Nasir Khan: The Kashmir issue and the violence in the Indian subcontinentRoundup: Historians' Take
He has his own blog at http://nasir-khan.blogspot.com through which he can be contacted.]
Almost the whole world has condemned the Mumbai attacks of November 2008. Such terrorism has also, once again, reminded us how important it is to combat the forces of communalist terror and political violence in the Indian subcontinent. But what is often ignored or suppressed is the fact that there are deep underlying causes of the malaise that erupts in the shape of such violent actions; the unresolved Kashmir issue happens to be the one prime cause that inflames the passions and anger of millions of people.
However, to repeat the mantra of “war on terror” as the Bush Administration has done over the last eight years while planning and starting major wars of aggression does not bring us one inch closer to solving the problem of violence and terror in our region. On the contrary, such short-sighted propaganda gimmicks are meant to camouflage the wars of aggression and lay the ground for further violence and bloodshed. The basic motive is to advance imperial interests and domination. The so-called “war on terror” is no war against terror; on the contrary, it has been the continuation of the American imperial policy for its definite goals in the Middle East and beyond. Obviously any serious effort to combat terror will necessarily take into account the causes of terror, and not merely be content with the visible symptoms. The key question that has kept India and Pakistan on a dangerous course of confrontation since 1947, when the British raj came to an end and as a last act of charity to their subjects the imperial rulers agreed to divide India along communal lines that was to prove a Pandora’s Box for the coming generations. We had witnessed their double-dealings in the process when they gave their blessings and patronage here and there and a lot of mischief wherever possible especially while they drew the boundaries between the two emerging countries. The recipients of favours reciprocated in kind: the last viceroy Lord Mountbatten was made the first Governor-General of Free India! This carefully crafted expedient arrangement served its purpose well for one country at the cost of the other.
At the time of partition, the princely State of Jammu and Kashmir was ruled by the Hindu Dogra ruler, Maharaja Hari Singh who was the great-grandson of Gulab Singh, to whom the British, under the terms of the Treaty of Amritsar (1846) had sold the entire valley of Kashmir. Because the overwhelming majority of Kashmir was Muslim, it was thought that Kashmir will join the new state of Pakistan. When the Kashmiris from what is known Azad Kashmir and the tribal fighters from the North Western Frontier Province of Pakistan started guerilla offensive on the state to bring pressure on Hari Singh to join Pakistan, he asked Lord Mountbatten for help, who agreed to give military help if the ruler joined India. Thus started the first war between India and Pakistan that finally stopped in 1949 when the newly-formed United Nations Organization arranged a ceasefire. The Line of Control was established that has remained the de facto boundary between the Indian-controlled Kashmir and ‘Azad’ (Free) Jammu and Kashmir (but called Pakistan-occupied Kashmir by the Indians).
To affect a ceasefire, in 1948, India took the matter to the Security Council of the United Nations against Pakistan. As a result the Security Council passed three resolutions in 1948 and 1949 that also acknowledged the rights of the people of Kashmir about whose land the two countries were fighting . According to the resolutions, India and Pakistan were to hold plebiscite in Kashmir so that the people could decide their own future. The Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru promised that the people of Jammu and Kashmir would gain independence when the peace was restored. After the end of the hostilities, he did not keep his word; neither were the terms of the resolutions ever fulfilled. The Indian government granted a special status to Kashmir that allowed more internal autonomy. This was thought to pacify the people when Kashmir’s ruler joined India. But the promise to hold plebiscite was not kept and the successive Indian governments have adamantly held that Kashmir is an integral part of India, and all demands of the Kashmiri people for plebiscite or defying Indian occupation were presented as internal Indian matters. No third party was allowed to speak on behalf of the Kashmiri people or voice their legitimate demands under the UN Charter or the UN resolutions. Meanwhile India and Pakistan fought over Kashmir another war in 1965.
The grievances of Kashmiris had accumulated over the decades. Kashmiri leaders challenged the legitimacy of the Indian occupation and in 1989 they started armed struggle to evict the occupiers. Mass arrests, disappearances and violence followed in the wake of the military crackdown. India deployed more than 500,000 soldiers to suppress the Kashmiri Muslims.
