KASHMIR on the Boil Again

KASHMIR on the Boil Again

Violence is never a solution to the problem

The month of April 2018 started with yet another episode of terrorism and oppression carried out by the Indian army in Kashmir. On the very first day of the month, Indian security forces brutally killed at least 20 people and injured more than 200. As per the reports, hundreds of people came out to stop Indian forces from searching their homes on the pretext of finding ‘militants’. Indian army is accused of using one of the slain civilians as a human shield. Local activists say the army shot at unarmed protesters either to kill or disable them. This is the height of Indian terrorism in Kashmir as it is now on a killing spree of civilians only to avenge the failure of its army in quelling the anti-India sentiment that has become ever more widespread in the occupied valley. 

The recent killings in Kashmir have been touted by the Indian media as a major success for its security forces. But a closer look reveals that it is by no means a setback for the freedom movement. Rather, it is the opposite. The freedom movement is getting stronger with every passing day. And the grand failure of Indian army’s ‘Operation All-Out’ speaks volumes about the enigma the Indian forces and the government are faced with at present.

Indian Army launched its ‘Operation All-Out’ in the year 2017. The ostensible purpose of this operation was to eliminate the rising urge of freedom among the Kashmiris by infusing a fear among the Kashmiri youth about the repercussions of joining the freedom movement. A year has passed since then, but has the operation yielded any success in getting the situation normal in the state by the barrel of gun? The answer is: No. The claim of local police that Kashmiri youth are no more enthused to join militancy holds no ground. Ever since the launch of Operation All-Out, hundreds of Kashmiri youths have joined the ranks of freedom fighters. Quite surprisingly, a vast majority of them comes from educated and well-to-do families, and it negates the claim of the Indian security agencies that only uneducated and unemployed youth are joining ‘militancy’. In fact, the list prepared by Indian security forces includes the names of those holding degrees – even PhDs are on the list – and many of them have left their lucrative jobs. The current Kashmiri generation is very sensitive toward the happenings in the state. Hiding atrocities and brutalities on Kashmiri people is not possible now because of social media – perhaps, it was due to this reason that Indian government put social media under a prolonged ban in the valley last year. Oppressive Indian measure of criminalizing the right to dissent and peaceful protest has added fuel to the fire. Today, the Kashmiri youths have realized that successive Prime Ministers of India put lollipops like ‘sky is the limit’, ‘anything within constitution’, ‘Insaniyat’ and ‘Kashmiriyat’ in their mouth but they have yielded nothing. Half-hearted dialogue process, appointment of interlocutors in 2010 and later throwing their reports in dustbin, failure of United Nations in bringing peace to the occupied state are the reasons the Kashmiri youths have lost faith in peaceful and democratic means.

Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, in an attempt to solve a political issue through an economic perspective, announced a package of 80,000 crore Indian rupees for the development of the state. Although the announcement cheered the faces of unionist politicians but the ground reality remains the same. It is because Modi did not ask its military to stop violating the human rights of the Kashmiris. His Kashmir strategy was two-pronged: financial support for Kashmir’s development so as to lure the youth into India’s fold, and simultaneously using force against freedom fighters in order to teach a lesson to those who would dare fight for freedom. But, the policy has not really been successful as resentment against the state government and New Delhi has increased manifold in the past few years. Today, it is clear as crystal that Modi’s aggressive Kashmir policy is a result of his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) overall negative and oppressive approach toward the Muslims of not only Kashmir but also of India itself.

The huge number of people participating in the funeral of Shaheed Burhan Wani should have been an eye-opener for the Indian government but it didn’t change the approach. Today, in the post-Burhan era, whenever a freedom fighter embraces martyrdom and sacrifices his life for the sake of freedom of Kashmir, hundreds of thousands of people flock his funeral. Indian forces used brutal military means to quell the revolution in Kashmir; they blinded children by pellet guns, they tortured elders inside their homes with PAVA shells, but the flame of freedom could not be extinguished.

Everybody knows that the Kashmiri freedom fighters are no match to the Indian army and paramilitary forces. In fact, against every soldier, four militants or even more have died, on average. But by dying in clashes with the army, these brave sons of the soil inject life into the freedom movement.

