In Kashmir, the killing days are here again. In 2010, Indian forces shot and killed more than 135 unarmed civilians. Nearly half of them were teenagers, and the youngest was eight years old. This year, using “non-lethal” pellets fired into the face at close range, Indian paramilitaries are blinding them as well. The death toll stands at 50. The number of those critically injured or blinded by the pellets is over 150, and the total number of the injured is in the thousands. The youngest victims this time are three- and four-year olds.
By Imtiaz Gul
Via The Friday Times
Kashmiris in 12 constituencies in various parts of Pakistan voted on July 21 to elect the state Legislative Assembly (LA). The Kashmir chapter of the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) swept the polls by bagging 32 of the 41 directly contested seats. Out of these, 29 seats are meant for all 10 districts of AJK and 12 for Pakistan-based refugees from Kashmir valley, Jammu and others areas.
Ironically, the first-past-the-post system handed a thumping victory to the PML-N despite the fact that it polled about 689,000 votes, while the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf of Imran Khan and the Pakistan People’s Party jointly received 735,000 votes. This however translated only into four seats, meaning thereby that the PML-N Kashmir will determine the fate of Azad Kashmir. Both Islamabad and Muzaffarabad presently face two pressing challenges: the legal status of the Pakistani part of Kashmir as well its international legal responsibilities. Secondly, the unrest in India-controlled Kashmir and possible consequences for the Pakistani Kashmiri territories.
The skewed distribution of voter power resulting from the recent elections, as pointed out by Dr Syed Nazir Gilani, head of the Jammu/Kashmir Council for Human Rights, necessitates vigilance at all strata of the society to prevent the ruling party from bulldozing democratic norms and flouting constitutional obligations. “We need to act as vigilant citizens and make sure that PML-N (AJK) doesn’t deviate from the democratic path that is so essential for keeping the cause of Kashmiris alive,” Dr Gilani says.
He points out that the civil society must keep the pressure up so the governments in Muzaffarad and Islamabad understand and do not fail to do the following:
(1) The government of Pakistan has assumed trust responsibilities under UNCIP Resolution in Azad Kashmir “to provide for the better government and administration of Azad Jammu and Kashmir until such time as the status of Jammu and Kashmir is determined in accordance with the freely expressed will of the people of the State through the democratic method of free and fair plebiscite under the auspices of the United Nations as envisaged in the UNCIP Resolutions adopted from time to time”. [The Azad Jammu and Kashmir Interim Constitution Act 1974].
(2) We need to ensure that the new government acts and operates accordingly in the interests of the people and the Kashmir case.
(3) The elected members have to elect five women, one cleric, one member from Kashmiris living abroad and a technocrat in the assembly of forty-nine members. We need to ensure that the elections of these eight members are fair, on merit and in the interests of the people and the Kashmir case.
(4) The Prime Minister of Pakistan needs to ensure that the nomination of these people is fair.
(5) Government of Pakistan has allocated to itself further trust duties under articles 19, 21, 31(3) and 56 of the AJK Interim Constitution Act of 1974. Kashmiris need to ensure that the Prime Minister of Pakistan as chairman discharges these responsibilities fairly. Another potentially debilitating specter staring at Pakistan is the BJP’s ambition to a) entrench itself through pliant Kashmiri leaders, and, b) push the demand for Pakistan army to vacate AJK and and GB, claiming them as their part under the 1947 instrument of accession by the then Maharaja of the State. Ratification by the constituent assembly had then paved the way for the Indian Parliament to incorporate Kashmiri territories through a unanimous resolution.
This happened in a brazen violation of the UNSC 1948/49 resolutions for plebiscite as well as in contravention of the “limited access” granted to Indian forces in Kashmir in October 1947 to discharge four duties, namely defending the territory, and protecting life, property and honor of the people.
This temporary admission has been referred to UNSC by the Indian government on 1st January 1948 for ratification or annulment by the people of Jammu and Kashmir under a free vote supervised by the United Nations. The UNSC Resolution of 21 April 1948 has placed three restraints on the number, behavior and location of these temporarily admitted Indian armed forces. But the Indian army and its administrations have continuously violated the terms of reference and has engaged into a war with unarmed civilians, says a paper by Dr Nazir Gilani has authored recently.
