The Kashmiri People’s Aspirations and the Solidarity Movement

Gautam Navlakha

Talks are said to begin between the Indian government and a faction of the All Party Hurriyat Conference on January 22. And in February ‘composite’ talks (which includes the Kashmir dispute) are to start between the Indian and Pakistani governments. There is no doubt that talking is better than warring. Had the Indian government moved to resolve the Kashmir dispute with Pakistan and the people of Kashmir prior to 1987 there would have been no need for armed uprising by the Kashmiris. 1947-87 is a period of a four decade long non-violent struggle fought by the Kashmiris who used every means available from street protests to fighting elections. The fact is that had not the Kashmiris taken up arms neither the Indian government nor the international community would have bothered much about Kashmiri aspirations. While the talks are welcome the exclusion of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front and the Hizbul Mujahideen rob them of their representative character. To appreciate this proposition there is a need to know the altered social context within which this exercise is taking place.

There are several aspects to the situation in Jammu and Kashmir: the historical origins of the dispute going back to the partition; the denial of democratic rights by both India and Pakistan to the people living in territories held by them; the division of water resources between India and Pakistan through the Indus Water Treaty of 1960 to the detriment of people on both sides; the displacement of people from their home and hearths, be it the Mirpuris due to the Tarbela dam or the Kashmiri pandits due to the insurgency or other local communities due to border shelling; regional disparities... etc. All these are issues of concern. But these pale into insignificance before the 14-year-long insurgency and counter-insurgency in Indian-held Kashmir.

The ceasefire along the 198 kilometres of international border and the 928 kilometres of the Line of Control (which includes the 150 kilometres of the Actual Ground Position Line claimed by India in Siachen) means that the civilian casualties along this tense area would now stop and so would the damage caused to farmlands and glaciers through cordite poisoning. However, while shelling across the line of control would halt, counter-insurgency operations, says the Indian government, will continue. Indeed the much heralded talks between the Hurriyat (Ansari) with the Indian Deputy Prime Minister which was expected to usher in an internal ceasefire by Id has shown itself to be hyperbolic and the Indian Deputy Prime Minister has rejected the demand. Which is to say the war against the Kashmiris continues.

Three wars have been fought and the policy of military oppression of the insurgency (which is called a ‘proxy war’ by India) has failed to lead anywhere. Neither the Karachi Pact of 1949 nor the Shimla Pact of 1972 produced results. Indeed the Shimla Pact which obliged the two sides not to use force to push their claim has been adhered to in breach. If India violated this in 1983-84 through its ‘Operation Meghdoot’ which resulted in the occupation of the Siachen heights then Pakistan is guilty of doing the same through its Kargil incursion in 1999. In the intervening years both countries have used this dispute as an excuse to go in for nuclear arms thereby adding an altogether new dimension to the conflict over Kashmir. This makes the need for a peaceful and democratic solution even more urgent. By ‘peaceful’ here is meant dialogue and negotiations between the three parties to the dispute, and by ‘democratic’ is meant respecting the wishes of the majority of the people while ensuring protection for the religious, ethnic and political minorities.

While there is a simmering discontent in the Pakistan-held areas of Kashmir against the various acts of omission and commission of successive Pakistani governments, counter-insurgency has been confined to Indian-held territory. Starting in 1989 with an estimated 300 militants against whom were deployed 36,000 Indian troops, there has been a spurt in troop deployment which has reached more than 500,000 (the Army has three corps in Jammu and Kashmir; there are 120,000 central para-military forces; 50,000 Rashtriya Rifles; 60,000 J&K police; 18,000 SPOs; and about 8000 village defence committees) even as the number of militants operating in Kashmir went down from a high of 10,000 in 1992-93 to less than 5000 after 1996-97 and today it is said to hover between 3000-3500.

During the ‘war mobilization’ (December 2001-October 2002) apart from heavy deployment, land mines were laid close to the international border and the line of control in Jammu and Kashmir. While the Indian Army has removed landmines from the international borders in Punjab and Rajasthan they are going slow in removing mines in Jammu and Kashmir where only 58% of the mines had been cleared until mid-October. Fencing of the line of control and its electrification is slated to be completed by June 2004. Sensors and night vision devices are available for monitoring activities on the line of control. Residents of the border areas are obliged to carry identity cards day and night at home or outside. The combination of landmines and fencing of the line of control has disrupted the life of local communities. Apart from these, forces are being deployed in areas which lead up to high mountain peaks in the Pir Panjal and Shamsabari ranges. All this is part of the ‘Siachinisation’ of the line of control where high mountain passes are manned throughout the year. The sheer presence of such a huge force means that a lot of productive land has passed into military hands such as orchards, fields etc. and for sure retards progress. Besides, the cordon and search operations that can last from a few hours to days mean that economic life of the people is disrupted.

