At the 8th Regional Conference of South Asian Free Media Association (SAFMA), comprising media persons from eight South Asian SAARC countries, the Kashmir issue appeared to have dimmed and become almost a non-issue.
SAFMA-2013 held its concluding session at Lahore, following its inaugural session in Amritsar wherein India's external affairs minister Salman Khurshid floated the idea of 'breakfast in one country, lunch in another and dinner in yet another', pushing forward for peace between the two neighbours.
But in one of the most important panel discussions on the theme of 'South Asian vision for an Economic Union' in the presence of former Prime Minister of Pakistan Nawaz Sharif, noted columnist and Editor-in-Chief of The Friday Times Najam Sethi,, Nusrat Javed, a famous Pakistani journalist and anchor for Aaj TV, besides Dr Ijaz Nabi Country Director, International Growth Centre, Pakistan, Kashmir took a back seat. It seemed that Kashmir was being clearly ditched by Pakistan!
For Kashmiris from India it came as big jolt to hear a Pakistani speaker say, "The totality of Indo-Pak relations cannot be linked to the single issue of Kashmir."
And further, to make their positions clearer, the speaker said: "We would like to see the welfare of Kashmiris by way of engaging in more trade between both Kashmirs, easing of visas for travel to each other's places. However, at present, Pakistan has more pressing issues i.e. Indo-Pak trade, water and power generation, which we are greatly hopeful that peace between India and Pakistan is bound to bring in."
And all this time, Nawaz Sharif remained mum, clearly endorsing what was being said-and-missed, about Kashmir.
How would Kashmiris, who suffered for more than two decades aided by Pakistan to revolt against India, feel about this, I wondered.
All this time, I had met many Indian Kashmiris, who came to Amritsar and looked longingly at Lahore, from the Indian side of the Attari-Wagha Indo-Pak border, during the beating the retreat ceremony. Some, who sat glum during the retreat ceremony came close to grieving over being separated from Pakistan, lamenting that Kashmir on the Indian side, should have been a part of Pakistan.
One, who I met in Amritsar a few years ago, called the border an 'unnatural divide' and scoffed disgustedly: "If it were possible, India would station an army man in each Kashmiri kitchen."
Numberless gullible Kashmiris, who ran the marathon to training camps across the border, were promised a glorious goal of Independence. They returned to fight, flush with money, arms and above all dreams of 'holy war' that would ensure a royal place in heavenly paradise for them in case they were 'martyred'.
Many felt it was easy money and brain washed others to run their outfits in Kashmir with support from across the border. The more vitriolic ones became apples of the eyes of their masters as they fitted in their sinister plans.
There were others who fiercely wrote in newspapers about the atrocities on Kashmiris by security forces while ignoring or soft pedalling the atrocities by the militants. There were those who, while conversing with their counterparts in rest of the country, referred to anything Indian as 'yours' and anything Kashmiri as 'ours'.
All this while, they were filled with feeling of abhorrence for their present state. The army's strong arm tactics aggravated the situation. Daily dirges and insults at the hands of the security forces had left them cold and concerned over their future and those of their children.
Kashmiris found themselves on a cliff-hanger not knowing whether the militant or the army bullet would kill them.
When the initial itch over being freedom fighters faded and turned sore, the fallout of their actions spilled over. For some hardliners, a bleak future awaited. So they tried to continue in their chosen destructive path, sure that their end would come painfully from either of the sides i.e. militants or army. It was a proverbial choice 'from the frying pan into the fire'.
Others on the sidelines gave only lip service to their bravado and went on with their lives, availing all Indian government-sponsored benefits and schemes while leaving them to struggle. Still, they hung on to their ally –Pakistan. They drew strength and succor from the fact that Pakistan was still their well wisher.
Countless K-agendas raised at International forums by Pakistan had little impact although it endeared Pakistan to Kashmiris.
However, Pakistan's recent position on Kashmir was shared with Rising Kashmir by a senior Pak bureaucrat who said Kashmiris had played a 'double game' with them.
He contended that while Pakistani side had lost more lives than Kashmiris, even as they had pumped in money, men and material as also feted and felicitated them, Kashmiris in turn joined the election process held by India, elected their leaders and lifted them on their shoulders. They availed all Indian government and army schemes.
"They told us they are unable to offer Namaz in Indian side of Kashmir, but we have seen them freely doing so. They tell us their women are not safe, but their women are freely moving about, getting educated and showing no traces of fear," he said.
The Kargil misadventure in 1999, after nearly 10-years of turmoil in Kashmir, seemed like a shot in the arm for militants in Kashmir, who saw Pakistan as the saviour.
