which is emboldened by the silence with which the world in general, and Arabs in particular, have responded to its previous misadventures, so as to dissuade India from committing a massacre of the Kashmiris and their way of life.