Kashmir - A
By Beena Sarwar
30 November, 2004
been fighting over Kashmir for over half a century. The issue has been
complicated by religiously-motivated outsiders being injected into an
indigenous struggle for independence, and by a high concentration of
Indian armed forces. It is unrealistic to expect any overnight solution
or success in the ongoing dialogue process - which is a process and
not an end in itself. But if we keep our sights fixed firmly on a solution
as the ultimate goal, and include Kashmiris in the process, we will
move towards it. It may be peppered with setbacks, failures and disappointments,
but the dialogue must continue, no matter how much it is criticized
for being slow or for being more about 'form than substance'.
A year ago, India
and Pakistan had their backs to each other. Like petulant children who
have fought, snatching back gifts given over the years. armies at the
ready, embassy staffs scaled down; road, rail and air connections severed
and over-flights banned, causing tremendous human suffering and economic
losses. "It's hurting them more than it's hurting us," was
the puerile logic.
In this grim situation,
Pakistan's gesture of a unilateral ceasefire along the Line of Control
at Eid-ul-Fitr in November 2003 resounded like a thunderbolt. It had
an immediate and positive impact on those living along the LoC, who
lived with the uncertainty of mortar shells damaging and destroying
homes, killing or maiming people and cattle. On either side, villagers
began heading for the River Neelum where the village of Chiliana on
the Pakistan side (Tithwal on the Indian side) is bifurcated by the
LoC. As word got out that the security forces would not prevent them,
villagers congregated at one of the few spots where they used to be
able to 'meet' before the road was closed fourteen years ago. In the
cold and rain, they waved and threw letters and gifts weighted with
rocks across the 20-metre wide river, unable to hear each other because
of the roar of the raging current.
One young woman
held up her baby for her mother on the other side to see. "I haven't
seen her in 14 years," she said, sobbing. "She's standing
right over there." Across the river, her mother had to be held
back from jumping into the icy current. One woman from the Indian side
tried to cross, but was pulled out before the current carried her off.
Mohammad Karim, 50, threw a coconut across to his brother Mujid. "This
was only a coconut, but it's more than the whole world to me, because
I have seen my brother after 14 years," said Karim. Mujid nearly
fell into the water, but caught the gift. "Now, he has kids, and
I am growing old. A day will come when we will speak with each other,
close-up" (AP, Jan 21, 2004).
Such a dream was
partially realized by six families by a media initiative inspired by
the Neelum River 'reunions', when in June, the BBC Urdu Service established
an hour-long video and satellite-phone link between Srinagar and Muzzafarabad.
The families thus connected wept with joy and pain at the BBC studios
in Muzaffarabad and Srinagar, as they saw and talked to their loved
ones via webcam. There are no direct telephone links across the LoC,
and even satellite phones cease to work when the line is crossed, as
the first Pakistani journalists to visit Srinagar recently found out.
reunion in December 2003 highlighted the pathos of families divided
not just by man-made borders but man-made tensions, when a 77-year old
Kashmiri Sikh woman, Harbans Kaur met her Muslim son and daughter in
Muzaffarabad after over 40 years. She had lived there with her Sikh
husband but got left behind when he fled to India in 1947. Thinking
she would never see him again, Harbans converted to Islam and married
again. She had a son and a daughter from her Muslim husband, but in
1950 after India and Pakistan agreed to 'return' women to their original
families and she had to leave her babies and return to her Sikh husband,
with whom she had two daughters and a son. Eight years ago her first
daughter, Zeenat, now 54, and son Manzoor Hussain, 49, learnt that their
mother was still alive; their father had died two years after she left.
It took five years to find her contact details - and another two before
they actually met, following the resumption of the Lahore-Delhi bus
have followed what the Strategic Foresight Group terms as the 'swing'
model "whereby the pendulum of the relationship swings from one
end to the other - conflict in May 1998 to peace in February 1999 to
conflict in May 1999 to peace in November 2001 to conflict in December
2001 to peace in April 2003 to further peace in January 2004".
With vision, statesmanship
and political will, there is no reason why this pattern should continue,
and why the move towards peace should not spiral upwards and onwards.
The leaders of South Asia's two nuclear-armed neighbours must continue
with the people-centric approach - particularly for the divided people
of Kashmir -- that is now being emphasized. All kinds of breakthroughs
are possible if the necessary political will is laced with imagination