COMMENTARY
 
Flashpoint Kashmir
Weekly Pulse
September 17-23, 2010
After years of global focus on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Kashmir is once again making international headlines—and not for anything new: It is the same old story of denial of the basic right to freedom to the Muslim majority people of Kashmir by India. In the process and unlike the past decade or so, the Indian security forces have since April this year already killed close to a hundred innocent Kashmiris, most of whom happen to be stone-pelting youth busy in almost daily street protests.

Twenty-three years ago, it was a similar non-violent public upsurge in the Valley of Kashmir protesting the fraudulent elections stage-managed by India in the disputed territory administered by it—and it had taken only two years for this public protest movement to drift towards militancy. From 1989 onwards, through the decade of the 90s and beyond, we saw a scale of violence that was full of instances of terrorism by Indian state security forcces and non-state jihadi groups that claimed the lives of close to a hundred thousand people, according to independent estimates.

History seems to be repeating itself again, and given the intensity of the ongoing peaceful uprising as compared to what happened from 1987 to 1989, it can be safely argued that the potential of current intifada eventually becoming violent and to be exploited by terrorist organizations is much more than it was the case with its debut occurrence over two decades ago. Given that, if the international community failed to intervene in this critical hour and did not force India to seriously negotiate the dispute with Pakistan and representative Kashmiri organizations, it may only be a matter of months for the current public upsurge in disputed Kashmir to once again turn violent and terroristic.

India’s Problem

Unfortunately, for now, India’s ruling elites, including those forming the present government and parties of all hues and shades in the opposition, are hell bent upon not seeing the writing on the wall in Kashmir. They are not even willing to acknowledge the voices of sanity that are growingly being raised by writers from India and abroad about the gravity of the situation in Kashmir and its potential fallout for India’s relations with Pakistan and the stability of South Asia.

For instance, B. Raman a former Indian bureaucrat and currently Director of the Chennai-based Institute for Topical Studies, believes, “We are facing an Intifada of the Palestinian model in J & K for the first time. It is a spontaneous outburst of anger by sections of the youth over what they allege is the disproportionate use of force by the police and the CRPF (Central Reserve Police Force). They have not raised--not yet--issues regarding the future of J&K (Jammu and Kashmir). Pakistan is now exploiting the anger of the youth for raising the issue of the future of the State once again, but it did not create that anger.”

The current uprising in disputed Kashmir began in April when Indian security forces shot dead three youths. Initially, the troops claimed the three were terrorists, but protests led to an inquiry that proved that the youths had no connections with any Kashmiri group. Angry youths then took to the streets. They demanded that the culprits be brought to justice. But instead, the soldiers opened fire at the unarmed protesters. A 17-year-old student died on June 11 when a tear gas canister hit him. This sparked more protests, which have continued to gain momentum in the past few months.

The Intifada

Mr Raman’s views were published in an article titled “The Jammu and Kashmir Intifada” that appeared in the web-based issue of Eurasia Review on August 4. By then, the gravity of violence being committed by the CRPF had not reached the level of 18 protesting Kashmiris getting killed in a couple of days alone, as was the case on September 12 and 13.

According to Raman, “A new generation of youth, who were not even born or who were just toddlers when the first phase of the insurgency broke out in 1989, is now in the forefront. The 1989 vintage of youth believed in the use of terrorism, involving attacks on soft targets and indiscriminate killing of civilians and driving out the Hindus. There is a new generation of youth activists which believes in street violence directed against the security forces without targeting civilians and which has seen to it that the on-going agitation does not affect the Hindus participating in the Amarnath Yatra. We are seeing a new insurgency in J&K similar to the one in Gaza.”

The former Indian bureaucrat is not alone in expressing the bitter truth about Kashmir. Writing in the UK-based newspaper Daily Mirror (“Kashmir: A Paradise in Hell Now,” August 6, 2010), Ameen Izzadeen argues: “Tens of thousands of Kashmiris have been defying curfew and shoot-at-sight orders during the past seven weeks. They believe that their sacrifices will eventually compel the Indian government to yield to their two main demands — freedom and justice. However, what has been eluding them for the past six decades will not be coming so soon. The Kashmiris know that. Yet they continue their agitation.”

He further states, “In the past, they have resorted to violence to counter the violence unleashed on them. But violence only made successive Indian governments more obdurate. New Delhi has deployed more than 700,000 troops in the Indian-administered Kashmir to crush separatism in the erroneous belief that peace can be achieved through military might. The Indian-administered Kashmir today remains the world's most heavily militarized zone. There is a soldier for every 15 Kashmiris.”

The disputed region of Kashmir may have been relatively calmer as compared to violent decade of the 90s. However, even during this relatively peaceful period the sources of conflict that has been going on since the partition of 1947 had been simmering beneath the surface. That explains why in the last three successive years, we have seen recurrent instances of popular upsurge in the disputed Kashmir. Each time, however, the issue that triggered widespread protests was different.

Recurrent Protests

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.

Then, 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.

In response to public protests in disputed Kashmir in the summer of 2008, India’s vocal critic Arundhatti Roy had written a forceful article in an August 2008 issue of The Guardian, arguing: “The voice that the government of India has tried so hard to silence in Kashmir has massed into a deafening roar. Raised in a playground of army camps, checkpoints, and bunkers, with screams from torture chambers for a soundtrack, the young generation has suddenly discovered the power of mass protest, and above all, the dignity of being able to straighten their shoulders and speak for themselves, represent themselves. For them it is nothing short of an epiphany. Not even the fear of death seems to hold them back. And once that fear has gone, of what use is the largest or second largest army in the world?"

In retrospect, therefore, the sole responsibility of what is happening today in the disputed region of Kashmir is that of India, which refuses to budge from its controversial claim that the princely state of Jammu aand Kashmir under its Maharaja Hari Singh acceded to it at the time of Partition. 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.

Cause of Wars

Kashmir caused another Indo-Pak war in 1965 and has led to 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. The Musharraf government had even gone to the extent of abandoning Pakistan’s traditional stand on Kashmir, which is centered on the exercise of the UN plebiscite option, by proposing creative ideas such as demilitarization of the disputed region and giving more autonomy to the Valley of Kashmir. 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 regime of Manmohan Singh is repeating the same mantra again. 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 since April 2010, after the killing of three Kashmir youths.

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 UN Secretary General Ban-ki Moon has also condemned India’s human rights conduct in Kashmir—but the world body has not done anything to implement its scores of resolutions on the dispute, or at least to come up with an alternative internationally-mediated plan to resolve the dispute.

Unsustainable Turmoil

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, as said before, 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.

Ironical as it may sound, the continuity of the Kashmir issue is a bane for India itself. The country cannot expect to become a global player, or be a permanent member of the UN Security Council, for instance, as long as an internationally acknowledged dispute or a genuine national liberation movement does not find its natural culmination in the form of a viable settlement based on the freedom aspirations of a besieged people. The world community as well cannot afford to have an unresolved regional dispute continuingly be a source of moral justification for individuals and entities motivated by the violent jihad and guided by a terrorist cause. And Pakistan being a Muslim majority state and having a claim to the entire Kashmir region cannot be a silent spectator of Indian state-sponsored reign of terror in the Valley of Kashmir.

Most importantly, it is the Kashmiris themselves who are paying the biggest price of living in a region that they firmly believe does not belong to India. It is for their sake—and their sake alone—that Kashmir needs an immediate resolution. 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.