Justice Gilani proposes immediate legal measures to blunt this cross-border threat; Pakistan should assert its claim on whole of the State under its constitution as “disputed territory of Pakistan subject to its final disposition in accordance with UNCIP resolutions” on the basis of the spirit of Indian Independence Act of 1947, the stand-still agreement by the ruler of the State duly accepted by the Pakistani government, the resolution of All Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Conference dated 19th July 1947 (which was then the sole representative of the Muslims of the State).
Pending that, AJK and GB be placed as “special territories” in the constitution of Pakistan with all the constitutional rights, without making them part or provinces within the spirit of the the Pakistani government’s Cabinet Division notifications dated 11 May 1971 and 6 June 1988. Alternatively, the responsibilities of the projection the UNCIP resolutions be devolved to AJK government to pursue on behalf of the people of the state around the world. Kashmiri observers and legal experts believe that a ping-pong with Kashmir has had a negative bearing on the cause and diluted Pakistan’s position on the issue. It is time to demonstrate that Kashmir is genuinely an issue of self-determination and that Pakistan respects this ideal in all possible manner.
The writer heads the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, Islamabad and is author of Pakistan: Pivot of Hizbut Tahrir’s Global Caliphate.
This article first appeared at The Friday Times. Click here to go to the original.
The spark for this round of protests was the Indian army’s killing of the Kashmiri pro-freedom militant Burhan Wani. Twenty-one years old, Wani represents the new generation of militants who took up arms against the Indian occupation and its continuing violence against the civilian population. Tens of thousands of people attended Burhan Wani’s funeral in his village in Tral, despite a ban by the Indian army on public gatherings. Road blocks, curfew, and shutting down all means of transportation did not deter the mourners from walking miles to attend the funeral. The popular support and love displayed at the funeral gives the lie to the Indian claim that the militancy is due to Pakistani interference.
Roots of Conflict
The causes of the militancy, as many observers have pointed out over the years, are rooted in the Indian denial of the right to self-determination to Kashmir and the decades of political repression. For over 70 years, India has evaded all efforts to solve the conflict through peaceful negotiations. Pakistan did not create the insurgency but has supported it to a limited extent. At the same time, it has also tried to get the UN involved and to live up to its responsibility to bring a negotiated resolution to the conflict.
With the waning of the militancy from 2000 onwards, some observers hoped that India would move towards a political settlement. The number of militants was never higher than 2-3,000, and by the start of the millennium it was down to 70 or 80. There was no corresponding drawdown in the Indian military presence, which has remained at over half a million. There was no let up in the military violence against the civilian population, including such abuses as torture, disappearances, rape, and extra judicial killings.
The continued repression and lack of a political settlement led to the resurgence of the movement for Kashmiri independence, in the form of mass mobilizations that recalled the large-scale protests of the early 1990s. In the summer of 2008, mass protests centered around the transfer of land to non-Kashmiris along the route of the highly militarized Hindu pilgrimage to Amarnath. One of the aspects of the autonomy the Indian Constitution guaranteed to Kashmir is the prohibition of land sales to outsiders. The pilgrimage itself began in the mid-19th century and Kashmiri Muslims managed it in harmony for over 100 years. By the mid-1990s, the combination of intense Indian militarization of the valley and the advance of Hindu nationalism across India made the Amaranth pilgrimage the focus of aggressive theatricals by assorted Hindu militants, backed by the army. The pilgrimage grew in size and duration, going from 12,000 pilgrims in 1989 to over 4,00,000 in 2007, and from 15 days to two-and-a-half months.
The consequences for the fragile mountain environment have been devastating. The entire pilgrimage route is lined with trash several feet deep, and the river is choked with filth. By contrast, another Hindu pilgrimage to Gangotri, the source of the Ganges, in the central Himalayas in India, is carefully controlled and limited to 150 pilgrims a day to avoid burdening the environment. When Kashmiris protested against the transfer of the entire pilgrimage route to a “Shrine Board” packed with Hindu nationalist supporters, army and paramilitaries opened fire on the protests, killing at least 60 people. A two-month blockade of the national highway leading into Kashmir by Hindu nationalist supporters in the Jammu region cut off the only supply line to the valley since the closing of routes westward to Muzaffarabad, in Pakistan, in 1947. The resulting shortages of food, medicines, and fuel were intended to “teach the Kashmiris a lesson.”
