Kashmir citizens must resolve region's status
The people of India and Pakistan share many things in common. The official language of India (Hindi) and Pakistan (Urdu) have only dialectal and written differences and are mutually intelligible. Music and culture are similar, and overseas, Pakistanis and Indians mingle with each other freely and happily. Why then is the situation in the subcontinent so tense? These two neighbors have had three wars with tremendous deaths and destruction on both sides. These wars occurred before the two countries became nuclear powers. Now, both countries possess nuclear weapons, and as such, the potential gravity of a fourth war has multiplied exponentially.
The underlying main issue between these neighbors is the status of the disputed state of Jammu and Kashmir.
Pakistan and India separated into two countries in 1947, when the British left the Indian subcontinent. States with a majority Muslim population became part of Pakistan and the Hindu majority states became a part of Independent India. The state of Jammu and Kashmir had a large Muslim majority and, based on how the status of other states was decided, it should have been part of Pakistan. However, the king of Kashmir was Hindu and decided to merge with India. This was contrary to the wishes of the Muslim majority in Kashmir. Due to this, the first war between India and Pakistan ensued. A cease-fire was declared under the condition that the Kashmiri people would be allowed to decide their own fate.
A United Nations resolution was introduced and agreed upon by both India and Pakistan that the final status of Kashmir was to be decided by the Kashmiris, based on a plebiscite under the UN auspices. The Indian government did not follow through on its own commitment and unilaterally defined Kashmir as an integral part of India, and Pakistan did not concede its claim. As a result, the two countries have been at the brink of war for decades.
Kashmir is in the headlines again. On Aug. 5, the ultranationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi (BJP) has canceled Article 35-A and Article 370 in the Indian constitution. This article gave the state of Kashmir special status in light of its disputed status. Several elected Kashmiri leaders, including previous chief ministers, have been put under house arrest, access to the world has been stopped, internet connection terminated and educational institutions closed. Thousands of additional Indian troops are being deployed. The beautiful Kashmir valley has become a virtual jail for the Kashmiris. It is estimated that there has been one Indian soldier deployed for every 10 Kashmiri civilians. This is proof that the Indian rule of Kashmir is based on pure repression of civilian Kashmiris. India never carried out its commitment for plebiscite, as per UN resolutions, as it fears that most of the population would want to be a part of Pakistan because of shared religion and culture. It should be noted that majority of the opposition parties, including the congress, have opposed this unilateral move by the ultranationalist BJP party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The timing of this declaration is also questionable, as Pakistan and the USA have committed to work on the Afghanistan settlement with urgency. This development could divert Pakistan's attention toward its southern border with India.
It is time that the world leaders, including the superpowers, take notice and attempt to resolve the Kashmir issue as per the UN resolutions. If left unresolved, this conflict is a powder keg that could explode any time with terrible consequences for the people in the region and perhaps the entire world.
Vaseem Iftekhar, of Hawthorn Woods, is founder and chairman of the Northern Illinois American Muslim Alliance and a member of the Daily Herald editorial board's Sounding Board,