BUFFALO, NY (WBFO) – An influential member of the Western New York Muslim community found himself in the midst of a frightening crisis two months ago, when the region he was visiting was placed in a lockdown by the nation which controls that area.
Dr. Khalid Qazi was eventually able to return to the Buffalo area from Kashmir, but for weeks had no means to contact loved ones outside the disputed territory.
Dr. Qazi, who is the founding president and senior advisor of the Muslim Public Affairs Council of Western New York, traveled to Kashmir in late July to visit his ailing brother. For the first ten days, he explained, things were going well. His brother had been discharged from a hospital into a care center to continue treatment and recovery.
But everything changed on the morning of August 5. India, which controls the portion of Kashmir where Qazi was staying, had acted to revoke the state’s autonomy.
“Early in the morning, at about 6 o’clock, there were loudspeakers around the town and around the villages, going around telling people that curfew has been imposed by the Indian state,” he said. “They declared curfew and complete lockdown.”
Schools, banks, government offices and businesses were closed. Forms of communication were also shut down, including cellular and landline telephones, internet access, and even surface mail.
Some communication has since been restored, though not entirely. Service has been restored to landline phones and to about half of the eight million cell phones owned in the region. News media complain they, too, have been muzzled by India’s lockdown.
There have also been acts of protest, and incidents of deadly violence that police say were carried out by militants opposed to Indian rule. Protesters, meanwhile, are accusing India’s prime minister of human rights abuses.
WBFO asked Qazi if he felt worried for his personal safety during his stay.
“We all felt very, very scared,” he replied. “We had a driver, my brother, myself, and my sister. We really were not sure if we were going to make it.”
They did. But not until going weeks without the ability to make contact with his children in the U.S.
“I could never imagine that I was going to fall apart, so to say, the way I did,” he said. “I was in pieces. I couldn’t emotionally and psychologically… physically I was OK, but as soon as I came I couldn’t focus, I didn’t know what to do, and I was (having) a hard time making decisions or writing anything.”
He did put his thoughts in writing in an article for the Buffalo News published October 12.
WBFO asked Dr. Qazi why the Western New York community should pay more attention to developments in Kashmir. First, he suggests, it’s a human rights issue. But it’s also politically important for the United States, he argues, to help stabilize the region. Pakistan and India, he noted, have already fought three wars but since the last dispute have also become nuclear powers.
“The United States and some of the western countries have reasonably good relationships with both India and Pakistan. Even although India has always been aligned with Russia and the Soviet Union during the Cold War, I think the newer relationship is much better with the U.S. than before,” Dr. Qazi said. “Of course, we know Pakistan is critically important for our ongoing issues in Afghanistan and Middle East and, therefore, these two countries are important for us.”