Kashmir has for long been the prickly point of Indo-Pakistani relations. Both parties want the heavenly paradise of Kashmir; this has been the contentious issue for decades. Situations have only volleyed towards the worse- tumultuous relations and widening cracks being projected on the upfront by separatist activities. What is more concerning is the fact that Islami propaganda that features the demand of an Azad Kashmir is gaining momentum; it has clearly secured vital traction with the youth masses. This is a perennial conflict, and no amount of international intervention can resolve the matter, at least for the next few decades to come.
Welcome to Kashmir 2.0, the Land of Revolution and Violence.
On July 8th, 2016, the “Che Guevara” of the Kashmir revolution- Burhan Wani- was shot dead by the Indian Armed Forces. Within minutes, social media was abuzz with the news of his death, spreading like wildfire in a forest of dry leaves. The youth of Kashmir seemed to overflow with emotions of contempt over such an action by the forces, and separatist parties called for an unparalleled showdown in the Valley. And since then, the revolution has taken a course of its own: Over the last couple of years, a lot has been said on the national media about Kashmir and its multifarious flaws. The mess is a precarious mix of frustration, coupled with a loss of identity and dishonour of the Kashmiri pride. The more one tries to play the escapist card, the deeper they fall in the trenches of an ever-broadening political conundrum.
As the April 2017 elections approached, separatist organisations, including the umbrella organisation, the All Party Hurriyat Conference, called for a unilateral boycott. This was nothing new, and on previous occasions, most Kashmiris ignored the instructions and turned out to the polls in substantial numbers. This time, however, even the capital city, Srinagar, saw a precipitous decline in voter turnout. A mere 7.14 percent of the eligible electorate turned up to the polls during the first week of April—the worst showing in three decades. Violence was so widespread in the other constituency, Anantnag, that one of the candidates asked the election commission to postpone the election until late May, which it did. As a part of the research work that precedes any article, I came across a quote from an IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt:
Anantnag bypoll cancelled. A government that can't even hold a by-election in Anantnag, is dreaming of holding on to the Kashmir Vallley! 🙁
— Sanjiv Bhatt (IPS) (@sanjivbhatt) May 2, 2017
Why is there such a furore, such an uprising? Why are the Kashmiri people incensed, and why are pseudo-nationalists digging so deep into matters they have only a superficial idea of? Is Kashmir a lost case, or is Kashmir the paradise that always belonged to India? While answers to all the questions are relative (as is everything in the world of political science), they are all inter-linked. The root of the conflict between the Kashmiri insurgents and the Indian Government is tied to a dispute over local autonomy. Politics Now will break down the labyrinthine situation in Kashmir for you to digest and understand.
Armed Forces and Human Rights
Protests that erupt periodically in Kashmir have often overwhelmed Indian police for decades. So much so, that the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF)- a special unit designed to undertake counterterrorism operations- has to be involved in law enforcement duties. The involvement of the CRPF marks a definite failure of the Jammu and Kashmir Police to maintain adept law and order in the State, and more importantly, reflects a lack of will on part of the State leadership to provide necessary training to bring the State cadre to a bare minimum level of institutional credibility. The CRPF is known for using crowd-control methods that are at best controversial, including pepper sprays, pellet guns, and even live ammunition.
International human rights groups have condemned such ruthless use of brute force on ordinary civilians on the mere basis of suspicion. Concrete evidence is not required in the valley to sanction the use of such force; ground situations vary and the magnitude of repressive measure deployed depends on the decision made there. These unorthodox weapons of crowd-control have caused serious injuries and have deprived hundreds of proper vision. Moreover, manufacturing standards themselves state that accuracy in such guns cannot be cent per cent: in all, such blatant statements clearly give us an imprint of the number of casualties caused due to such misfired ammunition. Several litigations were filed in the State High Court to review the use of such non-powder ballistic guns. In a landmark ruling in mid-September, the Jammu and Kashmir High Court denied an explicit ban on the use of pellet guns, but made it clear that it must be employed only in “rarest of rare cases”. The trouble is, “rarest of rare” in Constitutional terms is ambiguous.
Many Kashmiri men have endured routine harassment, been subjected to degrading interrogation, and been detained without trial for indefinite periods of time – Sumit Ganguly, Foreign Affairs
Such incidents as stray bullets killing civilians are bound to have chain reaction effects. The ramifications are perilous: families of victims would perceive the death of civilians as an attempt by the Government to suppress their voices of dissent. Perhaps, they too wish and dream of a Kashmir wherein the State is just another part of the country. Perhaps, they too wish to serve in Government offices. Perhaps, they too have academic ambitions as high as any other societal cream would. However, their aspirations are crushed by the reality of the gory present- and hence the cycle of depression, destruction and death continues.
The Pakistani Factor
Islamabad’s glee is evidently visible as the violence in mainstream Kashmir worsens. Pakistan has always viewed Kashmir as a land to be annexed. Right after partition, it had sent in Pashtun tribesmen from the North-Western Frontier Provinces (NWFP) to destabilise the State under the then Maharaja of Kashmir, Hari Singh. The last public attempt at annexing Kashmir was made back in late 1998. The Inter-Services Intelligence Agency was covertly training insurgent groups to infiltrate the LOC and cross over to Indian-Occupied Kashmir. As reports followed, Pakistan denied any involvement, but subsequent confirmations from operating chiefs and substantial evidence found from operatives captured alive showed direct involvement of the Pakistani establishment. On international pressure from diplomatic circles, Pakistan finally had to withdraw in mid-1999, and with that, the Kargil War was declared over.
