In Conversation with Mehr Tarar

Mehr Tarar is a Pakistani journalist who worked as an editor with a Pakistani daily. Mehr stirred the hornet’s nest with her announcement that she was writing a book on Kashmir. In an email interview with Authint Mail, she says peace in Kashmir is important for stability in South Asia.
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AM) The news that you are planning to write a book on Kashmir has raised quite a few eyebrows in the Valley. What is your book going to be all about? What has been the trigger for writing on Kashmir?

MT) For someone like me who has always expressed great dismay over the state of human rights in Kashmir, and who has always been a vociferous endorser of peace in Kashmir, it is a tad disconcerting to know my completely well-intentioned idea has raised, as you so succinctly put it, eyebrows in the Valley. The word Kashmir is the centerpiece of the foreign policy narrative between Pakistan and India, and there is a huge number of people like me on both sides who believe it is time to move away from the past and try to delineate a new narrative, which may eventually influence the way the two nations regard the situation in Kashmir.

I thought of writing a book on Kashmir after my interview with J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah which, to me, was a very positive step to highlight how the ruling party in Kashmir views the issues affecting the Kashmiris, and the status quo vis-à-vis Kashmir between Pakistan and India. There were questions about the overwhelming Army presence, the killings in 2010, the mass graves; about the boycott of elections; about the injustices done to women; and about the massacre and exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits. The last one is a subject many Pakistanis are not even aware of. I want to talk to all who live in Kashmir and all who have been a victim of one injustice or the other.

AM) Have you have been to Kashmir before? Tell us about that visit? What was your assessment of the situation in Kashmir?

MT) No, I have never been to Kashmir. Some day, I do hope to visit the very beautiful Valley, which tragically bears many marks of pain.

AM) Your remarks on Kashmir before have not been received well. What place do you think Kashmir holds in the imagination of a Pakistani? Do you think Kashmir can ever be ‘disowned’ or put away by both Pakistan and its people? 

MT) My so-called comment on February 5 was blown out of proportion completely, and primarily, out of context. I saw picture of some rallies in our newspapers, and in the context of some terrorism-related killings in Pakistan, I questioned the apathy and silence of our clergy-led demonstrations that do not seem to be raising any slogans for those victims in Pakistan.

Kashmir to Pakistanis is that “disputed” land that forms the background to all blatant and simmering tensions between Pakistan and India. Although it does not seem to form the canvas of much that goes for the very real issues today, its existence is very much there, delineating the state-formed narrative vis-à-vis India. The ordinary Pakistani may not be making Kashmir a topic of everyday conversations, but it is one unresolved issue that stands for all that’s wrong with the way the two neighbours view one another.

AM) Do you think there is a lack of engagement with Indian administered Kashmir by Pakistani journalists and intellectuals compared to their counterparts in India? The moneyed liberal intelligentsia of Pakistan wants the world to believe that it’s in the better interest of Pakistan to forget Kashmir and move on. What are your views on this?

MT) Compared to the Indian media/intelligentsia and even that of the West, the accessibility of Pakistani media/intelligentsia to Kashmir is so miniscule that it is almost non-existent. Every second day, a Delhi or Mumbai-based TV channel can film stuff in Kashmir or report from there or interview leaders and regular Kashmiris. For a Pakistani journalist or even an ordinary citizen, the very idea of even getting a visa for Kashmir is so fraught with red-taped obstacles that many just rely on patchy or inadequate reports from Kashmir – through the internet or some unreliable personal source – as their primary source of information.

I am in no position to comment on what A, B, or C thinks is the wisest thing for Pakistan to do regarding Kashmir. Whether the Line of Control should be recognized as a permanent border, whether the UN should become the arbiter, whether there should be self-rule … each Kashmiri, each Pakistani and each Indian has a different idea about what the best solution for Kashmir is. I’m no one to make any call, any judgment on behalf of the Kashmiris. No one individual is.

AM) You have argued that there is a “lack of real information about Pakistan” in India? Do you think same can be said about Kashmir as well where Indian media is found to be statist and jingoistic?

MT) Yes, there is an acute dearth of real information about Pakistan, the Pakistan government and the Pakistani people in India. And the onus is on both the countries: maybe the desire to keep the tensions simmering is what drives the machination on which the narratives are formed. Maybe it suits the governments to keep the information limited, agenda-based or insufficient. Maybe the fact that mostly hawkish voices are chosen on Indian media when the guests are Pakistani is what suits the stated position of oh-look-how-rigid-and-confrontational-the-Pakistanis-are. If your guests are former military or government officials from Pakistan, what do you expect to be said? Jingoism, misplaced nationalism rule on both sides in the media. The need of the moment is to bring forward moderate voices on both sides that would advocate the need to have substantiated talks, targeting long-term solutions that would – or at least attempt to – satisfy all parties.

AM) The ‘unresolved’ nature of Kashmir is seen by many analysts as an impediment for the lasting peace in the subcontinent that is yet to emerge from the trauma of partition. Do you think resolving Kashmir and allowing Kashmiris their right to self-determine their future can usher South Asia in the long desired peace? 

MT) India due to its sheer size and its expanding role in the global dynamics of powerful countries, and Pakistan because of its importance as one of the biggest Muslim nations and its geostrategic position, will always elicit a great deal of attention – be it by their immediate neighbours, the rest of the continent, or all countries that have direct or indirect trade or military stakes in them. Therefore, how the two countries treat one another or how their hostility spills into tensions over their borders is of paramount importance to the appearance of peace in the region. The scars of 1948, 1965, 1971 and 1999 are sliced open each time a soldier is killed at the LoC – be he a Pakistani or an Indian. The bloodstained LoC is that lakshman rekha that is marked with the sacrifice of those nameless soldiers whose families mourn them forever – be they be buried or cremated. That must stop. Each life has to matter, each death should be considered the ultimate sacrifice to safeguard a line that was carved after many people laid down their lives – Muslim, Hindu, Sikh. This must stop. And how it stops is not for me to suggest – it is for the leaders of Pakistan and India and Kashmir. It is for the international arbiters to play a substantial role in the attainment of a solution that is acceptable to all. It is for the Kashmiris to decide how they will all unite and convince their rulers to ascertain what the best and workable-in-the-long-term solution is.

AM) What is your message to the people caught in over two decade old turmoil in Kashmir?

MT) I wish the Kashmiris all the best, and I send them my prayers always. May their beautiful Valley be a place where their next generation grows up without the sound of any gun, without the pain of losing a loved one, and without seeing their land barbed or curfewed, ever!

Originally published here — https://archive.authintmail.com/article/murmurs-whispers/conversation-mehr-tarar

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