Bury the hatchet

The trauma of Kashmir's divided families 

Bury the hatchet
Recently I came across an interesting post on Facebook about the ups and downs in India-Pakistan relations. Besides reminding us about the turbulence that has been the hallmark of bilateral ties since 1947, the post highlights an important dimension of the hostility between Islamabad and New Delhi – it is about how humans have suffered on the account of this unending rivalry.

The post by a Kashmiri born American woman Asmat Ashai, married to a Pakistani born man, celebrating her wedding anniversary on August 11, encapsulates how this divide has affected people. “Our marriage anniversary will always be a reminder of Indo-Pak relations. 1974, no diplomatic relations between the two countries. We got married anyway! 2015, Pakistan and India still viewing each other through the barrel of a gun,” wrote Asmat who is actively involved in the revival of Kashmiri music and culture at the international level.

Asmat’s husband Dr Showkat Ashai, who also happens to be her cousin, was born in Pakistan in a divided Kashmiri family. Asmat and Showkat’s story is one of many that remind us of the pangs of partition. In my conversation with the couple, I have heard scores of stories of how difficult it has been for Dr Ashai to visit his home in Kashmir. He has been settled in the US for over 30 years.

The number of divided families runs in thousands, and a majority of them have faced the wrath of governments on both sides amid the hostility. Notwithstanding the start of the cross-Line of Control (LoC) bus service from Srinagar and Poonch in 2005, the scars of indifference that these families bear have remained unhealed. According to Indian government figures, over 24,000 people have benefited from this bus service in the last 10 years. Though the procedure for acquiring a cross-LoC permit is cumbersome and sometimes torturous, the bus service still played a huge role in bridging the gap. Since the return to hostility in 2008, all these confidence-building measures have been left unattended. That is why stories of despair are overshadowing those of hope, and the way Asmat has concluded her post speaks on behalf of all the sufferers of this division.

“Forty one years later, two beautiful children, amazing spouses of theirs and five grandchildren later, India and Pakistan still struggling. Come on guys, give love a chance!!!” she writes.

What Asmat has written is in fact the unheard voice of all those who have been hounded over a period of time in the name of sovereignty, security and national interest. But the reality is that these are not possible unless the people of the two countries are living in peace.

Today, when borders around the world have become meaningless, these remain sacrosanct only in terms of India and Pakistan and more significantly in case of Jammu and Kashmir. In the recent past, many developments have taken place vis-a-vis the relations between the two countries. There is a spat over Pakistan’s denial to invite the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly speaker for a Commonwealth meet. While Pakistan maintains that Kashmir is disputed and does not recognize the Assembly, India’s position is that the State is its integral part and that the Assembly is a true representation of the people.

A mega event was held at tourist spot Sonamarg last week with representation from all the SAARC countries except Pakistan. According to the organisers of the event, there was delay in issuing visas to them at the Indian High Commission in Pakistan.

While both governments can continue to clear the roadblocks for formal talks, it is necessary that people-to-people contact is allowed to create a conducive atmosphere. From 2003 to 2007, the bonhomie between the two countries had created huge space for peace and reconciliation on both sides. That had also given a reason to New Delhi and Islamabad to move forward and take the dialogue to the next level. The entire process was derailed when Mumbai attacks took place and vested interests have been prevailing since then.

Even as the recent attacks by militants in Udhampur and Gurdaspur do not seem to have an adverse impact on the intentions of New Delhi to go ahead with the proposed meeting of National Security Advisers, Pakistan is apparently dithering on the issue. While both countries have in their joint statement in Ufa agreed to move forward, the onus is on them to carry on with what has been agreed upon.

Pakistan for a change should not have made the invitation to J&K Speaker an issue when in the past mainstream leaders such as Omar Abdullah, Mehbooba Mufti, Saifuddin Soz, MY Tarigami, Late Molvi Iftikhar Ansari, Shariefuddin Shariq and Madan Lal Sharma have enjoyed hospitality in Islamabad.

Similarly, former Prime Minister of Pakistan-administered Kashmir Barrister Sultan Mehmood Choudhary and others have visited Srinagar. Unless there is a space carved out of stated position, the idea of peace cannot work. New Delhi should also expand the constituency of peace by being magnanimous in issuing visas to civil society and other groups which intend to contribute to peace.

In this backdrop, it is time for both New Delhi and Islamabad to think afresh and shun the practice of showing each other down. As a first step, cross-LoC contacts and reunion of divided families must be allowed to flourish. This will surely help families like that of Asmat to come out of the trauma under which they have been living for so many decades.

The author is a veteran journalist from Srinagar and the editor-in-chief of Rising Kashmir