By Robin Gomes
In such a difficult and troubled phase of Kashmir's history, “it is all the more necessary to reopen the channels and reactivate a constructive dialogue, in order to avoid a new conflict”.
Bishop Ivan Pereira of Jammu-Srinagar makes the heartfelt appeal over tensions escalating in the troubled Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, after the government, through a presidential order on August 5, revoked Article 370 of the Constitution of India, which granted it special status.
Jammu and Kashmir, India, Pakistan
The move strips Jammu and Kashmir of its statehood and constitutional autonomy, and divides it into two separate territories bringing both under federal rule.
In an interview published on Sunday on the Vatican Newspaper, “L'Osservatore Romano”, Bishop Pereira expresses concern over the massive street protests, the heavy security measures, including a curfew, the arrests of hundreds of demonstrators and the growing tension on the border between Indian and Pakistani ruled Kashmir.
Kashmir is a Muslim-majority region at the heart of decades of hostility between the two nations. The nuclear-powered neighbours have fought two of their three wars since their independence in 1947 over control of the region.
Both nations rule parts of the region while claiming the entire territory as their own.
The Indian side has experienced several separatist movements, including a bloody rebellion begun in 1989 to demand independence or a merger with Pakistan. Over 70,000 people have been killed in the uprising and the subsequent brutal military crackdown.
India accuses Pakistan of allowing militant groups to operate on its territory, an allegation Pakistan denies.
Following India’s stripping of Jammu and Kashmir’s statehood, Pakistan reacted swiftly by downgrading diplomatic ties and suspending the countries' limited trade. It also halted a key train service with India. Indian and Pakistani troops exchanged gunfire across their disputed border in Kashmir, a frequent occurrence.
India says Jammu and Kashmir is its internal affairs.
Calm, trust, dialogue, peace
Commenting on the confrontation between the two neighbours, Bishop Pereira says that “constructive dialogue is the only way forward and all the actors involved should take it seriously”.
At this moment, Bishop Pereira does not consider recourse to the United Nations an option, suggesting that “since the beginning, the dispute over Kashmir has been a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan”. According to him, the best way forward is “to ensure that the two neighbouring states… reopen bilateral talks”.
For this to happen, he says, “we need to re-establish an atmosphere of mutual trust, otherwise, every attempt will be in vain”. He invites the leaders on both sides to calm and not exacerbate the tensions.
According to Bishop Pereira, “Peace is the source of well-being and prosperity, and is, therefore, the goal of all political action.” “For this reason,” he says, “I make a sincere appeal to the leaders of the two neighbouring nations and to all men of goodwill, that each may contribute, in his own way and within his own means, to the promotion of authentic peace”.
“Peace is convenient for everyone and is an invaluable treasure.”
Since 2015, Bishop Pereira has been heading the Jammu and Kashmir Diocese, where some 70,000 Catholics live. Their pastoral needs are taken care of by about 70 priests.