As the year draws to a close Kashmir's violence continues unchecked, adding another year of tragedy, brutality, and oppression to the lives of its citizens.
As the rest of the world begins to celebrate the new year and contemplate what went right in 2018, it is time for Kashmir to determine how much blood was spilled, and how much more will be spilled in years to come.
In addition to the customary violence that consumed lives in 2018, Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) witnessed electoral scenes that reaffirm the dishonest Indian state policy on Kashmir, the rape of a Muslim girl that exposed schisms in Indian society and a historic UN report that was rejected outright by India.
Political changes indicate where the conflict is heading but matter little if it is not a priority for the international community.
The question frequently asked, which does not have an answer, and will not at the end of this article is: When and how will the conflict in Kashmir end?
Another “normal” year of violence
As many as 110 civilians were killed in Kashmir in 2018, making it one of the worst in recent years in terms of loss of life. Increased offensives against insurgents led to razed houses and the frequent killing of civilians – about 225 militants were killed this year.
If we look at numbers, the conflict has worsened. More ‘muscular policies’ have resulted in more violence, ‘winning hearts and mind’ has failed and the policy has proved to be counterproductive. It does seem that by stifling alternative modes of protest, the state is pushing more and more people towards the path of violence.
Despite claims by the Indian government and army officials that recruitment and the radicalisation of insurgent ranks is decreasing, there has been no let-up in insurgency operations.
The claim by Indian army official Lt Gen Ranbir Singh that the “army acts swiftly and ensures peace, stability and security” in the case of an “untoward incident” is baffling. This statement is a paradox in itself: an army which killed 110 civilians in 2018 alone cannot possibly ensure peace and stability.
What it has shown is that the only strategy for peace is to make sure that dissent is silenced. The killing of civilians also belies his claim that the army works in a “professional manner” while fighting the insurgents.
Numbers do not matter anymore. Violence is so normalised that a day without a death appears incomplete. Newspapers have become a catalogue of dead people.
Hospitals are filled with witnesses to violence, blinded by the Indian army’s pellet guns and with bodies pierced by bullets. A temple hosted men who raped and murdered a minor nomad girl because she belonged to the ‘other’ caste and religion. An eighteen-month-old baby awaits her fate after becoming the youngest pellet victim in Kashmir. Six families were made homeless in a single night when the army razed their houses to kill two militants – one 14 and the other 17 years old. Such stories are manifestations of everyday violence in Kashmir and consumed by every Kashmiri, every single day.
When India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) formed a coalition government with the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), it was a coming together of an extreme right-wing Hindutva force and a “soft separatist” voice of Kashmir.
The PDP acted as a messiah to the Kashmiris when the state suppression of the armed insurgency reached its peak in the 1990s. With its affiliations to the Indian state and a hollow pro-Kashmir sentiment, the PDP managed to pull off the role quite well.
In the 2014 assembly elections, the PDP did the unthinkable to common Kashmiris – it allied itself with the BJP. It proved to be a marriage of inconvenience. The BJP strategically pulled out of the government in 2018 leaving the PDP barefaced but also willing to play the victim card.
A continuum of what has been a feature of electoral politics in Kashmir was seen in 2018. The urban local body polls witnessed a 4.27 percent turnout in Kashmir. The BJP gained though, as most of the seats were uncontested and did not go to polls. That was enough of a cause for satisfaction for the BJP-led Indian government.
Time and again, even a minimal voter turnout has been portrayed as an assent to the legitimacy of Indian control in Kashmir, while those refusing to participate in such elections are made invisible.
In India, the Congress party is no different towards Kashmir than the BJP. The only visible difference is that the former sells a facade of “peace and normalcy” in Kashmir to their voter base while the latter boasts of the magnitude of the violence perpetrated in Kashmir to win their fans over.
UN Takes Note
On the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the UN released its first human rights report on Kashmir. It was better late than never. The report acknowledged: “There is an urgent need to address past and ongoing human rights violations and abuses and deliver justice for all people in Kashmir, who for seven decades have suffered a conflict that has claimed or ruined numerous lives.”
Following decades of silence over Kashmir, the UN report backed the credibility of local human rights organisations like the Jammu & Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) and the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP). It built on and supported earlier documentation such as the Amnesty International reports which declared the Public Safety Act as a "lawless law" or repeated calls for repealing the Armed Forces Special Powers Act.
The report released by the UNHCR irked the usual suspects. While Kashmiris, the primary victims of this intractable conflict, welcomed the fact that the apex ‘human rights upholder’ of the world had finally spoken, the Indian intelligentsia dismissed it.
The Ministry of External Affairs of India “rejected” the report as “fallacious, tendentious and motivated”. A prominent television voice praised this rejection of the "airy fairy" UN report. Another termed it “idiotic, toxic and fatally flawed”.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights was called a "quasi-Islamist". The flaws or fallacies in the report picked out by Indian voices symbolise a persistent denial by the Indian state to independent investigating agencies like the UN or Amnesty International.
What lies ahead?
In South Asia, as cliched as it sounds, the solution to the Kashmir dispute is crucial to regional peace and stability. However it appears that no one is ready to talk out a solution as long as only common people die and trade remains unaffected.
Beating around the bush is what India and Pakistan have been doing for decades. The issue is simple and straightforward, yet made complex and unthinkable, by egoistic sovereign power and selfish national interests.
Indian army chief Bipin Rawat said in an interview in May 2018: “I want to tell the Kashmiri youth that azadi will never happen, they can’t fight us.”
The statement is a tacit admission of the fact that Kashmir is fighting for its freedom and not for any arrangement within the Indian framework. By this admission, it also belies the Indian claims that “people vote, so they want to be with India” or “Kashmir is India’s mismanaged internal problem”.
There is no clearer indication that India and its military, which isn’t allowing azadi to happen, is holding Kashmir by force.
Even after seven decades, India refuses to acknowledge that Kashmir is a dispute – destroying human lives and property – and needs to be talked about. There is no pressure on India to do so either. No one can seem to pressure the largest growing economy.
A prerequisite put forward by the Kashmiri leadership many times is that before any substantial talks can be held, there needs to be an Indian acknowledgement of Kashmir as a conflict. India is rigid in its refusal to do so. This is the tragedy and also the heart of the Kashmir conflict.
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