COMMENTARY
 
Kashmir: Moment of Truth
Weekly Pulse
September 24-30, 2010
The popular uprising in Indian-administered Kashmir seems to have gained a momentum of its own. The fast evolving situation in the disputed region is beyond the control of the India government or that of the ‘state of Jammu and Kashmir.’ The massive involvement of the Kashmiri youth in the struggle for independence means that Pakistan is also not as much able to influence the course of events in Kashmir as it did in the past.

The entire region of Central and South Asia is already beset by al-Qaeda-inspired extremist terrorist violence. It is, therefore, only a matter of time before the growing public upsurge in Kashmir, led currently by stone-pelting youth, is hijacked by religiously-inspired extremist-terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda.

Such eventuality is neither in the interest of India, which has suffered at the hands of extremist-terrorist groups, the November 2008 act of terrorism in Mumbai being the last major event in this regard. Nor can Pakistan afford the just right of the people of Kashmir for self-determination to be tarnished once again by the forces of violent jihad. It is waging a battle of its own against the very forces, and has suffered enormously from terrorism in recent years.

Writing on the Wall

For India, the writing on the wall should be clear, especially after the recent refusal of the leaders of All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC)—a political front of over 20 Kashmiri organizations struggling to achieve the right of self-determination—to jointly meet with a high-level all-parties Indian delegation led by Home Minister P Chidambaram. Even though during the delegation’s visit to Srinagar, the Indian Home Minister did admit the changed tone of the trouble in Kashmir. “It is clear that what we are seeing now in Kashmir is a qualitatively different kind of protest. We do need to recognize this. The protests are certainly more widespread and there is significant alienation,” said Mr. Chidambaram.

For their part, the APHC leaders are defiant—as the death toll of mostly young Kashmiris at the hands of Indian security forces has crossed 100 in almost as many days. Hardline Hurriyat Conference leader Syed Ali Shah Gillani has launched the “Quit Jammu and Kashmir,” to mobilize the Kashmiri youth protesting against atrocities of the Indian security forces in the disputed territory. Their slogan is “Kill us or leave Kashmir.” Mr Gillani, a former chief of the Jamaat-e-Islami Kashmir, has also urged the enraged Kashmiri youth to march towards Indian army establishments in the Kashmir Valley.

However, moderate Hurriyat leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq has made it clear that Kashmir is “not an administrative issue, it is a political issue which should be solved through dialogue process and not through the language of bullet and force.” He and Yasin Malik, leader of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), have demanded the establishment of “Kashmir Committees” in India and Pakistan to find an everlasting solution to the Kashmir issue.

“We look forward to entering into a dialogue based on shared commitments... Let the Government of India establish and empower an official body, a Kashmir Committee, consisting of senior representatives of major political parties to develop and enter into a process of engagement with representatives of the people of Jammu and Kashmir,” the two leaders said in a joint memorandum. “We believe that a similar Kashmir Committee, bringing together all political forces, should also be established in Pakistan. We will suggest to political parties in Pakistan that this be done,” the memorandum addressed to the all-party Indian delegation further stated.

After Delegation’s Visit

The three Kashmiri leaders did meet separately with members of the Indian delegation. However, since the Congress-led government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is unwilling to treat Kashmir as an international dispute and wishes to seek a resolution of the current crisis through cosmetic administrative reforms in the disputed State, the meetings could not produce any meaningful outcome. New Delhi is still unwilling to revoke the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which is responsible for much of the brutality by Indian security forces in Kashmir.

Consequently, the key beneficiary of the current uprising is the hardline APHC faction under the leadership of Mr. Gillani. During his meeting with members of the Indian delegation, he had presented the Manmohan regime with several conditions to defuse the protests, including accepting Kashmir as an international dispute, release of all political prisoners, demilitarization of the area, and action against security forces involved in civilian killings since June. New Delhi is unwilling to accept any of these demands. This simply means that the status quo is likely to persist in the disputed region, with all the potential ramifications for its suffering people as well as India and Pakistan.

It is quite unfortunate that the international community has not yet realized the seriousness of the situation in Kashmir. Pakistan also has been a bit late in comprehending its gravity. It was only on September 20 that the Senate adopted a resolution urging the international community to take notice of “Indian repression in occupied Kashmir.” The unanimously passed Senate resolution “urged the United Nations, European Union and international bodies and community to play their due by forcing the aggressive Indians to comply with the UN resolutions calling for holding of a plebiscite.” The country’s National Assembly, in a separate resolution, expressed similar solidarity with the Kashmiri people.

Trying New Options

If one outcome of Indian high-handedness on Kashmir is the ongoing popular protest that has engulfed the entire Valley of Kashmir since June, Pakistan’s reverting to the traditional UN-plebiscite-based stance on Kashmir is another. During the initial phase of the peace process between India and Pakistan, which began in January 2004, the military-led regime of President Gen. Pervez Musharraf had opted to seek a resolution of the Kashmir dispute beyond the UN Security Council resolutions. For the purpose, Islamabad had floated creative ideas such as demilitarization of the region and a semi-autonomous status for the Valley of Kashmir—in fact, a settlement that revolved around freezing the Line of Control.

