Kashmir Valley has been in turmoil over the past two months with tens of thousands taking to the streets in protest against killings of civilians by the Indian State which is seen as an occupying power by many of the people in Kashmir valley. Since the recent unrest started, at least 32 civilians have been killed and several hundreds injured, many of them due to Indian security forces firing into the unarmed crowd of civilian protestors. This review article examines the recent unrest and the historical roots of the present turmoil and argues that there is a genuine freedom struggle going on against the repressive Indian State by the Kashmiris who are alienated equally with India, Pakistan and the militants and whose grievances have their historical roots in the events of 1947.
Kashmiri women protest in
Tens of Thousands protest in
"Go India, Go Back"
"We’ll take bullets on our heads but we’ll not give up."
- Tens of thousands of Kashmiris chanting slogans at a rally August 4,2010.
Kashmir Valley has been under brutal military occupation since a popular insurgency erupted against the Indian Rule in 1989. The once serene and lovely Kashmir Valley with its gorgeous mountains and rivers, which inspired generations of poets to eulogize its beauty, has now become a Valley of Blood. At least 40,000 people have been killed since insurgency began in 1989, according to conservative official estimates. Unofficial estimates are well over 80,000-half of them are civilians. Thousands of Indian soldiers have been killed and it costs billions of dollars to keep the security forces in Kashmir. Since June 2010, a fresh round of protests have erupted in the Valley since the killing of an innocent boy Tufail Ahmed by the Indian ‘security’ forces. These popular protests have been met with brutal repression by the Indian State leading to a cycle of violence with more unarmed protesters killed and some protesters engaging in arson and stone throwing as an expression of their anger at the repression. Predictably, the Indian State authorities have chosen to blame the unrest on Pakistan and project this popular anger out of context and blame these victims of repression to justify more killings by the State.
A young Kashmiri I had met in Srinagar some years ago made a sharp remark which hit me hard: "We look upon your Indian State exactly as you Indians used to regard British Raj before 1947: as Imperialist Occupiers." The heavy Indian military presence around every city block was menacing. She narrated in chilling detail the humiliations Kashmiris had to endure on a daily basis from the Indian presence:
arbitrary cordone and search, arrests, torture, rape, custodial and "encounter killings". There is one soldier for every 10 Kashmiris in the Valley and daily life is a nightmare for the ordinary Kashmiri. No wonder there is little love for the Indian State in the hearts of many Kashmiris. The total alienation and hatred of the population is best summed up by the graffiti on the walls of Srinagar alleys: "Indian Dogs Go Home".
Kashmiri activists claim that India and Pakistan have historically treated Kashmir conflict as a mere land dispute completely ignoring their legitimate grievances. Ever since May 1998 nuclear tests by both countries, Kashmir has become a nuclear flashpoint besides bleeding the economy of the two impoverished countries. Pakistan for its part, claims that it is merely giving "moral and diplomatic" support for an indigenous freedom struggle in Kashmir despite the fact that Pakistan-backed militants have killed numerous kashmiri civilians. The Indian State continues to insist that all would be well in Kashmir but for Pakistan’s cross-border terrorism and the mainstream Indian opinion continues to be along these lines which indirectly sanctions the Indian State’s hardline repressive rule in Kashmir which has ravaged the lives of millions of people. Who is right and how did we get here and can we understand this tragedy amidst the nationalistic rhetoric on either side?
Genesis of the conflict: The genesis of this bloody dispute dates back to the events of 1947 when India and Pakistan became independent from British Rule. The State of Jammu and Kashmir(J&K) was ruled by a much-hated tyrant Hari Singh who was oppressive against the majority Muslim population.When the famous poet and philosopher Muhammad Iqbal, himself of Kashmiri origin, visited Srinagar in 1921, he wrote a couplet succinctly summarizing the plight of poor Muslims under repression: In the bitter chill of winter shivers his naked body
Whose skill wraps the rich in royal shawls. Kashmiris had begun a liberation movement in 1931 under the leadership of the charismatic leader Sher-i-Kashmir (Lion of Kashmir) Sheikh Abdullah which marked the beginning of a strong Kashmiri Nationalism. The vacillating Hari Singh was compelled to accede to India under threat of invasion from Pathan tribesmen backed by Pakistan. In theory, the Rulers of the Princely States were allowed to accede their States to either India or Pakistan, irrespective of the wishes of their people; But as a practical matter, they were encouraged to accede to the geographically contiguous Dominion, taking into account the wishes of their people and in cases where a dispute arose, it was decided to settle the question of accession by a plebiscite, a scheme proposed and accepted by India. Being a Muslim majority State and contiguous to Pakistan, Kashmir was expected to accede to Pakistan; since the Hindu Ruler acceded instead to India, a dispute arose in the case of Kashmir.
