2016-10-05 10:50:00

Indian bishops urge prayers for peace in Kashmir

India’s Catholic bishops have urged prayers for India and Pakistan over Kashmir following an escalation of violence between local separatists and the Indian military in the past few weeks. "Today, which marks the feast day of Saint Francis of Assisi, let us pray for peace,” says Card Oswald Gracias, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (Latin rite), on Tuesday, in a message to AsiaNews. “I appeal for dialogue and cooperation between the two governments."

For the past 88 days, the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir has been under a curfew. The confrontation between separatists and the authorities has intensified in July, when security forces killed Burhan Wani, an important militant well versed in using social media. Since then, the state has been in a state of paralysis with tight controls on civilians, and schools, universities and shops closed. Volunteers in private homes and mosques have allowed some children to continue their education, but the authorities have banned religious celebrations to prevent rallies.

Despite calls for dialogue, tensions have escalated in the past few weeks. On 18 September, a group of militants stormed an Indian military base in Uri, killing 18 soldiers before they were "neutralised".

The Indian government has taken a hard-line against separatists, carrying out "surgical strikes" against their bases along the border with Pakistan, and using diplomacy to isolate Pakistan. New Delhi for example boycotted the recent meeting of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) in Islamabad, accusing Pakistani authorities of backing international terrorism.

Despite its harshness, India’s response has not halted the violence. Sunday night, militants raided another Indian base, in Baramulla, using civilians as human shields.

The latest surge in violence in a dispute that goes back to 1947 has left more than 90 people dead and more than 12,000 injured and wounded. Reports indicate that the local population is under shock. Kashmir state authorities have called on residents along the border to move back ten kilometres.

Faced with the prospect of a new war, the Catholic Church has decided to speak out. Archbp. Kuriakose Bharanikulangara, archbishop of Faridabad, issued a statement strongly condemning the killing of 19 army men” who have “become martyrs". The prelate is concerned about the turn of events. "It is time that reason and common good should prevail over emotion and retaliation,” he said.

“The ‘Father of the Indian Nation’ Mahatma Gandhi had said that an eye for an eye will make everyone blind. Any instantaneous action against Pakistan is bound to exacerbate the situation. And that is exactly what the terrorists want.”

According to Archbp Bharanikulangara, “Any thoughtless strike can lead to war with disastrous consequences for the country," a frightening prospect given that both India and Pakistan have nuclear weapons. "We must abjure all talks of a war. Instead it is imperative to strengthen the path of dialogue and diplomacy," the archbishop insisted.

At the same time, “It is equally important to fortify security on the borders so that no terrorist can sneak into India.” India has the diplomatic strength to isolate Pakistan on this issue and put it in the dock.

(Source: AsiaNews)

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