Setting the record straight on the Kashmir conflict
The tragic suicide bombing in Pulwama, a troubled district of Indian-administered Kashmir, in which at least 40 Indian paramilitary troopers were killed this month, has kicked up a war frenzy in India. Like other incidents of violence in the past in which the Indian army, present in vast numbers in the disputed region to quell a decades-long struggle for self-determination, the Pulwama attack too has provoked fierce verbal attacks against Pakistan. In this atmosphere of heightened animosity and feverish rhetoric, let us look at some of the facts about the prevailing conflict situation in Kashmir.
First, India and Pakistan have fought two major wars to claim this disputed, and only Muslim majority, area within the India union. Pakistan considers the Kashmir issue a legacy of the partition of the British Indian Empire, and would like to settle it by a plebiscite conducted by the United Nations. India on the other hand regards the state as an integral part of the Indian union, and refuses to accept a territorial solution to the problem.
Second, running into its third generation, the Kashmiri resistance to Indian rule is real and pervasive. It started building up as a reaction to the manipulation of the democratic process in the early eighties and created a space for militancy and an insurgency that continues to date. At the time, even those Kashmiri factions and leaders who didn’t wish to decide the future of the state in favor of Pakistan began to feel a sense of alienation. Many of them have been and still are either supportive of Kashmir’s independence or greater autonomy within the Indian union. But due to the excessive use of force and repressive measures taken by the central government, they too have been caught between the militant factions of Kashmir that have taken up arms. A fierce cycle of militant violence and oppressive measures by the state have thus shaped the militant outlook of the youth to a large extent. This is exemplified by the latest suicide attack committed by Adil Ahmad Dar, a native, local Kashmiri who was earlier detained and reportedly tortured by Indian security forces.
Third, what complicates the Kashmir situation is Pakistan’s position on Kashmir and its administering of a part of Kashmir known as ‘free’ or Azad and protected by its security forces. The border between the divided state of Jammu and Kashmir is marked by a Line of Control that has one of the highest concentration of troops anywhere in the world. In violation of several agreements, and a ceasefire in operation, firing by troops across the border is quite frequent, often resulting in casualties. While claiming the entire state as ‘disputed’ and demanding a negotiated settlement, Pakistan has never been shy of extending political and diplomatic support to the people of the state. On a number of occasions, it has attempted to internationalize the issue by taking it to the United Nations, and making frequent references to a UN resolution asking for plebiscite to ascertain the wishes of the people.
The rising level of tension is worrisome for the whole world, but even more so for the people of the region that live under grinding poverty. A bitter historical truth is that the security frameworks of the state have been in conflict with the security needs of the general populations that they have supposedly been spending tens of billions of dollars to protect.
Rasul Bakhsh Rais
It is also true that, at least in the past, Pakistan-based groups like Jaish-e-Mohammad, which has claimed responsibility for the Pulwama attack, have been sending fighters to Kashmir and assisting Kashmir militants. While Pakistan’s present government argues that this policy is a thing of the past, the Indian government says this is an enduring strategy of the Pakistani security establishment. But the fact is that many such organizations have been disbanded and banned by Pakistan and their leaders are either in prison or on the run. The emerging consensus in Pakistan is that any group that uses Pakistan’s territory against a neighboring state, including India, is an ‘enemy’ of the state. This was the central point made by Prime Minister Imran Khan in his response to the Indian allegation of sponsoring terrorism and protecting those who India believes are involved in the Pulwama attack.
Thus, the two nuclear-armed countries, with a long history of mutual hostility, arms race and wars, are once again threatening revenge. The rising level of tension is worrisome for the whole world, but even more so for the people of the region that live under grinding poverty. A bitter historical truth is that the security frameworks of the state have been in conflict with the security needs of the general populations that they have supposedly been spending tens of billions of dollars to protect.
The question is, will peace get a chance or will the war frenzy in election-year India continue to shape the political and media discourses? While the world community needs to take steps to diffuse the situation, the leaders of India and Pakistan bear the greatest responsibility to de-escalate the rhetoric of war. India should seriously consider Pakistan’s offer that it will take decisive action against any Pakistanis involved in the Pulwama attack if India presents actionable evidence. On its own, Pakistan still has a lot of work to do in convincing the world that it doesn’t and will never allow any militant group to operate from Pakistan against Afghanistan and India. Never has Pakistan benefitted from such a policy, nor will it get anything good from following it in the future. The good news is that this appears to be the policy of the reformist government of Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party.
The Indian government also needs to revisit its repressive policies in Kashmir, and reflect more deeply on the causes that are driving the youth to suicide terror. Peace can get a chance only when the leaders believe that it is the only course, and agree to talk. The prevailing state of war mongering and uncertainty needs to end.
— Rasul Bakhsh Rais is Professor of Political Science in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, LUMS, Lahore. His latest book is “Islam, Ethnicity and Power Politics: Constructing Pakistan’s National Identity (Oxford University Press, 2017).