COMMENTARY
 
Worsening Turmoil in Disputed Kashmir
Weekly Pulse
July 16-22, 2010
While the world is focused on fighting terrorism in Afghanistan and the rest of South Asia, the continued Indian repression in disputed Kashmir region has re-ignited Kashmiri passion for liberation. By the end of July, 23 innocent Kashmiri people had died in seven weeks of repression by the Indian paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), beginning with the killing of a 17-year old youth on June 11.

The current situation in Kashmir has all the reverberations of the 1987 non-violent intifada in Palestine and its consequent violent radical expression. In fact, mothing seems to have changed for Kashmiris in the last nearly 80 years. On July 13, 1931, Hari Singh, the Maharaja of the princely state of Kashmir, had ordered to use force to quell protests against his rule, resulting in the death of 21 protestors. Since then, July 13 is observed by the people of Kashmir as Martyrs Day each year. As it turns out now, many more Kashmiris are stilling becoming martyrs.

Most of the Kashmiris who have become victim of Indian state repression are stone-pelting teenagers receiving bullet wounds from well-armed Indian paramilitary and police. The continued wave of public protests across the Kashmir Valley since June 11 forced the Indian government to re-deploy army in the region on July 5. The decision to deploy the Army was taken after Omar Abdullah, the Chief Minister of India’s self-proclaimed state of Jammu and Kashmir, made a formal request to the Central Government for its help in enforcing curfew and maintaining law and order in Srinagar.

Indefinite Curfew

Since July 6, Srinagar and other parts of the Kashmir Valley have been placed under indefinite curfew. Most of the leaders of All-Parties Hurriyat Conference, an umbrella of over a dozen Kashmir groups, including Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Syed Ali Shah Geelani, are in detention. Such punitive measures, including the imposition of Section 144 of CrPc, were adopted by the state and central governments to prevent them to lead the Martyrs Day public rally on July 13 from the Martyrs Graveyard to the UN Military Observers Group Office for India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) in Srinagar.

The main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) boycotted the All-Parties Conference called by Mr. Abdullah to handle the crisis in disputed Kashmir. Its leader, Mehbooba Mufti, appealed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to end “crackdown on civilians.” According to her, the situation in the Kashmir Valley was “so bad that nothing at the level of the state government, that has been discredited, will help unless there is a bigger initiative which will be taken seriously by the people who are caught in a prison like situation.”

So much so that India’s Army Chief Gen. V K Singh also spoke out publicly on the issue. In an interview with the Indian Express on July 12, he said that the local administration had not “frittered away the opportunity” and instead built up on the goodwill created by the armed forces over the past few years. The state of Indian state repression in the disputed region is such that the Law Minister of the disputed state of Jammu and Kashmir, Ali Mohammad Sagar, has also accused the Indian police of using "excessive force against unarmed protesters."

Relative Calm

The disputed region of Kashmir may have been relatively calm in the last decade. However, even during this relatively peaceful period the sources of conflict that has been going on since the partition of 1947, and whose genesis can be traced back to the days of repression under Hari Singh’s rule, had been simmering beneath the surface.

Close to 100,000 people have reportedly been killed since the Kashmir uprising became violent 21 years ago. However, in recent years, the scale of violence has not been as widespread in the Kashmir valley as it was throughout the 1990s. Still the incidents of violent upsurge continue to occur almost each year.

For instance, in June 2009, it was the rape and killing of two Kashmiri women—17-year old Aasia Jan and her sister-in-law Nilofer Shakeel of 22 year—allegedly by Indian security forces’ personnel that had caused the wide scale anger to erupt and spill over across the entire Kashmir Valley. Several hundred thousand strong Indian security forces are accused of practicing rape as a tactic of war in the disputed region. Around 51 such incidents were reported by the Jammu and Kashmir state police during six years between November 2002 and July 2008.

Exactly a year before the June 2009 rape of two Muslim women, the Kashmiri people were in revolt against the Indian rule in the Valley for another reason. In June 2008, the state government allotted a chunk of land near a Hindu shrine in the Valley to Delhi-based Amarnath Shrine Trust to facilitate Hindu pilgrims visiting this shrine in hundreds of thousand each year. The Muslim majority suspected that the real intention of the Indian government was to re-shape the demographic composition of their region—a process that has been going on since the controversial accession of the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir to India in July 1947.

Questionable Accession

Pakistan officially disputes this accession, as it took place without the willingness of the majority Kashmir population, which is Muslim. The first war between India and Pakistan was caused by this injustice. The subsequent ceasefire mediated by the United Nations led to the establishment of a ceasefire line, now called the Line of Control.

In the aftermath of the war, the UN Security Council and the UN Commission for India and Pakistan passed several resolutions which call for the holding of a plebiscite in Kashmir. In that plebiscite, Kashmiris were given two choices: either to be a part of India or Pakistan. The bulk of Kashmiris, for being Muslims, would have chosen the option of joining Pakistan—which explains why India’s successive regimes have dithered on the UN-supervised settlement of the Kashmir dispute.

Kashmir has caused another Indo-Pak war in 1965 and several standoffs between the two countries since then. However, ever since India and Pakistan became nuclear powers, the international community has attempted to persuade their leaders to talk to each other for resolving Kashmir and other disputes. Consequently, the last decade and a half has seen the two countries coming together for the purpose of resolving bilateral disputes, including Kashmir.

Unfortunately, each time, it is Pakistan that seems to have expressed the due interest in the peace process. India’s attempt is to portray the trouble in Kashmir as terrorism, which is what has complicated the ground reality in the disputed region. The result is visible in three consecutive expressions of public protests: in June 2008 after the grabbing of Kashmiri land; in June 2009, after the raping of Kashmiri women; and now in June 2010, after the killing of close to a dozen Kashmiri people, mostly youth.

Humanitarian Issue

India’s human rights violations in disputed Kashmir region are regularly reported by world human rights organizations such as the Amnesty International. In the aftermath of the June 11 incident, the London-based body asked the Indian government to hold an inquiry into the civilian deaths and take action both against security personnel and against protesters found involved in rights’ violations.

The international community must understand that the worsening turmoil in Kashmir is unsustainable. For if the situation in the disputed region continues to evolve as it is currently, then organizations abusing religious passions of suppressed masses to commit terrorism may once again come into action, as they were until recent years. The reference at the outset to the 1987 Palestinian intifada is meaningful. It was a non-violent uprising in the occupied territories, which was eventually hijacked by terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. What is happening in disputed Kashmir currently is also non-violent, and it has all the potential of becoming violent. There are individuals and organizations out there to exploit the genuine grievances of the Kashmiris once again to wage violent jihad in the region.

Given that, the world community in general, and Pakistan and India together in particular, must do whatever it takes to deny the violent jihadi groups the pretext on the basis of which they justify their unholy existence and terrorist activity. What is needed is a genuine peace process between India and Pakistan, with full international backing, whose sole aim is jointly work out an amicable resolution plan for Kashmir and other unresolved issues between the two countries. Once such an effort, which is needed most urgently, comes into full swing, the back of al-Qaeda and its local affiliates involved in trans-national terrorism will be broken once and for all.