India is losing Kashmir

Top LeT Commander Abu Qasim Killed In Kashmir
SRINAGAR, – OCTOBER 29: Kashmiri villagers carry the body of top Lashkar-e-Taiba commander Abu Qasim during his funeral procession on October 29, 2015 in Bugam district Kulgam some 75 km from Srinagar, Kashmir. Police on Thursday claimed that the most wanted LeT Commander Abu Qasim was killed during an encounter in Khandaypora area of Kulgam district, south Kashmir. (Photo by Waseem Andrabi/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

Kashmir has been simmering in decades of conflict since the partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947. The violence reached its peak in the 1980s and ‘90s, when the Pakistan-backed Kashmiri insurgency was at its strongest. By the early 2000s, however, the violence seemed to have abated, and there was hope for a peaceful settlement of the issue. But now, optimism for such a peaceful settlement is dwindling. As Kashmir has seen a resurgence in violence, public support for the insurgency also seems to be increasing. India is losing whatever support it had among the general Kashmiri public, and this trend will continue unless it brings about a radical change in its Kashmir policy.

Following the 1947 partition, the political status of the formerly independent princely state of Kashmir was left largely contested by both Pakistan and India, which led to the establishment of the Line of Control (LoC), dividing Kashmir between India and Pakistan after a U.N.-backed ceasefire. However, there were aspirations for political independence among some Kashmiris. By the late 1980s, such aspirations had taken the shape of an armed revolt, backed by Pakistan, against Indian rule in Kashmir. India responded with a massive crackdown on the militants, deploying over half a million soldiers in Kashmir, often leading to grave human rights violations.

The violence of the late 1980s and 1990s, which claimed thousands of lives, began to recede at the beginning of the new millennium, as people gained faith in the dialogue process. In the following decade, militancy-related causalities decreased significantly from 4,507 in 2001 to 377 in 2009. A major factor that contributed to the decline in the violence was the endorsement of the dialogue process by India’s then-Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, which led to the historic Lahore Declaration in 1999, in which both India and Pakistan committed to the peaceful resolution of the Kashmir issue. The repeated efforts of the Vajpayee government to bring the pro-separatist Hurriyat political party and even the Hizbul Mijahideen militant group to the table for talks led to a ceasefire. The option of autonomy within the ambit of the Indian constitution offered by Vajpayee further fed the optimism for a peaceful settlement with India. This political shift resulted in a relative calm over the ensuing years, with tourism and business in Kashmir flourishing.

However, a civilian uprising in 2010 and India’s brutal response signaled a shift in the political climate. In the subsequent years, there has been a new surge in Kashmiri youth taking up arms against the Indian establishment. Most of these young people are educated and come from well-off families in Kashmir. These youths – who are mostly joining Hizbul Mujahideen – are garnering huge support from the general population, and are increasingly attracting more and more peers to join their ranks. The face of this new insurgency has been Burhan Muzaffar Wani, a young, social media-savvy militant who openly poses for pictures with automatic assault rifles in hand and shares them on Facebook, drawing a huge number of sympathetic comments. He has since released audio and video messages inviting other young Kashmiris to join the insurgency and fight the Indian establishment. During a 2011 gunfight in Pulwama in southern Kashmir, locals threw stones and bricks at Indian soldiers in a bid to help a trapped militant escape the cordon. This has become commonplace to the point where security forces have sought to implement Section 144 of India’s criminal procedure code, which prohibits the gathering of people around an “encounter site” within a radius of 1.2 miles. On Feb. 21, local civilians were seen defying these restrictions when they marched towards such an encounter site in the southern town of Pampore, again hurling stones at the security personnel.

In October of last year, Abu Qasim, a top commander of the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba – believed to be responsible for several attacks on the Indian Army including the 2013 Hyderpora ambush – was killed. A sea of people attended his funeral procession. Authorities confirmed that militants also attended the funeral and fired a three-volley salute to honor his death. As if this were not enough, people from the villages of Khandaypora and Bugam clashed with each other over “the honor” of burying his body in their respective villages. Then, in November, an armed conflict between militants and the Indian Army broke out in the Manigah forests of Kupwara in Indian-administered Kashmir, lasting 27 days, killing two Indian soldiers, and leaving six others injured. The General Officer Commanding (GoC) of the Indian Army’s Srinagar-based 15 Corps stated that the militants were getting supplies from the locals in the area. In yet another incident, nearly 25,000 people attended the funeral procession of Shariq Ahmad Bhat, a member of the Hizbul Mujahideen militant group, who was killed in Pulwama district on Jan. 20 of this year. Militants were seen firing their AK-47 rifles in salute. The growing participation of locals in insurgency-related events suggests resurgent support for militancy in Kashmir, which has set alarm bells ringing in the Indian security establishment. The renewed support is so strong that even the president of the Kashmir High Court Bar Association, Mian Abdul Qayoom, recently indicated his support for the insurgency, saying, “We can also use [the] gun as a last resort, and it is no offence under [the] U.N. Charter.”

