The impasse that is the land of Kashmir – which Allama Iqbal described as “heaven on earth” – has shown little signs of abating, with only escalations insight.
On October 21st, thousands of demonstrators marched on a village in Kulgam, where Indian forces were battling an unaccounted number of suspected Kashmiri fighters. This led to a shootout in which Indian troops killed at least 14 youths and injured at least 30 others in the Laroo area of the Kulgam district, in an attack that included pillaging and destruction of the neighborhood, according to local police and military officials in the vicinity. Amongst the dead were two Kashmiri youths who were martyred after an unexploded bomb planted by Indian forces went off whilst they were removing debris off a destroyed house.
This comes after a six-month pregnant woman named Firdousa was killed on October 19th in the Pulwama district. Prime Minister Imran Khan has strongly condemned the resurgence of violence in Indian-occupied Kashmir (IoK) by Indian troops:
India took the Kashmir case to the United Nations (UN). Nothing can be more ironic than the fact that it is India which is averse to the UN intervention on Kashmir issue. New Delhi’s denialism and its corporate media’s frozen mindsets are main impediments in the Kashmir resolution.
During M K Gandhi’s visit to Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian administered Kashmir, in August 1947, declared that he had,
On August 14, 1947, the erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir were one of the 562 princely states under the suzerainty of the British Crown which were not a part of British India. On the lapse of paramountcy on the transfer of power, Jammu and Kashmir became independent and was free to accede to either of the two dominions, Pakistan and India or to remain independent.
An Amnesty International India report has now called for an independent and impartial investigation into the killing of civilians as a result of the blast in the aftermath of the Kulgam encounter. Their Executive Director Aakar Patel reiterated that whenever there is any direct or indirect violence between security forces and armed groups, it is imperative that innocent civilians do not become collateral damage because their safety should be a priority.
The Kashmir dispute has plagued regional and international discourse pertaining to South Asia since 1947, when the Partition of Pakistan from India took place and thereafter Kashmir was either to be a sovereign independent land for the Kashmiri people or adjoin Pakistan or India, depending on the will of the Kashmiri people. The option for exclusive independence was never really entertained in any official Partition documents or international agreements brokered by the British between Pakistan and India. What was put on the table was that Kashmir would become part of either Pakistan or India, and the lack of a resolution was followed by decades of war and violence.
A recent report by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) highlights the wide range of ongoing serious human rights violations and patterns of impunity in IoK, particularly from July 2016 to April 2018.
Whilst the report documents in detail the human rights violations taking place via the auspices of India and Pakistan, there is no doubt that an unbiased and objective analysis of the report would lead to the conclusion that most of the violations are being committed by India. In particular, the OHCHR has been alarmed by the frequent reports of increasing infringements of the ceasefire agreement since 2018, including shelling and shooting that have resulted in civilian casualties and the forced displacement of people living along the LoC, and has called on both states to cease all shelling and firing along the LoC to ensure the rights of civilians living in these areas are respected and protected.
The OHCHR report was produced relying on a lot of authenticated secondary and verified sources due to the restrictions on access to Kashmir imposed by both governments. It thus recommends to the Human Rights Council the consideration and possible establishment of a commission of inquiry to conduct a comprehensive independent international investigation into allegations of human rights violations in Kashmir, making 17 core recommendations to the authorities in India and seven to the authorities in Pakistan.
For India, this includes respecting international law and repealing the Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act of 1990, which allows effective immunity from prosecution for Indian army personnel committing human rights violations in IoK. In this non-exhaustive list, emphasis is placed on respecting international conventions as well as respecting the right of the Kashmiri people to self-determination.
For Pakistan, this includes respecting international human rights law obligations and ending the misuse of anti-terror legislation for peaceful protestors, as well as releasing any political activists, journalists and other civil society actors who have been convicted for peacefully expressing their opinions.
However, despite the widespread international awareness raised on the plight of Kashmir since its publication, the report and its findings have been categorically rejected by the Indian authorities, and the recent spike in violence only further reaffirms the need to open the doors of dialogue between Pakistan and India.
In his inaugural address to the nation, Imran opened the doors of dialogue to India and attempted to bring a state of civility and cooperation to the diplomatic relations between Pakistan and India by stating,
“If India takes one step forward, Pakistan will take two.”
There would have been no better international forum to commence bilateral talks again than the recently held session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). Instead, Indian Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj cancelled at the last minute and used her address to dish out unhelpful vitriol against Pakistan by accusing it of harbouring terrorists, in effect shutting the door to any constructive dialogue and hope for friendly relations between the two high powered nuclear states. The shutting of the diplomatic door by India was further demonstrated during a meeting of the members of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) where Swaraj refused to engage in any dialogue with the Pakistan Minister of Foreign Affairs Shah Mehmood Qureshi, who was in attendance at the same meeting and had given a powerful speech at the UNGA on the plight of Kashmir.
This prime opportunity to engage in constructive dialogue after a new government was elected in Pakistan was squandered due to political point scoring by Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in order to appease their political base at home through anti-Pakistan rhetoric as elections loom in India.
Now, as Pakistan observes Black Day today to express solidarity with the people of occupied Kashmir in their peaceful struggle for their right to self-determination, major western states such as the US and the UK refuse to engage in any meaningful brokering on the issue by dismissing it as a bilateral issue between Pakistan and India. There is no doubt that involvement from a credible, independent, neutral and powerful nation-state is required to facilitate and broker a lasting peaceful resolution for the people of Kashmir. Whether that country is the US, China, UK, or any other appropriate neutral arbitrator willing to put their name into the hat, one thing is for sure: until the international comity of nations recognises that the resolution of the Kashmir dispute will not materialise via bilateral negotiations but will require multi-lateral oversight based on international law, treaties and human rights obligations, the desperate plight of innocent civilians in IoK will ensue, as aptly demonstrated by the regular resurgence of violence in Srinagar and the Kulgam district.
