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


Article 370

Article 370 debate

“You may write me down in history
with your bitter twisted lies.Modi addressing People in Jammu
You may trod me in the very dirt, but still like dust, I’ll rise”- Maya Angelou

There has been a lot of debate going on in recent times about the article 370 of the Indian constitution. The Prime Ministerial candidate of BJP, Narender Modi, was seen calling for its complete revocation and redress from the state of Jammu & Kashmir during his recent Jammu rally – lalkar. He argued that this article stands in between the complete integration of the state of Jammu & Kashmir with the Union of India and for a better part of his rally he became a feminist protagonist declaring that the article is deeply unfair for the women of the state if they were to marry a non-state subject. Not only this, Narender Modi expressed his distaste toward the article stating that people of Jammu & Kashmir feel a sense of alienation because of the provisions  which grant J&K a special status as compared to the other states in India. On the other hand, the majority of the people of J&K seem to be skeptical of their future if the article was scrapped off. The situations lead to Omar Abdullah challenging Narender Modi for a debate on the article 370.

In the midst of this onslaught toward the abrogation of this article it is important to remember the situations which lead to the formulation of this article. When India and Pakistan got their independence on 15 and 14 August, 1947, respectively, the Princely State of Jammu & Kashmir under the rule of Maharaja Hari Singh chose not to integrate with any of the two, unlike other 565 princely states. This had mainly to do with the majority of the population of the state being Muslims and wanting to go with Pakistan while the rulers being Hindus. The Maharaja Hari Singh feared reprisal at home if he was to integrate with the Union of India, a Hindu majority.  This would scallop his already dent image as a ruler. The tales of atrocities during the Dogra rule are told and re-told to this day. Fearing a major revolt from his people, Maharaja Hari Singh, a dorga ruler, turned down the offer of integration with India. Thus Jammu & Kashmir became an independent state.

The independence of J&K, however, lasted briefly, as it had become a “sore in the eye” of the newly independent countries, Pakistan and India which were on prowl for such situations to arise in Jammu & Kashmir that would give them an ostensible reason for an intervention in the state and its take-over. At that time, there had been atrocities committed upon Muslims by the forces of Maharaja in Poonch region. Pakistan, on October 6, 1947, exploited these events as an excuse and unofficially sent tribal fighters called “Qabaeyl” to Kashmir as their saviors. There have been tales of their bravery as well as monstrosity been told by our elders and it is popular in Kashmir that the “Qabaeylis” had reached an area in Srinagar called “Shalteng” on their way toward Srinagar Airfield after which they were mislead in-between by some person whom they latter nailed to a tree.

In the meantime, Maharaja Hari Singh under such pressure situation solicited military help from India. However, sensing an opportunity, India had kept delaying their help so as to push Maharaja Hari Singh into acceding with India. Mehr Chand Mahajan, who was the Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir at that time had been sent by Maharaja to Delhi in order to negotiate on terms with the Indian representatives, particularly, V.P. Menon, who was handling diplomacy of integration of Princely States and was representing Indian Union under Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. From here onward there have been a number of controversies regarding the deal that was struck and the manner in which it materialized. According to the mainstream Indian narrative, Maharaja Hari Singh in a letter directed to Lord Mountbatten, the then Governor General of India, on 26 October 1947, solicited military help from India in exchange of a temporary accession to the Union of India and signed the “Instrument of Accession”. This was followed by the acknowledgement from Lord Mountbatten and eventual landing of Indian military on the soil of Kashmir by the morning of 27th October, 1947.

There have been huge controversies regarding the whole Indian narrative to the extent that Alistair Lamb in his book “The Myth of Indian Claim to Jammu & Kashmir- A Reappraisal” states that there was almost no possibility of the signature on the Instrument of Accession to have taken place before the overt Indian intervention in Kashmir.  He reasons his claims by stating that “The earliest possible time and date for their signature would have to be the afternoon of 27 October 1947. During 26 October 1947 the Maharajah of Jammu and Kashmir was travelling by road from Srinagar to Jammu. His Prime Minister, M.C. Mahajan, who was negotiating with the Government of India, and the senior Indian official concerned in State matters, V.P. Menon, were still in New Delhi where they remained overnight, and where their presence was noted by many observers. There was no communication of any sort between New Delhi and the traveling Maharajah. Menon and Mahajan set out by air from New Delhi to Jammu at about 10.00 a.m. on 27 October, and the Maharajah learned from them for the first time the result of his Prime Minister’s negotiations in New Delhi in the early afternoon of that day”. The popular narrative in Jammu & Kashmir is that Maharaja Hari Singh, after huge surge in uprisings against his atrocities, ran away to seek refuge in India and hence the state was still independent when the Indian troops landed in Kashmir and started their overt involvement.

With their ruler on run to India, there was chaos in the situation. India feared of a big reprisal if it pushed for the complete integration of the state which allegedly acceded against the wishes of its people and in the circumstances that still remain gloomy.  Hence, Shiekh Abdullah, the then interim Prime Minister of J&K along with Mirza Afzal Beg and Maulana Masoodi pushed for and negotiated with Jawaharlal Nehru and Gopalaswami Ayyangar, who was a former Diwan to the Maharaja of J&K, on the formulation of Article 370. The substance of the article granted a degree of autonomy to the state of Jammu & Kashmir under the Indian Constitution’s  Part XXI.

