A recently-launched petition raises concerns about the gradual escalation of tensions at the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir, warning that violations of the ceasefire that has been in place since 2003 as part of an agreement between India and Pakistan have adversely affected the lives of people in the disputed region.
By Mazhar Iqbal
A petition has recently been launched by the people of Jammu and Kashmir in an attempt to defuse tension on the India-Pakistan borders. The petition says that the people of Jammu and Kashmir on both sides of the Line of Control (LoC), plus supporters of peace in the region, are concerned about their safety and security, particularly of those in the vicinity of the LoC who are directly hit by sporadic shelling and firing.
The petition was launched by Mohsin Shakil, a Muzaffarabad-based university dean, to serve as a reminder to India and Pakistan that they should avoid muscle-flexing over Kashmir, particularly after the gradual escalation of tensions at the LoC, which have taken an ugly turn in recent weeks. It is hoped that a meaningful protest call – backed by a substantial number of people – could provide an important wakeup call.
Repeated violations of the ceasefire that has been in place since 2003 as part of an agreement between India and Pakistan have adversely affected the lives of people in the disputed region of Jammu and Kashmir. There is a danger that these will be a reversal of the gains of this confidence building measure – which has enabled and facilitated interactions, howsoever symbolic, between the two sides of the divided State, provided security and contributed to an atmosphere of healing. These tensions threaten the very framework of peace for which a ten-year long ceasefire at the LoC has been a great bulwark, even though the pace of the peace process has been slow and does not fully engage with the people of Jammu and Kashmir.
The petitioners fear that if these tensions at the LoC are allowed to continue, they will compromise the goodwill that has been built and reverse the peace dividends. It is also feared that they will cause massive sufferings to the people of not just the border areas, but eventually of the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir, on both sides. Furthermore, they will provide a greater space to extremist, hawkish and fanatic elements, whilst empowering war mongers on both sides. They also have the potential to drag the whole region into a new war, destroying hopes of long term peace and economic stability.
A Kashmiri journalist has said that the ceasefire is a must and the priority issue for Jammu and Kashmir. Another petitioner, Chandrika JP, from the Indian side of the divide, says “I and my ancestors have suffered a lot due to this issue.”
One concerned person has raised the most poignant side of the issue – “I want a respectable solution for my state Jammu and Kashmir because I am a stateless person for the last 37 years” (Khawaja Ghulam Nabi). For Zafar Meraj from Srinagar, on the Indian side, “it is Kashmir that suffers when the two elephants start fighting’.”
Renowned Kashmiri, Ved Bhasin, suggests that this petition needs to be heard by concerned people in order to push forward the India-Pakistan peace process in order to ensure a peaceful solution to the Kashmir problem, for the welfare of the people of Jammu and Kashmir across the LoC, who have been bearing the brunt of such clashes.
One heart touching reason by a signatory – “being a resident of divided land I feel that every bullet fired is killing me spiritually.”
The signatories of the petition also deplore the war rhetoric and attempts by political or religious groups to justify warmongering and hatred. They call for an immediate end to the hostilities on the LoC.
The petitioners have called upon the political leadership in New Delhi and Islamabad to impress upon their respective militaries to immediately desist from the continuum of shelling and firing incidents. They have also called upon them to initiate actions to begin immediate dialogue to secure a long-term end to these on-going tensions, and to restore the sanctity of the ceasefire that has been in place since 2003 by replacing the strategic insecurities of the two militaries with mutual trust and co-operation.
Mazhar Iqbal is a peace and human rights activist and member of Press for Peace, a rights advocacy organisation working in Jammu and Kashmir. Press for Peace is a member of the Global Coalition for Conflict Transformation.