Where does it go from here?
The points where India finds itself in trouble are its usurpation of Kashmir and its callous treatment of Kashmiris, notwithstanding the politico-economic influence India has been enjoying in the world and despite offering its part of Kashmir a special status in the Indian Constitution
The situation in Indian-held Kashmir is fast deteriorating. On 9 April on the day of by-election for Srinagar parliament, Major Leetul Gogoi of Indian army trussed a Kashmiri, Farooq Ahmed Dar, to the spare tyre fixed at the front of his jeep and carried him along unabashedly through various villages for about five hours. Dar was arrested on the allegation that he was provoking the Kashmiri youth to fling stones at the security forces deployed around a polling station, after pro-freedom groups called for a poll boycott causing a very low turnout of voters. To appreciate this act of the major and to boost the morale of other army officers, the Indian army bestowed a commendation medal upon Major Gogoi on 22 May.
The way the chief of Indian army General Bipin Rawat honoured Major Gogoi by declaring his act an innovative self-defense launched by constructing a human shield, means that not Indian politicians but the Indian army is in full control of Indian-held Kashmir. Second, the medal conferred bears the potential for convincing the Indian army officers deployed in Kashmir to repeat and diversify such an inhuman act with impunity. Taken together, these implications engender two repercussions. First, if Kashmiris agitate against the highhandedness of the security forces, Pakistan will be blamed for instigating the Kashmiri youth into a revolt. Second, if Dar picks up arms in reprisal, Pakistan will be accused of any consequent clash.
General Rawat has acted on the assumption that a proxy war is going on between India and Pakistan and hence it was necessary to send a portentous message to Pakistan’s proxies active in Indian-held Kashmir. All this is happening in the face of the fact that it was India that called upon the United Nations (UN) in January 1948 to intervene to settle the issue of Kashmir (which got divided territorially between India and Pakistan). Interestingly, India has dealt with its self-proclaimed integral part (or “atoot ang”) by enacting the Public Safety Act (PSA) in 1978 (which permits India to detain anyoneunder the ruse of preventive detentionconsidering him a suspect) and the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in 1990 (which declares India’s part of Kashmir one of the “disturbed areas” to be handled by empowering the Indian security forces, both army and police, to shoot and kill anyone with liberty on mere suspicion. Both these acts have served India to muffle the voice of Kashmiris.
The history of recent turmoil in Kashmir can be traced to the death of Burhan Wani on 8 July 2016. When his demise was protested, the Indian security forces employed an innovative mode of dealing with protestors by showering them with pallets fired from guns and consequently caused dozens of protestors lose their eyesight permanently. In 2017, 9 Aprilbecame the day when clashes between Kashmiris and the Indian security forces started, leading to the death of Sabzar Ahmad Bhat, an associate of the late Wani. This time again there is a fear that the clashes will attain a critical turn. This point makes one to compare two main armed struggles of Kashmiris launched in recent history.
Two years are important in this regard: 1987 and 2016. In 1987, Kashmiris picked up arms after having inspired from the struggle of Afghans against the invading Soviet army. However, this time, Kashmiris picked up arms in 2016 and their source of inspiration was the wave of awareness (calling for liberty, freedom and rights) sweeping across the Middle East (ME) as the Arab Spring since late 2010. It is social media that linked Kashmiris to the events in the ME and this is why social media faces the brunt of Indian wrath and is found shut frequently in Kashmir. Second, in 1987, there surfaced militant groups who got themselves insulated from the Kashmiri mainstream and launched an armed struggle to secure the right of self-determination. However, now in 2016, the Kashmiri movement is sufficiently attached to the locals and has earned the goodwill of Kashmiri populace in general who are carrying on their struggle unarmed using just brick stones. This trend links the Kashmiri struggle with the Palestinian struggle to secure their rightful place on the own land. Third, in 1987, Pakistan was blamed for instigating, training and arming the Kashmiri youth to rise up against the Indian army deployed in Indian-part of Kashmir. However, in 2016, this was no more the case: this time the struggle is squarely indigenous. The spell of struggle that began in 2016 is still continuing.
In due course, one of the major stirs offered by Pakistan was to raise the issue of Kashmir at the platform of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in September 2016. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif not only mentioned emphatically the name and role of the late Wani but he also substituted the term freedom fighter with freedom leader to extend legitimacy to the freedom struggle of Kashmiris. The way the term freedom fighter was detested and derided in the wake of the gory incident of 9/11, it was quite audacious of Sharif to extend the impression of legitimacy to the struggle by couching it in different words.
No matter who was at fault, India or Pakistan, to deny the UN a chance to hold a plebiscite in Kashmir in 1949, the base line is that the commitment of the UN to hold a plebiscite to let Kashmiris exercise their right of self-determination is not time barred, nor is the resolution overruled by any bilateral agreement such as the Simla Agreement of 1972. If India or Pakistan failed to provide an enabling environment to holding a plebiscite in 1949, it does not mean that the plebiscite can never happen or, for that matter, Kashmiris are to be blamed. Second, the failure of the part of the Simla Agreement to settle the Kashmir issue bilaterally through holding talks does not mean that the final settlement of the issue of Kashmir is not possible, the UNSC Resolutions on Kashmir stand irrelevant or, for that matter, Kashmiris are to be blamed. In fact, it is the duty of the UN to make arrangements for holding the promised plebiscite to let Kashmiris exercise their right of self-determination.
In the post-1972 era, the major achievements of India are two. First, to buy time on the Kashmir issue. Second, to establish its de facto hold on Kashmir. Through these measures, India has tried to gain some semblance of legitimacy over its part of Kashmir. Nevertheless, nuclearisation of South Asia in 1998 has gone against Pakistan to get Kashmir militarily. Second, the failure of the Kargil war in 1999 in highlighting the danger of a nuclear conflict in South Asia on the issue of Kashmir has added some despair to Pakistan’s support for Kashmiris.
The points where India finds itself in trouble are its usurpation of Kashmir and its callous treatment of Kashmiris, notwithstanding the politico-economic influence India has been enjoying in the world and despite offering its part of Kashmir a special status in the Indian Constitution. India has been overlooking two points. First, illegitimacy of an action make people recusant and intractable. This is what India has been experiencing in Kashmir. Second, freedom movements drive their strength from the veracity of their cause and not from weaponry. When people are ready to lay down their lives for the fairness of a cause, the success may be tardy but it is inescapable and irrefutable.