Let’s accept it, the year 2020 didn’t start off well. Seeing our world, “a global interconnected village” fall to a complete lockdown was something no country, international committee or organization could have predicted. Globally, continents, countries and cities are increasingly sealing their borders as a reactive yet precautionary way to deal with the outbreak of COVID-19. The only known cure for this pandemic is to practice “Social Distancing” – a recently coined and trending term which has forced our global economy to come to a complete standstill.
This is our world RIGHT NOW, but there was one place that got a taste of this lockdown before this pandemic terrorized the planet—the region described as “Heaven on Earth”, renowned for its splendor and majestic beauty. A state walled by lakes and bordered by mountains and snowcapped peaks; a stunning land nestled in the lap of the Himalayas – Kashmir.
The Fate of Kashmir
The fate of Kashmir has always been a territorial conflict. Ever since the independence of British Subcontinent India in 1947 and the establishment of Pakistan and India as two independent states, Kashmir has been a debated topic—a disputed territory and a constant altercation between the two nuclear armed forces.
The “Indian Independence Act” allowed the state of Kashmir to choose its position with India or Pakistan. Both nations mutually agreed to a plebiscite in principle which meant letting the people of Kashmir decide their own fate.
Unfortunately, this never happened because it was predicated on the withdrawal of all military forces from the region. India and Pakistan due to their fragile rivalistic relationship couldn’t agree to demilitarize the region. Therefore in 1949, India and Pakistan had to sign an agreement to form a “ceasefire” line which was recommended by the UN. This led to the state of Kashmir’s division into two regions which India and Pakistan both, claim in full but geographically control it in parts. These two territories are known as “Indian occupied Kashmir” or “Jammu and Kashmir” and “Pakistan Administered Kashmir.”
A Country Forever Disputed, then Became Isolated
The issue of Kashmir is a multi-dimensional inter-state issue with a long depressing history of violence, protests and bloodshed and generational sacrifices. Termed as the “Switzerland of India”, Kashmir has never experienced the neutrality of Switzerland, rarely witnessing peace and tranquility. Given Kashmir’s geo-strategic importance in Asia, it has been a long un-ending 70+ year struggle of ownership between India and Pakistan. Discussions between Pakistan and India on this matter have never been a peaceful affair, rather a painful war inducing topic. The battle of accession has given rise to multiple ceasefire violations from both ends leading to near warfare escalations. Both nuclear armed states have had two major wars (1965, 1971) with almost a third one in 1999.
Historically, Indian Occupied Kashmir or IOK has held a special position within the state of India based on Indian Constitution’s clause Article 370 which gave IOK vital autonomy with an owned constitution, flag and independence over all matters outside finance, defense, foreign affairs and communications. Indian Occupied Kashmir could form its own rules relating to permanent residency, ownership of property and fundamental rights. This act also barred Indians from outside the state from purchasing property or settling there.
This was the case until 5th August 2019, a date that would change history forever. India retracted the 70 year-long privileged status of IOK which the governing Hindu Nationalist Party Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), had promised in its 2019 election manifesto. BJP had been in opposition of Article 370. They repeatedly wanted its abolishment which they eventually delivered. This ripped apart Indian Occupied Kashmir’s special status and depriving its Muslim majority citizens from their fundamental rights. What followed next was a national lockdown of the state – a forced quarantine from the world. All modes of communication including telephone networks and the internet were cut off, public gatherings banned and tens of thousands military troops deployed. Tourists were told to leave Kashmir giving warnings of terror threats, general public not allowed to leave their homes and regional political leaders detained under house arrest. This “Heaven on Earth” was blacked out and stripped off from the world.
It has been seven long months for a nation of almost 15 million people on a lockdown with a perpetual hovering of fear, violence and death at the doorstep. Despite Pakistan government’s appeal to international bodies and peace organizations on resolving this matter, the situation hasn’t improved for Indian Occupied Kashmir or its people. Days, weeks and months have passed and the question still remains; How long will Kashmir be in this lockdown?
Is Chaos the New World Order?
So how long will Kashmir be in this lockdown? Well, the world wouldn’t know, as recently COVID- 19 has brought our global village at a far worse state. Social distancing is apparently the only known solution to prevent and cure the current outbreak this virus brings. Malls, pubs, restaurants, cafes, educational institutes and public recreational places have shut down. Offices and organizations have initiated work from home. Global travel and tourism have plummeted, with airports abandoned like some dystopian reality. It’s anticipated that the economy and stock market will witness new lows and while historically recession was an aftermath of sustained period of high interest rates, no government, political body or financial analyst would have ever forecasted a virus, crippling the world and leading to massive job losses. This is just the beginning. How long this “financial contagion” going to last is a mind-wrecking and unnerving debate. Across the world, an invisible fear and horror has taken over mind, body and lifestyles leading human beings to paranoia and panic hoarding, grocery store stock outs and a global food and consumer goods supply chain disruption – something we have never witnessed before.
What happened to one country for months, is now happening to the entire world. Is it nature’s way of reminding us of karma or is mother nature asking us to slow down? Maybe collectively all we need right now is to think retrospectively and analyze how to bring order to this chaos. Should we implement kindness and humanity beyond borders and biases? Should we instill practicality and rationality in our actions? The new world today begs us to stand up for what is right, act as one team irrespective of our prejudices, religious philosophies and political inclinations to demonstrate empathy and combat injustice.
Our world today is no different than Kashmir, and maybe that is a realization we all need to have to make our tomorrow better than our yesterday. Maybe we start today by asking Kashmir to forgive us for not standing with the isolated nation when it needed us – the world – the most.