For anonymity and his safety, let us call him Omer. He hails from the Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IOJK). Omer had last seen his WhatsApp on August 7, 2019 at 0205 Hrs., Indian Standard Time. Day after day, I checked on Omer’s WhatsApp and left him messages. Are you ok? Is your Mother fine? Are your siblings doing well? Hope your friends are not arrested by the Indian troops under terrorism or sedition charges? Silence. Tall, lean, of wheatish complexion and articulate, I first met Omer, one of the most educated men, a few years ago in the United States. At our second meeting over lunch the following day, while sitting across the table, my initial impression of Omer was of his eyes. They were different from the eyes of the people of Azad Jammu and Kashmir, the region administered by Pakistan. Omer’s eyes were deep, moist, full of substance and context, and carried the burden of conflict. The delectable food begged our attention. Instead, I wanted to learn about Kashmir’s exquisiteness – its splendor and exotic beauty. Also, record his personal experience of the unrest, bloodshed and terror – Omer’s overall firsthand account of the raging conflict enveloping Kashmir. In late July 2019, in a preemptive strategy, Prime Minister Modi’s government deployed an additional 38,000 troops to the Kashmir Valley. This sudden surge in Indian military personnel followed a statement by the Indian home ministry in Parliament that situation has improved in Kashmir Valley. Conversely, the government reduces the number of troops when security situation improves. This had something else stored for the Kashmiris. On August 5th, 2019, unilaterally, Modi government rescinded Articles 370 and 35A of the Indian Constitution that gave special status and privileges to Kashmir. Since then, Kashmir has been under the military siege for an indefinite period. In the wee hours of October 07, 2019, on day 60, I received a message on my WhatsApp. Hi Iman. Just returned from Kashmir after 60 days. Good to see your texts, Omer wrote. Oh, Hello Omer, I hope you and the family are doing well. It has been so stressful on all of us, I replied. I can understand but the situation at home is terrible, he copy-replied. Can I call, I asked? Sure, he wrote. Much has been said and written around the globe in the aftermath of August 5th. On Tuesday, October 22, 2019, the 116th US Congress’ House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Asia held its first hearing to discuss humanitarian crisis in Kashmir. The hearing was called by chairperson Congressman Brad Sherman. This following interview was recorded on Wednesday, October 16, 2019, to highlight the grave humanitarian situation in Kashmir for Asia Subcommittee’s hearing on October 22nd, 2019. The identity and location are not disclosed for anonymity and security of the interviewee, who has recently escaped the Kashmir Valley, and has no communication with his immediate family in Kashmir. Iman: What were your first thoughts about the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A? Omer: I was shocked, I first heard it on the news, that New Delhi actually abrogated 35A. It was evident the way the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ran its election campaigns for 2014 and 2019. But I was surprised in the sense that I thought they would do it at the end of their second term. Instead they did it in the beginning of the term. The abrogation has put the identity, political identity, and the demography of Kashmir on the line. The autonomy has eroded since 1947, and every decade thereafter by the Indian National Congress as well, forget about the BJP. What matters for the Kashmiris is 35A, which offered essential citizenship rights and privileges to them. India is hellbent, particularly the BJP to change the demographic of Kashmir by enabling non-Kashmiri settlements. The residents view it as the colonization of Kashmir. Much has been said and written around the globe in the aftermath of August 5th. On Tuesday, October 22, 2019, the 116th US Congress’ House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Asia held its first hearing to discuss humanitarian crisis in Kashmir. The hearing was called by chairperson Congressman Brad Sherman Iman: What do you remember about that day? How did it personally impact you? Omer: As a Kashmiri, I actually do not want to recall those watershed moments when I heard this news. I was at work with a couple of Kashmiri colleagues and friends, our voices were broken. Others and non-Kashmiri colleagues were celebrating in front of us. A couple of them were sympathetic, rest were in a festive mood that appeared to hurt us more than news of the revocation itself. The way it was celebrated in the rest of India, on television, in the streets, that was actually the reason I left for Kashmir the same