The Indian security forces are empowered with a regime of draconian laws like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, the Public Safety Act (1978), the Enemy Agent Ordinance (1948), the Egress and Internal Movement (Control) Ordinance (1948), the Prevention of Unlawful Activities Act (1963), the Prevention of Suppression and Sabotage Act (1965). They can search, question, raid houses, detain without charge for years, kill, all on mere suspicion, anytime and anywhere in Jammu and Kashmir. And even if security forces try to become less brutal and harsh in their dealing the fact is that coercion is their main task and therefore atrocities are an intrinsic part of the situation.

Besides, normalcy cannot prevail if people are denied their fundamental right to live in dignity and to exercise their civil liberties. Since the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir – barring Ladakh – has been brought under the purview of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act in October 1990 and the state declared as ‘Disturbed’, extraordinary powers have been conferred on the Indian security forces which have constricted people’s fundamental rights including their right to life guaranteed by the Indian Constitution as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Articles 1-27), to which the Indian government is a signatory.

The Mufti Mohammed Sayeed-led government exercises little control over the Indian security forces who operate under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and which also indemnifies them through section 6 of the Act against prosecution without approval of the India’s central government. The Mufti government was also not able to release more than a handful of political prisoners nor keep the pledge to disband the Special Operations Group! And even the Prevention of Terrorism Act is now being invoked. Two alleged accomplices of the fedayeens who attacked the BSNL telecom centre near the Army’s Badamibagh cantonment have been charged under POTA. Although it matters little when Preventive Detention of opponents for up to two years without the bother of a chargesheet provides an alternative route. Custodial killings and disappearances have persisted. According to the Association of Disappeared Persons since the Mufti government came to power in November 2002 allegedly the number of disappeared has reached 116.

This is one side of the story. Consider the other. The October 1, 2003 attack on the Chief Minister’s residence in Srinagar by two militants saw a 36 hour standoff accompanied by a complete curfew in Srinagar. Thus an entire city was held at bay as an immediate response to the grenade attack on the Chief Minister’s residence by two militants. In the attack on army’s camp at Sanjivan Camp in June last in which 12 soldiers died it took the army’s Quick Reaction Team 5 hours to kill 2 militants. The weeklong operations against 7 militants in Ghatti (Kathua district) in September were called off when army found that despite 2000 soldiers encircling them all the seven escaped the dragnet. Apparently after 3 days militant guns had fallen silent whereas troops continued to fire mistaking firing by troops on the other side of river Ujh’s tributary to be ‘enemy fire’. A military court of inquiry into the attack on Tanda EME camp near Jammu on July 22 which among others killed the commander of the camp Brigadier V K Govil reportedly said that three militants in uniform entered through main gate after shooting the sentry dead. The Quarter Guards (2 on duty and 6 resting) failed to engage the militants and instead ran away. And the officer bled to death because personnel rushed to get the three generals out of harm’s way. Finally, the Hilkaka operation which took four months to prepare and included 10-12 battalions resulted in the killing of officially just 62 out of an estimated 350 militants at the camp! For the militants to come 35 kilometres and built a camp and store several tons of rations at such heights is noteworthy! Just two or more militants are striking high security military targets or managing to keep a huge force at bay. Each strike results in panic clampdown of an entire city or area. This is not a mark of confidence. Unable to fight a shadowy enemy results in security forces targeting non-combatants.

Consequently, 14 years of counter-insurgency have altered the social and economic lives of the Kashmiri people. No section of the Kashmiri society has escaped the debilitating consequence of violence and counter-violence. The human cost of the war and the extent of damage caused is staggering. According to the Jammu and Kashmir police the death toll between January 1990 to December 2002 was 94,000 (India’s Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) insists it is 34,709) from 56,041 incidents of violence. Of these 60,000 were said to be militants (15,000 as per MHA), 30,000 civilians (11,000 as per MHA) and the balance 4000 (same as MHA) were security force personnel of which 1037 were police personnel. It is interesting to note that the then Minister of State in the Indian Home Ministry, Mohammad Maqbool Dar, said on July 16, 1996 in Jammu at a press conference that from 1989-90 to June 1996 40,000 persons had died in the violence (Indian Express, July 17, 1996). Besides, as per the Mufti Mohammed Sayeed government itself 3921 persons have gone ‘missing’; tens of thousands injured and tortured; incarceration of nearly 60,000 persons in the last 14 years for varying lengths of time; more than 20,000 widowed; the presence of 35-40,000 orphans; all this is a living reminder of the cataclysmic social impact of counter-insurgency. The recurrent attack on women including rape and molestation are as debilitating as the targeting of children. While both the security forces as well as militants are guilty of heinous crimes by far the major culprit is the security forces.

