Putting Kashmir on the Agenda

On February 11th, the BBC reported that an Indian soldier opened fire in the Poonch district of Indian-Administered Kashmir, killing three of his own colleagues.  Such incidents have not been uncommon in Kashmir, where the daily mental stress of facing a brutal and gruesome reality conquers all, both civilians and soldiers alike.  The Indian troops-to-Kashmiri people ratio in Kashmir is the largest soldiers-to-civilians ratio in the world.  There are approximately 600,000 Indian military personnel–including regular army, para-military troops, border security forces and police–currently deployed in Kashmir.  This is in addition to thousands of “counter-militants” –the militant thugs and goons the Indian government has put on its payroll to crush the indigenous mass uprising which has been holding ground for more than a decade now.

What is so disturbing about the tragedy of Kashmir is that, after more than 50 years of British withdrawal from the Subcontinent, and after two major wars and constant fighting and skirmishes along the Kashmiri line-of-control which separates India and Pakistan, the problem is still receiving no attention at the international level.  At present, the two nuclear powers in South Asia are foolhardily lined up to go to war and one can certainly expect that if and when fighting begins, it will begin in Kashmir.  The Kashmiri issue has been compounded by several factors.  One is the common perception that the issue is simply one of a disputed territory between India and Pakistan.  The Indian government, most of the time, even refuses to go this far; they will only regard it as an internal issue.  However, the State of Jammu and Kashmir has historically remained independent and Kashmiris, regardless of their religious background, have shared a common culture and heritage.  Having said that, it is true, as the late Eqbal Ahmad pointed out, that Kashmir’s Muslim population has “suffered great discrimination, injustice, and oppression at the hands of the maharaja of Kashmir put in power by the British.”  Periodic revolts erupted against the various maharajas of Kashmir by mainly the oppressed Muslims, but also including other minorities who shared their Muslim compatriots quest for justice and freedom. 


The origins of the current dispute on Kashmir can be traced to the partitioning of the Subcontinent into India and Pakistan in 1947.  According to the instruments of partition of India, the rulers of princely states were given the choice to accede to either India or Pakistan, or to remain independent. They were, however, advised to accede to the contiguous dominion, and to take into consideration the wishes of their own people.  In Kashmir, however, the Maharaja hesitated.  The principally Muslim population, having seen the early and covert arrival of Indian troops, rebelled and things got out of the Maharaja’s hands.  The people of Kashmir were, undoubtedly, also “aided” by tribal forces from Pakistan in their rebellion.  The Maharaja, realizing that his government could not withstand the popular insurgency, eventually gave way to Indian pressure and agreed to join India by, as India claims,  ‘signing’ the controversial Instrument of Accession on 26 October 1947.  Kashmir was provisionally accepted into the Indian Union pending a free and impartial plebiscite.  This was spelled out in a letter from the Governor General of India, Lord Mountbatten, to the Maharaja on 27 October 1947. In the letter, accepting the accession, Mountbatten made it clear that the State would only be incorporated into the Indian Union after a reference had been made to the people of Kashmir. 


In 1947, India and Pakistan went to war over Kashmir.  During the war, it was India which first took the Kashmir issue to the United Nations on 1 January 1948.  The following year, on 1 January 1949, the UN helped enforce a ceasefire between the two countries.  The ceasefire line was later renamed as the Line of Control after the 1971 India-Pakistan war.  It is interesting to note that the UN Security Council passed several resolutions in years following the 1947-48 war all with the mutual consent of India and Pakistan. The UNSC Resolution of 21 April 1948–one of the principal UN resolutions on Kashmir–stated that “both India and Pakistan desire that the question of the accession of Jammu and Kashmir to India or Pakistan should be decided through the democratic method of a free and impartial plebiscite.”  Subsequent UNSC Resolutions reiterated the same stand. United Nations Commission on India and Pakistan (UNCIP) Resolutions of 3 August 1948 and 5 January 1949 reinforced the UNSC resolutions.  India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru made a pledge to resolve the Kashmir dispute in accordance with these resolutions.  The sole criteria to settle the issue, he said, would be the “wishes of the Kashmiri people”.  Sadly, however, this pledge would be violated by Prime Minister Nehru soon after the UN resolutions were passed.  Kashmir was formally incorporated in the Indian Union and Article 370, which gave ‘special status’ to ‘Jammu and Kashmir’, was inserted in the Indian constitution.  The ‘Jammu and Kashmir Constituent Assembly’ was created on 5 November 1951 to endorse the Indian decision to annex Kashmir.  This was done in direct contravention of various resolutions of the UNSC and UNCIP and the conditions of the controversial Instrument of Accession. 


