The writer is a former member of the Pakistan Foreign Service.
The current wave of pro-Azadi demonstrations which began in Occupied Kashmir on June 11 with the death of a teenage boy at the hands of the Indian forces entered its 100th day on Saturday. Nearly a hundred young Kashmiris have been killed by the occupation forces during this period for daring to raise their voice against Indian rule. More than a thousand have been injured, some maimed and disabled for life. Yet, in spite of the use of brute force to suppress it, the “Quit Jammu and Kashmir” movement has been growing and has gripped not only the major urban centres but also remote towns and villages of the Kashmir Valley. It has also spread to some of the Muslim-majority areas of Jammu. Eidul Fitr, and especially the following day, saw an explosion of popular anger against Indian occupation on a scale not seen since the nineties.
What began as a largely spontaneous and sporadic outburst of popular anger at the highhandedness of the occupation forces has now assumed the proportion of a mass rebellion. It has knocked the bottom out of the Indian case that the freedom movement is fed and instigated by Pakistan and that, by participating in the State Assembly election of December 2008—in which India claims that a phenomenal 65 per cent of the electorate took part—the Kashmiri people rejected the “hardliners” who demand Azadi. As APHC chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq has said, the protests are a form of referendum showing that the Kashmiris want freedom from India.
Another reason for Indian concern is that the “Quit Jammu and Kashmir” movement is a resounding rejection by the Kashmiri people of the “settlement” that Musharraf was negotiating with Manmohan Singh through the backchannel, which would have sanctified the division of the state along the Line of Control and given India permanent control over the occupied part. According to former foreign minister Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri, most of the APHC leadership had been on board and the only significant opposition had come from Tehreek-e-Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani. His lieutenants are now spearheading the current movement and setting the pace of the protests, with the “moderate” faction of the APHC mostly playing catch-up.
The reactivation of the backchannel negotiations has been a key element of Delhi’s Kashmir policy and it has been working quietly with Washington’s discreet support for this purpose. But the Zardari government has been dithering, not so much by design as by default. Kashmir is not on its radar screen because its main preoccupation is to hold on to power and save Zardari from corruption charges. With the upsurge in the Azadi movement, a return to the backchannel will become even more difficult to sell to the Pakistani public. Even Kasuri, the most persistent and ardent advocate of the backchannel in Pakistan, has fallen silent on this issue.
The popular rebellion in Kashmir has upset also the “domestic” part of Delhi’s Kashmir agenda which is focused on engaging the “moderate” APHC faction led by the Mirwaiz in talks on some form of autonomy within the scope of the Indian constitution. On Aug 25, Indian home minister P Chidambaram expressed the hope that in the next few days Delhi would be able to “restart the process of dialogue that will lead to a solution.” In response, Geelani laid down five conditions, which have been endorsed by the Mirwaiz. These include terms that are totally unacceptable to Delhi, like acceptance of Kashmir as an international dispute and the commencement of complete demilitarisation of the state. This has pushed back the prospects of the internal dialogue with Kashmiri parties sought by Delhi, especially after the massacre of a score of peaceful demonstrators in one day last week.
In short, the Kashmiri intifada has wrecked, or at least severely compromised, three main elements of Manmohan Singh’s Kashmir policy: the showcasing of the election to the State Assembly as an endorsement of Indian rule; the resuscitation of the backchannel deal; and the activation of the “internal” track of dialogue with the “moderates.” Besides, this summer’s popular uprising shows once again that even six decades of repressive Indian rule have not succeeded in suppressing the freedom movement. The baton has now been taken up by a new generation of Kashmiris. Instead of the armed struggle of the nineties, they have turned to mass street protests, often organised by educated young men through Facebook and mobile phones. It is no wonder that the Indian establishment and political parties of all hues have been unnerved.
There is every indication that in its desperation, Delhi will resort to even more violence to quell the popular agitation. This was signalled also by the deliberations of the all-parties meeting called by Manmohan Singh last week. All that the meeting decided was to send a delegation of politicians to Kashmir to meet all sections of the people and assess the ground situation. The meeting could not agree even on a token relaxation of India’s iron grip, such as a proposal by Omar Abdullah, the state’s beleaguered chief minister, for a dilution in the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFPSA). Nobody imagines that a change in the law would ease Indian repression in Kashmir, but even such a purely cosmetic measure was vetoed by the Indian armed forces.
An even harsher crackdown against the civilian population is now imminent. The Indian authorities have begun deploying the army to support the state police in enforcing the curfew and to prevent popular protests against the Indian occupation. Large numbers of “miscreants” are being rounded up and a manhunt has been launched to arrest Masarrat Alam Bhat, deputy leader of Tehreek-e-Hurriyat, who has played a key part in organising anti-India protests.
The international community has been a silent spectator to the reign of terror unleashed by India. One reason is to be found in the geopolitical plans or strategic interests of the US and other countries of the West. The last time Obama uttered the K-word was nearly two years ago. The Indian reaction was immediate. Since then the US president has carefully steered clear of Kashmir.
Another reason, one even more deplorable, for the indifference of the international community to India’s brutal repression of the Kashmiris, is the failure of the Pakistani government to raise the issue at the international level. In his recently published memoirs, former British prime minister Tony Blair recalls his surprise when during his visit to Pakistan after the 9/11 attacks Musharraf asked him to resolve Palestine rather than the Kashmir issue. The present government has also given the same low priority to Kashmir. In fact it is doubtful if it has a Kashmir policy. Its only response to the recent earth-shaking developments has been to issue two blandly worded statements. One of them calls for “restraint” by the Indian government, suggesting that if less force were used Pakistan would have no objection. The other statement refers to the occupation forces as “security forces” as if they were engaged in a legitimate activity to provide security.
Issuing statements from Islamabad will not be enough. The government must also devise a proactive policy to mobilise international support for the peaceful Azadi movement in the occupied state. Its failure to do so is unforgivable. As an immediate step, the government must forcefully take up the issue at international fora and bilaterally with Washington and other key countries. The prime minister (but please not Zardari) should address the UN General Assembly during the general debate beginning this Thursday and urge the international community to take steps to safeguard the human rights of the Kashmiris. The prime minister should also write letters to key heads of government. In addition, the foreign minister should address the Human Rights Council meeting currently in Geneva. Like the government, our parliament and political parties should also wake up to their responsibility to the people of Kashmir as they face the onslaught of the 700,000-strong Indian occupation force in the state.