Bapsi Sidhwa | Fahim Siddiqui, White Star
Bapsi Sidhwa | Fahim Siddiqui, White Star

When India and Pakistan gained their independence in 1947, the state of Kashmir, which was expected to go to Pakistan because of its Muslim majority, went instead to India. To calm Kashmiri unrest, India agreed to abide by a United Nations resolution to hold a referendum in Kashmir. India now maintains that the passage of time has voided the Security Council resolution. This is a dangerous argument; it renders the United Nations irrelevant.

Pakistan is not blameless. The resistance by the Kashmiri people to separate from India escalated about eleven years after the Partition and Pakistan's support for the Kashmiri insurgents became militaristic. Pakistan's tolerance of the attacks by the Afghan and Arab jihadis (holy warriors) in turn invited the brutal Indian armed presence. In hijacking the Kashmiri peoples' cause, the Kashmiri struggle for independence was transformed into a mere territorial dispute between India and Pakistan.

Pakistan and India have been on the brink of war several times over the unresolved issue of Kashmir. Trapped between India and Pakistan, Kashmiris are fighting for autonomy. At present the beautiful valley is heavily guarded by the Indian military and protestors and political activists have so far failed to achieve their goal of an independent Kashmir. "This is the most beautiful prison in the world," a militant told Farhana Qazi who is the author of the excellent Secrets of the Kashmir Valley.

By and large the world seems to have forgotten a conflict that has taken the lives of thousands of Kashmiris. The last crisis has been brought on by the death of political activist and leader Burhan Wani. His death, blamed on the Indian army, has only served to heighten the Kashmir conflict.

Kashmiris don't want to belong either to India or to Pakistan. Human rights groups have reported innumerable cases of rape, torture and destruction of homes — everything in fact that transpires when an occupying army rules a civilian population. There were already over half a million Indian soldiers in Kashmir, and given the recent build-up of troops and artillery, the Indian military's presence is formidable; it is said there is one Indian soldier for every three Kashmiri citizens.

Unless an effort is made to resolve the issue, and address the grievances of the Kashmiri people, Kashmir will go into a tailspin and, like Afghanistan, become a breeding ground for terrorists. Terrorism stands discounted as a moral force in the armory of freedom fighters, but it is reckless to think that terrorism can be eliminated without tackling its causes.

Here are some suggestions that might defuse the recurring tension.

  • India and Pakistan should aim at an 'interim solution' to the Kashmir problem.

  • The Kashmir case should be taken back to the UN Security Council.

  • Pakistan should honour its commitment to prevent insurgents from entering the valley and do more to dismantle training camps on its side of Kashmir.

  • Article 370 of the Indian Constitution (which allows state autonomy) should apply to Kashmir also.

  • India should withdraw the bulk of its troops from Kashmir, and permit entry to UN observers and international human rights groups.

Recent events, and the recurring nuclear crisis, have demonstrated the necessity of an international resolution of the Kashmir dispute. The saddest aspect of this issue to me is that the will of the Kashmiri people is almost no longer a consideration: Their wishes should be paramount.

This article was written as part of a special editorial project, 2016 in Broad Strokes, for the Herald's Annual 2017 issue.

Sidhwa is a Houston-based author. Her novel, ‘Cracking India’, about the Partition, was made into the film ‘Earth’ by director Deepa Mehta.