The Promise Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Indian Prime Minister hailed from a Kashmiri Hindu(Pandit) family whose ancestors had lived in the lush-green Kashmir Valley(Vale) and hence had a great deal of emotional attachment towards the Vale(as can be inferred from the beautiful poems he had written comparing the Vale to a beautiful woman). Besides, he was a great friend of Sheikh Abdullah to the extent that when the Lion of Kashmir was arrested by Hari Singh for his Quit Kashmir movement in 1946, Jawaharlal had rushed to his rescue braving imprisonment. Hari Singh signed the Instrument of Accession(IOA) document replete with smudges and strikes on 26th October 1947. Following the accession of Kashmir to India, Nehru promised the Kashmiri people in a famous speech at Lal Chowk in Srinagar that their wishes would be consulted in a plebiscite or referendum regarding the future of J&K. Naturally he was confident that the popular leader Sheikh Abdullah would be helpful in convincing his people to choose India in a plebiscite to be held in future and thus his beloved Vale would remain the Jewel in the Indian Crown. He would repeat this promise time and again in various speeches from 1947-1951 and the 1948 Indian White Paper clearly records that the accession of Kashmir to India is provisional until such time as the will of the people(self-determination) of the State could be ascertained by a plebiscite. Some of the aging locals i met in Kashmir still remember the promise of plebiscite given by Jawaharlal Nehru in an emotional speech at Lal Chowk Grounds in Srinagar more than half a century ago. The strongly nationalistic Kashmiris were fearful of joining India given the communal holocaust raging elsewhere in India during the Partition. This is clearly articulated in a famous speech by Sheikh Abdullah on 22nd October 1947 where he explains the apprehension of the Kashmiri Muslims in joining India, given the massacre of muslims in Kapurthala and elsewhere in India. However, Abdullah would consent to provisional accession to India on 27th October clearly stating that it was an ad-hoc accession ultimately to be decided by a plebiscite. Throughout the next few decades, he would continue to oscillate between a pro-India position and demand for self-determination, constantly torn between his friendship with Nehru and promise to his people.
The Plebiscite Conundrum Following the first Kashmir War in 1947-48, India and Pakistan agreed to a ceasefire and did sign the 1948 and 1949 UNCIP resolutions agreeing to a plebiscite to be carried out in 3 stages: Ceasefire; Truce Agreement followed by a Truce Stage; Plebiscite Stage. However, a plebiscite was never carried out due to differences in interpretation of the resolutions, some of them being- Procedure for and extent of demilitarization; Whether actual withdrawal of Pakistan’s troops is to be done before or after the Truce Agreement. This is the origin of the famous Indian accusation, "Pakistan did not withdraw the troops first". Further, India would resist plebiscite efforts from 1954 citing Cold War alliances between Pakistan and the US. Both India and Pakistan criticize each other for the failure till date. Who was the real culprit? Whoever it was, Kashmiris would consider this as a breach of promise by India and denial of self-determination.
Elections: Substitute for Plebiscite? The Indian State continues to argue that elections held in J&K since 1951 are effectively a substitute for a plebiscite- that people have come out and voted and indicated acceptance of the Indian Rule. However, Kashmiris reject this argument saying that they were merely voting to elect leaders for local day to day governance, that the larger question of self-determination has been denied and that in any case the elections have been rigged since 1951 and that the Center was effectively installing local puppets in the State and ruling indirectly. The fact that every single Assembly election in J&K since 1951 till date has been rigged(with the possible exceptions of 1977 and 2002 which were relatively free and fair. Even they have been marred by allegations of rigging and coercion) has been meticulously documented by reputed Kashmiri activists like Prem Nath Bazaz. The election farce has been captured succinctly by none other than B.K. Nehru , who was Governor of Kashmir from 1981 to 1984, in his memoirs published in 1997. "From 1953 to 1975, Chief Ministers of that State [of J&K] had been nominees of Delhi. Their appointment to that post was legitimised by the holding of farcical and totally rigged elections in which the Congress party led by Delhi’s nominee was elected by huge majorities."