In 2009, two young women in Shopian in central Kashmir, Aasiya Jan and Nilofer Jan, went to work in the family orchard and didn’t come home in the evening. A desperate search led to the discovery of their bodies in the floodlit security zone surrounding one of the massive army camps in the area. They had been raped and tortured before being killed. Protests against the double murder grew rapidly across the valley and the mass movement for independence was reborn.
The conflict generation, teenagers and twentysomethings who had grown up under Indian military rule, led the uprising of 2010. They were also the largest demographic among the victims of Indian paramilitaries, who opened fire on the unarmed protestors. Burhan Wani was 15 at that time, and a few months later he picked up a gun. This was after an incident in October of that year, when he was out for a bike ride with his brother and a friend. The army stopped the boys, forced the boys to buy cigarettes for the soldiers, and then beat them up. Burhan and his friend managed to escape but his brother was detained and tortured.
This was not an easy choice. As Arundhati Roy writes, when young Kashmiri men take up arms to fight for azaadi or freedom, they do so knowing that they will die young. Unlike earlier militants, Burhan did not try to conceal his identity. He actually maintained a social media presence and would upload pictures of himself and his fellow militants. Also unlike the earlier generation of militants, Burhan and his associates did not cross the Line of Control to Pakistan for arms and training. As their numbers were decimated, he found shelter and refuge in the homes of ordinary people. And it was the ordinary people of Kashmir who came out to mourn his killing by the army.
Repression 2.0 and the Response
Burhan Wani was not the only one of his generation to witness torture, random arrest, and extrajudicial executions. Since 2010, Amnesty International has released several reports documenting the illegal detention and torture of minors and even schoolchildren. Many observers have noted that India deliberately attempted to push the peaceful protests in the direction of militancy, which it then uses to justify the refusal to negotiate.
Another turning point was the execution in February 2013 of Mohammed Afzal Guru, a Kashmiri accused of planning the attack on the Indian parliament in 2001. Guru was denied a fair trial, forced through torture to sign blank papers on which the police composed his confession (which he retracted when brought before a magistrate), and sentenced to death in 2006. The sentence was upheld through two appeals: although sentencing him as a conspirator the courts acknowledged that there was no proof that he had any connection to militant organizations. No one bothered to ask: then with whom did he conspire? His execution and burial in total secrecy created a mood of despair, another point of no return.
The new militancy is different in its scale and composition. Two-thirds of an estimated 130 are Kashmiri natives and the rest are outsiders. Outsider here means people from across the Line of Control that divides Indian-administered Kashmir from Azad Kashmir, which is now part of Pakistan. Only this arbitrary divide makes them outsiders. The number of Indian troops has never gone below half a million, and most observers put the figure at 7-800,000. These troops are stationed not only on the border with Pakistan but in every village and hamlet, in towns, cities, on every street corner – in short, one soldier on the ground for every 10 Kashmiris.
The return of militancy, even on a small scale, is no surprise in these circumstances. What is perhaps surprising is the emergence of new bases of solidarity in India for the Kashmiri struggle. Although still limited, these have produced protests and marches against the killings in major cities like Delhi, Kolkata, and Kannur in Karnataka. More are planned for Chennai and Mumbai, and one in Bangalore has been banned.
Potentially even more enduring and transformative is the support for Kashmiri independence among groups like the Tamils., Sikhs, and Dalits who are all too familiar with the repression and violence of the Indian state. This kind of solidarity is probably the Indian state’s worst nightmare, while being the best hope for a truly democratic future. In some ways, these incipient alliances represent the road not taken in 1929, when the Indian National Congress arrogated to itself the sole power to speak for India in negotiations for self-rule with the British. Diverse ethnic and religious groups—Muslims, Sikhs, Nagas, Dalits—that contested this claim were branded with the pejorative tags “anti-national” and “communal,” as were autonomous political discourses.
Kashmir in an Age of Referendum
The scale of the violence against the civilian population in Kashmir has made it clear that Indian rule there has no political legitimacy and relies solely on military force and terror. The legal basis of the Indian claim to Kashmir is dubious, resting on an Instrument of Accession signed by a tyrannical and unpopular leader as he fled a popular uprising in 1947. Historians believe the document to be a forgery. The UN continues to consider Kashmir a disputed territory though it does practically nothing to try and resolve the dispute, backing down repeatedly in the face of Indian intransigence.
