Mass grave sights in Kashmir offer only one solution to India and Pakistan

The recent acknowledgement by authorities of the mass graves discovered in Indian Administered Kashmir over three years ago by Dr. Angana Chatterji and her colleagues initially brought hope to a region that the truth of the last 60 years in this troubled region will finally come to light. Additionally, there is recognition that the graves are in fact civilians who had “disappeared”, and not, as the Indian Military claimed, “foreign combatants from Pakistan”, by not only local officials, but groups such as Amnesty International, as well as Hindu-based groups in both India and the Kashmir region.  The recognition by Hindu-based organizations not only grants a greater sense of legitimacy, but highlights a fundamental complexity that the outside world continues to misunderstand with regards to the historical and ethnic complexities of the region. In fact, the mass graves reveal that local issues are at the heart of the matter, and that to some, that a terrorist from Pakistan and Indian Military Personnel are one in the same. It is through this recognition along communal lines that South African style ‘truth and reconciliation’ may be the ultimate way forward to solving this six decade long conflict.

In South Africa, it was through the process of truth and reconciliation that peace was possible between the sacked Afrikaan Government, and the newly elected Nelson Mandela government.  More recently in Iraq, ‘truth and reconciliation’ between Shia and Sunni tribes initiated by General David Patreus had a greater impact on lowering sectarian violence in Iraq than the overly publicized troop surge of the Bush Administration.  This format is possible if utilized through the proper cultural methodology. The questions is: are the governments of both India and Pakistan interested in such a proposal, and admitting unfortunate truths of state-sanctioned terrorism, militant support, rape and torture?

Kashmir in and of itself remains a political problem created by forces by both Indian and Pakistani Governments.  However, bringing the Dogra’s or Pandits of Jammu (Hindu), Hanji’s of the Valley (Muslim), and Ladakhi’s from Ladakh (Buddhist) together to reconcile their differences will force the hands of Indian and Pakistani authorities to resolve the issue to benefit the society as a whole.  There is a shared history and culture recognized by all three communities and a desire to reconcile their differences.  A truth and reconciliation format presents the best possible way to free the Kashmiri from differences created at the nation state level, and restoring the communal harmony that once existed prior to the uprising of 1989.  The only way to begin this process, however, is for both India and Pakistan to undo the revisionist history both sides continue to propagate, the truth must finally be disclosed, and perpetrators must come forward with their crimes that continue to cause millions to suffer.

First of all, it must be recognized that both the Indian Government and the Muslims in the Valley who took up their arms and essentially “ethnically cleansed” the Valley of Pandits must be agreed upon.  Only from this starting point will the Indian Government find an acceptable beginning, rather than the continued mantra by Kashmiri Muslims that Indian military personnel perpetrated the only crimes against civilians.  Next, the Indian Government must cease in its continued efforts to frame the conflict in the international media and community as a conflict along communal lines, and not the result of a rigged election, which is actually the case.  The Hindu population was essentially forced to flee to refugee camps in Jammu, which the State of India now subsidizes in an effort to keep the two communities from reconciling.  Jammu-Kashmir Liberation Front Chairman Yasin Malik, a secular Muslim leader in the Valley continuously visits the camps promising the safety of the Pandit community, and calling the lack of Pandit presence in the Valley a “cultural void that can only be filled by the Pandits themselves.”  However, Hindu Nationalists continue to propagate Mr. Malik as a Wahabbi demon wanting to kill all non-Muslims, and force all of Kashmir to live under Sharia law.  Mr. Malik was a major part of the Pandit cleansing during the late 80’s and early 90’s. However, he has initiated his own form of truth and reconciliation by visiting the camps, apologizing to family member, especially those he directly impacted in an extremely heinous manner.

On the flip side, the Indian Military must come clean not only about the graves, but address the issue of “half-widows”, assassinations, disappearances, rapes and killings that leadership continues to rule out as “encounters.”  Recently, one such false encounter took place where the Indian Military claimed to have killed a Hizbul Mujahideen leader who turned out to be a Hindu civilian once the encounter was investigated by outside investigators.  Moreover, the fact that multiple gravesites continue to be discovered and upon closer inspection found to be filled with the bodies of children and women, rather than supposed militants from Pakistan, also continue to inflame local populations.  However, rather than engage in violent encounters with the military, which would be the supposed action of a population who continues to be accused of supporting and participating in militancy, they engage in non-violent protest as they have over the past six years.

To some, this idea may just be viewed as another pie in the sky idea from an outsider.  However, as someone who has worked closely with the many of the separatist leaders in the Kashmir region, as well as initiated dialogue between the people of Kashmir and the Indian and Pakistani Government, I know this is possible.  It will take the ability of both sides to admit fault, but accept the responsibility of the pain they have inflicted on a population whose only crime is being ethnically Kashmiri.  As more graves are uncovered, truth and reconciliation will be the only way forward to finally bring this six decade long conflict to its rightful conclusion.