Truth is the ultimate casualty in every war. I saw the dead body of truth in the mountain village of Jabba, 25 kilometres from Balakot in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan. This small village was bombed by the Indian Air Force in the early hours of February 26. The Indian government claimed that the target was a terrorist camp of the Jaish-e-Mohammad and that a large number of terrorists were killed. The weather was very bad that day and it was difficult to reach the bombing site because there is no road to Jabba Top.
I reached there the next morning by trekking for nearly three kilometres. I saw some destroyed trees. I was looking for destroyed buildings, but a local person told me that only one house was damaged and that, too, partly. Its owner Nooran Shah was slightly injured. I trekked further up and finally met Shah. I asked him about the casualties. He showed me a dead crow and said, “The only dead thing is this bird, no man was killed. I am the only person injured. But my home was damaged.”
Shah is a poor man. He said he did not know why he was targeted as he was not a terrorist. Soon, a few more locals came to greet me, and offered water and tea. I asked them to show me the destruction. They showed me four big craters. One was in a small corn field and others were on a nearby hilltop. When I came down from the hilltop and said goodbye to Shah, he politely asked me, “Can you show this dead crow to the world and say this is what [Prime Minister] Modi achieved.” I filmed the dead crow. It was the dead body of truth.
Suddenly my phone rang. A colleague told me that the Pakistan Air Force had shot down two Indian fighter jets and taken into custody an Indian pilot.
A majority of Pakistanis and Indians do not want war, but this majority is always held hostage by a powerful minority. This minority claims to be the champions of patriotism, but their patriotism is based on falsehoods. We must realise that we can defeat each other with firepower, but we cannot defeat truth. It is not easy for the media these days to speak the truth. The media must say that war is the ultimate enemy of both India and Pakistan. I know that Prime Minister Narendra Modi cannot bring down tensions with Pakistan because Parliament elections are approaching, but Pakistan is providing him a win-win escape route. Let us talk about terrorism.
The Taliban and the US are fighting in Afghanistan, but they are also talking to each other in Qatar. If India cannot talk to Pakistan, can’t it at least talk to the Hurriyat leaders in Kashmir? We know that India-Pakistan talks are very difficult before elections. We need to reduce tensions before talks. Politicians from both sides cannot play a positive role in reducing the temperature. Use cricketers, singers, actors and educationists to improve relations. Many people in Pakistan are suggesting the release of Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman of the IAF.
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan said on February 28 that Pakistan would be returning Abhinandan on March 1. Such a gesture can force Modi to give peace a chance. If we cannot talk, at least bring down tensions without talking to each other. We need to improve people-to-people contacts between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad. Try to open the borders between Jammu and Sialkot and between Kargil and Skardu.
Hurriyat leaders like Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik must come out actively for the return of the Kashmiri Pandits displaced in the recent past. Kashmiri refugees from Indian controlled areas now living in Pakistani controlled areas should also be allowed to return. I am talking about the refugees who migrated after 1990 from Baramulla, Kupwara, Uri, Poonch and other areas close to the LoC. They number around 35,000. They are living in 26 refugee camps in Muzaffarabad, Mirpur and Kotli. The governments in Srinagar and Muzaffarabad can adopt a joint policy to look after displaced Pandits and Muslim Kashmiris.
There is a need to make a joint working group of Kashmiris from both parts of Jammu and Kashmir including Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists. It should meet in Srinagar and Muzaffarabad regularly and should come up with proposals for confidence-building measures. It should be allowed to speak about human rights violations on both sides.
Kashmiri politicians from both sides should be allowed to travel between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad freely. They should make a joint strategy for peace talks and should be included in India-Pakistan talks as a third party. They must suggest CBMs to both India and Pakistan. Can Geelani, Umar Farooq, Malik, Mehbooba Mufti, Omar Abdullah, Raja Farooq Haider, Sardar Attique Ahmed Khan, Sultan Mehmood and Abdur Rasheed Turabi agree on a joint charter of demands? If they can, they will be in a position to dictate their terms and conditions to India and Pakistan. If not, then it will be difficult for the Kashmiris to get their rights and, ultimately, homegrown militancy will add more problems to their daily life.
It is better for India and Pakistan to learn from the Afghan peace talks. Otherwise, the success of the Afghan peace talks will force the US, China and other important countries including Saudi Arabia to get the United Nations involved in Kashmir. India and Pakistan will definitely talk to each other in coming future. They are in contact with each other, and not just through Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman of Saudi Arabia. Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said the Saudi Arabian foreign minister was likely to meet him to defuse tensions between India and Pakistan.
If Modi is going to start talks after the elections, why not before? At least allow the Indian cricket team to visit Pakistan. Allow Pakistani singer Rahat Fateh Ali Khan to visit Delhi or Chennai. Prime Minister Imran Khan should invite the Indian media to visit the Jabba area and Muzaffarabad. They should be allowed to move around freely in Pakistan and check whether there are terror camps anywhere in Pakistan. Maybe, Modi will be forced to make the same offer to the Pakistani media one day.
Mir is a Pakistani journalist working for Geo Television.