Yesterday I linked to Karim Ben Khelifa’s recent photo essay profiling soldiers on either side of three long-running conflicts. Today I want to extract voices from the two sides of the second conflict, Kashmir. Each solider responds to Khelifa’s questions on why they fight and who the enemy is.
I must confess that I know nothing about this conflict, yet I am not surprised to learn in dates back to 1947, with a long pre-history of political and religious violence.
As with yesterday’s statements from Gaza, I am intrigued by the notions of freedom, terrorism, and dignity brought out by these people. The most chilling statement is from Junaid U Islam, all of 22 years old, who says “I see myself fighting for the next 20 years.”
Here are soldiers from the the Indian side:
(1) “My name is Tazim Ahmed Wani; I am 29 years old. I am a constable. My enemy is the one who sees my country as the enemy. I joined the police forces nine years ago because I saw Kashmir burning and this was hurting my heart. I have seen the eyes of my enemies. I am not afraid while I am on an operation. I have killed many enemies. I know it is not right to take a life, but the one who see[s] my country as an enemy, I have to kill him and I am feeling proud of doing that. The result of every war is peace. In the coming 20 years, I will help to put my country within the developed nations of the world. Freedom is everything for us. I wish the same thing as every human is wishing, love, peace, and happiness.”
(2) “My name is Kashmir Singh; I am 40 years old. I am a policeman. I have joined the police forces 23 years ago to serve my country. My enemy is the one who breaks the law of my country. I have met my enemies face to face, and they do not scare me. We have been attacked by our enemies several times, and I killed many of them. If someone endangers us and the laws, we might have to kill him in order to protect us. Terrorism is harmful for everyone, and we will fight it until the end. In the next 20 years, India will grow to become the first country in the world. I wish peace and harmony for my life.”
(3) “My name is Sandeep Singh; I am 32 years old. I am a head constable. My enemy is the one who spreads hatred in my country. I joined the police in 1997 because I have a spirit of patriotism in my heart; this lead me to kill the enemies of my country. I have seen my enemy in front of me many times. I am not afraid of anything, and I am proud of one thing and that is that I faced my enemies. I fought many encounters, and a lot of people have died during those fights. I am not comfortable with taking a human life away, but if someone disturbs the peace of Kashmir, it is the right thing to eliminate him.”
And here are soldiers from the Pakistani side:
(1) “My name is Moussa; I am 13 years old. My enemy is India. I started stone-pelting four years ago because I want to free my land from oppression. I met face to face with my enemies, but I haven’t killed any of them. The outcome of our struggle will be freedom. I wish from life to live in an independent Kashmir. I think, in the next 20 years, we will be free. Everything will be fine here once we get the freedom we are asking for.”
(2) “My name is Bilal Ahmed. I am 32 years old. I have been throwing stones since 1993 because India is constantly harassing us. My enemy is India. I am not afraid of anything except God. I haven’t killed anyone because I am a Muslim and Islam forbids us to harm innocent people. God has created every human being, and I have no right to go against God’s will. I fear only one thing — that is that we are not safe under the rule of India. Recently two sisters in Shopian were raped and martyred by Indian soldiers. Freedom from India would be a blessing for us. We are not terrorists; we are Muslims, and I wish from life to die for Islam.”
(3) “My name is Junaid U Islam; I am 22 years old. My enemy is India. I am a senior stone-pelter. The reason for throwing stones is only to get freedom. I have not killed anyone, but I am fighting for freedom. I am not afraid of anything. No one should interfere with our freedom. Those days and nights, when we are out, we get harassed by the Indian forces. We are oppressed; India is after the dignity of our mothers and sisters. Terrorism is counterproductive to our cause. Kashmiris have paid a hefty price and the ones who fell won’t come back to enjoy the freedom we will have in the future. I see myself fighting for the next 20 years.”