During a November 2014 visit to Kashmir, discussions with locals revealed that Kashmiris point to the Indian government’s policies for the resurgence in violence. Many were of the opinion that India has not been honest in resolving the political problem of Kashmir. “India asked us to give up arms and come to the table, and we did it. What happened next? Nothing,” said one Kashmiri. “When the situation in Kashmir was bad during the ‘90s, India repeatedly said that dialogue is the way forward to the Kashmir problem and not violence. And now that India has strengthened its hold here, they say there is no political problem at all,” said another.

People usually point to civilian uprisings in 2008, 2009, and 2010 as the major turning points. Local disgruntlement towards India intensified among the general public after hundreds of civilian youths were killed during these protests. India could have done some damage control by punishing the cops involved in shooting at the unarmed protesters and by following the recommendations of a government-appointed panel. Instead, the government chose to disregard the recommendations and continued to insist that Kashmir was an “internal issue.” India’s policies of curbing political space for Kashmiris by keeping the massively popular Hurriyat leaders like Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Shabir Shah and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq under constant and repeated detention has further  damaged its reputation with the local population. In September 2015, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) had invited Geelani to its annual meeting of foreign ministers in New York – India responded by suspending his passport for four weeks out of concerns that he would have raised the Kashmir issue.

India has repeatedly used the Public Safety Act (PSA) – deemed “a lawless law” by Amnesty International – to detain Kashmiri political leaders like Masrat Alam, who, on Dec. 31, 2015, was arrested for the 31st  time under the law. The detention came immediately after Alam’s release from jail following a High Court order overturning his earlier detention under the same law. In 2015 alone, 634 people, of whom 231 were students and 17 were minors, were arrested for anti-India demonstrations in Kashmir. The demolition of the offices of the Kashmir University Students Union, the imposition of a ban on student politics, and the repeated clampdown on internet and mobile SMS services have alienated Kashmiri youths in particular.

While the Vajpayee government welcomed any opportunities for dialogue – even allowing separatist Hurriyat leaders to hold talks with Pakistan – the current Modi government has taken a different approach. Modi has prohibited the Hurriyat leaders from meeting with Pakistani officials, citing the prohibition as a pre-condition for talks with Pakistan. This resulted in the cancellation of a meeting between the national security advisers of the two countries after Pakistan rejected the pre-condition. To many Kashmiris, India’s insistence on this pre-condition seemed to embody an effort to deny them a voice in the dispute. The repeated calls by various civil society and human rights groups for the repeal of draconian laws such as the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) – which gives sweeping impunity to the armed forces of India operating in Kashmir – have been met with a cold shoulder, as the Indian army has staunchly opposed any attempts to repeal it.

These kinds of reprehensible policies that the Indian establishment says are important to maintain peace in Kashmir have produced a disaffected Kashmiri population. And although it may appear to have strengthened its hold, India is losing popular support in Kashmir by sticking to its policy of focusing solely on economic development while maintaining the security status quo. In a vivid illustration of the problem, just a day after Indian Prime Minister Modi visited Kashmir last November and unveiled a $12 billion economic development package for the state, a 22-year-old Kashmiri man, Gowhar Nazir Dar, was killed by the Central Reserve Police Force. The resulting demonstrations carried on for days, with protesters across Kashmir combining to outnumber the attendees of the rally where Modi spoke.

At a time when the Islamic State is threatening to expand into Kashmir ­– even though it has found no buyers there for its message, thus far – there still remains a chance that the angry and agitated people who turn out in huge numbers at militant funerals could fall prey to its propaganda in order to fight the Indian establishment. For India to end this long quagmire of armed conflict with Kashmiris, it must shift away from its current policy and allow political space for Kashmiris. It should repeal its draconian laws like the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act and the Public Safety Act and punish soldiers involved in human rights violations. And, finally, India should work with Kashmiris and Pakistan alike to reach a viable solution so that peace may prevail. But until India realizes the damage it has done, the streets of Kashmir will reverberate with chants in support of its supposed martyrs, much like they did during the funeral procession of Abu Qasim.

