The history of Jammu and Kashmir is full of tragedies ever since the British left the Indian-subcontinent in 1947. It has been marred by several crises of political nature that refused to die down and have evolved into a violent conflict over the decades. Moreover, India’s crackdown on the Kashmiri population has resulted in mass genocide especially since the Kashmir uprisings erupted in the late 1980s. Over the past two to three decades, India has repeatedly suppressed freedom of press and speech in the volatile valley and has also arrested influential leaders of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) such as Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq from time to time. The conflict itself is complicated in the sense that most of its Muslim population wishes to gain freedom from India, and for this purpose, armed uprisings have taken their toll.
Looking back at the history, the Radcliffe Boundary Award was a subject of great debate and is widely perceived to be one of the root causes of the Kashmir conflict due to the fact that it granted certain areas such as the Gurdaspur district to India that had strategic importance for Pakistan. Maharaja Hari Singh of Jammu and Kashmir was already pushing for the princely state’s independence and was initially reluctant to join either of the two newly formed dominions. However, he did sign a standstill agreement with Pakistan for maintaining operational line of communications as per existing terms and conditions. An interesting thing to note was that New Delhi stalled the process of its own standstill agreement and maintained pressure on Kashmir’s accession to India.
There was already a perception in Kashmir that it could likely join India that led to mass protests in the princely state by its overwhelmingly Muslim-majority population that wished to join Pakistan. When it became inevitable that the situation may spiral out of control, Pakistan sent its own troops that were allied with tribal forces during early October 1947.
Eventually, the maharaja succumbed to India’s pressure on October 26, 1947 and signed the controversial Instrument of Accession agreement that merged Kashmir with India.
Subsequently, a United Nations (UN) sponsored ceasefire under the supervision of United Nations Military Observer Group on India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) was placed in the region with legally non-binding UNSC Resolution 47 calling for a transparent plebiscite after the withdrawal of all military forces from both sides of the Line of Control (LoC). Morally, New Delhi should have agreed to conduct the plebiscite but it delayed the process to such an extent that the ineffectiveness of any diplomatic progress increased by multiple folds.
On the other hand, Kashmir’s popular secular leader Sheikh Abdullah had his own aspirations and dreams for providing full autonomy for Kashmiris. However, he was often betrayed by his close associates in New Delhi such as Nehru. Eventually, he did manage achieve autonomy for the state through the 1974 Indira-Sheikh Accord that granted special status for the region under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution. The Bhutto-Gandhi Simla Agreement of 1972 also signified the importance of bilateral talks on Kashmir but practically, it was almost impossible to implement given the deep mistrust between both sides.
Although UNSC Resolution 1172 of June 1998 gave importance for pursuing bilateral talks, it could not be duly implemented. Hence, Pakistan gave priority to multilateral talks that involved the mediation of world powers with the backing of Kashmiri leaders.
Nevertheless, during the period between the 1974 accord and the 1989 uprisings, there was relative peace in the state. However, violence and mass protests became increasingly common in the region with the spread of the uprisings. Separatist groups of political and militant nature such as the APHC and Hizbul Mujahideen eclipsed the popularity of the Jammu and Kashmir National Conference (JKNC), which was led by Sheikh Abdullah’s scion Farooq Abdullah. From 1990s onwards, Kashmir saw widespread abuse of human rights by the Indian Army that were widely documented by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW).
The Bijbehara massacre of October 1993 was one such incident in which the Indian Army disregarded all aspects of human rights and even acquitted officers involved in killing innocent protestors, that were infuriated over the blockade of the Hazratbal Shrine. Pro-Pakistan sentiments were widely witnessed across the entire state and anyone who openly claimed to support Pakistan was either kidnapped or killed by Indian security forces.
Eminent scholars and activists such as Arundhati Roy, Tariq Ali and Dr Nitasha Kaul have all argued that India is committing a mass genocide to destroy Kashmir’s social fabric. Kashmir: The Case for Freedom, a 2011 book, highlights the facts on the region’s tense history with chapters written by Roy and Ali. Moreover, Dr Kaul often argues that India is trying to suppress the freedom movement in Kashmir for vested interests.
Hence, Burhan Wani’s killing earlier this year has sparked a fresh wave on calls for seceding from India. Even Omar Abdullah, the former chief minister of the state, seems sceptical on stabilising the state given how Wani’s death has forced New Delhi to suppress and control the press and communications in the valley. Until now, over 100 lives have been lost at the hands of the Indian Army and over 10,000 civilians have been injured. Wani has indeed become the new heroic icon of disaffected Kashmiris and popular calls for freedom are a grave sign of internal animosity.
This clearly shows that the Kashmiris truly wish to accede from India and potentially merge with Pakistan or have an independent state of their own. Perhaps, Wani could be considered the modern era’s Bhagat Singh, who valiantly fought against state oppression back in the days of the British Raj. Interestingly, Wani’s reason to turn against India was his own family’s ill-treatment at the hands of the Indian Army. Those who wish to understand the conflict must know that people like him are forced to take arms against the state when faced with severe oppressive measures.
Eventually, India shall need to realise that it cannot keep the Kashmiris prison in their own region for long and treat them like third class citizens similar to what Israel is doing with the Palestinians. India’s security forces have already killed some 93,000 Kashmiris over the past two decades and the international community has largely remained silent. The Chenab and General Musharraf formulas on Kashmir from 1999 and 2004 respectively could have potentially diffused the political crisis in the region but circumstances couldn’t allow their implementation. Hence, peaceful measures such as holding a plebiscite or meaningful dialogue with Pakistan must be taken by India if it truly wishes to extinguish the fire rather than resorting to dictatorial tactics. Kashmir has indeed turned into South Asia’s Palestine and the resentment shall have long lasting effects on regional political and security dynamics.
The author is a Daily Times staff member, with a special focus on Pakistan’s foreign and national security affairs. He tweets at @mhassankhan06 and can be reached at email@example.com