Kashmir’s intifada

The Kashmir Valley is up in flames again amidst violent protests. An indefinite curfew was imposed across Indian-Held Kashmir (IHK) on Saturday. The recent spate of unrest exploded when a 17-year-old student died after being hit by a police teargas shell on June 11. For the past two months, more than 20 civilians have died in clashes with the security forces. Six people have died since Friday and more than 80 have been injured.

The scenic Kashmir Valley has been called ‘heaven on earth’, but for the past six decades the people of Kashmir have seen nothing but bloodshed and terror on their soil. In the past the Indian government used to blame Pakistan’s intervention in Kashmir for violence in the Valley, but over the years this blame game no longer has resonance. In 1989, in reaction to one more rigged election, the armed resistance broke out in Kashmir. This escalated tensions between India and Pakistan, the latter’s security establishment being accused by New Delhi of supporting the Kashmiri guerrillas. Whatever the weight of such support, it cannot be denied that the struggle for self-determination, mandated to the Kashmiri people by UN Security Council Resolutions, dates back to 1947. This struggle had been suppressed over long years by the Indian state. In recent years successive Indian governments have combined repression at the hands of the Indian military and paramilitary forces deployed in overwhelming numbers in Kashmir with relatively free and fair elections (although it must be kept in mind that such elections have consistently been boycotted by most Kashmiri nationalists as being held in the shadow of bayonets and therefore not credible).

Indian Home Minister P Chidambaram, in a sign of the shift in thinking in recent times, has said that the Indian government “is committed to holding a quiet dialogue with all [Kashmiri] groups” and that he has “favoured a quiet dialogue with all sections of opinion, all groups, all political parties”. It is encouraging that the Indian state has realised that a political settlement is the key to settling this issue, and that for this the people of Kashmir have to be on board. But the presence of large contingents of military troops and the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) still remains a thorn in the side of the Kashmiris. The trigger-happy attitude of the security forces and numerous fake encounters have added fuel to the fire and fed further the long simmering resentments of the Kashmiri people. Under these circumstances it is only natural for the people to feel frustrated when not even peaceful protest is allowed them. The latest Kashmiri intifada, the successor to the by now stuttering armed struggle, has broken out because of the Indian state’s blind and trigger-happy policies and not because of any outside intervention.

The disputed territory has been a major bone of contention between India and Pakistan since independence. In 2004, India and Pakistan started a composite dialogue with a view to resolving all outstanding issues between the two nuclear South Asian neighbours, including the core issue of Kashmir that had stymied progress in all aspects of bilateral relations. General Pervez Musharraf had floated different ideas to resolve the Kashmir dispute, going beyond Pakistan’s stated position of its settlement in accordance with the UN resolutions if India also showed flexibility. President Zardari initially had also been open to progress in other bilateral areas if this produced the necessary confidence to tackle the intractable Kashmir issue. But Mumbai and the subsequent Indian hardline attitude has stymied forward movement once again, the latest manifestation of which was seen at the foreign ministers’ meeting in Islamabad recently. It is inescapable and critical that India and Pakistan should try to resolve the issue in a way that is acceptable to all parties – India, Pakistan and most importantly, the people of Kashmir.

(my editorial in Daily Times)

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