Steps to avoid ignoring Kashmir amid COVID-19 pandemic stressed

Islamabad, April 18 (KMS): Youth Forum for Kashmir (YFK), an international Kashmir lobby group Friday organized a webinar that brought together Kashmir experts to explore steps to avoid the possibility that a global focus on COVID-19 pandemic might take attention away from the situation in Kashmir.
The webinar was titled ‘How to avoid Kashmir de-focus amid pandemic concerns’.
Altaf Hussain Wani, Chairman, Kashmir Institute for International Relations, Dr Waqas Ali Kausar, Head of Department of Governance and Public Policy at NUML, Prof. Shagufta Ashraf, University of AJK at Kotli, Advocate Pervez Shah from APHC, and Ahmed Quraishi, Director, YFK participated in the discussion.
During the discussion Dr Kausar dismissed the notion that the current pandemic would strike Kashmir from the headlines.
The conflict in Kashmir, he argued has seen highs and lows over the past seven decades and the occupation forces in that territory had failed to suppress the freedom movement.
The Kashmiri freedom movement was resilient and the global focus on the pandemic would not hurt coverage of the situation, Dr Kausar said.
Altaf Wani endorsed the assessment and cited the example set by Pakistan’s permanent representative to United Nations in Geneva, Ambassador Khalil Hashmi, who, on April 9 during an informal video-link meeting of Human Rights Council with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, highlighted that pre-COVID-19 human rights abuses perpetrated by India against Kashmiris had exacerbated amidst this pandemic.
This and other developments, said Wani, confirmed that side-lining Kashmir in global news coverage despite the pandemic was not possible.
Advocate Pervez Shah briefed the participants and the online audience on the situation inside the disputed region with India’s lockdown and communication blackout.
Ahmed Quraishi highlighted the need to generate debate among rights” activists and policy experts on how to link the global discourse on the pandemic and lockdowns to Kashmir.
This region continues to live under a lockdown and millions of people were deprived of free use of the internet and communication apps.
This has disrupted normal life, added to psychological suffering and possibly exacerbated the spread of COVID-19 in the valley, Quraishi said.
Prof. Shagufta Ashraf said that the statement by the president of UN Security Council, Ambassador Jose Singer, to Indian newspaper “The Hindu” for India and Pakistan to cease hostilities in Kashmir, is proof that the global attention remains focused on Kashmir despite the pandemic.
She proposed several ideas for Kashmiri activists and for the government of Pakistan to adopt, especially using the internet, smartphones and social media to keep Kashmir in the news.
The webinar focused on a region of the world that has been under the longest lockdown in modern history, where roughly eight million people were unable to move freely or use the internet.
Kashmiris, international human rights activists, journalists, and diplomats from Pakistan, the OIC, and from other major countries have worked hard to achieve high visibility for Kashmir over the past few months.
Now there was some concern that this international interest in Kashmir might be affected.
Kashmir was off the global radar for a long time but re-emerged as a topic of international interest after 2016.The United Nations has released two comprehensive landmark reports, in 2018 and 2019, on human rights” violations mainly in Indian-occupied Kashmir and several national parliaments, in United States, United Kingdom, and France, have held hearings on the situation in Kashmir in recent months.
Global awareness of the humanitarian and political crisis inside Kashmir remains unprecedented thanks to an agile international media. But all this attention on Kashmir risks being side-lined by the novel coronavirus outbreak.
This was why five Kashmir activists and policy experts came together online via a video conferencing app to discuss ways to adapt to a post-COVID19 world while keeping focus on the situation of Kashmiris who live under a draconian lockdown since August 2019.

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