On July 9, the Indian army killed a 23-year-old popular Kashmiri militant, Burhan Wani. Since then, the region is under strict curfew. Due to the authority’s iron-fisted response to dissent, over seventy people are dead, more than eight thousand civilians are injured and about six hundred are blinded due to the use of pellet-guns. The right-wing Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) remain unwilling to treat Kashmir as an international political issue and continue to disengage Kashmir’s demand for self-determination.
The former state of Jammu and Kashmir, ruled by the British-installed Dogra monarchy, is now divided between India, Pakistan, and China. The monarchy, through different periods, had seen several upheavals from its subjects. These Kashmiri uprising(s) paralleled the subcontinent’s anti-colonial struggle against the British rule. The British exit from the region in 1947 led to the partition of the Indian subcontinent, birthing two new countries—India and Pakistan. This left the Dogra king of Kashmir, Hari Singh, with an option to join either of the newly formed modern nations.
Singh, presiding over a Muslim majority, remained undecided. The undecidedness of the Kashmiri monarch is attributed to the complex political nature of Kashmiri society. The uprising in Poonch region in 1947 that sought to join Kashmir with Pakistan proved that the national will of Kashmiris could not be galvanized for a merger with either one of the nations. In the Kashmir valley, the popular leader Sheikh Abdullah propounded politics of Kashmiri nationalism with strong opposition to the idea of partition. To quash the Poonch rebellion and to deter the tribesmen entering from the north in support of the rebels, fearing that the rebellion would break the country, the monarch sought the Indian military intervention. The military help came with a condition to accede to India.
The Indian forces arrived in Srinagar and the first Indo-Pakistani war over Kashmir territory was fought, leaving the people of Kashmir with an active militarized Line of Control that divides the families. The Instrument of Accession signed by Hari Singh maintains that the entire state belongs to India, including the part now held by Pakistan. It gives India authority to control the state’s defence, foreign policy and communications. Yet the unpopularity of the King and the conditions in which the transfer happened raise questions about the validity of such an accession.
The United Nations Intervention
To end the fighting, India brought the Kashmir issue to the United Nations hoping that it could get Pak administered Kashmir back since the King had now signed the accession. But the whole attempt backfired, as it was established in the United Nations that the unpopularity of the ruler demands that there must be a referendum to confirm that people have willfully acceded to India. The United Nations resolution of 1948 demanded Pakistan to remove the tribesmen that entered Kashmir to ‘liberate’ it. Once that had been done to the satisfaction of the commission, India was to withdraw its forces from the region in order to make way for a free and fair referendum. However, neither country fulfilled these conditions and instead through diplomatic efforts began to frame Kashmir as a bilateral issue.
Through bilateral efforts, India and Pakistan progressively dismissed all recommendations of the United Nations and continued to fight each other over territory. The intermittent bilateral treaties such as the Tashkent declaration of 1966, the Shimla agreement of 1972 and the Lahore declaration of 1999 continued to digress from the main issue—Right to self-determination of Kashmiri people— and instead focused on ‘peace’. The war, of course, was the result of fighting each other for Kashmir territory.
Kashmir’s vexed relationship with India
The first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, gave a historic speech in Srinagar, promising a referendum for Kashmir. Within Kashmir there was a politically strong constituency that had little hope in the Indian system and wanted Kashmir to join Pakistan instead. But those who engaged the Indian system in Kashmir – predominantly the National Conference and its leader Sheikh Abdullah – suffered a series of political failures despite his authoritarianism against his opponents. The autonomy granted under the instrument of accession to Kashmir also began to slowly wane, leaving the popular leader of Kashmir disillusioned. He began to make a number of speeches calling for the possibility of Kashmir’s independence.
As a result, Abdullah and his associates were arrested, under orders from the Government of India, and a regime led by Bakshi Ghulam Muhammed was put in place. This coup initiated a trend that was to define the Government of India’s relationship with Kashmir: Each time a Kashmir leader attempted to hold on to autonomy, he was forcibly removed, and pro-center politicians would be put in place in order to curtail the secessionist aspirations of the people.
Elections in post-1953 Kashmir
After 1953, the political processes within the state have remained fraught with tensions and violence. The watershed moment came in 1984, when Maqbool Bhat, a Kashmiri nationalist leader, was hanged in India’s Tihar jail on accusations of being a Pakistani agent. This event seriously radicalized the Kashmiri politics; several armed groups began to mushroom in Kashmir. By the early 1980’s the failure of secular nationalist politics had forced the new generation to respond to the calls of Islamist politics emanating from neighboring war-torn Afghanistan.
The ouster of the Muslim United Front through rigging of the polls in 1987 elections paved a way for the armed uprising. Kashmiris affiliated with both secular and religious groups crossed the Line of Control to get arms training in the camps set up in Pakistan administered Kashmir. However, unlike the popular belief that most people who crossed into Kashmir were foreign mercenaries, the truth is many Pakistan-based Kashmiris who joined the ranks of the armed struggle were actually children of refugee Kashmiris who have moved to Pakistan in prior decades. Many Kashmiris working for the Indian state lived under fear, which ultimately led to the mass migration of the valley’s minority Pandit community from Srinagar to the neighboring district of Jammu. Thousands of Kashmiri Pandits suffer inhumane living conditions in the refugee camps set up in Jammu.
The counterinsurgency processes saw a further militarization of the Kashmiri society. According to the home ministry of India, twenty years after Kashmir erupted into an armed insurgency, there is one Indian soldier for every eleven civilians in Kashmir. Most recently the number of army personnel is 700,000 that are fighting 200 active militant Kashmiris. Under such militarization, the Indian army is accused of grave human rights violations by local and international human rights organizations. In the last two decades, tens of thousands of Kashmiris have been killed or subjected to enforced disappearances and sexual violence (estimates vary between sources). The psychological impact has been felt by almost half of Kashmir’s population.
Kashmir erupted three times since 2008. In 2010 alone, “. The militarization of Kashmiri politics has also led to the breakdown of justice systems. This lack of justice and absence of a political will to deal with Kashmir’s young population makes a number of Kashmiri youth to see militant ideologies as the only option. over a hundred residents in as many days, mostly teenagers and youth” were killed
In the current uprising, the demand for the recognition of the right to self-determination is organizing the Kashmiri resistance yet again. Internationally, the resolution has reached a stalemate, as the Indian and Pakistani claims over the region obfuscate the Kashmiri political consciousness, which is routinely repressed through nationalistic narratives of subcontinental history. For decades, India has maintained that Kashmir is its internal matter, while Pakistan has kept raising the issue as an international one (though oblivious to the varied political aspirations of Kashmiris living on the Indian side) and is also blamed for denying political rights to Kashmirs in Pakistan administered Kashmir.
The international response to the issue has been very inadequate. Most powers have left Kashmiris to the political elite in India and Pakistan, who often use the Kashmir issue to score points domestically. Moreover, the United Nations recently was denied access to the region by India, so there is very little international effort to mitigate the violence in the region.
Treating the Kashmir issue as a simple problem between the nuclear powers India and Pakistan will have fatal consequences. Kashmiris on both the Indian and Pakistani side are forming alliances to bring out on-the-ground narratives in order to direct the world’s attention to this simmering war that has impacted them the most. The international community must respond by providing spaces to Kashmiris for self-representation. If their right to self-determination was acknowledged, the conflict could be resolved.
Inshah Malik (twitter: @inshahmalik) has a PhD in Political Theory and Gender Studies. She is also a former Fox International Fellow at Yale University. She is currently working on her book “The Insurgent Women” about questions of Muslim women’s agency in Kashmir’s resistance politics.
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