To the People of India,
India’s elections have begun and you are exercising your right to vote to choose your new political representatives. Whoever you end up electing will be momentously placed to exercise real leadership and take difficult decisions that are needed to shape a better course for the future of India and for peace in South Asia.
In this regard, there are two clear paths ahead — each with very different outcomes. Your newly-elected representatives (those in power and those in the Opposition) could collectively resolve to take a bold and visionary break from the past and pursue a serious political and diplomatic effort to resolve the Kashmir issue. Alternatively, they could relinquish their responsibilities and choose to follow the same old default policy approach that has allowed the issue to fester for more than six decades now, placing the region on the dangerous trajectory that it is currently heading toward. Ultimately, the direction that the next elected leadership takes vis-à-vis this issue largely depends on all of you — the people of India — and on how effectively you can influence and support your leaders to do what is both possible and necessary for peace.
Not an isolated issue
We urge you to recognise that this is not a peripheral or isolated issue. You must understand and be seized of this important matter. In the past we made many attempts to reach out to you personally, and aprise you of the grim situation on the ground, but all these efforts were thwarted by the use of brute force and hooliganism. On many occasions we were manhandled. The Kashmir issue continues to destroy lives and obliterate the rights and aspirations of our people in Kashmir who desire only to live free, peaceful and dignified lives.
The continuation of this tragic conflict is also a direct threat to your interests and well-being. In one way or another, this conflict directly affects all the other issues that are currently being discussed and debated during the election season. You have a direct stake in seeing that a just and lasting solution is reached. The conflict is not only a threat to millions of Kashmiris, it is a serious hazard to the region and the country. There is no better time than now to press your representatives to exercise their leadership to resolve this issue.
A peaceful solution would unleash immense prosperity and economic benefits for India and for the entire South Asian region. Unfortunately, rather than pursuing a political solution in Kashmir, successive governments in New Delhi have continued to waste your taxes and precious economic resources to pursue a militaristic policy in Kashmir. At a huge economic and human cost, this approach represents a failed policy. It has only ended up deepening the conflict. Today, it should be a matter of great concern to all of you that India ranks 136 on the UN’s Human Development Index, but has the distinction of being the world’s largest importer of arms, leading by a huge margin. While India’s economic growth has slowed in the last few years, arms imports have increased by a phenomenal 111 per cent in the past five years. This is draining your economy, while filling the coffers of other countries that are benefiting as arms exporters.
Threat to prosperity
Indeed, the Kashmir conflict is a direct threat to your prosperity. With more than 800 million people in India are still living on less than $2 (Rs 120) a day, surely the estimated $37-47 billion per year that is being spent on military expenditure (which is 2 to 2.5 per cent of the GDP) could be used to lift more people out of poverty. If the Kashmir issue is resolved, not only would this costly arms race come to an end, it would open up the multipliers of economic cooperation and trade. Certainly, ensuring lasting peace and stability is the greatest foundation for your prosperity, economic growth and development.
You must ask your leaders why after so many decades, military approaches have failed to resolve the Kashmir issue. Today, this conflict is a direct threat to the security and stability of the entire region. It is the main driver of militarization and there is every possibility that the situation could escalate and worsen in the coming years. If the Indian government continues to avoid a political solution to the conflict, if it insists on continuing the same unjust and hegemonic approaches, it will spell disaster for the region. This beaten path has already proved to be a policy failure long back. Delaying a political solution has made the situation more unstable and the conflict has only become more dangerous with time.
Today, Kashmir stands as a potential nuclear flashpoint which could consume the lives of millions of people in an instant. Engaging in a costly nuclear and conventional arms race with Pakistan and continuing to pursue militaristic approaches in Kashmir will only add to these dangers. You must ask your leaders whether these approaches are truly serving your interests. Allowing a dangerous political conflict to fester is no way to ensure the security of the Indian people; nor can it be a path to a stable future for the region. The issue continues to keep all the parties in a state of perpetual hostility and distrust. The conflict has become the biggest security threat to the region.
We also believe that you have a real moral stake in not letting your government continue to pursue what is a failed and unjust policy toward Kashmir. Kashmiris have legitimate rights and aspirations. Attempting to suppress them by force is no way to address a political conflict. Widespread human rights abuses have taken place and grave injustices have been carried out against our people. Crushing democratic rights to protest, restricting free speech, persecuting entire sections of the population, foisting black laws and continuing to keep hundreds of thousands of military forces deployed for decades on end in Kashmir — this represents both a moral and political failure. There has to be an end to all of this.
Please put yourselves in the shoes of our people and try to see the conflict through their eyes. Talk to any common Kashmiri and he or she can share with you the direct pain, injustice and indignity that people continue to suffer as a result of the conflict. Kashmir is a human issue and it requires a political solution.
