Kashmir in Locked Down

Please put the present furies in Kashmir to rest (Part-1)

by Anwar A Khan

It is very sad that Kashmir Valley, a place of scenic beauties, has now turned into characterised by unrest, disorder, tumultuousness … on a very large scale.

Let us remember the phrase "violence begets violence" (or "hate begets hate") means that violent behaviour promotes other violent behaviour, in return. The phrase has been used since the 1830s. “Hate begets hate; violence begets violence; toughness begets a greater toughness. We must meet the forces of hate with the power of love...Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that,” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had correctly spelt-out a long time ago.

Hope for the future?
The article 370 is a provision in the Indian Constitution that confers special status on the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Its sudden revocation in August 2019 would lead to Indians outside of the state gaining the legal right to own property there. Thus India removed Kashmir's special autonomous status from its constitution with a presidential decree in the last month. It also moved a bill to divide the Indian-administered part of Kashmir into two regions directly ruled by New Delhi.

But critics say such changes would lead to demographic transformation and have accused the Hindu nationalist-led government of wanting to establish a Hindu majority in the predominantly Muslim region.

Because of the annulment of article 370 provision from the Indian Constitution by Modi government, life-threatening violence has combusted in the Kashmir Valley on in full swing.

But violence will never be a solution to any problem. Violence usually makes more violence. War is not the answer to problems in countries. Non-violent solutions would always be better. What a different world it would be if everyone committed to non-violence. Millions of dollars would be freed to help those in need. Lives would not be wasted. People would find the light of God in one another and work together to make a better world.

Born from the partition of India in 1947, the conflict in Kashmir (a territorial conflict primarily between India and Pakistan), continues today, involving three nuclear powers - China, India and Pakistan - who are in dispute over the territory. The conflict is set against the backdrop of the Himalayan mountains and valleys and involves a patchwork of languages, religions and ethnicities: notably Kasmiris, Dards, Ladakhis, Dogras, Hanjis, Gujjars and Bakarwals.

The dispute over the region has continued for more than six decades, at huge cost. Since the 1989 insurgency – 42 years after the partition – there are estimated to be at least 70,000 dead and 8,000 missing by local human rights group CCS. Today Kashmiris face life alongside a huge military presence and ongoing militia operations. Although a ceasefire agreement was made between India and Pakistan in 2003, and the 2000s saw internal violence largely give way to non-violent protest, the calm is often punctuated by military and insurgent operations from both sides.

Kashmir is a region of the northwestern Indian subcontinent. It is predominantly mountainous, with deep, narrow valleys and high, barren plateaus. The relatively low-lying Jammu and Punch (Poonch) plains in the southwest are separated by the thickly forested Himalayan foothills and the Pir Panjal Range of the Lesser Himalayas from the larger, more fertile, and more heavily populated Vale of Kashmir to the north. Jammu and the vale lie in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, while the Punch lowlands are largely in Azad Kashmir.

The people in the Jammu area are Muslim in the west and Hindu in the east and speak Hindi, Punjabi, and Dogri. The inhabitants of the Vale of Kashmir and the Pakistani areas are mostly Muslim and speak Urdu and Kashmiri. The sparsely inhabited Ladakh region and beyond is home to Tibetan peoples who practice Buddhism and speak Balti and Ladakhi..

As long as the territory’s existence was guaranteed by the United Kingdom, the weaknesses in its structure and along its peripheries were not of great consequence, but they became apparent after the British withdrawal from South Asia in 1947. By the terms agreed to by India and Pakistan for the partition of the Indian subcontinent, the rulers of princely states were given the right to opt for either Pakistan or India or—with certain reservations—to remain independent. Hari Singh, the maharaja of Kashmir, initially believed that by delaying his decision he could maintain the independence of Kashmir, but, caught up in a train of events that included a revolution among his Muslim subjects along the western borders of the state and the intervention of Pashtun tribesmen, he signed an Instrument of Accession to the Indian union in October 1947. This was the signal for intervention both by Pakistan, which considered the state to be a natural extension of Pakistan, and by India, which intended to confirm the act of accession. In July 1949, India and Pakistan defined a cease-fire line—the line of control—that divided the administration of the territory. Regarded at the time as a temporary expedient, the partition along that line still exists.