This article was Published in Foreign Policy on May 5, 2016

India is Losing Kashmir


“Building Bridges in Open-air”

Like many other young Kashmiris I was ardently awaiting the developments in Kashmir pertaining to the announcement of a visit of Rahul Gandhi to Kashmir. The visit of this young Leader of Congress was kind of an euphoria for many of us in our minds. After all, here was a young man from India promulgating that his visit would be a different one. Different in the sense that he would be inclined to talk to the people of Kashmir, listen to what was the cause of them being heavyhearted and try to ameliorate the disgruntled voices of young Kashmiris. And like thousands of others I believed that surely the gaps were  going to be bridged.

Kashmir University where Rahul Ghandi was to hold an interactive talk  to the young minds of Kashmir remained abuzz with the word that this time it is going to mean business. Many were incontrovertibly sure that this time it was not going to be merely a talk of jobs, economic packages and those well versed and passionately delivered lectures but an emphatic  interactive session to address our feeling of alienation.

Many of my friends, deeming the opportunity, thought of asking this dynamic secretary of congress the questions that we have been asking among ourselves for the past 20 years, with no answers whatsoever. Why AFSPA, PSA, DAA, unmarked graves, 700,00 troops etc.

On the day almost 1500 students of Kashmir University defied the protest organized by the banned Kashmir University Students Union (KUSU) against Rahul Gandhi’s visit and went inside the convocation complex to seek answers to these long standing questions.

“But what happened before getting inside was vitiating as the students where malevolently advised by the authorities not to ask questions and that only a few selected students with pre-scripted questions were allowed” says my friend claiming anonymity.

All the expectations of this visit to be a historic one came crumbling down when a bunch of Indian business tycoons where seen sharing the stage with Rahul Gandhi. It again turned out to be the same old wine in a new bottle. Rahul talked about bridging the trust deficit that exists between Kashmir and Delhi but can we build confidence without addressing the issues that cause this deviance. He asked people of Kashmir to move-on, claiming that opportunities have come to our doorsteps in the form of these industrialists like Ratan Tata, Kumar Mangalam Birla, Rajiv Bajaj, Deepak Parekh and Ashok Reddy who he had brought along.

Kashmiri students in the hall started feeling skeptical and among themselves asked questions. Are the economic packages going to be the answer to our problems? Is Kashmir issue going to be resolved if Kashmiri youth get jobs in industries in India? Well no, Kashmir problem is a political one and not the economic  problem.

Rahul Gandhi tried to sideline the political grievances of Kashmir. He tried to “Build Bridges” in the open air without support underneath. The consequences were going to be obvious, The bridge failed miserably.

A number of students were seen leaving the convocation complex of Kashmir University in between and join the protests down in the lawns of University.

Published By CounterCurrent.Org on 18 October, 2012 and re-published by IndoCanada Outlook on November 1, 2012

“Steps to Peace in Kashmir”

Kashmir being one of the United Nation’s long standing issues needs to be resolved for the permanent Peace in Asia and particularly in Indian Subcontinent. What brings us to look for the Peace and resolution of this ethereal issue is that a modern society needs to be socially responsible. And, being the citizens of the modern world each individual amongst us needs to look for the prosperity of the people around him besides his own well-being. When we talk about the Peace process in Kashmir we must keep in consideration the definition of Peace in the context of a common Kashmiri rather than as a generalized term. And, the next step would be to understand and being empathetic  to the grievances of the people of Kashmir irrespective of their ethnicity or religion.  More importantly all the commentators on the Kashmir issue first need to understand the historical background and the Geo-political significance of the Jammu & Kashmir. When we talk of Peace in Kashmir we must lay emphasis on the different parties which can play together in many terms to bring solace to the People of Kashmir and ultimately Peace to the Land. These parties obviously include Pakistan, India and more importantly the Kashmiris themselves.