evening. I couldn’t tolerate it anymore. Iman: Now, you were held sieged for 60 days. The air is rife with uncertainty, and there are only crumbs of information. Could you weave the deadpan narrative and paint a cohesive picture for us about day to day life in the valley? What is the sentiment in the valley? Omer: Strict curfew, large-scale arrests, communication blackhole has turned it into a major humanitarian crisis. The hospitals account for the most terrible stories and horrific images. Mothers looking for their children, separated families searching for their loved ones, it was chaos, blood, and wounds. Hospitals are unreachable, particularly if you are coming from Baramulla, Kupwara, Shopian, or Pulwama trying to reach Srinagar hospitals. Doctors have no way to communicate, coordinate or cooperate with other doctors. The medical supplies are deliberately withheld. Particularly the severe asthma patients, the cancer patients who need chemo, patients who need dialysis, their life is a living hell. There is no insulin at homes for diabetics. The use of pellet gunshots, and then there is a vertical and horizontal surge in cordon and search operations and night raids. There are gross human rights violations, particularly against women and girls during these night raids at houses, especially in Srinagar, and rural areas like Bandipora. While, New Delhi is using diversionary tactics, propaganda and mystification of facts to conceal the human rights violations in Kashmir. Ah…, the sentiment, most of the Kashmiris are vying for war between India and Pakistan, to resolve this issue once for all. Before they asked for peace and nonviolence. Iman: Besieged by Indian troops and curfewed, Kashmir has been stripped of its statehood and mourns the loss of autonomy. Walk us through the Mohallas of Kashmir, street by street, how do they look? Omer: The Mohallas and streets are completely barricaded, not allowing movement from one street to another, or to another Mohalla. The neighboring Mohalla seems like another country, demarcated by barricades, barbwires and many security checkpoints. It is a war like situation, like an undeclared and sort of a declared war, suffocation as you are in a gas chamber, suffocating and melting. The smell of siege is the gangrenous stench all around. Fear simmers over a pinch of brilliant burnt-orange hue of saffron. Barbwires have cordoned the sedative scent of Lotus. Iman: Thousands of youths and teenage boys as young as 12 years old have been detained under charges of terrorism and sedition. Reportedly their number ranges between 13,000- 22,000. Could you mirror the actual situation? Omer: According to the Indian state officials, the number is somewhere between 4000-6000. But the civil society organizations (CSOs) and some local human rights organizations have recorded around 14000-20000, and the age group ranging between 8 to 9 years old, and 40 to 60 years old. It is an elaborate strategy emanating from the Center, from New Delhi. The arrests serve to amplify fear. It also serves to create a fear psychosis in the minds of Kashmiris, as this is a psychological operation. Iman: According to New Delhi, Kashmir is now fully integrated into the Indian state. Are there segments of the Kashmiri population across age and gender who have surrendered to New Delhi’s move? Omer: Well, New Delhi is saying this since 1947. But the Kashmiri population see themselves as a separate entity, politically, culturally, socially, and in every other aspect. They consider themselves totally different. This integration will not subsume the Kashmiri people’s political aspirations. I do not see the Kashmiris accepting the complete integration until their political aspirations are resolved, which is across the Kashmiri spectrum. It is not unique to the separatists, pro-independence, or pro-Pakistan elements. Even the mainstream politics and politicians since 1947 have contested elections within this prism of conflicted identity between Kashmir vis-à-vis India. It will not dissipate. Iman: Amid the fervent political and legislative developments, now that the Chief Ministers Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti, as well as several other leaders of the state, have been arrested, in the event the curfew is lifted, who is the new leadership that New Delhi will bring? If not Abdullah and Mufti, who could be the front faces? Omer: New Delhi is creating a new political leadership. The Center has treasury and countless resources to create new political leaders. They will invest millions of dollars and hold local body elections. What they want is to replace this existing political leadership with those more inclined toward India, the Center and the BJP under the influence of Rashtriya Swayam Sewaksangh (RSS) ideology. This political leadership will stem from the grassroots