Although there was a clear Muslim majority in Kashmir before the 1947 partition, and its economic, cultural, and geographic contiguity with the Muslim-majority area of the Punjab could be convincingly demonstrated, the political developments during and after the partition resulted in a division of the region. Pakistan was left with territory that, although basically Muslim in character, was thinly populated, relatively inaccessible, and economically underdeveloped. The largest Muslim group, situated in the Vale of Kashmir and estimated to number more than half the population of the entire region, lay in Indian-administered territory, with its former outlets via the Jhelum valley route blocked.

An accord signed in the Indian city of Shimla in 1972 expressed the hope that henceforth the countries in the region would be able to live in peace with each other. It was widely believed that Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the-then prime minister of Pakistan, might have tacitly accepted the line of control as the de facto border, although he later denied this. After Bhutto was arrested in 1977 and executed in 1979, the Kashmir issue once again became the leading cause of conflict between India and Pakistan.

To contend with these movements, confront Pakistani forces along the cease-fire line, and support the administrative structure of Jammu and Kashmir state, the Indian union government has maintained a strong military presence there, especially since the end of the 1980s.

Disillusioned with lack of progress through the democratic process, militant organisations began to pop up in the region in the late 1980s. Their purpose was to resist control from the Indian union government. By the early 1990s the militancy had evolved into an insurgency, and India engaged in a crackdown campaign. The rigour of the fighting died down in the mid-1990s, though occasional violence continued to take place.

Another cycle of unrest began after the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) swept elections across India in 2014. The party had won an outright majority in the national legislature and began pushing policies nationwide to promote “Hindutva” (“Hindu-ness”). The BJP, which strongly favoured the union of Kashmir with India, had become the second largest party in the Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly and formed a unity government with the slightly larger People’s Democratic Party (PDP), whose platform centred on the implementation of self-rule in Kashmir. As the Hindutva and pro-India policies of the BJP stoked the anxieties of the region’s predominantly Muslim population, Kashmir saw an uptick in unrest.

The growing tensions erupted into rioting in July 2016 after the commander of an Islamic militant group was killed in an operation by Indian security forces. India’s union government, dominated by the BJP, began asserting increased control over the state as a matter of national security and launched a crackdown on militants. In late 2018, the union government dissolved the government of Jammu and Kashmir and began direct rule of the state after the BJP left the state’s unity coalition and caused its collapse.

Kashmir experienced its greatest friction in decades in February 2019. On February 14 a suicide bomber associated with a militant separatist group killed 40 members of India’s Central Reserve Police Force, the deadliest attack on Indian security forces in three decades. With a tough election cycle approaching, India’s BJP-led government faced pressure from its supporters to take forceful action. Days later India sent fighter jets across Kashmir’s line of control for the first time in five decades and later claimed to have conducted air strikes against the militant group’s largest training camp.

Pakistan denied the claim, saying that the jets had struck an empty field. The next day, Pakistan shot down two Indian jets in its airspace and captured a pilot. Yet, despite the aggravation, many analysts believed that both India and Pakistan intended to avoid escalation. In the aftermath, Pakistan implemented a crackdown on militants in its country, issuing arrests, closing a large number of religious schools, and promising to update its existing laws. A few months later the BJP won a landslide victory in India’s elections, expanding its representation in the parliament’s lower chamber.

As the BJP continued along its forceful push in Jammu and Kashmir, the union government in August 2019 built up its military presence in the state and within days undertook action to formalise its direct control there. Exploiting a constitutional provision that allowed the union government to integrate Jammu and Kashmir upon the approval of a no-longer-extant elected body, it suspended Jammu and Kashmir’s autonomy and applied India’s constitution fully to the territory. It also passed legislation to downgrade the state at a later date to a union territory—thereby allowing the union government full control over its governance and to split off the Ladakh region into a separate union territory of its own.

The Simla Agreement had little bearing to events on the ground and there were increasingly organised uprisings. Opposition to the Indian administration, disputed state elections and military occupation led to some of the state’s legislative assemblies forming militant wings, which further created the catalyst for the Mujahideen insurgency, which continues to this day. 

(To be continued)

-The End –

The writer is a senior citizen of Bangladesh, writes on politics, political and human-centred figures, current and international affairs.


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