Woman and graffiti. Kashmir Global/Flickr. Some rights reserved.
As violence escalates between Indian police and Kashmir’s pro-independence protestors, the international community remains silent. Soon this silence threatens to become as protracted as the Kashmir conflict itself. The feud between the warring parties in India and Pakistan has also been heightened in recent days with tensions evocatively on display at the G20 summit. With such a dramatic backdrop, why has the Kashmir question been dismissed so easily? Can this be attributed to the rivalry between India and Pakistan or is it due to the paucity of international debate?
Kashmir has experienced a rise in violence since the murder of separatist militant leader Burhan Wani on 8 July 2016. In the aftermath of the attack, India and Pakistan have blamed one another for causing the unrest. India has accused Pakistan of funding and sheltering terrorist groups. In turn, Pakistan has lambasted India for ignoring human rights abuses by the police force.
I spoke to Moazzem[*], a young photographer based in Srinagar, Kashmir. As with many of his contemporaries, Moazzem is one of the so-called ‘young revolutionaries.’ His generation have been strongly affected by the conflict. The Kashmiri rapper MC Kash states in his music that every man is born a “rebel.” With Kashmiri youth so central to the struggle, it’s easy to understand the inspiration behind the lyric. They are, in their own words, constantly “misrepresented by politicians.” Moazzem was engaged and well-informed regarding the conflict. His answers were filled with detail about the pressures young people experience living in the shadow of a curfew.
Moazzem tells me, “The situation here is getting worse. Today two more youths were killed by police in the Pulwama district of Jammu and Kashmir. There has been a curfew in place for 50 days. People have been locked in their homes since the killing of local Hizbul Mujahedeen Commander Burhan Wani. During curfew even ambulances and journalists are not allowed through easily. We have to show our ID cards every 10 to 20 metres. Many of us have also been beaten by the local police or Indian forces. Indian forces ask us to show the curfew passes which have been provided by government officials. We have been stopped from covering events many times.”
Every man is born a "rebel."
There have been frequent allegations that Indian forces are not held accountable for abuses of power. A September 2015 report by Amnesty International documented the level of impunity for atrocities reportedly committed in Jammu Kashmir. According to human rights groups, these incidents are all too common. Section 7 of the Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act, 1990 (AFSPA) grants virtual immunity to members of the security forces. The legislation has proved to be contentious as it prevents prosecution for alleged human rights violations. Section 7 recently sparked riots in response to the Handwara case where a young girl was allegedly assaulted and abused in police custody.
Ending violence like this won’t be possible without first acknowledging the extent of the problem in Kashmir. For this to become a reality, however, there is a strong need for systematic reform. Police must be held accountable: from first line supervisors to senior leadership in towns and cities and right up to the board of the constabulary, Only then will it be possible to understand the disproportionate number of civilians killed in the ongoing unrest.
Pakistan’s response to the current fighting in Kashmir has been criticised by many for its lack of urgency. During his Eid address, prime minister Nawaz Sharif stated that he was sending a delegation of 22 ministers on an international tour to highlight the plight of the Kashmiris. Sharif has faced accusations of bias in the formation of the delegation. While the 22 ministers were selected from a number of different parties the majority were from his own.
The list of delegates has also come under fire for lacking specialist knowledge. The delegation has even been denounced as being closer to tourism than a practical political initiative. The preparation for meetings consists of a briefing by the foreign office. Delegates are then tasked with promoting a strategy on that basis alone. Many observers have denounced these briefings as purely symbolic and unlikely to promote a viable solution. Without adequate credentials, parliamentarians are simply not prepared for the task at hand. From a source, I learned that Pakistan’s foreign minister will likely address the international community about Kashmir ahead of the UN General Assembly. However, because of the mishandling of the delegation, many have criticised this address as a missed opportunity.
The delegation has even been denounced as being closer to tourism than a practical political initiative.
For Kashmir, the main concern is that Pakistan and India will present insufficient analysis of the crisis, making the path to a resolution unlikely. Kashmir has been missing from the agenda of both governments for years. Although recent activity has brought about much-needed discussions, the situation remains fraught. The imposed curfew in Kashmir has continued for three months, restricting the movement of journalists and human rights organisations. The Indian authorities’ recent arrest of Kashmiri human rights activist Khurram Pervez has been another setback in creating an international dialogue about Kashmir.
I discussed the Indian position with Gautham Navlakha from the People’s Union for Democratic Rights. Navlakha describes the silence from Indian civil society as resulting from “a combination of factors. There is disquiet because of political stalemate. The military suppression continues because of a hawkish way of thinking. This is the dominant official line: everything has to be subjugated and the people have to be put in their place. Once you include Pakistan into this whole thing [Kashmir unrest] you add a national security dimension so even the liberal and democratic elements become mute.”
Questions of national security continue to influence the course of the crisis. On 18 September 2016 Pakistani militants stormed a military base in Uri, killing 18 soldiers and injuring a dozen others. Questions have been raised about how terrorists were able to infiltrate the base along the line of control which is a heavily militarised zone. After the attack, Indian news sources reflected the government’s call for direct action with headlines like "PM Modi vows action." The Indian response demonstrates the precarious security situation for neighbouring countries. The Uri attack and its aftermath herald an uncertain future for both India and Pakistan.
The Uri attack has also undermined Pakistan’s authority on the international stage. Nawaz Sharif is due to address the UN General Assembly to present the case for Kashmir. However, the timing of the attack in Uri presents yet another stumbling block for Pakistan’s government. The Kashmiri cause has now been tainted by Pakistani militants’ act of terrorism. There is a concern that no matter how aggressively Nawaz Sharif postures at the general assembly, the narrative may not be strong enough to counter the Uri attack. A number of lawmakers in the United States have expressed solidarity with the Indian government against the threat of terrorism and called for “enhanced cooperation” between the US and India.
As India and Pakistan clash, the violence in Kashmir shows no sign of ending. The last time I contacted Moazzem about the conditions in Srinagar he took time to respond. The situation was worse, he told me, saying that he and another photojournalist had been injured while covering demonstrations. As the number of confrontations between civilians and police increase, the need for level-headed policy is imperative. With both India and Pakistan in possession of nuclear weapons, there is a significant threat that tensions will escalate. The conflict could very well trigger a strike back on one of the most disputed corners of the world. If this is the outcome, the Kashmir cause will remain at an impasse. Unfortunately, censorship and a lack of understanding continue to obscure the roots of the recent dissent.
[*] Name has been changed