Spearhead Analysis – 16.06.2017
By ShahBano Khan
Research Analyst, Spearhead Research
Kashmir, long known as paradise on earth, is now fast becoming a pinnacle of regional conflict, aggression, and violence. Although the land has been a bone of contention between the two nuclear-armed South Asian rivals India and Pakistan for many decades, it is only recently that the brunt of that conflict is donning a more sinister face than before: stone throwers are maimed and blinded with pellet guns, the right to congregate has been stifled going as far as to ban social media and internet services, free speech is being seen as dissent, political dialogue has been replaced with autocratic tyranny, and the right of a people to choose its own destiny has been made indistinct with state sponsored vehemence. While Kashmir as a whole has always been a sensitive region to contend with, it is the Indian Occupied side that is displaying symptoms of dissonance.
Primarily a territorial conflict between India and Pakistan, the Kashmir issue has caused three wars and several cross border skirmishes over time. While India claims the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir, Pakistan and in some instances China has repeatedly contested that position; India controls 43% of the region while Pakistan has about 37% under it. Yet the root of the present conflict though, largely centered in the Kashmir Valley, is tied to dispute over local autonomy based on self-determination.
Indian Occupied Kashmir has seen little democratic development in the last few decades, and most gains that were made in the last few election terms have now allegedly been reversed. Moreover, Indian security forces have been known to practice and employ mechanisms of torture on the majority Muslim population living in the region. Calls for independence and self-autonomy have made a solid case against human rights abuses committed on the local population: extra judicial killing, rape, torture, and enforced disappearances have become a norm.
Last year, in an encounter with the Indian security forces a Kashmir based Hizbul Mujahideen fighter Burhan Wani was killed. Wani, a popular young figure amongst Kashmir’s youth, would advocate against Indian rule on social media. His death led to widespread protests, the worst since the 2010 Kashmir unrest, leading to 90 deaths while over 15000 civilians and more than 4000 security personnel were injured. Kashmir was under a complete curfew for 53 days consecutively.
In the days and months that followed Wani’s death, Kashmir’s political landscape and its subsequent relation with the Indian state was not only transformed but became a subject of local, regional, and global debate. To start with, within Indian Occupied Kashmir itself calls for independence have taken on new energy. Freedom fighters of the 90s operated under a different protocol; the more unrest there existed the more the Indian state looked for dialogue processes simultaneous with its tight grip over the region through its Armed Forces Act of 1990. As Jammu and Kashmir has a multi-party democratic system of governance, and as per the power-sharing agreement, the last few governments in the region have been a coalition. Yet, for a generation that has lived under the contradiction between theoretical laws and tangible regulations, their calls for freedom go well beyond a re-engagement with the Indian state. This new generation seems to be more motivated, determined, and clear headed against occupation forces of India. While they are unarmed with sticks and stones, their will seems to be gigantic in the face of oppression and control.
Inside India, the political and security establishment has vehemently refused to engage in any kind of authentic dialogue or peace process that would enable communities inside its occupied territory to realize some semblance of political and social dignity. In fact, the BJP government has constantly used Kashmir as a launching pad to aggrieve Pakistan. Last year in a well-orchestrated speech, Prime Minister Modi went as far as to equate Kashmir with Pakistan’s Balochistan following Islamabad’s campaign to highlight state-sponsored atrocities in Indian Occupied Kashmir. Modi has been in denial of the centrality of the Kashmir dispute to the normalization of ties between the two countries. Not only that, by reducing space for a democratic dialogue with the people of Kashmir the Indian state has instead promoted outright radicalization of the region. Many disillusioned end up joining right-wing religious forces that yield more power in the face of a seemingly secular state of India.
Yet within India there is also a chorus of saner voices that have come to the aid of the Kashmiris. Writers, thinkers, poets, journalists, intellectuals, and even many politicians have resisted the state’s version of events and have rallied behind the Kashmiri people. Most have been termed as ‘Pakistan sympathizers’, a cardinal sin in Modi’s India. A Congress leader Digvijaya Singh argued that the Hindu nationalist BJP “wants Kashmir without Kashmiris..the difference between the stand of the BJP and Congress is that while Congress wants Kashmir along with the Kashmiri people, the BJP wants Kashmir without Kashmiri people. How can you have Kashmir without Kashmiri people?” Singh said at a press conference at the Congress state headquarters in Panaji.
But while this is the state of the Kashmiri struggle and its relationship with the Indian state, Pakistan maintains its moral support to the self-determination struggle of the Kashmiris. India has shown disregard for the resolutions of the UN Security Council and the United Nations Commissions in India and Pakistan by failing to hold a plebiscite to determine the future allegiance of the state. In addition, Pakistan has noted the widespread extra judicial killings in Indian Occupied Kashmir while claiming they were caught in encounters with militants. These encounters largely go unnoticed and uninvestigated by the authorities. A recent leaked video shows an Indian army vehicle using a Kashmiri youth as a human shield by tying him against the jeep’s bonnet. The video is still being ‘verified’ by the Indian army. It is instances like these that have forced the Kashmiris to use violence and unrest as the only way to counter blatant abuse of power.
Yet, this elephant in the room has not been documented by the international media enough. In fact with hardly any air time, the Kashmir issue has gone from bad to worse as the Indian state has not only become complicit it is also very confident in its handling of the situation. So when Sushma Swaraj says that dialogue with Pakistan is only possible after Pakistan stops supporting the violence in Kashmir she is not only acknowledging the centrality of the Kashmir dispute but also indirectly asking for Pakistan’s help in bringing Kashmir under Indian control—this is like asking for the moon. India refuses dialogue because it could and would lead to the determination that Pakistan is extending no tangible support to the youth revolt in Kashmir against Indian policy and atrocities. Dialogue could also pave the way towards a formalized cease fire on the LOC and a joint mechanism for investigating terrorist incidents. India wants a situation in which it can keep the LOC active and carry out false flag operations that it can blame on Pakistan.