However, the taste of humiliation has not gone down well enough for Pakistan- and it is burning to take revenge on its border rival, India. The problem with Pakistan is that it maintains an observable reluctance in prosecuting terrorists operating from its own soil. Of course, in politics, the word “terrorist” has no meaning- Masood Azhar to Pakistan is a hero, while in India we castigate and lambaste the person as a perpetrator of consequential attacks. Pakistan seeks Kashmir for more reasons than religious demographics- the control of water resources is a powerful option that it would like to keep in its hands.
Such covert support in fanning extremist propaganda to the other side of the border seems to be working well for Pakistan. Kashmir, already boiling with the domestic turmoil due to perceived oppression from the Armed Forces, has received a catalyst in the form of separatist leaders who have no other agenda but to spread their own prejudiced ideas. Let us all take a moment and speak the language the common man speaks: If all they want is azadi, why on earth are they staying here? A close look at the resume of the sons and daughters of these reveals the narrow-mindedness of their goal. Their families stay in safe havens across the globe. Hypocrisy gets a brand new definition when these people incite incensed Kashmiris to take up the gun against the State.
— Major Gaurav Arya (Retd) (@majorgauravarya) May 6, 2017
Hands tied up
The Kashmir dispute is nothing new, it has existed since the dawn of independence. As such, drastic actions cannot be quickly contemplated and enforced due to a stringent set of guidelines that govern the functioning of the State machinery in Jammu and Kashmir.
Upon independence, princely states within the Dominion of India had to voice their assent to be integrated into the Indian Union. To be a part of the Indian Union, the precondition was that the Indian Constitution had to adopted in the State over the Constitution of the Princely State. If Kashmir was yet another princely state in India, why did the Government enact the Article 370, which provided the State with incredulous amounts of autonomy? The answer lies in the history textbooks: On ascension to the Indian Union, Jammu and Kashmir refused to enact the Constitution of India. Such an obstinate move left New Delhi manoeuvring new tactics to keep the State integrated. Dr BR Ambedkar, the principal drafter of the Indian Constitution, had outrightly rejected such an attempt to assign Jammu and Kashmir a special status. However, the task was taken up by Gopalaswami Ayyangar, on the insistence of Nehru. It was meant to be a temporal measure, an act which would help facilitate the smooth transfer of the State from an autocracy to a democracy under New Delhi’s control.
Article 370, coupled with the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) that has for long been enforced in the State, make a draconian duo. While Article 370 restricts the Parliament from altering demographical characteristics and redrawing of border lines, AFSPA permits the army to have a free run in the State. The army can search and arrest any person without issuing a warrant and can open fire without major consequences. This deadly combination of repressive acts have for long been the source of discontentment in the State circles. However, the political brass defers any reference made and/or call to abdicate AFSPA from Kashmir, since it is a delicate issue and the Army would best know how to deal with it (or so do they believe).
The Way Forward
After the heinous Pulwama attack recently on a convoy of the CRPF that left 40 of its jawans dead, the entire nation has united in mourn and grief for the aggrieved families. Contributions have poured in from every level of the society. But the problem is long from solved: While the Army has successfully eliminated the top brass of the JeM from the State, a lot many militants will expectedly spring up soon. How do we deal with the militancy problem?
At present, the ground reality looks grim. I doubt how far such a strategy of repression might work out. The government has been staunch on its stand to use brute force in case of any objection to using of any of the aforementioned methods of combating terrorism by cross-border elements. The third world countries in the postmodern world cannot afford any such dramatic climax that leads to a standoff between two nuclear-capable countries. Before writing the article, I went through a treacherous number of videos posted by Kashmiri militants, in order to gauge the perspectives on both sides. The fact remains thus that the militants have increased, which is in keeping with the proportion of sentiments of avenging deaths of close ones. As an independent researcher, I have found facts contrary to what the national media airs: the police force has also crossed limits on a good number of occasions. Disappointment and public exasperation due to such instances of the police mercilessly beating up innocent civilians have also contributed largely to the spark in violence.
The government must, therefore, devise a different strategy. The primary step to advancement is to outlaw the Hurriyat. Till date, every government has tolerated the Hurriyat so as to show that India values the fundamental rights such as the freedom of expression and speech. However, these nefarious agents are the ones who are involved in anti-India activities. In one of my previous articles on illusory nationalism, I had regretted the fact that the volley of sedition cases being slapped indiscriminately was hardly justifiable- if calling for pelting stones at the Army to stop the government is not sedition, I do not know what the government considers as sedition. The Kashmir Valley is reeling from a brutal onslaught of terrorism and suspension of democratic logistics. Curfews have curbed all freedoms, and every person of Kashmiri origin has been compelled to shame and suspicion. The State also has to ensure that educational institutions are not affected as a part of Valley shutdowns- because closing the gates of such institutions would only exacerbate the situation for the worse. A week before the article was written, schools had shut down due to fear of clashes between the police and the civilians. Such acts would create doubts in the minds of children who would question the intentions of the State and would feel insecure being a part of India. Thus, places of educational interest must be kept open under any circumstances, a fact that the Jammu and Kashmir High Court has repeatedly argued for. Also, although difficult, constant efforts must be made to provide reasonable employment opportunities- a Directive Principle of the State policy- to all citizens residing within its territorial lines. Employment would reduce the problem of militancy as it would cut off active support bases from being harnessed again for illicit purposes.
I keep my fingers crossed in the hope that one day, high-running tensions of today would return to the normalcy of yore. Some day, Kashmir would be trouble-free, a heaven for tourists, an asset for India. Some day, when Kashmiris would no longer be discriminated upon and Kashmiri arts such as carpets and blankets would flourish again. I keep my fingers crossed, to realise Amir Khusrau’s words again, someday:
Agar firdaus bar roo-e zameen ast,
Hameen ast-o hameen ast-o hameen ast.
(If there is a paradise on earth,
It is this, it is this, it is this)