Why is Kashmir civil society silent over Pak barrier on Srinagar-Sharjah flight?

In March 2019, when the center banned Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) in Jammu and Kashmir under the Unlawful Activities [Prevention] Act, Kashmir Traders Association [KTA] was one of organisations that strongly condemned this decision. KTU General Secretary Bashir Ahmad disagreed with New Delhi’s assertion of JeI being “involved in anti-national and subversive activities in the country intended to cause disaffection,” as well as “in close touch with militant outfits,” by maintaining that it was “a religious organisation that worked for Kashmir even in difficult situations and helped everyone without differentiating between caste or religion.” 

At that time, some had criticised Ahmad for unnecessarily pushing KTA into an issue that was completely unrelated to commerce as it could convey an impression that instead of championing the cause of traders in Kashmir, KTA was delving in local politics. While this viewpoint has its merit, but since every organisation and association is made up of society members, local politics cannot be completely divorced from discussion, even if it’s not part of the aim and objective of an association.

So, the only way that an organisation or association can preserve its professional integrity and fair image is not by avoiding voicing opinion on contentious issues but in exercising due diligence and ensuring complete impartiality while doing so. The bottom line is that while discussion on unrelated issues is optional, standing up to defend the rights and promote progress of the organisation or association to which one belongs, is mandatory. Unfortunately, this is where KTA appears to have stumbled badly.

The November 1 agreement between a private Indian air carrier and Dubai-based Lulu Group to facilitate export of garden produce and handicrafts held the promise of the huge Middle East market being opened to farmers and artisans of Kashmir. However, even before this game changing initiative could give an unprecedented boost to horticulture and handicraft sectors could take wings, Islamabad played foul by unilaterally stopping Srinagar-Sharjah overflights.

Despite Kashmiri farmers and artisans being the biggest losers due to Islamabad’s unreasonable decision of closing its airspace for Srinagar-Sharjah flights, KTA hasn’t uttered a single word against this. Since its mandate includes promotion of trade, KTA should not feel offended if its stoic silence on the cancellation of overflight clearance is interpreted as tacit approval of Islamabad’s decision or even perceived as toeing the separatist’s line by dutifully overlooking Pakistan’s brazen perfidy.

What’s most amusing is that the entire pro-Pakistan lobby, which has otherwise been accusing New Delhi of following a policy to keep Kashmiris impoverished and thus economically dependent on the center is silent on Pakistan’s barefaced attempt to sabotage prospects of the people of Kashmir improving their financial status. The All Parties Hurriyat Conference is quiet and so is Kashmir’s civil society and its intelligentsia. However, this is understandable, because with gun toting ‘mujahideen’ ensuring that Pakistan’s motivated interests in J&K aren’t adversely impacted, enforced silence on the overflight cancellation issue is but natural.

On October 23, former J&K chief minister and National Conference leader Omar Abdullah had expressed his apprehensions on overflight clearance given by Islamabad to Srinagar-Sharjah flights. He had stated that “Regarding the Srinagar-Sharjah flight that has been announced today – has Pakistan had a change of heart & allowed flights originating from Srinagar to use its airspace? If not, then this flight will die the way the Srinagar-Dubai flight died during UPA2.” At that time, it was largely believed that he was just spewing pessimism as a political gimmick to undermine the center’s spectacular achievement. However, now that overflight clearance has been withdrawn by Pakistan, Abdullah’s prognosis has been bang-on!

Surprisingly, even at the cost of being ridiculed for peddling factual inaccuracies, People’s Democratic Party (PDP) president Mehbooba Mufti maintained her pro-Pakistan bias by blaming the center for this crisis by saying, “Puzzling that Government of India didn’t even bother securing permission from Pakistan to use its airspace for international flights from Srinagar,” adding that this was “Only [a] PR extravaganza without any groundwork.” Could it be possible that she isn’t aware that Home Minister Amit Shah himself had flagged off the inaugural Srinagar-Sharjah flight from the Sheikh ul-Alam International Airport in Srinagar on October 23?

The silence of those whose who look upon Pakistan as Kashmir’s benefactor and are serving its motivated interests, speaks volumes of how common Kashmiris are being betrayed by their own brethren who vociferously claim to be their well-wishers. Since this rot has set in within, the lot of Kashmiris isn’t likely to improve soon and so, one can only hope and pray that the people become more assertive to alter the debilitating equation prevailing in Kashmir Valley today!

Nilesh Kunwar
Nilesh Kunwar
Writer is a retired Indian Army Officer who has served in terrorism-infested areas of Jammu & Kashmir, Assam, Nagaland and Manipur. He is a 'Kashmir-Watcher' who keeps a close tab on the state's developments.

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