Ever since, India’s rulers have repeatedly broken their promises to the Kashmiri peoples.  In 1989, the situation in Indian-Occupied Kashmir underwent a qualitative change.  In that year, disappointed by decades-old indifference of the world community towards their just cause, threatened by growing Indian state suppression, and in protest against massive rigging of state elections by the Indian government, the Kashmiri peoples rose in revolt against India.  Since then, the situation in the occupied territories of Kashmir has further deteriorated. Not only has the Indian military presence in the disputed land increased exponentially, the reported incidents of killing, rape, loot and plunder of its people by Indian security forces have also quadrupled.  To crush the Kashmiri freedom movement, the Indian state has employed various means of state terrorism, including a number of draconian laws, massive counter-insurgency operations, and other oppressive measures.  Indian human rights violations in Kashmir include indiscriminate killings and mass murders, torturing and extra-judicial executions, and destruction of business and residential properties, molesting and raping women.  These have been extensively documented by Amnesty International, US Human Rights Watch-Asia, Physicians for Human Rights, International Commission of Jurists (Geneva)–and, in India, by Peoples Union for Civil Liberties, the Coordination Committee on Kashmir, and the Jammu and Kashmir Peoples’ Basic Rights Protection Committee.  Despite repeated requests over the years by world human rights organizations such as the Amnesty International, the Indian government has not permitted them any access to occupied territories. In 1997, it even refused the United Nations representatives permission to visit there.  Independent reports estimate that close to 60,000 civilian have died in Kashmir since 1989.


Now, let’s look at the other side of the Line of Control.  The situation in Pakistan-held Kashmir, what’s called “Azad Kashmir” (Free Kashmir), is better, but not great.  This side of Kashmir has its own local, autonomous government and does have relative control over local affairs and decisions.  However, Pakistan controls its foreign affairs, defense, and trade and commerce.  In practical terms, therefore, its autonomy is severely restricted.  About three million Kashmiris live in Azad Kashmir, and another 2 million Kashmiris have become refugees in other parts of Pakistan because of the violence and fighting along the border with India.  The official Pakistani position on the Kashmir dispute is “less lethal” than India’s, as Eqbal Ahmad points out, because it offers the Kashmiris a plebiscite, but only giving them the option to choose between India and Pakistan.  What is entirely dropped off from discussion is the Kashmiri position itself, the position of about fifteen million people, who have been demanding their right to self-determination and freedom from all imperial rule.  Pakistan has been able to avoid the type of mass uprising occurring in Indian-Occupied Kashmir because of: a) its willingness to grant some form of autonomy to Kashmir and b) its, at the very least, rhetorical commitment to accept whatever decision the people of Kashmir may make in a free and impartial plebiscite.  India, on the other hand, has decided to impose its rule on the Kashmiri peoples without reservation and without any regard to their wishes.


The tragedy is that not only is Indian state terror being ignored today, it is in fact being tacitly endorsed by the powers-that-be in world affairs.  The United States war on terrorism seems to have given an open “license to kill” to countries that are fighting against popular insurgencies.   Both Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Indian Prime Minister A. B. Vajpayee are using anti-terrorism rhetoric (and practice as well) to suppress Palestinian and Kashmiri movements for national liberation.  Although Sharon’s Israel is using more sophisticated weaponry to crush opposition in Israel’s Occupied Territories, Vajpayee’s India wins in the number of civilians killed per day category in Indian-Occupied Kashmir.  With increased Israeli-Indian military and intelligence cooperation, and a growing U.S.-Indian strategic alliance, there is much to fear about the future of Kashmir.


 It seems that there are two primary reasons why this problem has so far not been on the agenda of progressive forces.  First, it has generally been conceived of as a dispute over real estate between two nations.  Second, when the most recent mass uprising started against Indian occupation in 1989, it was launched in the name of human rights, self-determination, freedom, and democracy.  However, within a couple of years, the freedom movement came to be appropriated by Pakistan-based Islamists who gave the struggle a communal and sectarian face, and who tried to change the direction of the movement.  As a result of these two reasons, the progressive forces with South Asia and elsewhere have looked at this movement with suspicion, seeing it as retrogressive and reactionary. 


Alas, it is now time to re-anchor the movement to its original foundation.  If our media wants to play along with the U.S. Government in ignoring the brutal Indian military occupation of Kashmir, why do we have to do so also?  If two countries want to portray the conflict as an issue of “disputed territory,” why do we have to buy into their imperial game?  I believe we have fallen into this trap far too long.  Just as we have finally awakened to the criminal injustice being perpetrated against the Palestinians, we must also feel the same moral revulsion against the “wholesale” Indian state terror, as well as the “retail” jihadi terror, against the Kashmiris.  Like the Palestinian issue, Kashmir is also essentially one of international law, human rights and human dignity, and self-determination and freedom of a people of fifteen million.  I urge activists to take the moral and humane stance of defending UN resolutions on Kashmir, which call for the demilitarization of Kashmir (through withdrawal of all outside forces), followed immediately by a plebiscite under UN supervision to determine the future status of Kashmir.  Let us not keep ourselves ignorant of this issue any longer.  Self-determination for Kashmir should be considered part of the broader struggle for emancipation of all oppressed peoples, particularly those which are facing state oppression and military occupation.

Junaid S. Ahmad is a social activist and medical student in Norfolk, VA. He can be reached at:  junaid.ahmad@cox.net


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