levels, including the villages and semi-urban population. It is certainly the well-crafted tactics, this political leadership initially will be a controlled group of people who will be given short term portfolios. According to the Indian state officials, the number is somewhere between 4000-6000. But the civil society organizations (CSOs) and some local human rights organizations have recorded around 14000-20000, and the age group ranging between 8 to 9 years old, and 40 to 60 years old. It is an elaborate strategy emanating from the Center, from New Delhi. The arrests serve to amplify fear. It also serves to create a fear psychosis in the minds of Kashmiris, as this is a psychological operation Iman: How has the scrapping of Articles 370 and 35A impacted the mean and median of the Kashmiri people? Do more Kashmiris now want to join Pakistan, remain with India, or vow for the third option, i.e., an independent Kashmir? Omer: You cannot get a very clear answer about all three options in terms of data, but yes, the Pakistan constituency has gone up since August 5th. The Pakistan constituency has seen a decline since Musharraf’s ‘Four-point formula’ and other factors. The pro-Independence sentiment had replaced the pro-Pakistan constituency. Now with the revocation of Articles 370 and 35A, the Kashmiris see Pakistan as the only savior. Kashmiris see this abrogation in the communal lines that New Delhi is hellbent to change the demography with the Hindutva. Therefore, the pro-Pakistan sentiment and constituency has definitely strengthened. Iman: In reality, the identity of the Kashmiris and the demographic composition of the territory is no longer shielded by law. What could happen if the lockdown in the valley is lifted? Omer: The situation will flare up, leading to more arbitrary arrests, and unlawful detentions. There will be more extrajudicial killings, killings in custody, blinding through the use of pellet guns, violence against women and girls, the use of rape, torture and enforced disappearances, bloodshed, as the lift will compound emergencies. There will be a disproportionate use of force. Eight million people are imprisoned, commanding a large public response once the siege is lifted. Iman: Did you listen to the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, at the U.N. General Assembly on September 27? What do you and the people of Jammu and Kashmir hope for and need from Prime Minister Imran Khan? Omer: Yes! I cannot forget that night. It was around 8:30 or 10:30 pm. We managed to hear Prime Minister Imran Khan on Al-Jazeera. When he was referring to the Muslim World and particularly the Kashmir issue there were jubilations all around, at homes, on the barricaded streets, in the mosques, on the loudspeakers. There were pro-Pakistan, pro-Imran slogans and chants, and the youths celebrated his speech with fireworks. Kashmiris have attached a hope that he may do something. They believe he has a political will. But it takes two to tango and New Delhi is not ready to listen right now or to discuss Kashmir with Pakistan, either due to unwillingness or sheer arrogance. There has always been an attachment and expectation from Pakistan. We do know that Pakistan has her limitations, be at the international level or domestic level. But hope from Pakistan is there and the Kashmiri people would like Pakistan to take much bolder and concrete steps. I had several conversations with the youths, and they saw Prime Minister Imran Khan’s speech as a plea for armed struggle and sacrifice in the name of honor and dignity. Iman: On Tuesday, October 22nd, the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee is holding a hearing on Kashmir. If you were to be present, what would you tell the U.S. Congress? Omer: I will be very crisp. I will tell them that the Kashmiris want the U.S., pro-democracy and human rights groups to make noise and put pressure on India to release political prisoners, lift curfew and start a political dialogue not only with Kashmir, but with Pakistan as well. The Kashmiris see it as a trilateral dispute. Let Kashmiris decide their future and put pressure on India to resolve the Kashmir issue according to the UN resolutions. Let Kashmiris decide what they want, whom they want to join, where they want to go, and put more pressure on India to have talks with Pakistan on Kashmir. There is a grave humanitarian crisis in Kashmir. The U.S. must pressurize India to lift the siege, release all political prisoners, demilitarize, rescind its decision on Articles 370 and 35A, and revoke all heinous laws such as the Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act 1990 (AFSPA), and Public Safety Act (PSA). Iman: Thank you so much for speaking with us Omer. Omer: You’re welcome Iman. The writer is an International Security and Defense Policy expert based in Washington D.C.