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Priority problems beset Kashmir

Other pressing emergencies have pushed this burning issue into the shadows

Priority problems beset Kashmir
'Silent Thinker', Lahore

March 1, 2012

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I grew up listening to reports on the death tolls of Kashmiri Muslims in evening bulletins. The chaotic scenes of women wailing in funeral processions, shrouded bodies and violent street protesters were an essential part of the 9pm news on state run Pakistan TV. The monopoly on bombarding a nation with anti-Indian sentiments worked well until the rise of cable television networks in the past few years. Religious leaders in the country at that time issued a fatwa calling on all Muslims to "rise up against the devil" represented by newly-authorized cable television operators for airing "vulgar and obscene" TV programs. Nowadays cable TV is in many households and contributes to an increasing political maturity among the populace. Journalists, talk show hosts and analysts have all done well in raising awareness on “real issues” and tossing aside the hyped ones -- one of them being Kashmir. The oldest unresolved international conflict in the world grabbed attention again after a recent report in the Indian media claimed that “Pakistan may junk the Kashmir issue temporarily” in the wake of its internal crisis. Although Pakistan categorically denied this report, it is clear that people are now more concerned about simple things like food and peaceful living than decades old rhetoric. An online poll by one of the country’s leading daily newspapers said 66 percent of its readers agreed that the country has “tossed aside” the Kashmir issue. I am one of these realists. Caught in tug of war between military dictators and political industrialists since its inception, the country lost its eastern wing (what is now Bangladesh) in a 1971 liberation war. The situation today is no less different. A Taliban insurgency continues to tear at northern provinces, a western province is on the verge of separation and the crime rate in the southern metropolis is breaking records. Last year saw 2,000 killed in Karachi, a port city and the financial hub of the country. Meanwhile, the US has carried out at least 280 drone attacks since 2004 in the hunt for terror suspects in the tribal region. Nationalists are now supporting a recent resolution introduced in the US Congress seeking the right to self-determination for Balochs who have endured extra judicial killings and enforced disappearances for years. Labeling separatists as outside forces, the sudden interest by the political leadership in the rights of disgruntled tribal people may be too late. I was deeply hurt after an Islamabad-based politician exchanged insults with a Baloch tribal leader during a televised talk show. “Balochistan has gone too far,” said Senator Mir Lashkari Raisani of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party before storming off the program. Analysts say this same arrogance encouraged Bengalis to quit Pakistan. I had an uncomfortable experience in Quetta, the capital of Balochistan, a few years ago. The parish priests locked me in a house for a week to prevent locals learning that I had a Punjabi identity. I was not allowed to go outside except to visit a Christian family while posing as a Religious brother. A popular slogan: “Kashmir banay ga Pakistan” (Kashmir will be Pakistan) carries little weight amid these and many other crises which may crawl from the ruins of Osama bin Laden’s newly demolished compound in the garrison town of Abbottabad. The leaders have to think of Pakistan first. They should seek all possible means to keep the country intact in an upcoming all-party conference on Balochistan. The international community has often looked on the intelligence agencies with suspicion, believing they train people to wage conflict inside Indian held Kashmir and Afghanistan. A BBC report last month pointed to a secret NATO document which claimed there are links between the country’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency and the Taliban. Even if this is not true and Pakistan is only committed to a “moral and diplomatic” fight for a disputed territory – it has to be based on the promise it is opposed to terrorism, corruption, energy crises, inflation and a vulnerable economy. Political leaders have to resolve these issues first before extending genuine support to the Kashmir cause. Kashmiris deserve a better future. Silent Thinker is a pseudonym used by a Catholic commentator in Lahore
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