Of course, the end of the battle saw Pakistan faced with rebuke and reprimand, as also a royal ignore and the ultimate shaming by US - its funding ally that ultimately punctured its stature in global eyes. Alternatively, under the leadership and statesmanship of Indian PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Kargil won India kudos for its restraint in the face of a sly enemy.
Pakistan used Kashmir to save the multitude of high profile chairs, raising the bogey of Kashmir, every time a crisis on home ground erupted. Kashmir served as a diversionary tactics, to gloss over faults of omission and neglect in Pakistan.
The US too felt it was being used by Pakistan who was trying to fulfill its Kashmir agenda on the pretext of Afghanistan's occupation by USSR. Therefore, in time, USA too pulled itself out of the mire of Pak mechanizations, cut down its funding and ditched Pakistan partially as the Frankenstein monster of terrorism that it had created sought to feed onto its creator –Pakistan.
Having lost its financial conduit and faced with rebellion and insurgency in its troubled corners, as well as from insurgents it had created, Pakistan today is left with a choice to either save its own or that of Kashmir.
Perturbed over this stand of Pakistan to shelve the Kashmir issue, Shujaat Bukhari Editor-in-Chief of English daily, Rising Kashmir raised a query to Pakistan panel and especially to Nawaz Sharif –as one of Kashmiri origin, asking – "If Kashmir issue was to be sidelined thus, why were 23-years and lakhs of lives lost for this cause?" To which he got a reply that welfare of Kashmiris could be in softening of the LoC (line of control) and "not in transfer of territory".
The sidelining of Kashmir was complete when even in his personal address Nawaz Sharif gave a miss to the Kashmir issue and stated "If voted to power as next President of Pakistan I would bring the same relationship of bonhomie between India and Pakistan as I and PM Vajpayee had brought in February of 1999 by starting the Sada-e-Sarhad, Indo –Pak bus service."
The present scenario is that Kashmiri households that drilled anti- India venom are left with an educated new generation, many of whom have flown the nest, to seek wider horizons to further their aspirations of a good life, while those who remain are left alone to tend to their festering wounds. Those who supported them from the neighbouring country have now their own hands-full, fighting internal battles, dousing the monster of terrorism that they had created.
Nusrat Javed, the panelist when questioned on the sidelines of SAFMA to clarify the Pakistani stand on Kashmir, counter questioned –"I have a child in Baluchistan crying in pain, should I tend to 'my' child or a Kashmiri child?"
As a host for a popular programme Bolta Pakistan of Aaj TV, Nusrat said people in Pakistan are least interested in Kashmir issue and his programme's TRPs drop every time a topic related to Kashmir issue is aired.
It is a fact that Kashmir is fast losing out in terms of media interest in India too. Many foreign media organizations have bid goodbye to Kashmir- a hotbed of news, for past two decades. Reuters, BBC radio and TV, German owned Deutsche Welle , AFP have wound up from Kashmir.
Others like The New York Times, Al Jazeera, Time, and Guardian are granting fewer slots to news from Kashmir.
It has therefore come as no surprise that Pakistan media too turned its face away to news emerging from Kashmir, which is being relegated to inner obscure corners of leading newspapers.
Mehmal Sarfraz, a senior member of SAFMA, said in clear terms that "Pakistan had decided to drop the issue of Kashmir long ago. If in 60 years, four wars could not solve it, what is the point in pursuing a lame dream, is what Pakistan has slowly realized. With internal problems becoming hard to handle who has the time or the money to fund Kashmir or Kashmiris?"
However there was one member who had the guts to say –"Only those who have been failures or those who set up shops on the 'tears' of Kashmir or accrued advantage from the Indo-Pak standoff on Kashmir are banking on continued enmity between both countries. The army in Pakistan is the major beneficiary of Indo-Pak rivalry, he said, because it is only because of the enmity between the two countries that it can retain its hold on the politics and administration of the country.
The terrorist outfits in Pakistan are the other beneficiaries who would lose their raison d'etre in case both countries come closer to each other. "They are the ones desperate to sabotage the peace process and stoke the fires of hostility", he said.
I know Indo-Pak peace would soon be a reality. This statement is not merely a conjecture or hope or guess but based on study of wider spectrum of world affairs, in which US seeks to strengthen and embolden the south Asian region against the growing power of China.
The border clash, inhuman torture and beheading of an Indian army jawan and retaliatory killing of Pakistan army man, has come as the most recent example of covert mechanizations. The killing of Kashmiri sarpanches, including shooting a lady panch, are such incidents, which may slow down the peace process, but will not be able to derail it.
Rashmi Talwar is an Amritsar-based journalist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article first appeared in Rising Kashmir