Lahore: Speakers at a literature festival in the Pakistani city of Lahore called for urgently addressing the plight of people in Indian-administered Kashmir.
“India has to choose whether it wants to be a democracy or if it has to keep Kashmir. Politicians are under lockdown in Kashmir, and I cannot be optimistic about it. India is such a nationalist country at the moment,” said William Dalrymple, an award-winning Scottish historian and writer. He urged the need to listen to the Kashmiri population.
At the festival, Kashmir was a hot topic at various sessions, attended by literati from across the globe. The U.K.-based academic, author and poet Nitasha Kaul, urged the international community to play a more vigorous role in highlighting the Kashmir issue.
“All nations have to zoom out and see the Kashmir problem from a wider angle rather than individual victimhood. The revocation [by India] of Article 370 under which Kashmir had a special status is a constitutional coup against the people, and its aftershocks are coming in the form of India’s new citizenship law. Through these tactics, the government [of India] is killing the basic idea of India,” she said.
Kaul, who is of Kashmiri Pandit origin emphasized how the debates must move beyond personalized narratives, because they turn the conflict into a “discourse of competing narratives”. She pointed out the flaws in both Pakistan and India’s recent policies towards Kashmir and repeatedly brought attention back to Kashmiri people and history which existed without the influence of either Pakistan or India. She even suggested the idea of a small, independent state for Kashmir, as many smaller states have proven to be (relatively) more politically stable.
The second panelist Arif Nizami, a journalist, ex-editor of The Nation spoke about how multiple methods have been tried and failed to resolve the issue, and the blocked access of Indian sites in Pakistan is not helping the proliferation of important information on Kashmir.
The discussion, moderated by Khaled Ahmed, who highlighted that despite the recent violation of human rights, the international leaders and community remain silent. Both Kaul and Nizami agreed that economic reality plays an increasingly greater role in politics today, whether it’s India’s dense interlinkages with US and China, or Pakistan’s inability to sustain a costly, long-term war with India over Kashmir.
Speaking at the same session, Iranian- American author Vali Nasr said that there is a notion that the Muslims who are not affected by India’s citizenship law does not care about Kashmiri Muslims.
Replying to his comment, Kaul said: “it becomes harder for Indian Muslims to speak up when they are being victimized already.”
Audrey Truschke, assistant professor of history at Rutgers University-Newark, said nationalism is the new approach being used by every powerful man to foster their leadership.
“We’re seeing a rise in ethnonationalism across globe and rise of Islamophobia as well,” she said.
Pakistan’s role in the Islamic world
Along with other entertaining issues the festival also discussed many issues confronting Pakistan.
Former Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar addressed a session titled “Pakistan’s role in a divided Muslim world”.
She said: “I look at dissent more as diversity and Pakistan needs to be able to accept and hug its diversity. We have diversity in our geography, culture, language, and our people in terms of what they associate with their identity.”
Discussing the ongoing identity crisis among people she said: “Since the last several decades we have tried to enforce this ideological mantel over people and told them that they can only be patriotic if they fit a certain idea.”
Pakistan’s former Ambassador to the U.S., Sherry Rehman turned her focus towards environmental issues and climate change.
Later in the day, Fatima Bhutto delivered a talk about her book, New Kings of the World in which she has discussed how culture is used in many ways.
“Turkish TV is second only to America in terms of distribution, the soap opera Mera Sultan was seen by more than 500 million people,” she said.