Speech at Kashmir Solidarity Event at the Pakistan Consulate in NY, February 3, 2023

Thank you for having me here and As-Salaam-Alaikum.

Today I will not be speaking about past human rights violations in Kashmir which of course have been horrific and have remained unpunished to this day. There is much literature on the subject, and thankfully activists continue to highlight the atrocities all the time, making sure the victims are not forgotten. Just a couple of weeks ago I spoke at the University of Muzaffarabad about what I witnessed in Kashmir.

Instead, today I would like to describe the current situation and the complete absence of CIVIL RIGHTS in the Valley which has dehumanized and traumatized Kashmiris to such a degree that they are now mere shadows of themselves. A Valley of Zombies it has become. The changes in Kashmir have left people in deep distress, dilemma, disempowered and completely dispossessed. As Anuradha Basin describes it in her new book “The Dismantled State,” Kashmir has been turned into a “giant prison” with people trapped inside like “mice in mousetraps”. She explains in detail the use of harassment, intimidation, detention, humiliation, raids, molestations and psychological traumatization to prevent a law-and-order situation. The institutionalization of fear, she writes, makes protesting impossible.

Consider this:

  • Since the illegal annexation of Kashmir in August of 2029, the Indian State has assumed complete control over all information, absolute control over the internet, total control over media, control over internal propaganda and all external disinformation campaigns.
  • It has placed even larger numbers of security forces and local informants in every nook and corner of the Valley, making it impossible for Kashmiris to trust anybody and forcing them to stay at home even without curfew, out of fear for saying the wrong thing anywhere to somebody who might turn them in to the authorities. Prisons are filled to the brim and people across ideologies, parties and classes are made to sign a bond to walk out on a promise of good behavior. The pro Freedom leadership stands arrested and the Hurriyat office has just been repossessed by the state.
  • The Indian State is all powerful and cannot be resisted because it  has the gun and the power to arrest anybody under draconian laws. Like in Nazi Germany in the 30s and 40s, these are the semantics of total speech control, total thought control and ultimately total behavior control. And in some ways, it is much worse than the human rights violations committed in the past. Many of them were part of a civil war like struggle, and the people were expressing their will while fighting. Now the control over the  people is so absolute that this will has been crushed and with it their ability to resist.
  • On Indian media, there is daily force-feeding of a steady diet of lies presented to the world at large. Normalcy has returned to the Valley and Kashmiris are liking it, India says. To support this claim, it has hired smart propagandists, some even foreign, to paint the wrong picture of the situation. It has produced films like “The Kashmir Files,” which portray Kashmiris as blood- thirsty Islamist terrorists killing all others and especially non-Muslims in their way with the help of Pakistan. Most recently there was an article by a fellow of the American Enterprise Institute about the “new normalcy” in Kashmir, and how Kashmiris are enjoying their new path to peace and development and total integration with India. While researching his piece, he was housed by the Indian army in Srinagar, and his local guides were collaborators trained and funded by Indian agencies.
  • Meanwhile, all other journalists or visitors who might be able to report the truth are being kept out, and visas are no longer possible to obtain by any outsider planning to assess the real situation. Much of the Kashmiri diaspora has been silenced for fear of their relatives at home being harassed or arrested by the police. This happened to Danielle Khan who is working with me.
  • Just last week, my closest journalist friend from the Valley called me after having spent several days in detention for simply knowing me! It followed a new dossier that the JK Police and the Indian State produced against some of us because of our links to Pakistan. They labeled us Pakistan sponsored “handlers” of terrorists in the Valley and directing violence by militants. My friend used to run an online news portal which I helped edit. It was a vehicle for the young to write their hearts out about their resistance to India. Fortunately, he was released but he no longer believes that anybody outside is willing to come to the aid of Kashmiris. I have never heard him being so cynical.

All this is of course only Act 1 in a sordid play in which India sees itself hosting the tourism segment of the G20 meeting in Srinagar in its final act. And this is really why I am speaking to you here today. I am speaking to ask you to help us raise awareness about the real situation in the Valley and urge lawmakers to not agree to attend such an obscene event. It would be like listening to chamber music at Auschwitz, which was organized by the death camps for visitors to show that the camps were really labor camps where inmates continue to play music in their free time.

The G20 event will hopefully be a much-needed trigger for the diaspora to wake up again and get involved. To that end:

  • The diaspora must get the message out about the inhuman conditions under which Kashmiris are forced to live. They must talk about the total absence of civil and political rights of any kind, and the continued human rights violations if anybody dares to speak up or resist.
  • The US in particular cares about civil rights, much more than human rights. It is a language they understand from their own history. It is why our appeals to hold hearings about Kashmir succeeded in the fall of 2019. We must do it again and try at least.
  • Help us point out how the Kashmir dispute is still an international one, a recognized legal dispute involving Pakistan and the Kashmiri people. And that by attending an event which aims to prove that the dispute has been solved and normalcy has returned, guests would actually be taking side in this dispute in favor of India.
  • Help us point out how the event would make an already intolerable situation even worse. During past high-level events, Kashmiris were often shot on sight by trigger happy security forces tasked to stop anybody from roaming about. Of course the internet and phone service were always snapped for the duration. Weeks before the frisking began people were harassed both inside and outside their houses and their movements severely restricted.
  • Help us get the word out by writing to and calling lawmakers and others who matter and even plan protests wherever we can. However, protests only matter if attended by large crowds as they were in 2019 when Imran Khan spoke at the UN about Kashmir. Almost 50000 came out then and television stations and other media picked it up. Small protests do not work and make us look as though we have no support.
  • Organize seminars around only this issue so people can talk about Pakistan’s and the Kashmiris’ legal position in-depth and how the positions have not changed.  
  • Help us sustain an effective social media campaign once India has announced the date of the event. Tag lawmakers, the State Department, Human Rights Organizations, and Foreign Ministries of member states of the G20.
  • Write articles or opinion pieces against the event if you can.
  • Do anything except be silent. We can speak up, organize, mobilize, and demand truth and justice for IIOJK unlike Kashmiris who no longer have the opportunity to do so. They depend on us to be their voice.

And remember Milan Kundera’s words “The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.” Let’s never forget the plight of the Kashmiris and how we can “never bury the past” or “move forward,” regardless of who suggests it! And no politician should ever say “we have learned our lesson” because too many Kashmiris have died and are still being taught lessons for their undying allegiance to Pakistan.

Thank you very much!

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