International Peace Day?

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The UN Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (known as UNMOGIP) issued a press release on Tuesday Sep 16, 2003 calling on “the parties involved in the Kashmir issue to observe the “International Day of Peace” on September 21 and appeals to them to initiate a ceasefire and to do their best to prolong the duration of any cessation of hostilities for as long as possible. The conflict over Jammu and Kashmir has cost many lives, caused much tragedy and could, sadly, continue to affect the stability of the region for years to come. It is the UNMOGIP’s hope that the parties to the conflict will embrace this opportunity to lay down their arms and observe the International Day of Peace”, unquote. Coincidentally a senior US diplomat was visiting Srinagar when UNMOGIP issued this call, this combined to infuriate the Indians. On the other hand it gave heart to the freedom fighters within Kashmir that there was renewed western interest. Even though there has been far greater violence in Kashmir than in any other area in the world in the recent past, till Kargil came around in 1999 Kashmir was generally ignored by the western media, a benign neglect that glossed over decades of brutal Indian atrocities on the Kashmiri people. Kargil was a watershed that force-fed Kashmir back into international consciousness as well as media focus, the dispute is now seen by western powers as a major potential nuclear flashpoint.

The Indians have protested that UNMOGIP abused its authority by issuing their call and said they would take up the matter with the UN HQ in New York. For the record, UNMOGIP was set up in 1947-48 to monitor the Cease-Fire Line (CFL) that divided the opposing forces after the war that ensued when India occupied Kashmir by use of subterfuge and brute force. Elements of Kashmiri State and civil forces had combined with Pakistani irregulars to resist the blatant Indian occupation. India maintains that when the Line of Control (LOC) was delineated after the 1971 Indo-Pak War, the CFL ceased to exist and UNMOGIP became redundant. This is neither the understanding of either the UN HQ or of Pakistan, otherwise the Observer’s Group would have been wound up a long time ago. In addition the very name UNMOGIP suggests that it includes intervention on India -” Pakistan issues. If India does not accept this, why was UNMOGIP created, as a coffee club? On the one hand India keeps claiming that infiltrators are crossing over to indulge in “cross-border terrorism”, on the other hand they refuse Pakistan requests to increase UNMOGIP surveillance by increasing the number of ground observers to stop the alleged infiltration, there has also been international suggestions for heliborne surveillance teams along the LOC.

It is no surprise that with its usual arrogance and obstinacy, India flatly rejected the UNMOGIP proposal. Though there were some reservations on the Pakistani side, in the greater interest of peace and tranquility in the region Pakistan’s reaction has been different. While maintaining that symbolic observance of the cease-fire has no virtually effect on the ground because of the obdurate Indian intransigence, Pakistan welcomed UNMOGIP proposal and said we would observe “International Peace Day” on Sep 21 in all sincerity. Look at the statistics for the period of one year since Sep 21, 2002, the last time the “International Peace Day” was observed. During this period of one year India has lobbed as many as 80000 artillery shells and 120000 mortar rounds into Azad Kashmir. The casualties on our side of the LOC have been heavy, other than uniformed personnel, 127 civilians have been killed and 499 wounded, a overwhelming number of these are children, the primary target of Indian attacks. There have been more than 200 violations by aerial Remote Powered Vehicles (RPVA). If we were to add up all the casualties due to the terrorist attacks within India during the period since Sep 21, 2002, that India blames on “Pakistan-based terrorists” the casualty figures are far less than those the Indians have inflicted in their ruthless artillery and mortar attacks in the past year. And it is nothing compared to the average of about 7500 Kashmiris killed and about 25000 injured every year, year after year, by Indian occupation forces within Kashmir since 1989.

India talks constantly about “cross-border terrorism” emanating from Azad Kashmir, conveniently forgetting that, viz (1) within Kashmir there is no international border because Pakistan does not accept division of the State (2) in any case it would be impossible to seal the LOC (has the US with all its expertise and technology managed to stop the Mexicans from crossing over regularly in great numbers into the US?) and (3) the spontaneous uprising in Kashmir is mostly indigenous because the atrocities by Indian Armed Forces gives it a life of its own. The brutal suppression in Kashmir has few parallels in history, this is probably one of the worst cases of “State-sponsored terrorism”. Why else should India react to a call for peace so violently?

Graveyard humour has its flip side, one of the more morbid cartoons of the Serb “Orthodox Christian” – Bosnian “Muslim” conflict in the early 90s is of a Serb tank commander shelling a Bosnian town indiscriminately. When ordered to cease firing, he is seen shouting to the tank gunner “Cease!” and then “Fire!” The Line of Control (LOC) is actually the old Cease-Fire Line (CFL), there has been actually no ceasefire since. It has mostly been bits of “cease” and more of “firing” from the Indian side. For Pakistanis the targets in reaction have been all military, mostly counter-bombardment (CB). The Indian artillery has been targetting the civilian population, mostly schools. One’s own personal experience of Indian atrocities on the civilian population has been horrific. As an Army Aviation pilot serving in 4 Army Aviation Squadron in 1970 flying an Alouette-3 helicopter out of Dhamial (now Qasim Army Aviation Base), evacuating casualties from the mountains of Kashmir to the helipad in front of the Officers Ward CMHs Rawalpindi was a daily routine. While one does tend to get used to army casualties within days of starting to ferry the wounded into medical care, coming to terms with civilian dead and injured is much more difficult, more particularly if a overwhelming number of them are children. One was sick in the stomach at seeing the young and innocent bodies mutilated by artillery shells, if it hadn’t been for people like Col (later Maj Gen) Nasirullah Khan Babar and Maj (later Maj Gen) Hedayatullah Khan Niazi, SJ, to counsel young, inexperienced pilots like me through this traumatic spectacle, the depression would probably have gotten to me.

Even after 30 years it is difficult to control the bitterness as to how uniformed persons can deliberately aim to maim and kill innocent children by targeting schools without any qualms of conscience. That is what the struggle over Kashmir is all about, a grass-roots revolt against brutal repression against people the Indians claim to be their own but subject to extreme cruelty reserved for aliens. That is why millions of Kashmiris have voted with their feet to become refugees in Pakistan and elsewhere. It is impossible for Pakistan to give up at very minimum the moral support it gives to the freedom fighters within Kashmir. While the Indians couldn’t care less about the muslim populace in Kashmir, one cannot turn away from any moves for peace. UNMOGIP call for Sep 21 as an “International Day of Peace” may be clutching at straws seeing the ugly realities on the ground but it is a ray of hope that one must reach out for the sake of the people of Kashmir.

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