Over the decades India has tried unilaterally to annex Kashmir and refused internationally mediated negotiations, claiming that it is “an internal matter.” The autonomy supposedly granted to Kashmir under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution was a fake from the beginning: the only autonomy Kashmir has ever enjoyed is to be exempt from the privileges, such as they are, of Indian citizenship. And the only lesson Kashmiris have learned over the years is that if they want to avoid being swallowed by the upper caste Hindu majoritarian state, they must continue to resist, no matter the cost.
Despite the spiraling violence in Kashmir, and within India against Dalits, Muslims, Sikhs, tribals, journalists, students and academics, Western media show few signs of ending their love-fest with “Modi the reformer.” The silence of progressive media on the killings matches or exceeds that of the mainstream. Even the little reported in The New York Times outdoes Democracy Now and NPR.
To the censorship practiced by the Indian state we can now add another layer. Since the anniversary of the execution of Afzal Guru in February this year, people posting on Kashmir on Facebook are having their posts removed and accounts blocked. Kuffir Nalgundwar, who manages the site Round Table India, dedicated to empowering young Dalits, has his post in support of Kashmir removed. So did Dibyesh Anand, who heads the department of political science at Westminster University in London.
Censorship and repression are not new to Kashmiris, and they have been applied in recent years to those seeking to break the long silence on Indian abuses there. Writer Arundhati Roy was charged with sedition in 2010 for pointing out the simple historical fact that Kashmir has never been part of India. In 2011, Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan was attacked in his office by the extremist Hindu nationalist outfit Shiv Sena, and his office was trashed after he expressed his support for the Kashmiri right to freedom. Following her work in the discovery and documentation of mass graves in Kashmir, anthropologist Angana Chatterji faced threats, intimidation and a sedition charge while working in Kashmir. In 2010, her partner, Richard Shapiro, was denied entry into India. Ominously close to these events, in 2011, Chatterji and Shapiro were dismissed from their positions at the California Institute for Integral Studies. Radio host David Barsamian was deported from India in 2011 for reporting on the mass graves. Civil rights advocate Gautam Navlakha has been “deported” from Kashmir, which India claims is its “integral part.” Kashmiris trying to protest in India are likewise “deported” back to Kashmir.
The police or the Hindu nationalist student union ABVP routinely shut down film screenings and talks on Kashmir on the grounds that they are “anti-national.” And yet, despite the violence, threats, and sedition charges, the silence on Kashmir—the history, the abuses, the solutions—has been broken. Kashmiri and Indian writers, filmmakers, artists, cartoonists, musicians, journalists, academics, and civil rights advocates have made it impossible for the Indian state to put the genie back in the bottle.
For anyone wanting to learn about this chronicle of grief and resistance, the place to start is by listening to voices of the conflict generation. Fahad Shah’s book Of Occupation and Resistance is essential reading, as is Malik Sajad’s graphic novel Munnu, a Boy from Kashmir, The Collaborator by Mirza Waheed, Curfewed Night by Basharat Peer, and the edited collectionUntil my Freedom is Come by Sanjay Kak fill in the history and lived experience. The cartoons of Malik Sajad and Mir Suhail and the dreamlike artwork of Rolli Mukerjee bring life and death into stunning clarity. A couple of films are currently available for online viewing: Sanjay Kak’s Jashn-e-Azadi (How We Celebrate Freedom) and the deeply moving Take It in Blood with the young rapper MC Kash exploring the conflict through his own experience and his meeting with Parveena Ahangar, one of the mothers of the disappeared in Kashmir who has founded a movement for justice. Parveena Ahangar and the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons are also the subject of a film by Iffat Fatima Khoon Diy Baerav, Blood Leaves a Trail.
Though the full story may never be told, through these efforts, the outlines of the conflict, of Kashmiri suffering and resilience, and the need to implement the Kashmiri right to self-determination as the only possible solution, are known. It remains for the world to act. In an age of referendum, when direct democracy is used to settle crucial questions in a democratic manner, Kashmir cannot continue to be the exception. India cannot claim to be “the biggest democracy in the world” while refusing to hold a plebiscite in Kashmir. If Scotland, Catalonia, and Crimea can vote to decide their own futures, so should Kashmir.