In short, the youth of Kashmir are angry and irate. They are frustrated because Indian governments have never shown the will to address the problem in Kashmir. New Delhi has always seen Kashmir through a security lens. And, this policy has led to grave violations of human rights in the valley. But despite all their brutal tactics, the occupation forces had been defeated by the determination of the freedom-loving people of Kashmir and India could not suppress their right of self-determination through merciless killings. The 800,000 Indian troops in held Kashmir had not been able to crush the Kashmiris’ spirit for liberation, nor would they succeed in their designs. The freedom movement will never fall a victim to the intimidation or political and economic blandishments of India. This indigenous movement will remain unfazed in the face of Indian aggression.

Changing Nature of the Conflict

The armed conflict in Kashmir, which has been going on for the past 30 years, has undergone a major change. In the first 10 years or more, bomb blasts, cordon-and-search operations, fire-fights, political assassinations and such other incidents were a daily occurrence. On occasions when the Indian security forces wanted to give themselves a pat on their shoulders, they would call it “residual militancy.” But now a perception is being created that the Indian forces are facing a huge challenge in the state again.

There is no denying the armed conflict. But it has now included the popular resistance. The change started with the Amarnath Temple land row in 2008, when up to half a million people would join protest marches. It was in that year that tens of thousands of people marched toward the Line of Control in Uri. The next two years saw similar protests for months together. But, by far, the worst kind of unrest happened after the killing of Burhan Wani in 2016. Tens of thousands of people took to the streets; about 100 fell to bullets, thousands of others were injured and hundreds blinded in one or both eyes by pellets fired by the Indian forces.

People have joined the funerals of militants in large numbers in the past as well but such outpouring of support for a freedom fighter was seen for the first time. Also, months before, a new trend had become noticeable – of ordinary people gathering near the site of an encounter to express solidarity with the fighters or even help them escape. All this is significant because the sudden increase in public support for freedom fighters in Kashmir is in inverse proportion to the decline in their numbers. This is reminiscent of the initial days of the armed conflict when ‘mujahideen’ became part of the folklore and women would sing of them during weddings.

The Indian army’s coercive tactics for handling the civilians who rush to encounter sites appear to have the support of a majority of the Indian people. But, an overall perception that is being created about Kashmir is that the army is at war with ordinary people. This is where the slain freedom fighters have succeeded. They have laid down their lives but there the freedom sentiment has grown stronger.

What Pakistan should do?

While Pakistan and its people are outraged at the happenings across the Line of Control, it is also a moment to rethink our policy on Kashmir. Not in terms of support for the peoples’ right to self-determination, but in taking the disputed region off the table in dealings with the US on regional security.

The best thing for Pakistan to do would be to put the brakes on knee-jerk reactions. Our Foreign Office needs to devise a comprehensive policy about human rights abuses by the Indian security apparatus. The bitter truth is that Indian diplomatic efforts to equate people’s resistance in IHK with terrorism have succeeded and Pakistan’s protests have not been getting much traction for years.

Firstly, Pakistan’s foreign policy elites need to reframe the issue and remind the world that violence in Kashmir is nothing short of state-sponsored terrorism and that the international community is encouraging India’s bad behaviour by not doing anything. For this to happen, Islamabad has to ensure that its support is diplomatic and political and not seen in terms of supporting proxy militias. This is an image problem as well as a security conundrum that needs to be addressed in view of our long-standing commitment to the Kashmiri people.

Secondly, point scoring on Kashmir against New Delhi must be replaced with a comprehensive strategy that can refute the Indian counter-charges of harbouring terrorists on our side of the border.

Thirdly, Islamabad must tackle the militant mainstreaming project that has appeared to be in the offing for some time. For it is the people there that pay the ultimate price of aggression. Pakistan must keep this in mind if it wants to demonstrate sincerity regarding the self-determination question.

Fourthly, if Pakistan is to truly enjoy any moral high ground on this front, it must ensure that human rights begin ‘at home’. For far from risking alienating the Kashmiri people – this will signal that this country’s top leadership is committed to such fundamental tenets for all.

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