Resistance in IHK
AS chinks of light pierce through the stultifying communication blackout in India-held Kashmir, the furious backlash by its people against the Modi government’s revocation of the area’s special status is unfolding before the world’s eyes. This is not a situation ‘returning to normal’, as the Indian government would have it; this is the outcome of a powder keg set alight — and the ramifications are only just beginning to be felt. Earlier last week, posters appeared overnight urging citizens to join a march to the office of the UN Military Observer Group for India and Pakistan after Friday prayers, the first such call to the local populace by the Kashmiri leadership. After the weekly congregations, protests erupted in Srinagar’s Soura district for the third week running despite a ban on public gatherings; hundreds of stone-pelting youth confronted Indian paramilitary forces. Another locality in Srinagar saw a rally with participants, some holding Pakistan flags, vociferously chanting anti-India slogans.
At least 152 people are known to have been injured by tear gas and pellets. India, however, has been silent on casualty figures except to say that no one has been killed, as though the state has thus far acted with admirable restraint. When people are willing to defy tens of thousands of security personnel and risk life and limb to protest against an illegal action that has placed them at the mercy of a fascist state, the fiction of normality — to any degree whatsoever — cannot be sustained. The Palestinians’ protracted freedom struggle, almost as long as that of the residents of IHK, has not been thwarted by the violence unleashed against them. Indeed, even as Israel’s brutality has intensified, so their resolve has been further strengthened. That is the nature of a just and indigenous struggle for freedom, and so it will inevitably prove in the present case.
The fractured Kashmiri leadership must set aside their differences and quell the opportunism some of them have displayed in the past. There cannot be a more compelling situation than the present for them to represent their people with one voice. In fact, if they were to join hands with the thus far rather quiescent Kashmiri diaspora, they could more effectively project their cause on the world stage and counter the Modi government’s lies and sophistry in downplaying its actions in IHK. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Imran Khan has once again warned the international community that India may carry out a false flag operation to divert attention from its human rights violations in occupied Kashmir and justify a military strike against Pakistan. The urgency in his words must be heeded. India, riding a wave of triumphalism stoked by hyper nationalist rhetoric, needs to know the world is not indifferent to the consequences of two nuclear-armed countries inching closer to a tipping point. That could presage a crisis of unimaginable proportions.
LAST week, Nigeria celebrated three years of no new wild polio cases being reported in the country. For years, the West African nation had struggled to eradicate the virus as its anti-polio efforts were derailed by Boko Haram militants who falsely propagated that polio vaccines were a Western conspiracy to sterilise Muslims. Nigeria is inching closer towards its goal of being declared polio-free; the rest of the world eradicated the virus years ago. India with its much larger population that confronts serious health and sanitation challenges managed to be declared polio-free in 2014. Other countries in Pakistan’s vicinity, such as Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bhutan, were declared polio-free that same year. In contrast, Pakistan has reported 53 new cases of wild polio virus eight months into 2019. Afghanistan has recorded far less — 13 cases within its borders so far this year. The vast majority of the cases in Pakistan are from KP. Taking note of the alarming surge in cases, Prime Minister Imran Khan has pledged to lead the anti-polio effort in the country. In December 2013, with a newly elected PTI government in KP, Mr Khan had been part of the anti-polio drive alongside Maulana Samiul Haq. Like Nigeria, Pakistan too has grappled with religious militancy that targeted such campaigns with threats and violence. Several health workers and security personnel have been killed by militant over the years, and we must always honour their brave efforts.
But it is also important to remember that other conflict-stricken regions in the world still managed to eradicate the virus. What has caused the greatest harm to efforts are rumours and conspiracy theories, particularly following the Abbottabad raid of 2011. News that the CIA-led operation used a hepatitis — incorrectly mistaken as polio — drive as a cover for information gathering helped strengthen the militants’ disinformation tactics. It is true that militancy has subsided considerably — but disinformation campaigns have not. In April, thousands of parents refused vaccination for their children in KP, following rumours of students complaining of feeling sick after they were administered polio drops in Peshawar. It has also come to light that several parents themselves put black ink on their children to mislead polio workers into believing that they had already been immunised. And while public health should never be a bargaining ground, we have recently seen traders in Bannu use polio as a tool to blackmail the government to meet their demands. It is not an easy challenge.