Kashmir: A hell in paradise now
The following article originally appeared in the Friday, 06 August 2010 00 edition of the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka
By Ameen Izzadeen
Tens of thousands of Kashmiris have been defying curfew and shoot-at-sight orders during the past seven weeks. They believe that their sacrifices will eventually compel the Indian government to yield to their two main demands — freedom and justice.
However, what has been eluding them for the past six decades will not be coming so soon. The Kashmiris know that. Yet they continue their agitation. In the past, they have resorted to violence to counter the violence unleashed on them.
But violence only made successive Indian governments more obdurate. New Delhi has deployed more than 700,000 troops in the Indian-administered Kashmir to crush separatism in the erroneous belief that peace can be achieved through military might. The Indian-administered Kashmir today remains the world’s most heavily militarized zone. There is a soldier for every 15 Kashmiris.
How these soldiers maintain peace in the highly-tensed region is little known and highly questionable, for there is a gag on the media. Only some embedded or pro-establishment journalists are allowed to report. The region is a no-go zone for international human rights monitors. To let the rest of the world know what is happening in Kashmir, some activists use the internet and mobile phone facilities. But the Kashmiri activists say the Indian authorities time and again have jammed these services. As a result, the Kashmiri problem, the second oldest unresolved political dispute in the post-World War II era after the Israeli-Arab dispute, remains the least covered conflict in the world media. The frequent charges of killings, rape and torture only make rare appearance in the world media.
Even today, when children are being killed by the troops, there is little international coverage or condemnation. Reports say at least 45 people including a dozen children have been killed in the past two months of protests.
Among them was a nine-year-old boy. The Kashmiris say he was beaten to death and point to the tell-tale marks on his body, but the Indian security forces say he was killed in a stampede.
Strangely, the United Nations or its Secretary General has not issued any official statement expressing concern or calling for restraint, leave alone issuing any condemnation of the excessive force being used in subduing the stone-throwing youths.
There was a twist to the UN’s silence. Reports coming from the United Nations said UN Chief Ban Ki-moon, in fact, made some observations on the Kashmiri violence. His spokesman Farhan Haq vouched for it. But, apparently, due to pressure from India, Ban’s chief spokesman Martin Nesirky denied Ban had made any observations on Kashmir. This, perhaps, speaks of the power India wields on the world’s stage.
The killings also drew little or no condemnation from the United States and the European Union. For them, perhaps, trade with India is more important than Kashmiri lives and human rights.
If the Kashmiri separatists had killed 45 civilians, the US and the West would have been the first to issue condemnations.
Probably realizing that violence would further alienate them from the world community, the Kashmiris have since 2008 turned their protests into a Palestine-style Intifada, pelting stones at the soldiers and the police.
The latest spate of violence began in April when security forces shot dead three youths. Initially, the troops claimed the three were terrorists, but protests led to an inquiry that proved that the youths had no connections with any Kashmiri group. Angry youths then took to the streets. They demanded that the culprits be brought to justice. But instead, the soldiers opened fire at the unarmed protesters. A 17-year-old student died on June 11 when a tear gas canister hit him. This sparked more protests and drew more bullets to the chests of teenagers.
The unrest in the region underscores the urgent need to solve the 63-year-old problem. Kashmir, which the Mughal kings and poets described as paradise on earth, was an overwhelmingly Muslim majority region ruled by a Hindu Maharaja. During the partition of the subcontinent, the Maharaja refused to align the region with either India or Pakistan. But the leaders of the Pakistan partition movement insisted that Kashmir be joined with Pakistan in terms of the partition agreement. The dispute led to an invasion of Kashmir by Pakistan’s Pashtun tribes and later the first war between the two newly independent states in 1947. During the Pashtun invasion, the Maharaja hurriedly signed the instrument of accession and made Kashmir a part of India.
Following a UN-mediated ceasefire, the UN Security Council passed a resolution calling for a plebiscite in Kashmir to decide whether the people of Kashmir wanted the region to be part of India or Pakistan. India agreed to conduct the plebiscite, but six decades on, it has still not honoured its word. On the contrary, India introduced entrenched constitutional provisions making Kashmir an integral part of India.
India’s home minister P. Chidambaram on Wednesday told the Indian parliament that the situation had taken an unprecedented turn and it pained him to see so many lives had been lost. But what India needs is not pain killers but the political will to solve the Kashmiri problem. In the words of Arundhati Roy, India’s beacon of social rights activism, “India needs azadi (liberation) from Kashmir as much as Kashmir needs azadi from India.”
In an article to the British Guardian newspaper in August 2008, Roy captured the people’s protest in Kashmir in these words:
“Not surprisingly, the voice that the government of India has tried so hard to silence in Kashmir has massed into a deafening roar. Raised in a playground of army camps, checkpoints, and bunkers, with screams from torture chambers for a soundtrack, the young generation has suddenly discovered the power of mass protest, and above all, the dignity of being able to straighten their shoulders and speak for themselves, represent themselves. For them it is nothing short of an epiphany. Not even the fear of death seems to hold them back. And once that fear has gone, of what use is the largest or second largest army in the world?”
India, the world’s biggest democracy, cannot afford to wear the mantle of an oppressor. It should respect the will of the Kashmiri people and take measures to deliver them from social ills and the ignominy of living at gunpoint for decades. India should withdraw its troops from Kashmir and let the people there enjoy a life without fear, without checkpoints and with dignity.
But far from taking such peace-bringing measures, India appears to have resolved to crush the protests with military force.
According to a recent survey carried out by Robert Bradnock of Britain’s Chatham House, around 90 percent of the Muslims in the Indian-administered Kashmir want independence from India. But what India has been doing is what Saddam Hussein did in Iraq’s Kirkuk region. Saddam’s systematic demographic engineering over the years changed this Kurdish-majority region into an Arab-majority one.
It is still not too late for a solution. Former Pakistan military strongman Pervez Musharraf almost succeeded in working out a solution with India just before his moves to remain in power through unconstitutional means unseated him. The present Pakistan government is also keen on solving the crisis. So is the United States President, Barack Obama, though in deference to India, he now desists from using the K word when he urges India and Pakistan to make peace.
The closest to a solution that Indian politicians have come up with as a compromise is to suggest the conversion of the line of control that divides the disputed region into a permanent border. But neither Pakistan nor a majority of the Kashmiris on both sides of the line of control have welcomed it.
Against the backdrop of this deadlock and the recent collapse of the talks between India and Pakistan, Kashmir, over which the two countries have gone to war twice in the past, is likely to see more protests, more killings but only a few attempts to solve the crisis. The rising death toll will may increase the heat on India but is unlikely to make India realise that it cannot win a war against a people.