The Mufti government had pledged relief and rehabilitation (R&R) for ‘all victims of violence’, i.e. including those killed by the Indian security forces. Significantly the Indian government has refused to provide any funds for the R&R of those killed by the security forces! Out of a total allocation of the Social Welfare Department for 2003-04 of Rs 153 crore a sum of Rs 18 crore was sanctioned for a corpus earmarked for the social welfare council which is supposed to provide relief and rehabilitation from the interest earnings to the victims. The schemes for relief and rehabilitation are such that they cover only those who are victims of militancy and not those who are victims of excesses committed by the security forces. This involves bringing a copy of the First Information Report registered in the local police station signed by a gazetted officer to the tehsil office of the Social Welfare Department in Srinagar which then provides a form to be filled by the victim. Based on this a verification officer visits the house of the victim and files his/her report at the tehsil office of the Social Welfare Department. This report is then sent to the district office for clearance of sanction after which it is signed by the Chief Medical Officer, the Assistant Divisional Commissioner and finally the Divisional Commissioner. This can take months if not years. The fate of others, whose number is far more, outside its purview can only be imagined.

It is officially acknowledged that at least 30 per cent of Kashmiris suffer from post-traumatic-stress disorder, in need of counselling and are dependent on anti-depressants to manage through a day. Out of the budgetary allocation of Rs. 500 crore for the Public Health and Medical Education Department only Rs 2.57 crore have been earmarked for psychiatric hospitals in Jammu and Srinagar.

What is significant is that whereas Jammu and Kashmir suffer from the problem of not being masters of their own resources their woes are magnified due to political economy of counter-insurgency which constricts their capacity to manage a burgeoning debt, salaries and pension and police expenditure. The Indian government declared Indian-held Jammu and Kashmir a Special Category state in 1990-91 entitled to receive 90% of central funds as grants and 10% as loan. If one segregates wages and salaries from Developmental Expenditure the resources available for the general public are no more than 30%. The salary bill of Jammu and Kashmir, which was Rs 280 crore in 1988-89 stands at Rs 2500 crore in 2003-04. Of this nearly half is spent on the police alone, Rs 1113 crore. Add another Rs 2000 crore on interest repayment and pensions out of the non-plan expenditure of Rs 6500 crore in 2003-04, the skewed nature of state finances becomes evident.

The additional burden of Security Related Expenditure (SRE) incurred by the state shot up from Rs 15 crore in 1992-93 to Rs 600 crore in 2002-03. Whereas police expenditure is rising every year due to counter-insurgency policy, the debt servicing of Rs 1473 crore is high because of the peculiarities of Kashmir’s union with India. Radical land reforms took place in Kashmir long before any other area in the South Asian region. And unlike any other part Jammu and Kashmir suffered the maximum due to the three wars fought over it as well as 15 years of counter-insurgency. Recall that the land reforms of 1948-52 released the pent up energies of the people, saw a tremendous spurt in agricultural productivity and generation of surplus. Thus from destitution to relative prosperity is a remarkable story of a social transformation. But the full potential were capped because of the debilitating policies of the Indian rulers who saw in Kashmir’s financial self-sufficiency seeds of disunion. By bartering away Jammu and Kashmir’s water resources through the Indus Water Accord (1960) the enormous hydro-electric/irrigation/river transportation potential remained untapped. Indeed the 1960 treaty consolidated the dependency relation when water resources of Jammu and Kashmir were given to Pakistan (which through the Tarbela dam uses it for the irrigation and power needs of its Punjab province and because of which widespread displacement of Mirpuris took place). All this was done without any heed for the interests of Kashmiris whose consent was taken for granted. Recall that in 1960 Indian-held Kashmir was ruled by New Delhi through its nominee (Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed came to power when Sheikh Abdullah was arrested). The Jammu and Kashmir legislative council in a resolution passed in March 2003 claimed that the state suffers a annual loss, in current prices, of Rs 6000 crore in the power sector, over Rs 530 crore in the irrigation sector where 1.7 lakh hectares are deprived of irrigation facilities because the state cannot harness or use more than a fixed amount of its water resources. While these conditions operate in Indian-held Kashmir the situation is no better in Pakistan-held Kashmir.

