Kashmir is aflame again amid a renewed outpouring of popular, non-violent revolt against India’s military occupation. Kashmiris are out in the streets, bringing the Valley to a complete shutdown. Despite curfew and the military crackdown, the current political revolt is fast developing into a mass movement, resurrecting the memories of the Kashmiri uprising in the 90s and giving a new dimension to this indomitable struggle for freedom.
The hundreds of thousands of demonstrators that fill the streets of Kashmir’s cities today are overwhelmingly young, many in their teens, and armed with nothing more lethal than stones. Yet the Indian state seems determined to strangle their voices, as it did of the old ones. Since June this year, Indian soldiers have shot dead more than 90 Kashmiri protestors, most of them teenagers. There is a deliberate and direct targeting of young people by the military forces, intent on crushing the anti-occupation movement.
To misrepresent the gravity and magnitude of the Kashmiri uprising, India is crying wolf by raising the bogey of “terrorism.” Kahsmiri youths are only pelting rocks and stones on trigger-free Indian soldiers. Fatal losses are only being suffered by “non-combatant” Kashmiris. Not one casualty has been reported on the side of the Indian paramilitary forces which have been given sweeping powers to open fire, search houses, detain suspects and confiscate property, while themselves enjoying total immunity from prosecution.
Aside from the magnitude of violence unleashed by the military forces against protesters, the most poignant aspect of the situation is the acute suffering of the whole population caused by the frequent curfews, disregard of normal life, arrests, detentions and sometimes disappearances of innocent civilians picked up by the authorities. This is a situation without precedent in South Asia and with few parallels in the world today.
This time, as indeed two years ago, nobody can blame a foreign hand for the Kashmir uprising. The Kashmiris have chosen to speak for themselves and are speaking loud and clear by chanting Azadi! Azadi! They want nothing but freedom from Indian occupation to be able to exercise their inalienable right of self-determination pledged to them by India and Pakistan and by the international community through solemn UN Security Council resolutions. It is indigenous and inevitable eruption of simmering resentment among the Kashmiri people for several decades.
The New York Times last week described the protests as a comprehensive “intifada-like popular revolt.” The world, however, remains silent over this tragedy. There is no voice of conscience from any major Western capital. The Muslim world remains an embarrassing symbol of absolute helplessness. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon hesitatingly issued a statement expressing concern over the worsening situation in Kashmir. Otherwise the UN is today left with no authority or credibility on implementing its own resolutions.
During his US presidential campaign, Barack Obama had pledged he would appoint a special envoy to the region and declared that a solution to the “Kashmir crisis” would be one of his “critical tasks”. Since then, however, the US president hasn’t uttered a word about this crisis that has sowed all major conflicts in South Asia. If only Obama would keep his promise, it would certainly hasten the process of peace and stability in South Asia, home to one-fifth of the human race. In the ultimate analysis, durable peace in Afghanistan is also predicated on peace in South Asia.
Since1947, Kashmir has remained at the core of South Asia’s issues of peace and security, and is today a sombre reminder to the world that the people of Kashmir remain deprived of fundamental values and freedoms. In the 90s, the Kashmiris waged a militant struggle, drawing renewed international focus on the Indian military occupation of Kashmir and its repression of the Kashmiri people. India coped with this situation by holding a fruitless dialogue with Pakistan to deflect international pressure.
In the post-Kargil period, taking advantage of global concern with terrorism, India has remained locked on to the alleged nexus between “terrorism” and the Kashmiri struggle, with the demand that Pakistan cease assistance to the Kashmiri cause. In 2006, it managed to secure a guarantee from Gen Musharraf that Pakistan would not let its territory be used for cross-border terrorist activity. It also almost clinched a backchannel deal on Kashmir in Musharraf’s four-point “out of the box” solution. Since November 2008, India has sought to redefine the Kashmir issue purely as an issue of terrorism.
The reality, however, is alarmingly different. There could be no grimmer description of the Kashmir tragedy today than the article by renowned Indian writer Pankaj Mishra in The Guardian on Aug 14: “Once known for its extraordinary beauty, the valley of Kashmir now hosts the biggest, bloodiest and also the most obscure military occupation in the world.” He then illustrates the everyday regime of arbitrary arrests, curfews, raids and checkpoints enforced by nearly 700,000 Indian soldiers.
Mishra speaks about the Indian media amplifying “the falsehoods and deceptions of Indian intelligence agencies in Kashmir,” which argue that the Kashmiri protests are the work of Islamic fundamentalists and/or terrorists. But in the case of Srinagar, the population of a major town cannot be composed entirely of such elements. Kashmiris simply demand a speedy implementation of the pledge made to them by India, Pakistan and the UN that they would be allowed to decide their own future through a free vote.
Virtually everyone, men, women and children, has taken to the streets in Srinagar to lodge a non-violent protest at the office of the United Nations against the continuance of Indian occupation. But such non-violent protests have received little or no press coverage, even though they have been taking place since 2008, Mishra says. According to him, the ongoing protests are an unmistakable expression of Kashmiris’ resentment against the indifference of world powers and their failure, largely because of the toxic power politics, to implement international agreements.
No wonder the Kashmiris today feel betrayed and are out on the streets demanding to be freed from Indian military rule. Theirs is the voice of a wronged and neglected people. Only two years ago, Indian writer Arundhati Roy had challenged the world’s and India’s conscience on this issue, drawing people’s attention to a huge price being paid in terms of military, material, moral and human costs in the Indian occupation of Kashmir against the wishes of its people.
This is the crux of the Kashmir situation. India will do itself good by seeing the writing on the wall. Popular movements cannot be suppressed. Brutal military force brings no relief to anyone. Stark lessons are there to read in the unclosed chapters of Afghanistan and Iraq.
There is but one fair, just, legal, and moral solution to Kashmir which was provided by the United Nations, and which both India and Pakistan had accepted. The setting aside of the UN resolutions is one thing, the discarding of the principle they embodied is quite another. The underlying cardinal principle of self-determination cannot be thrown overboard.
The Kashmir settlement has to be in accordance with the wishes of the Kashmiri people, impartially ascertained, in conditions of freedom from intimidation. It is never too late to revert to the path of justice and fair play, and to heed to sanity and rationality.