With his killing, a genuine voice of moderation and sanity advocating for peace in Kashmir has been muffled
“In social jungle of human existence, there is no feeling of being alive without a sense of Identity.”
ShujaatBukhari opened his talk with this beautiful quotation of Erik Ericson at the International Seminar titled ‘Crossroads Asia: Dynamics of Peace and Progress’ at National Defence University Islamabad in February 2015.
He was there to speak on a complex topic ‘Identity and Human Dynamics in the Era of Peace and Conflict’ in the session ‘Kashmir’s Interface with India-Pakistan Normalization.’
True to his expertise, ShujaatBukhari handled the topic quite adroitly that reflected his meticulous grasp and deep insight into the Kashmir region, its demographics and historical background dating back to early 16th century.
Reflecting on the topic, Bukhari said: “Identities by nature are dynamic and every identity has certain core values. But at the same time the identities also adopt changes with changing political discourses or requirements. As far as the Kashmir identity in the context of peace and conflict is concerned, it has seen many adaptations in the past over six decades, though its core value remained based in the political aspirations.”
More pertinently, he highlighted that:“Kashmiri identity is forward looking not backward looking and it has a strong space of accommodating changing dynamics. Its juggle with the onslaughts it had to face has in itself been exemplary.”
Lauding the efforts of Kashmiri nation in the military conflict, he keenly noted that: “Even when Kashmir is at cross roads of a process that is aimed at political resolution, its people though not compromising on the basic values of identity are ready to atleast listen to the ideas that could lead to a peaceful solution and their sense of co-existence with other identities is stronger as ever.”
During the question answer session, he was asked whether Kashmir dispute knows any solution and his response reflected statesmanship and pragmatism.
He told the audience that Kashmir needs Justice blended in liberation and respect. He went on to highlight that three principles are prerequisite to achieving justice in the region: (I) Democratic principles and values empowering people to decide for themselves, (II) Fulfillment of promise of ‘right to self-determination’ as agreed by the international community, (III) adoption of peaceful means to dispute resolution must be adopted by all powers party to the conflict.
This succinct yet comprehensive solution to a longstanding conflict went down perfectly well with the audience and Bukhari received deep admiration for his talk and subsequent responses to questions.
This first interaction with ShujaatBukhari left me deeply convinced that a proactive moderate voice advocating for a peaceful resolution to Kashmir dispute actively exists in the region.
In times of conflict, emotions hardly know any middle-way and things are hinged towards extremes. Bukhari, however, had perfected the art to strike a balance.
I covered his speech as assistant rapporteur, an additional task I was assigned for the seminar while being a student there at National Defence University (NDU).
After the event, I walked up to him and sought elaboration on few points; he had made so as to render a clear report of the event. He was forthcoming with a smile. Little did I know that this brief impersonal meeting with ShujaatBukhari would be the last one!
His gruesome murder on Thursday 14th June 2018 was a devastating shock to everyone who knew him in any capacity and who was concerned with Kashmir region to any extent.
Importantly, his killing amid release of United Nation’s Human Rights Report focusing on human rights abuses in Kashmir raises many questions.
Since the armed uprising in Kashmir that began in early 1990, media outlets and personnel have been compelled to work on “a razor’s edge” as ShujaatBukhari once rightly pointed out. His murder further aggravates the already suffocating environment of press freedom in Jammu Kashmir.
Given the number of unsolved journalists’ murder and prevailing grave political turmoil in Kashmir, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has expressed concerns whether an “effective and timely” investigation into the murder would be ensured by authorities.
With the killing of ShujaatBukhari, a genuine voice of moderation and sanity advocating for peace in Kashmir has been muffled. His proactive approach may not be substituted. He leaves behind a legacy rooted in envisioning stable relation between India and Pakistan and peaceful settlement to the Kashmir dispute.
Through his active involvement and vociferous advocacy in multiple regional and international forums including South Asia Media Commission (SAMC), and Kashmir Initiative Group (KIG), he contributed significantly to peace building in Kashmir as well as to cultural and social renaissance in the region.
To talk about Kashmir conflict, it is lamentable that a dispute of 20th century has been carried forward to 21st century and still there seems no end to it.
Kashmir is not only strategic for Pakistan and India but also for regional peace in the same manner as Afghanistan is essential for regional peace and stability.
Nevertheless, the international community continues to show deliberate slackness in ensuring a just solution to this seven decades old problem. The procrastination of Kashmir dispute has pushed the region to the worst state where basic human rights are openly abused.
The first ever report on the “Situation of Human Rights in Kashmir” by the office of the United Nation High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is a stark manifestation of the gross injustice and human rights violations unleashed by the government forces against unarmed Kashmiris struggling for the right to self-determination in accordance with resolutions of United Nations General Assembly Resolutions.
The report specifically noted that: “The realization of right to self-determination is an essential condition for the effective guarantee and observance of individual human rights and for the promotion and strengthening of those rights.”
Moreover, the report mentions the excessive use of force to respond to protestors, some of whom were throwing rocks. Even before this report, international rights group including Amnesty International has time and again accused the government forces of using excessive force and ‘failing to adhere to applicable national and international standards on the use of force’.
The report goes on to highlight use of pellet guns, denial of access to justice through special repressive laws and acts, restrictions on the right to freedom of expression, enforced disappearances, torture on civilian protestors, and arbitrary arrests and detention including of children, among many other human rights violations in the State of Jammu Kashmir.
The outright rejection of UN OHCHR report by India clearly reflects how New Delhi blatantly disregards International institutions and covenants, and is adamant to deny due rights to Kashmiris.
Kashmir is linchpin for strategic stability and peace between India and Pakistan. Following the nuclearisation of sub-continent in 1998, experts have argued that Kashmir had become a ‘nuclear flashpoint’.
After the Kargil saga, former U.S. President Bill Clinton went on to describe the region as ‘the most dangerous place in the world’.
It is, therefore, imperative for the world powers to enable a peaceful solution to this dispute through facilitating comprehensive dialogue involving the people of Kashmir, and implementing the UN resolutions in letter and spirit.
Currently, international community has exhibited exuberance and deep interest in diffusing tensions on Korean Peninsula. The unprecedented handshake between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un followed by historic nuclear summit in Singapore is an encouraging breakthrough in international arena.
An equally concerted diplomatic intervention and efforts led by international community and champions of human rights on Kashmir front would go a long way in ensuring that the people of Kashmir are able to live peacefully and exercise their basic human rights.
Author is based in Islamabad and an International Relations graduate from National Defence University. He has worked for CPEC Secretariat, Ministry of Planning, Development & Reform, Government of Pakistan, Radio Pakistan and Daily The News International.