Issues

Kashmir Crisis: The Way Forward

Gazi Hassan

The modern history of Kashmir conflict traces back to the Partition of India and the subsequent creation of two new dominions viz., secular India and Muslim Pakistan. During this period the autocratic Dogra ruler Hari Singh was at the helm of affairs in Kashmir who entered into an accession agreement with India in the wake of an incursion by tribal raiders from Pakistan. The question whether Kashmir is a part of India or not still remains a debated one.

The current political status of Kashmir is that it is divided between India and Pakistan. For Indians, the part of Kashmir under the control of Pakistan is Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) while the other half of Kashmir under India’s control is termed as Indian-held Kashmir(IhK) by Pakistanis. The Indian state treats Kashmir issue as a “law and order” problem and internationally portrays it as an internal problem. On the other hand, Pakistan terms Kashmir as an “unfinished agenda” of the Partition. However, beyond its political dimensions, Kashmir is a humanitarian issue. The decades of unrelenting conflict in the bowl-shaped Himalayan valley have left more than 80, 000 people dead. Hundreds of thousands have been orphaned and widowed. As many as 10, 000 civilians have been subjected to custodial disappearance, rights groups estimate.

The conflict in Kashmir never stops. It ebbs and flows. Like the current uprising that began on July 8, a day after Eid celebrations, following the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Muzaffar Wani. For India, Burhan was a “wanted terrorist”, but his killing galvanised the entire Kashmir region. His death was mourned as that of a hero-hundreds of thousands participated in his funeral procession despite a curfew in place. What followed Burhan’s funeral is the result of a protracted hatred for India-a sentiment that runs deep in the disputed region. Armed forces responded with an iron fist, resulting in the killing of 90 people. Hundreds have been blinded with pellet guns by forces, and the count of wounded civilians is more than 12,000 in the last three months of the uprising. From the very start of the current uprising, the government imposed Section 144; the valley has remained under curfew for three months. As I write this, the mayhem and curfew continue.

The current uprising has a close affinity with those which erupted in 2008, 2009 and 2010 in the sense that the protesters confronted gun-wielding forces with stones in hands. Such uprisings are driven by unarmed protesters, a drift from the modus operandi of militant groups that used to function during the ‘90s. Many have noted that the “struggle for freedom” in the region has turned from being violent to non-violent since 2008 with unarmed protesters engaging with fully-equipped forces.

Today’s Kashmir witnesses mass demonstrations with even women and children leading from the front. The slogans Hum kya chahate? Azaadi! (What do we want? Freedom!) and Aai zalimo aai qaatilo Kashmir hamaara chho’d do (O’ you tyrants and murders, leave our Kashmir) are famous slogans.

What is the cost of all this? Why have Kashmir and Kashmiris continued to undergo such great trauma?I think the sole reason for this suffering is that Kashmir is a dove that is caught between two hawks.

India and Pakistan are the two nuclear-powered nations located in South of Asia. China, though not part of South Asia, borders India on northern and eastern side, is also a nuclear power. This shows how nuclearized the region is. Escalation of any conflict in or along the territory will affect all other countries in the region. Kashmir has become a nuclear flashpoint between the two countries. India and Pakistan have gone to war over Kashmir four times since 1947,making it vulnerable for future skirmishes. An escalation would be devastating not only for the conflicting parties but also for civilians in Jammu and Kashmir who have already endured immense suffering.

A complete media blackout has been prevailing in Kashmir. Indian news channels do not telecast news of the Kashmir issue. Phone network and internet services are cut off in the valley. For long, Indian army has been resorting to oppression of Kashmiri population with impunity. The controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act(AFSPA) was implemented in Jammu and Kashmir in 1990 when insurgency was on its peak. It is an act of the Indian Parliament which grants special powers to the armed forces in disturbed areas. Indian armed forces have misused it in Kashmir valley and India’s north-east region. Pakistan has, time and again, raised the issue of gross human rights violations by Indian forces in Kashmir at international level. India responds by arguing that these are its internal matters.

It has been three months now and the situation in Kashmir is no way near normal. Protesters continue to clash with the Indian forces. People are getting killed, blinded and injured. It is ironical to see people outside Jammu & Kashmir not taking note of such a suffering. Internationally, too, the killings by the Indian armed forces are not condemned. A major stakeholder, Pakistan has been most vocal of the atrocities on Kashmiris. However, as the Kashmir issue was getting attention in international fora, an Indian army base in Uri sector of Kashmir, bordering Pakistan, was attacked on September 18. In the assault, 18 Indian soldiers were killed along with four terrorists. Internationally, the attack on the Indian army base was condemned. As usual, India blamed Pakistan for the attack. And as usual, Pakistan refuted the charge. India and Pakistan were supposed to lock horns at the annual United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on September 21.  Conspiracy theory views this incident the other way round: Pakistan claims that India stage-managed the attack in order to divert attention of international community from its human rights violations in Kashmir valley. Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif raised the issue in UNGA and hailed Burhan Wani as the “young leader” of Kashmir. India, on the contrary, gave a befitting reply. It raised the human rights issues of Baluchistan and appealed to the international community to declare Pakistan a “terrorist state.” UNGA didn’t back either of them. In fact UNGA urged both countries to resolve the conflict bilaterally, through dialogue.

India then started isolating Pakistan internationally. It has started reviewing the Indus Water Treaty of 1960. Pakistani newspapers comment that India has begun to cripple Pakistan economically. It has called off the 19th SAARC summit scheduled in November in Islamabad, Pakistan. Countries like Bhutan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan followed. Pakistan was left with only one option and that was to postpone it. India has recently claimed that it has avenged Uri attack by carrying out “surgical strikes” inside Pakistan across LoC, killing several terrorists. Although Pakistan confirmed the “unprovoked firing” from Indian side as an “existential phenomenon,” it didn’t acknowledge a surgical strike as claimed by India. Nevertheless, Pakistan has confirmed that two of its soldiers have been killed in the cross-border firing.

The main problem India is facing in Kashmir is how to calm the uprising. Indian armed forces have launched Operation Calm Down in Kashmir to settle things down. This was done by sending additional 47 CRPF companies to contain the crisis. As they have been unable to calm things, the situation on the ground is getting worse by the day. India should start looking for alternatives to army deployment. It should consider demilitarisation of the region, sending the military back to the barracks, revoking AFSPA, strengthening Article 370 and giving Kashmir autonomy, among other things. India should work on building trust between Kashmiris and people outside Jammu and Kashmir. Kashmiris should also contribute and co-operate in bringing this conflict to an end. Resorting to violence is not an answer to the conflict. Political elite on all sides should make efforts to bring all the stakeholders to the negotiating table for a comprehensive dialogue. If it is possible parties to the conflict with consent should look for an unbiased third party as a mediator for resolving the conflict. Unless the above recommendations are adopted, nothing tangible can be achieved.

The author is a research scholar in International Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. He may be reached at gazi_ktr@yahoo.com

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 November 2016 on page no. 2

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