Article 370: Autonomy or Erosion of Rights? In 1949, the Indian Constituent Assembly adopted Article 370 of the Constitution, ensuring a special status and internal autonomy for Jammu and Kashmir with Indian jurisdiction in Kashmir limited to the three areas namely defence, foreign affairs and communications. This was confirmed by Abdullah in 1952 Delhi Agreement and the State was allowed to have its own flag. Much has been made out of this allegedly special status for J&K with the Hindu Right demanding abrogation of Article 370. In reality, Article 370 which was envisioned as a temporary measure till self-determination, has been seriously eroded over years with the collusion of local puppet Ministers installed in rigged elections, by extending various articles like 356 and 357 to the State, by virtue of which the Centre can assume the government of the State and exercise its legislative powers. Today, Kashmiris are worse off than people in other States in many respects: having been denied self-determination, Article 370 eroded and repressive acts such as Armed Forces Special Powers Act which lead to arbitrary arrests, torture and killing of thousands of innocent civilians. Such trampling of democratic rights planted the seeds of a second wave of Kashmiri Nationalism: Jammu and Kashmir National Liberation Front (NLF) was founded by Amanulla Khan and Maqbool Butt in the late sixties, which would later become JKLF and would play a major role in the 1989 insurgency.
1989: Popular Insurgency or Terrorist movement? With the rising discontent against the Indian Rule:
long promised and denied self-determination, erosion of autonomy, consistently rigged elections and lack of employment opportunities, the 1987 rigged election was a watershed event in the Kashmiri politics. The Muslim United Front(MUF) candidate Mohammad Yousuf Shah was imprisoned though he was on the lead and he would later become Syed Salahuddin, chief of militant outfit Hizb-ul-Mujahedin (Hizb). His election aides (known as the HAJY group) – Abdul Hamid Shaikh, Ashfaq Majid Wani, Javed Ahmed Mir and Mohammed Yasin Malik – became disenchanted with the electoral farce and joined the JKLF. Thousands of young disaffected Kashmiris in the Valley were recruited by the JKLF and a full-fledged Freedom Movement against the Indian Rule began in 1989. The insurgency was not only militant but also popular – Hundreds of thousands of unarmed people marched on the streets of Srinagar between January and May 1990 demanding a plebiscite. This popular insurgency was brutally handled by the hardline Governor Jagmohan by firing indiscriminately at unarmed demonstrators. An officially estimated 10,000 desperate Kashmiri youth crossed over to Pakistan for training and procurement of arms.
What was Pakistan’s Role? Pakistan has long held the resentment that Kashmir, which rightfully belonged to it as a Muslim majority State, was snatched from right under its nose by a clever India. Hence Pakistan has invaded Kashmir/India and gone to war four times over Kashmir in 1947, 1965(Operation Gibraltar), 1971 and 1999(Kargil). Pakistan had hoped that Kashmiris would rise against the Indian Rule in 1965 following Operation Gibraltar, but that did not happen. Thus, when a full-blown indigenous insurgency erupted in 1989, Pakistan was only too happy to take advantage of the golden opportunity and would fuel the insurgency enormously by supplying arms and training to both indigenous and foreign militants in Kashmir, thus adding fuel to the smouldering fire of discontent in the valley. The pro-independence JKLF had a secular agenda and this was not to be tolerated. After all, Pakistan has not been too keen on the independence option and would love to have Kashmir to be part of Pakistan and thus backed the Hizb which favoured accession to Pakistan and played a role in decimating the JKLF by cutting off financing and in some instances provided intelligence to India against JKLF. JKLF eventually declared a ceasefire in 1994 and remains a political group. Militant groups with Islamic agenda would proliferate through the nineties and have eventually hijacked the indigenous Kashmiri movement. Today, roughly the indigenous Kashmiri fighters account for only one-third of the total number of militants.
