9 million Kashmiris continue to be locked up in Kashmir, the world’s largest prison. Also locked away in a self-imposed prison is the conscience of the global community. Neither’s voice is audible for now. One has been forced into silence. The other is silent by choice.
The world’s response on Kashmir has dithered between apathy and mild rebuke. The initial reaction was to see Kashmir as a nuclear flashpoint, resulting in calls on India and Pakistan to de-escalate. Rare instances of courage have included asking India to lift the curfew and respect human rights. Barring some human rights bodies and international media, the world has largely chosen to look the other way.
The UN has been blamed for apathy. But the UN is no more than the sum total of the member states. Since its inception, it has been hostage to realpolitik and political expediency. If anything, its hands are tied today even more than before.
Part of the blame lies on Pakistan. Over the years, it reinforced failure by harping on “Kashmir Banega Pakistan” – a narrative that didn’t sell because the world wasn’t interested in Pakistan’s territorial claims. The result could have been different if Pakistan had discarded this narrative in favor of the ‘people’ i.e. the Kashmiris’ right of self-determination (an internationally recognized right). A crucial mistake whose price Pakistan is paying today.
Kashmir and Fight for Freedom
That leaves Kashmiris with two possible drivers of change. First, their own en masse struggle against Indian oppression. Second, the world developing some empathy for Kashmiris. Neither of these two drivers are sufficient on their own to deliver instant results.
So far, Prime Minister Imran Khan has done all the heavy lifting on his own. Leading from the front, he has penned a new narrative against Modi / RSS and cautioned the world against allowing their sinister ideology to take root.
I left Harvard with no real awareness of the awful inequities in the world, the appalling disparities of health, and wealth and opportunity that condemn millions of people to lives of despair.
It will take some time before this starts permeating global conscience. Once the Prime Minister delivers his UNGA speech on 27th September, building further on the momentum delivered by him will be the responsibility of Pakistan’s foreign office whose resilience and tact will be challenged (or exposed) like never before.
Why has the world chosen to remain silent in the face of India’s unprecedented tyranny and oppression? The world apparently has no choice but to.
Why is World Silent on Kashmir
It is hostage to the sound bites that it is constantly fed. The forces that shape narratives in today’s world are populism, ethnonationalism, authoritarianism, and, in their worst form, fascism.
Populism is a ‘top heavy’ order in which the narrative flows down from the populist, the self-proclaimed charismatic savior. The populist identifies a ‘target audience’ along ethnic, national or religious lines and promises to ‘undo’ some perceived historic injustices. The first casualty are institutions as they are deemed too rigid. Populist leaders are on the rise around the world.
US hs lost Wilsonian liberal democracy when @realDonaldTrump joins the most fanatic/extremist world leader, Modi & endorses the sufferings of Kashmiri & Indian Muslims due to Hindu terrorism on the behest of @narendramodi
Where is US’s human rights world order?#Kashmir#Pakistan pic.twitter.com/uQR1CRTwSZ
— Ameer Abbas (@ameerabbas84) September 23, 2019
Populist foreign policy is an extension of national policy and antagonistic to the established world order. The result is countries pulling out of international treaties, forcing other international players to renegotiate agreements, and taking unilateral action. This has dented the credibly of the world order.
Populism is helped by the media, public officials and the influencers who provide ‘legitimacy’ for the populist narrative. Over time, both develop a cyclical relationship of dependency. Once media is in bed with populism and entrenches itself in its mandate, ‘alternate facts’ become the new reality which shape public opinion.
Moving back to Kashmir. Barring international newspapers such as Washington Post, NY Times, and The Guardian that have dared to publish news and op-eds to highlight the plight of the Kashmiris, most international media outlets have either given a truncated version of facts or chosen to stay silent.
Kashmir and International Media
The problem lies in the ‘normalizing narrative’ forced down the world’s throat by international media. Indian actions are shown as an aberration (calls for lifting the curfew, respecting human rights here and there) but not as a grave violation of the laws of humanity and the dictates of global conscience.
Worse, Kashmiris appear as a footnote in the history of a bitter territorial dispute between India and Pakistan. Focus has never been on Kashmiris as a ‘people’, their history and aspirations, their fierce independence, or how India has repeatedly denied them self-determination – a right recognized in the UN Charter, international treaties, and by the ICJ.
The world’s failure towards Kashmiris isn’t simply in its silence. Rather, global institutions are going a step further and awarding oppressors and fascist leaders.
Prime Minister Modi has received the Champions of the Earth Award and the Philip Kotler award for “giving new life to democracy and economic growth”. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is also planning to give him an award for the Clean India Mission, a sanitation and toilet initiative across India.
Some intellectuals have asked the Foundation not to award Modi. They argue that although the Clean India Mission will benefit the masses, awarding Modi legitimizes his fascist policies.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has selected Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for its Global Gatekeeper award. But not everyone is happy about it pic.twitter.com/8SWCgOAOqN
— TRT World (@trtworld) September 20, 2019
On the face of it, it is easy to dismiss this as a false equivalence between two unrelated issues. If a world leader contributes to the welfare of society, it would balance out any possible harm to society caused by his other bad policy. Right? Wrong.
Populists build ‘legitimacy’ for their broader mandate through sloganism and rhetoric. But their altruism is always selective. The legitimacy they garner is used to perpetuate their hideous policies. Their positive contribution if any to society must be seen in the light of the greater harm caused by them to its moral fabric.
In the ‘ocean of conformity’ that is today’s media, only a select few intellectuals are speaking truth to power. They are inviting the world to look beneath the veneer and avoid getting coaxed into legitimizing Modi’s policies.
These include Suchitra Vijayan & Arjun Singh who have written in the Washington Post and argued that giving the award to Modi would betray the Foundation’s claim that “all lives have equal value”.
Perhaps a stretch of logic for many. But we must not forget the high ideals of morality and justice to which global foundations and individuals such as Bill Gates aspire. They can only be judged on the basis of those ideals. Nothing less will do.
As I sign off on this article, I am forced to remember the famous words of Bill Gates when he spoke at our Convocation in 2007. He said: “I left Harvard with no real awareness of the awful inequities in the world, the appalling disparities of health, and wealth and opportunity that condemn millions of people to lives of despair.”
True to his promise, Bill Gates has done tremendous service to the cause of humanity. Individuals like him are the torch bearers of the globe’s fight against poverty, oppression, and injustice. But they also have a higher moral obligation to separate the grain of truth from the chaff of falsehood. Their imprimatur can make or unbreak global perceptions. If the world has any fair chance of surviving the “awful inequities”, be they through poverty, injustice or fascism, those proclaiming the higher moral ground such as Bill Gates must speak the truth. And they must do so now before it is too late.
Hassan Aslam Shad is the head of practice of a leading Middle Eastern law firm. He is a graduate of Harvard Law School, U.S.A., with a focus in international law. Over the years, Hassan has written extensively on topics of law including public and private international law and international relations. Hassan has the distinctive honor of being the first person from Pakistan to intern at the Office of the President of the International Criminal Court, The Hague. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org. His Twitter handle is: @HassShad. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.