As an Army veteran whose family has had a proud martial tradition of soldiering for over 200 years and a genuinely concerned citizen of India who proudly safeguarded our national frontiers in Jammu and Kashmir and in the North East, and put his life at stake on several occasions, I have some suggestions on how to work towards winning the hearts and minds of Kashmiris.
Kashmir has seen enough bloodshed. It is time to stop it once and for all. But we must also understand that it is difficult to fight the bitterness and alienation of so many years.
Kashmiris should have the confidence that the Armed forces in Kashmir are there to protect them and not to intimidate them. When I was posted in the region for two years, we did our best to earn trust and goodwill. During the devastating floods in Kashmir in 2014, soldiers rescued residents irrespective of their background, even at the cost of risking their own lives. This is something we can build on.
A few points I would like to reiterate to my fellow Indians:
1. Please be mindful of your language so as to not hurt anyone’s sentiments.
2. Convince Kashmiris that the nation is with them. Mind you, I am saying Kashmiris, that includes Kashmiri Pandits and Dogras as well.
3. Do not sow the seeds of hatred with messages about buying plots in Kashmir.
4. Please remember that this is not a cricket match that someone lost and the other one won. So, please don’t tease anyone saying, “You lost.”
6. These decisions are not for the benefit or disadvantage of any political party, but in the best interest of the nation.
7. Snide remarks will only create hatred and we must strive for love.
8. Don’t behave as if we have won a state or country. Instead, behave in a manner that conveys to Kashmiris that they are very much Indians and in their own homes.
9. It’s time for the government to ensure that instead of taking up arms, the youngsters of Kashmir take up pens, books and laptops.
Quoting from the best-selling book, The Sarkari Mussalman, by my father Lieutenant General Zameer Uddin Shah, “We are a salad bowl nation and not a melting pot.”
It is for us to live up to this sentiment. I pray and look forward to celebrating Eid together with peace and harmony.
Major Mohommed Ali Shah completed his short service commission in the Army in 2008. He is currently a defence analyst.