The article meant that the Indian Parliament had a limited or restricted jurisdiction in the state of Jammu & Kashmir and hence, excluding the matters of Defence, Communication, Finance and Foreign Affairs, the laws passed by the Parliament of India do not get implied on the State of J&K unless passed by its own government. It gave the people of Jammu & Kashmir right to form their own Constituent Assembly which was set up on 26th January 1957 and J&K’s constitution was drafted and a Flag was chosen to represent the State of Jammu & Kashmir. As per this article, the Part IV and IVA of the Indian constitution which correspond to Directive Principles of State policy and Fundamental duties, respectively, do not apply to J&K. However, the Laws ensuring fundamental rights and right to property are applicable to the State. Article 370 inhibits any non-resident of Jammu & Kashmir or the non-state subject to purchase any land or property in the state and hence such rights are enjoyed only by the permanent residents (PRs). The article, however, was thought to curtaile the status of PR to a women who married a non-state subject or a non-PR. However, in 2004, the High Court of Jammu & Kashmir, in a case, Sheela Sawney Vs State of J&K, announced that there was no law existing that dealt with the PR status of women who married a non-PR and hence, because of lack of legal basis declared the PR status is not lost. Having said that, I believe Narendra Modi did not update himself before shedding tears for the of women of J&K which have or were to marry a non-PR.

There have been attempts and demands to abrogate article 370 from various Indian politicians and reformers who relentlessly want J&K to be completely integrated to India even against the wishes and aspirations of the people of the state. The degree of autonomy ensued by this article when it was implemented has changed to the extent that the Sadar-i-Riyasat and Prime Ministerial positions(till 1965) have been replaced by Governor and Chief Minister, respectively. There have been many other Presidential orders which have lead to the gradual erosion of various clauses in the article. Shiekh Abdullah knew that India will try to erode this article for the complete integration of J&K with India and in 1953 he pressed hard for an “iron clad and complete autonomy of the State” which made him a popular figure among the people of J&K, however, orchestrated by Nehru, India soon dismissed his government and jailed him for 11 consecutive years. After his release, Shiekh Abdullah ensured that the state of J&K be related to Indian Union only through article 370 and there be no erosion of the same when he signed 1974 Indira-Shiekh accord.

The revocation of article 370, which provides a political space to the people of Kashmir, is and would be seen as an imperialistic tactic. History teaches us that the sentiments of Independence arise when the political space of a people is narrowed to a mere stint. Narender Modi’s foray toward the repeal of article 370 can have serious repercussions and could prove counter-productive, if he becomes the next Prime Minster of India and decides to scrap this article. However, article 370 provides itself immunity from revocation unless and until its revocation is accepted by the Jammu and Kashmir’s legislature and its constituent Assembly. Now that the Constituent Assembly of J&K no longer exists, it is a big question for Narender Modi of how to implement the amendment of article 370.

Published by The Kashmir Walla on February 24, 2014


People’s Representatives

downloadPolitics in a democratic country is supposed to be a collective execution of the policies by the representatives of the people so that it would fit in the definition of the democratic fundamentals of – “of the people, by the people and for the people”. As long as the selected or elected representatives genuinely and unequivocally push for the mandate that represents the aspirations of the people who elected them and refrain from the narcissistic endeavors of arrogance and being presumptive heads of a sole decision making machinery,  the system runs well. The people get their voices heard, their demands fulfilled and their aspirations effectuated. The reflections come home in the prosperity, growth and expansion of the state with an atmosphere of satisfaction and contentment and the joy of being heard. That makes a successfully functional government and healthy leadership.

The outcome of recently held assembly elections in various places of India, and particularly Delhi, are an example of a failed governance and the gap that the leaders at the helm had created between themselves and the people who elected them to their posts. The people eventually had their say in the affairs of the state and outrageously voted out congress from their so-called stronghold, which they had taken for-granted. At this moment, it is better to play safe and not comment about the sincerity  and candor of the party which is still in its infancy and promises to deliver big, however, what is interesting is the belief and enthusiasm that the young people have shown towards Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), marking its debut with a loud thud and turning it into a tough competitor of the gang of same old babus who patronize the saffron brigade.

The support by the young people was a huge factor in the emergence of AAP. What remained at the roots of this whole affair were the aspirations of the youth to bring a positive change, and, whether AAP delivers or not remains an unanswered question, however, the  lesson learnt is that it takes the energy,vision and involvement of the young people of any nation to bring the change.

It hardly matters  whether AAP or Congress, even BJP for that matter, comes into power at the center because I don’t think there is going to be any change in the policies towards Kashmir which more often remain dependent on the so-called “collective conscience” of the people of India rather than on the factual and legitimate grounds. However, the results of this election should provide the leads to the Omar Abdullah government or to any aspiring party in Kashmir that you cannot deviate from the mandate which you had promised. As far the current scenario in Kashmir, the youth who had put in enormous faith in the election of a young leader, deeming him dynamic and a torch-bearer seem to be disheartened and cheated. 24 years old, Sameer Bhat (name changed) who had voted for Omar Abdullah told me that ” he was a young person and it was easy to relate to him. I thought, being young he would have that fire in him to do something for his people but now I feel he could not even save his own people during 2008 and 2010. The conditions of Kashmir and Kashmiris remain the same, I see no development and he could do nothing all this while”.

The critical assessment is that when the so-called leaders or representatives of the people stop delving into the conditions of the people they claim to govern, the people start to feel the distance between themselves and the person they created. Eventually, they get fed up of the lavish enterprise that such leaders enjoy at the largess of the people and finally hit them out of their safe potholes as is evident in the assembly elections. However, as mentioned earlier, it takes the realization by the youth to make any changes and whether Kashmiri youth are ready to change their representatives, mainstream or separatist, remains to be seen.

Published by The Kashmir Walla on December 13, 2013