According to the Government of India the crux of the matter is Pakistan’s ‘undeclared’ war, since 1989. However, until 1995-96 the emphasis was on the alienation of the people (erosion of internal autonomy, corruption, rigged elections, repression) and Pakistan’s moral and material support for the militancy was read within this context. It is true that the number of foreign militants have increased. But the data provided by India’s Ministry of Home Affairs shows that the number of militants hovers between 3000-3500 of whom 60-70% of the ‘terrorists’ operating in the State are from outside. Yet is it not intriguing that while foreigners number between 60-70% three times as many Kashmiri militants get killed.

While India regards all militants as ‘terrorists’ Pakistan characterises all militants as ‘freedom fighters’. Neither is correct. Indigenous militancy cannot be equated with communal fascist organisations such as Lashkar and Jaish, which neither distinguish between combatants and non-combatants nor show any compunction in targetting non-Muslims. And unlike Hizbul Mujahideen that subscribes to negotiations Lashkar and Jaish believe in military victory to impose their authoritarian blueprint on the people.

Fifty six years of the festering dispute makes it evident that a major reason for this state of affairs is because the Kashmiri people have been kept out of the process of resolution. Whereas they have borne the brunt of the irresolution of the dispute. Both governments maintain massive military presence in the territory held by them. They are empowered to violate the public and private lives of people. Note must be taken of the targeting of Kashmiri Muslims by the Indian security forces, making no distinction between armed or unarmed people as much as the acquiescence of India’s ‘good’ people in this bloody suppression of Kashmiris. The condemnable role of the foreign militants who have no compunction attacking non-Muslim civilians as well as the inability/refusal of the Pakistan government to stop non-Kashmiri militants from crossing the line of control cannot be ignored.

It is axiomatic that armed militants need to be isolated not by terrorising the people but through the process of dialogue. When three parties to the dispute (India, Pakistan and the people of Jammu and Kashmir) are engaged in dialogue then the role of the gun will be drastically reduced if it does not cease. A manipulative approach where dialogue is used to neutralise the political leadership or to win short term gains is counter-productive in the long run. This happened in 1993 when the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front declared a unilateral ceasefire and the Indian government responded by killing more than 600 of its members; in 1995-96 when Imran Rahi, Badar Badr, etc. entered into parleys only to be left high and dry; or when the shortlived ceasefire by Hizbul Mujahideen resulted in the political decimation of Abdul Majid Dar, number 2 in the Hizbul Mujahideen hierarchy. The latest ‘offer’ by the Indian government to hold talks at the highest level with some Hurriyat leaders too raises doubts. The Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister pointed out that ‘there should have been an open and unconditional invitation to all separatists including local militant groups like Hizbul Mujahideen’.

While decrying the role of the Indian government in perpetuating the dispute we cannot remain oblivious to the tight control exercised by Pakistani military over people living in Kashmiri territories held by them. While an insurgency is absent there is no denying that the people of Gilgit, Baltistan and Mirpur continue to suffer at the hands of the Pakistani military.

While the counterinsurgency is the main issue the fact remains that a communal divide is palpable. It is not a result of fundamentalism rather how as part of counterinsurgency the ‘muslimness’ of the people became the overriding factor. Apart from the fact that the Kashmiri muslims became the ‘natural victims’ of the security forces who looked upon them suspiciously because differentiation is difficult between combatants and non-combatants, the forces have tried to ‘foster’ patriotism in Jammu and Kashmir. Slogans calling for ‘victory to Mother India’ are found at every camp, bunker, post, and picket. The armoured vehicles of the Border Security Force are proudly called ‘Bajrang' whereas the Rashtriya Rifles call theirs ‘Maha Kaal’! Their loudspeakers spew out bhajans and kirtans. Indeed a large number of temples, ashrams and even migrant houses are occupied by the security forces. Such cultural markers of so-called Indian nationalism have contributed much to the growth of ‘muslimness’. It is also worth noting that the Indian authorities clamped down on street protests and disallowed demonstrations by anyone questioning Kashmir’s accession to India. Large gatherings were permitted only on Friday. And as a result the mosques became the place where political speeches became possible. Apart from this the response of the non-Muslim groups such as Panun Kashmir, the RSS, the Akali Dal etc. have consistently favoured military suppression of the people and indeed lamented that army has not been given a ‘free’ hand to crush insurgency. This combined with the lukewarm reaction of India’s democratic forces to atrocities committed by Indian forces or indeed their acquiescence in it did much to boost forces that saw and understood the Kashmir dispute in religious terms. And yet, ironically, the defeat of the fundamentalist diktat in Kashmir was brought entirely by the Kashmiris people who simply refused to obey the fundamentalist diktat. This was true in 1990 as in 2003. If at one point India’s ‘good’ people opposed the tehreek i azaadi in the name of defending India’s secularism. They turned hostile to the tehreek claiming it had shifted from its democratic moorings and been hijacked by fundamentalists. And now it seems they have invented a new argument by claiming that violence is self-defeating and undemocratic! It is a matter of fact that the Indian government dismisses unarmed resistance and takes note of and responds to them only when they take up arms.