The Human Toll: As mentioned earlier, the human toll has been of horrendous proportions. According to official handouts [PTI release, 13 September 1998], which tend to be conservative in the number of civilians killed by the security forces and mostly exclude thousands of custodial killings, 2477 civilians had been killed by Indian security forces between 1990-98; 6673 civilians and 1593 security personnel had been killed by the militants including 982 Hindus and Sikhs . Number of people missing since 1990 runs over 3000, according to J&K Govt’s official release. The Kashmiri Pandits have borne the brunt of this bloody conflict as well- they were forced to quit the Valley in a massive exodus in 1990 and many of them still languish in the refugee camps in Jammu and Delhi. As of June 1999, an estimated 400,000 troops and other federal security forces were deployed in the Valley, including those positioned along the Line of Control (LoC) ; There is roughly one soldier for every 10 Kashmiris and the people suffer from the brutality of the Indian occupation on a daily basis: arbitrary arrests, torture, rape, custodial and "encounter" killings, exacerbated by the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and Disturbed Areas Act with draconian powers and thousands of dreaded renegade militants used by India. This is not to suggest that militants have been angelic. They have committed similar human right violations and killings as well and innocent civilians are caught in the cross-fire between the militants and Indian security forces. However, there is an important difference between Militant and State Violence: the latter is an order of magnitude more repressive than the former for an equal number of killings, because the hapless people have no one to run to.
Is the Kashmiri Movement communal? The Kashmiri Freedom movement is often portrayed as a communal movement where Kashmiri Muslims are pitted against the Hindus, but this is far from true. There is a rich tradition of Kashmiriyat – a composite cultural identity with the glorious traditions of communal amity, tolerance and compassion – in the Valley dating back several centuries. In fact, when communal holocaust had been raging in Jammu, Kapurthala and elsewhere in India in 1947, Kashmir Valley was quiet and 5% Pandit minority totally safe. In 1990, when Pandits felt insecure given the killings of innocent community members, secular JKLF tried to explain that the killings of prominent Pandits were not communal but merely for political reasons like media bias and sentencing of Maqbool Butt. Kashmiris came out in large numbers and demonstrated in support of their Pandit brethren as they still do every time innocent Hindus are killed, as witnessed in the 2003 massacre at Nadimarg. There have been instances of Muslims helping build temples for Hindus- an example being the village of Ichhigam in Budgam. What is clear is that Kashmiri civilians are not communal by and large and Kashmiriyat continues to flourish. What is not clear is: who are these communal forces which target minority Hindus periodically? It could be jihadi militants with an Islamic agenda; It could be Indian sponsored renegade militants to communalize the conflict. Opinion remains divided. Only an independent investigation by an impartial agency can reveal the true identity of these killers. Kashmiris have repeatedly demanded inquiry into these killings by unidentified gunmen and it continues to be ignored.
Is there a solution? India continues to insist that the accession of Kashmir to India is final and complete; Till recently, Pakistan had insisted on the implementation of UN resolutions- a unitary plebiscite for the whole of J&K; Kashmiris are alienated from both countries given brutal repression by India and violence by pro-Pakistan militants. Is there a solution to this seemingly intractable issue? One reason why previous efforts to solve the problem have failed is this: India and Pakistan have not included Kashmiris as a legitimate party in tripartite unconditional dialogues. Many observers think that UN resolutions are out-dated, since the dispute has evolved into tripartite. That other regional solutions should be considered given that various regions in Kashmir have evolved independently since 1947 and that the conflict is restricted to the Kashmir Valley whose area is less than 16% of the total area of Indian controlled J&K. One compromise regional solution which could potentially work was proposed by eminent historian Alastair Lamb in 1998 called Andorran Solution and a similar variant was proposed by the Kashmir Study Group. Following the well established precedent of Andorra on the border between France and Spain, both Azad Kashmir and the Kashmir Valley could be declared as autonomous regions with its internal self-government but with its external defence and foreign affairs controlled jointly by India and Pakistan. Major advantage of this Andorran solution: No territory under Indian control would be transferred to Pakistan and no territory under Pakistani control would be transferred to India. Existing LoC will become the border. India retains Jammu and Ladakh, Pakistan retains Northern Territories.
Hearts and Minds It is high time India reconsidered its continuing policy of holding Kashmir at gunpoint to showcase its secular credentials to the world. It is imperative that India puts an end to its present brutal occupation of the Valley and implements confidence building measures to restore the people’s trust. That will bring down the incidents of militancy considerably. Whatever be the final solution, it is worthwhile remembering the emotional speech made by Jawaharlal Nehru (ironically the very same leader who played a major role in the origin of the dispute, by way of his sentimental attachment to the Vale) in Lok Sabha on August 7, 1952: "..Ultimately – I say this with all deference to this Parliament – the decision will be made in the hearts and minds of the men and women of Kashmir; neither in this Parliament, nor in the United Nations nor by anybody else …"