For the sake of our children, we urgently need to resolve this dispute. Instead of a festering quagmire, we should hand over to our youth a chance to shape a peaceful, hopeful and prosperous future — for all parties concerned — for the people of Jammu and Kashmir, India, and Pakistan. We believe that every party must put forward serious efforts to resolve the conflict. For peace, many barriers and obstacles will have to be overcome. Furthermore, any lasting solution must be a just one and that means recognising and upholding the Kashmiri people’s aspirations and their right to self-determination. In this regard, we are seeking only what is due to the people — legal, moral, and historical rights.
Path of statemanship
For long, we have hoped that India’s leaders would tread precisely this type of approach — the path of statesmanship. We expected that your Prime Ministers would take bold decisions that would go against conventional thinking to break the status quo and resolve the issue. At various moments, both former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh gave us some reason to believe that a honourable and lasting solution could be achieved. It was Mr. Vajpayee who went to Lahore and declared from the base of Minar-e-Pakistan: “It is my dream and wish to resolve the Kashmir issue.” It was also he who spoke of holding unconditional talks under the ambit of “insaniyat” and vowed that India “shall not traverse solely on the beaten track of the past.” He proclaimed that India’s leadership would act as “bold and innovative designers of a future architecture of peace and prosperity for the entire South Asian region.” Similarly, in 2004 and again in 2006 from Amritsar, Dr. Singh talked quite boldly about engaging in an irreversible process of dialogue to reach a political solution on Kashmir.
Unfortunately, these visions could not materialize and the attempts did not sustain. For the people of Jammu and Kashmir, half this century has only been one of continued uncertainty, misery, unfulfilled promises, false hopes and failed efforts to resolve the issue. Failure has bred cynicism and destroyed hope in Kashmir. The good intentions of Prime Ministers aside, we regret that the peace initiatives proved to be too fragile and the process too vulnerable. Ultimately these attempts were reversible. They failed to yield visible results and no progress was achieved. As a result, many in Kashmir have concluded that the Indian government is not sincere and has no desire to resolve the issue. Today, many people are questioning whether the political path of dialogue and negotiation is the best way to seek their rights and ensure justice.
The Kashmir issue is where it has always been — unresolved and causing great harm and suffering. Today, all of us continue to be held hostage to the past. In this regard, we must accept the fact that domestic politics in India has played a disabling role. It has held back leadership and statesmanship. Whenever parties find themselves out of power and in opposition, they have tended to take hard-line approaches on Kashmir. When ruling governments face domestic opposition, they become unable or unwilling to do what is necessary for peace. Worse still, even sitting governments take hard-line actions that worsen the situation.
Observing all of this, Kashmiris have now realized that it is not at all possible to expect any sitting Prime Minister in India (irrespective of the party he/she comes from) to pursue peace on his/her own. Individual political will and personal determination has not been enough to move the process forward. Therefore, in order to resolve the issue, your elected Prime Ministers need the consistent support of the opposition parties and they also need active support from all of you — the people of India.
Therefore, as citizens of India, you have a vital role to play for peace in the region. Ultimately, visionary leadership and statesmanship will be enabled by your public wisdom and active support for peace. Whoever you vote for and whoever forms the next government or sits in the Opposition, you must hold them accountable on the Kashmir issue. You must convince your elected leaders that the time has come to develop a peace process that is immune to domestic politics and power tussles.
The entire region is waiting for India to come forward for peace. There is already a broad political consensus in Jammu and Kashmir and in Pakistan that the issue must be amicably resolved. Similarly, you must ask your leaders to develop a political consensus. Let finding a solution become a goal for all the parties.
In this direction, it is our sincere hope that you will raise your voices. You must press the elected leadership to rise above domestic politics and work towards India’s strategic and moral interests. Through your resounding support for safeguarding India’s peace, prosperity and security, and through your vocal support for justice, you can make a real impact.
We hope that after the next election, those who are elected to power and those who are in the Opposition will all act in greater unison to move forward. There must be a serious, result-oriented and time-bound process of dialogue between the leaders of India, Pakistan and Jammu and Kashmir.
Let this process start sooner rather than later. Over an intensive period of one year, let all the parties engage actively with each other. Let each party seriously consider whether it can find partners to end this conflict once and for all. We must all try our best to seek a peaceful solution. Perhaps together we will be able to find some way to take a historic step forward toward a real peace process.
We remain ready and willing to contribute positively and constructively toward this achievement.
Mirwaiz Umar Farooq
Chairman, All Parties Hurriyat Conference
This open letter first appeared in The Hindu, a leading newspaper of India. Click here to go to the original.