Heightened border tensions between India and Pakistan have followed New Delhi’s decision to cancel the special autonomy of the Muslim majority State. Today, the UN Security Council is meeting to discuss the issue. For Bishop Joseph D’Souza, "The last thing the region needs is another war."
New Delhi (AsiaNews) – Rev Joseph D’Souza, bishop primate of the Protestant Good Shepherd Church of India, issued an appeal to "Christians all over the world” to “pray for Kashmir" in a letter we publish herein.
He is among the few Christian leaders to speak out on the tensions in Kashmir, heightened on 5 August when the Indian government decided to repeal Article 370 of the Constitution that guarantees special autonomy for the State of Jammu and Kashmir, a region Pakistan has also claimed for more than 70 years.
“Christians,” the prelate writes, "ought to pray to Jesus – the ‘Prince of peace’ – that peace would reign in our countries".
Article 370 (adopted in 1949) guarantees a special status to the Muslim majority State, with its own legislative powers, flag and constitution; other areas, such as defence, foreign affairs and communications, remain the prerogative of the central government.
Another provision later added under Article 370-35A gives special privileges to permanent residents, including exclusive right to own property in the State.
According to the current BJP government, which called for the abolition of the State’s special status in its election manifesto in this year’s union election, Article 370 has never allowed the full integration of the State’s Muslim population.
For critics of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the decision is designed to alter the demographic balance in the State. For locals, the political move has as sole objective, to seize their land, allowing it to be bought by others.
For Rev D’Souza, “The decision [has] exacerbated India’s already strained relationship with Pakistan, and prompted Pakistan’s prime minister to threaten to globalize the issue”.
Meanwhile, for the first time since 1965, the United Nations Security Council today will discuss the subject of Kashmir. The meeting, which comes at the request of the Government of Pakistan, is backed by China, with whom Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has huge trading interests in the infrastructure of the New Silk Road.
Here is Mgr D'Souza’s appeal.
Christians around the world ought to pray for Kashmir as tensions in the region have spiked since Aug. 5, when India removed its long-established “special status,” bringing the India-administered areas of Kashmir into direct control of the central government.
The decision exacerbated India’s already strained relationship with Pakistan, and prompted Pakistan’s prime minister to threaten to globalize the issue and alarmingly escalate the situation by stating that, “Pakistan would keep all options on the table.”
I’m calling on Indian, Pakistani and all Christians to a simple task that transcends the complexity of the issue and the enmity that has long existed between our countries because of it. Christians ought to pray to Jesus — the “Prince of Peace” — that peace would reign in our countries and in our region as God has called each of us to “seek peace and prosperity” for our countries, according to Jeremiah 29:7. The prophet continues, “Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”
And I’m calling them to do so intensely. Since the British partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947, India and Pakistan have fought three wars over the Kashmir region. Hundreds of thousands of civilians and military officers have died on both sides of the border in armed conflicts and episodes of inter-communal violence. The last thing the region needs is another war, especially when both nations have nuclear weapons.
All of this has been especially complicated in recent years by cross-border terrorism as Pakistan’s prime minister himself recently recognized that 30,000-40,000 terrorists operate on Pakistani soil.
Putting it all together, in just over 25 years over 45,000 people in Jammu and Kashmir have died in cross-border militant encounters between the countries and from terrorist attacks originating in Pakistan. When India cites national security concerns for its decisions in Kashmir, it’s not without cause.
Yet, the status-quo situation in Kashmir has long been unsustainable, and by some act of divine providence maybe this disruption could result in a solution as the Indian government and the people of India embrace Kashmiris as fellow citizens of India. That, however, might require a divine miracle, a miracle entirely unlikely if God’s people do not pray.
And as they pray for a peaceful and permanent resolution to this intractable conflict, they should keep in mind that the security situation remains tense as curfews are still imposed, as new questions have arisen about the citizenship rights of some people living in Kashmir, and as India’s national leadership and judiciary deal and work through the implications of the decision made by the government. They should also pray for Christians, Hindus, Muslims, and others whose religious freedom has sometimes been caught up in these political conflicts. Ultimately, Christians should pray that no one will give license to hate in any form, always recognizing the inherent dignity in every human being and their God-given freedom of conscience.
As a Christian leader, and on behalf of the All-India Christian Council, I’m grateful for the generosity and kindness shown by our Christian friends around the world to commit our strong, yet also delicate, region to the hand of almighty God.
May we, as the Apostle Paul prayed, have the privilege to “lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”