By Gazi Hassan
The modern history of Kashmir conflict can be traced back to the Partition of India and the subsequent creation of two new dominions viz. Hindu 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’ with India in the wake of an ‘incursion’ by the tribal raiders of Pakistan. The question whether Kashmir is a part of India or not remains a debated one.
The current political status of Kashmir is that it is divided between India and Pakistan. For India, 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 the Kashmir issue as a ‘law and order’ problem and portrays it internationally as an internal problem. On the other hand, Pakistan terms Kashmir as an ‘unfinished agenda’ of Partition.
However, beyond its political dimensions, Kashmir is a humanitarian issue. The decades of unrelenting conflict in the bowl-shaped Himalayan territory has left more than 80, 000 people dead. Hundreds of thousands have been orphaned and widowed. As many as 10, 000 civilians have been enforced to custodial disappearance, rights groups estimate.
The conflict in Kashmir is never ending. It ebbs and flows. An instance of this is the uprising that began on July 8, a day after Eid celebrations, following the killing of the famous Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Muzaffar Wani. For India, Burhan was a ‘wanted terrorist’ but his killing galvanized the entire Kashmir region. His death was celebrated as that of a ‘hero’—hundreds of thousands participated in his funeral procession despite curfew and restrictions in place. What followed Burhan’s funeral i s the result of a protracted hatred for India—a sentiment that runs deep in the disputed region. Armed forces responded with iron fist, resulting in the killing of 90 people. Hundreds have been blinded in the eyes by the use of pellet guns by forces, the count of wounded civilians is more than 12000. From the very start of the cu uprising, the government imposed Section 144; the Valley has remained under curfew for three months.
The current uprising had a close affinity with the ones which erupted in 2008, 2009 and 2010 in the sense that the protestors confronted gun-wielding forces with stones. Such uprisings are driven by unarmed protestors, a departure 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 protestors engaging fully-equipped forces.
Today’s Kashmir witnesses mass demonstrations with even women and children leading from the front. The slogans Hum kya chahae?Azaadi! (What do we want? Freedom!)and Aai zalimo aai kaatilo Kashmir hamara chho’d do(O’ you tyrants and murders, leave our Kashmir) are famous vocal symphonies.
What is the cost of all this? Why have Kashmir and Kashmiris continued to undergo such great pain and trauma? I think the sole reason for this suffering is that Kashmir is a dove that is caught between two hunters.
India and Pakistan are 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 sort of conflict in or along the territory will affect all the 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 the civilians in the Jammu and Kashmir who have already endured immense suffering.
A complete media blackout prevailed on Kashmir during the uprising. Indian news channels did not telecast news on the Kashmir issue. Phone networks, internet services were cut off in the Valley.
For long, Indian Army has been resorting to oppression of Kashmiri population with impunity. The highly controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act(AFSPA) was enacted in Jammu and Kashmir in 1990 when the insurgency was at 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 this Act in Kashmir and the north east regions. Pakistan has, time and again, raised the issue of gross human rights violations by Indian forces in Kashmir at an international level. India responds by arguing that these are its internal matters.
The main problem India faced in Kashmir was how to ‘calm’ down the crisis. Indian armed forces launched Operation Calm Down in Kashmir to settle things down. This was done by sending additional 47 CRPF companies to contain the crisis. However, these approaches are merely short term ones. Given that the conflict refuses to die, India should start looking for alternatives to army deployment. India should consider demilitarization of the region, sending military back to barracks, revoking AFSPA, strengthening Article 370 and giving autonomy among other things. India should work on building trust between Kashmiris and people outside Jammu and Kashmir. Kashmiris should also contribute and cooperate in bringing this conflict to an end. Resorting to violence is not an answer to the conflict. Political elites 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 unbiased third party as mediator for resolving the conflict. Unless prudent conflict resolution paradigms are not adopted, Kashmir will always remain simmering with implications and consequences beyond the region.
—The author is a Research Scholar of International Studies at Jamia Millia Islamia, and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org