It is also worth remembering that no militancy can survive without the support of the people. The lethal capacity of the militants is multiplied several fold because of this support. It allows for safe passage from one area to another, finding shelter in people’s homes etc. The absence of a public eulogy of militants should not be mistaken for indifference; it is a survival strategy to avert crackdown by security forces. If fear of militants was the reason it would have been easier for Indian security forces who are present everywhere to hunt down the militants. It is the absence of fear of militants that is so palpable. However, when one dismisses the perceptions of those who suffer at the hands of government forces then the capacity to understand people’s mood too gets blunted. It is the massive Indian military presence that confronts Kashmiris. The security forces live in high-walled fortified camps spread over huge tracts of land in/around the mohalla/village/fields of the people. Before dawn and after dusk pathways get barricaded. And at anytime and anywhere in Jammu and Kashmir these forces can invade people’s privacy. Thus it should come as no surprise that in the estimation of the Kashmiris Indian forces are the aggressor and anyone countering them their friend. Indeed had the security forces been considered a ‘friend’ it is doubtful that they would have required to maintain such an overwhelming alien presence. To be sure there are misgivings about militancy such as about the targeting of non-Muslims or the use of grenades and landmines. The horror felt at the death of 18 year old Rehana, who supported her family through her earning and yearned to become a doctor, in a grenade attack on September 11 in Lal Chowk acted as a catalyst and even such ardent supporters of the militants such as the Dukhtaran i Millat asked the militants not to use landmines and grenades because of the harm they cause to non-combatants. And even Lashkar whose leader Hafez Saeed has publicly justified killing of Hindus has been compelled to publicly distance itself from many of the such killings. Apprehension that foreign militants have their own agenda and could become a nuisance is tempered by the perception that militants are the only counter to the Indian security forces. Not surprisingly, attacks on military targets do not invite criticism. In other words militancy is here to stay so as long as it receives popular support be it implicit (non-revelation of their whereabouts) if not explicit (active help).

Let us also recall that the Kashmiris tried out all peaceful means for their demands after 1947. They took to arms after 1987 when the option of fighting elections saw New Delhi intervening to rig the results because the then government feared that the MUF with even a handful of members would raise the issue of accession with India inside and outside the assembly. Besides for a country that has seen majoritarian fascists thrive unencumbered holy outrage at people wanting to opt out of India is incredible. Be that as it may. In 1988 the Indian government believed that it could snuff out the militants with a heavy hand. Fifteen years down the line huge number of troops are chasing fewer and fewer militants! And each opportunity for talks went abegging because it was perceived as a sign of the government’s victory that sections were coming overground and, in the government’s assessment, suing for peace. Meanwhile the Kashmiris have shown in more ways than one their desire for a democratic resolution, the latest being by both overwhelmingly boycotting as well as by voting out National Conference in the 2002 elections.

Undeniably there is a marked divide within the Jammu and the Ladakh regions in contrast to Kashmir, just as there is between Mirpur-Baltistan and Muzzafarabad in Pakistan-held Kashmir. The presence of these divisions in fact lends even greater weight to the demand for respecting the right of people to self-determination. Indeed it might be sensible that a referendum be held prior to starting dialogue because it would clearly bring out the mood and desire of the people and thereby help set the agenda for negotiations.

To sum up. The trajectory of the Kashmiri struggle and the conditions that operate are such that to believe that the Kashmiris are waiting to surrender and accept dishonourable terms would be most unwise. A just peace necessitates respecting the aspirations of the people by heeding the demand for exercising the right of self-determination. Thus the choice before the international solidarity movement and India’s democratic forces is to lend support for those who are asserting their right to decide their own future and to fight oppression using every means available. Rejecting this means to acquiesce in the military suppression of a people. It is worth recalling that when all is said and done the people’s right to resist or rebel against oppression or exploitation, be it armed or unarmed, overrides all other concerns and considerations.

This paper was read at the seminar ‘Moving Towards Peace in Kashmir’ organised by the Confederation of Human Rights Organisations (CHRO), Kerala on January 20, 2004 at the World Social Forum, Mumbai.

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