For years, at least privately, the Indian officials have suggested a similar option for Kashmiri resolution. However, somehow, the Kashmir question has become such a psychological problem for India’s successive regimes that they have been unwilling to treat it as an internationally-recognized regional political dispute. That is why New Delhi is not willing to commit to any negotiating process that involves Pakistan and representative Kashmir organizations as main parties to the dispute of Kashmir under the UN Security Council resolutions.

In a situation where one of the main parties to the conflict—namely, India—is not prepared to move an inch from its hardened stance of not negotiating the dispute with the other two parties and not even ready to accept any international mediation for its resolution, it is but natural for extremist-terrorist organizations to exploit the consequent political void and worsen the already serious regional security environment through their terrorist activities in India or inside the disputed Kashmiri region.

Al-Qaeda has already announced it plan to target the Commonwealth Games in India. The September 19th terrorist attack on two Taiwanese journalists in New Delhi may be a part of this plan, especially considering the fact that it coincides with the political unrest in Indian-administered Kashmir. Syed Saleem Shehzad ofAsia Times, while quoting al-Qaeda-linked militant sources, reported recently that al-Qaeda aims “to escalate their activities in Indian cities and tap into the mass uprising in Kashmir.”

The recent attack in Delhi, according to him, was claimed by the little-known Indian Mujahideen, which earlier had claimed other attacks in India that were later proven to be al-Qaeda's operations. “Now, though, after nine years the war in Afghanistan is a shambles and most regional state and non-state players read that either the US will make an honorable exit next year by recognizing the Taliban as the major political force, or the war will drag on and the US will eventually have to make an exit anyway, albeit a dishonorable one…This perception of the failure of the American war has gradually reshaped the political dynamics of the region.”

Shehzad also argues in his report that India is unlikely to agree to any or all of the conditions put forth by APHC’s hardline leadership. “Pakistan, meanwhile, is in no position to revive the Kashmiri armed struggle, given its preoccupation with militancy in its tribal areas and heavy US pressure to remain focused on that area. However, al-Qaeda does not aim to miss an opportunity. According to militant sources, al-Qaeda will step up strikes in Indian cities in the coming weeks to spur the anti-India movement in Kashmir, which will eventually be taken into al-Qaeda's broader regional theater.”

Contrary to India’s Claim

Kashmir is burning again. And, contrary to all of India’s previous claims, the current uprising in Kashmir is neither terrorist in nature nor is it being instigated by Pakistan. Confining it to only an issue of mal-administration by the government of the “State of Jammu and Kashmir,” as the rulers in New Delhi do, amounts to doing injustice with the long-suffering people of Kashmir. India cannot run away from the gory reality in Kashmir.

However tragic it may be, but what is currently happening in the disputed territory can translate into a moment of truth for Kashmir people, as well as the states of India and Pakistan. If the international community responds to the call of Kashmiri leaders, including the creative joint offer by Mirwaiz Farooq and Yasin Malik of establishing “Kashmiri Committees” in both India and Pakistan, which is reinforced further by a unanimous resolution passed by the Pakistani Senate, then there is no reason why the beginning of a lasting peace in Kashmir cannot be made now.

To prevent further radicalization of the Kashmir dispute, especially its hijacking once again by al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorist organizations, it is important for Indian leadership to consider seriously, for a change, what the two Kashmiri leaders have proposed in detail in a memorandum to the members of the all-parties Indian delegation.

“This (setting up of Kashmir committees) will ensure that all major political forces in India and Pakistan are on board with the peace process and it will help institutionalize and sustain the process to resolve the Kashmir problem…On our part we are ready and willing to engage and sustain a meaningful and irreversible process of dialogue designed to avoid the failures of the past and to jointly develop and implement a solution to the Kashmir dispute that is acceptable to all sides — India, Pakistan and above all the people of the State,” the memorandum says.

It adds: “To create a beginning and to sustain the process of dialogue we need to create a process in which all views and options — most of all Kashmiri aspirations will be considered and explored before arriving at an acceptable solution…Let resolving the Kashmir dispute in accordance with aspirations of the people of Jammu and Kashmir become a Common Minimum Programme shared by all political parties in India and in Pakistan…Let this process be transparent and designed to deliver a negotiated solution to the Kashmir issue that is mutually worked towards by and acceptable to all parties concerned.”

Time is Runing Out

It is about time sanity prevailed in India and its leadership moves quickly to resolve the long-standing Kashmir dispute with its two primary parties, the Government of Pakistan and the APHC, including all of its factions. The newest idea for the purpose has been floated by two important Kashmiri leaders of the disputed region. Some years ago, Mirwaiz had also announced another creative option; namely, the estab;ishment of the United States of Kashmir. There are other options on the table, including, of course, that of the UN-supervised plebiscite.

However, at the end of the day, it all depends upon the Indian leadership to show the due courage and resolve to at least sit with the other two parties to the dispute. Once a meaningful dialogue process begins, there will always be hope for resolving this 63-year old dispute. Time is really running out. If India did not budge from its hardnened stance on Kashmir, there is no reason why we may not see the second round of violent jihadi militancy in the region, threatening to sabotage the just right of the Kashmiris for self-determination.