If Pakistan can play the role of a mediator in the tragic three-year long Saudi-Yemen war, a power nation such as China, which also stands to benefit, can do the same in the case of the Kashmir dispute.
Zahiruddin, Srinagar based veteran Kashmiri columnist, in one of his recent pieces argues that Jammu and Kashmir was an independent state from August 14, 1947, to October 26, 1947. Referring to an important case of 1953, ‘Magher Singh versus State of Jammu and Kashmir’, which was heard by a division bench of the State High Court, he writes that the bench comprising Janki Nath Wazir and Justice MA Shahmiri delivered a “landmark judgment”. The bench laid down that Jammu Kashmir was an independent state from August 14 to October 26, 1947.
In a broadcast to the Indian nation on November 2, 1947, independent India’s first Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, said,Let me make it clear that it has been our policy all along that where there is a dispute about the accession of a State to either Dominion, the decision must be made by the people of the State. It was in accordance with this policy that we added a proviso to the Instrument of Accession of Kashmir.” – (White Paper on Jammu and Kashmir, p. 45)
In his broadcast on All India Radio, the Indian Prime Minister also said,
“We have declared that the fate of Kashmir ultimately has to be decided by the people. That pledge we have given, and the Maharaja (Maharaja Hari Singh) has supported it, not only to the people of Kashmir but to the world. We will not, and cannot, back out of it.”
Prior to this, Nehru had assured the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Liaquat Ali Khan, on October 31, 1947, that India’s pledge to hold a plebiscite in Kashmir on whether it should accede to India or Pakistan “is not merely a pledge to your government but also to the people of Kashmir and to the world.”
Sixty-nine years after partition, a plebiscite in Kashmir remains a moral imperative, besides being a democratic necessity. More so, after the renewed romantic rebellion and Palestinian-style Intifada post-Burhan Wani uprising spearheaded by the fifth generation of Kashmiris, which has resulted in the brutal killing of 92 unarmed civilians, 15,000 injuries, over 800 pellet injuries in the eyes, scores of blinding and maiming, 7000 arrests and registration of 2300 FIRs against youth, which mostly include teenagers, in Indian-administered Kashmir
In 1995, the Outlook India magazine commissioned a survey in the Kashmir Valley. The Outlook-MODE poll found that “the quest for freedom in Kashmir remains undiminished”.
The poll established beyond doubt that the yearning for azaadi (freedom) remains as intense.
“A whopping 77 % are firm in their belief that a solution to the Kashmir problem does not lie within the framework of the Indian Constitution, and a clear 72% say categorically that it is independence alone which can bring peace in the violence-riven Valley.” – (Outlook India, Issue October 1995)
Ramchandra Guha, eminent Indian historian and political commentator, describes the present government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi as “most anti-intellectual” India has ever seen.
In an interview with NDTV’s Barkha Dutt in a programme Buck Stops Here in September 2016, public intellectual Guha, while speaking on identity politics drew parallels between the Kashmir issue and Tamils in Sri Lanka.
“The Sri Lankan’s treatment of Tamils is like the Indian treatment of Kashmiris — harsh, arbitrary, involving the excessive use of force and denying local autonomy. At the same time, those who are protesting against discrimination (both the Tamils in Sri Lanka and the Kashmiris in India), while they have legitimate grievances have expressed these grievances too much through the vehicle of armed struggle and the assassination of rivals and the purging of minorities, the Tamil Tigers purged Muslims and Kashmiri Muslims purged Kashmiri Pandits. It is a complex problem. The large party of the blame lies with the states, the Indian state and Sri Lankan state.”
Some parallels can be drawn between the two conflicts: Northern Ireland and Kashmir, both taking place within electoral democracies (United Kingdom and India). Firstly, like the violent guerrilla warfare between the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and the British troops, there is an on-going armed rebellion against Indian rule in Kashmir since 1989.
Though the levels of violence have significantly dropped over the years, the deadly encounters between Kashmiri militants and the Indian army have not completely ended. Also, the IRA is in some ways comparable to the Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), a pro-freedom group which launched the armed movement in 1989 and limited its role to political struggle after 1994.
Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front, a former guerrilla outfit fighting for Kashmir’s independence, led by its chief commander, Mohammad Yasin Malik, announced a unilateral ceasefire on May 21, 1994, to pursue its struggle through political means. Around the same time, on August 31, 1994, the IRA announced “complete cessation of its military operations.”
Secondly, just as a draconian law, called the Special Powers Act (SPA), gave the authorities exceptional powers to arrest, detain without trial, and suppress political dissent in Northern Ireland, the Indian army has also been enjoying impunity and complete immunity from prosecution in Jammu & Kashmir under the shield of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) since June 1990.
The PDP-BJP government arrested Kashmir’s leading human rights defender Khurram Parvez under draconian Public Safety Act and also banned publication of a prominent Srinagar based English daily, Kashmir Reader, on flimsy grounds.
Brutal suppression to kill dissent in Kashmir has not worked for the last seven decades. It is unlikely to work in the future too. No country in the world has produced weapons that can kill genuine political aspirations. There is India’s denialism, language of power, media propaganda, war mongering and argument of military might, but Kashmiris have power in their argument.