Being a Kashmiri student studying outside Kashmir I am oftenly asked some people about the issues in Kashmir and recently someone asked me ‘as a Kashmiri what would satisfy my demands’? If this question is asked to  any Kashmiri I guess the most oft answer would be ‘Azadi’ (Freedom). Azadi would be the ultimate goal that would commence the development of the political situation in Kashmir. But as far as the current situation is considered which should include the colossal position of the Indian forces in Kashmir we should try to gradually resolve the issue beginning with the procurement of the plans that would eventually churn the ultimate goal of the lasting Peace. Such steps are numerous which the government of India in collaboration with the Government of Pakistan and consent of the representative of the people of Kashmir can begin with. The first of such a measure that would come to the  mind of every Kashmiri is the repeal of the special powers that provide Indian forces with impunity from being tried in the court of Law for the violation of the Human Rights. Such power as provided by Armed Forces Special powers Act (AFSPA) and Disturbed Areas Act (DAA) render all innocent Kashmiris exposed to the personal anguish and ill mannered decisions by the security forces. We have witnessed the feint use of such power to save the culprits of Shopain double rape and murder cases besides many others. Hence, if such powers are taken back the security forces would refrain from killing or rather murdering the innocent people of Kashmir. This will surely have a lasting impression on the minds of Kashmiris.

The government of India should take the cases registered against its security forces to the civil courts rather than to the military courts. The military court never really shows openly the results of the such cases and usually we see the personal tried in these courts living abroad, free of all charges. Having said that, there would certainly be some sort of  scrutiny  on the forces involved in the emanation of nearly 2700 unmarked graves recently reported. This particular incident is quite spanking in the minds of people of Kashmir and if addressed honestly will bring that confidence in the judiciary of India among Kashmiris.  The presence of armed forces in the Kashmiri lanes and by-lanes, colleges, playing fields etc. is a great bothering factor. This should be parallel to the claims of the Indian Army establishments who recently claimed that there are less than 147 militants alive in Kashmir. Hence, there is a phenomenal difference in the military to militant ratio. Thus, the number of armed forces which stands between 600,00 to 700,00 should start        reducing each passing day particularly from the civilian areas.

The most important of all is the step wise dialogue with Pakistan government which should include the presence of representatives of the People of Kashmir both mainstream as well as the separatists. The solutions should be chiseled keeping in view the aspirations of the Kashmiri people and such steps should be acceptable to all the ethnic communities of Kashmir whether it be Pandits or Muslims. When talking about the Pandits, it is high time for India to stop using Pandits as propaganda. Why I say this is if India was really interested in the development of these Pandits the government should have channeled some resources for them in the past 15 years. The ghettos in which these pandits that left Kashmir in early 90s are living are nothing but the symbols of bias on part of Indian government who always claim to be empathetic towards the cause of Pandits. The important fact is that Kashmiri Muslims and pandits have been living in harmony with each other and every effort should be made to get the Pandits back to the places they belong to.

The Kashmiris feels that their natural resources are being exploited by both India and Pakistan governments without Kashmir being at the receiving end of the benefits. The main of the resources exploited by India and Pakistan are the water sources. India particularly has been abusing our water resources for producing the power for its booming industry in Delhi and Haryana. However, very little of this hydel power is used or diverted to the extinguished bulbs of Kashmir thereby leaving it high and dry. Similarly, all other resources that are used by the countries on the either side of the line of control should stop progressively looting the Kashmir of its resources besides the people of Kashmir should be given rights to assume control of such resources.

The release of political prisoners and those who have been kept in prison even after they have served their sentence would surely help India to build confidence among the masses in Kashmir. There are prisoners who have been booked under Public safety act (PSA) and have never seen the light of the day since, usually on the basis of dubiosity or stone pelting. Important to mention is that the Human rights watch groups should be allowed to work independent to the influence of the governmental agencies. These groups like Amnesty international and other international Human Rights Watch Group recommendations should be taken seriously by the international community to press the Indian state to stop the violations of the Human values. Similarly, the Media in Kashmir should be let free to work. They should be allowed to work the same way as in the rest of the world. Now, these steps would gradually churn out a situation of Peace in the Kashmir and it is important to remember that economic packages and jobs alone would not be sufficient for India to address the problems in Kashmir. India should recognize that there is a problem in Kashmir that needs to be resolved rather than putting aside and forgetting until there is a pain in the tooth again. The measures mentioned above would gradually bring a situation of calmness however, the complete solution to the issue is what would bring the everlasting Peace to Kashmir and the neighboring countries and a sense of ease among India and Pakistan. One of the most important methods of the resolution would the  application of the United Nations recommendations on the resolution of Kashmir which includes a plebiscite under its watch.

Published By ViewPoint Magazine on August 9, 2012