According to conservative accounts Indian forces brutalized the whole population and killed about 78,000 people but according to the Kashmiri sources the number of those killed was around 100,000. In this militant struggle, Kashmiri Hindu minority, commonly called Pandits also became the victims of militants; according to the state government over 200,000 fled the valley. They sought refuge in Jammu and some fled to India. The conditions under which the Pandits have lived since their displacement have been deplorable. But it is heartening to see that all sections of Kashmiri Muslims and their leadership are now pleading for the return of their Hindu brothers to their homeland.
After 18 years of brutal military occupation, the Indian government was faced with a new situation. The Kashmir Jehad Council called for an end to armed struggle and instead appealed to all militant freedom-fighters to use only non-violent and peaceful means to achieve liberation from India. The call for Azadi (freedom) is getting louder which the Indian machine guns and their marauding forces are not able to drown. But the Indian rulers have shown little willingness to listen to the people and have kept a tight military stranglehold over the Kashmir Valley.
The Kashmir conflict has caused untold misery and destruction in Kashmir, both in life and property. It has also been the key cause of tension between India and Pakistan as rivals. The tremendous drain of resources incurred by the two countries on military buildup and arms-race including the acquisition of nuclear bombs is a result of their confrontation over Kashmir. The official propaganda each government has directed against the other created enmity, distrust and hatred in the respective populations of these countries against their “mortal enemy”. This has gone on for over six decades and there is no end in sight. This has poisoned the minds of Indian and Pakistani people. As a result we see political polarization and perennial tensions amongst the people that stand in the way of settling the issues like Kashmir and the normalization of relations between the two neighbours. In addition, another ghastly development has been the rise of political and religious extremism in India and Pakistan.
The growth of religious and political extremism in India and Pakistan is not new. But what is new is the general acceptance of extremist tendencies in the social and political fabric of the two countries. The preachers and high priests of communalism and hatred influence the mainstream politics.
In India, some political parties have been closely allied with communalist militant political Hinduism or Hindutva. The Sangha Parivar is the umbrella organization for all Hindutva parties. The avowed aim of Hindutva has been to assert Hindu supremacy and Hindu communalism in India by identifying India with Hinduism and Hindu rule. Hindutva organizations are influenced by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) which stands for a Hindu majoritarian rule. The Bharatya Janata Party (BJP) is the leading political party of India that stands for Hindutva doctrine and Hinduising the entire country. Jawaharlal Nehru had once warned that if fascism would arrive in India, it would arrive in the form of majoritarian (Hindu) communalism. His words and warning were almost prophetic.
Of course, the main targets of Hindutva have been the Indian Muslims in the first place, followed by low-caste Hindus--formerly “Untouchables” (!) and now called Dalits--, and Christians. Over 150-million Indian Muslims are a religious minority in India. Since the unfortunate circumstances that led to the partition of India in 1947, Indian Muslims have come under enormous pressure. They have gradually found themselves at the mercy of Hindus, politically marginalized and socially alienated in their own country. Even their national status and loyalties became suspect. They are “Muslims first”, so how can they be “true Indians”? And, why are they in Hindu India anyway if they don’t like India or complain about their lot in India? They can just pack up and go away. They are ‘Pakistanis’ and should migrate to their own country!
Such views and political developments in India have left Indian Muslims in an extremely difficult situation. In 1992, Hindu militants destroyed sixteenth-century Babri Mosque in Ayodhya while the state authorities stood idle by. The then Indian prime minister promised to re-build the mosque. The promised was not kept. Instead a temple was raised on the site of the destroyed mosque that provoked religious frenzy and communal passions. Three thousand people, mostly Muslims, were killed in the ensuing riots.
Two thousand Muslims were massacred in 12002 in Gujarat, which was a full blooded pogrom which took place under the state government run by the BJP. The New Delhi rulers did not intervene to stop the massacre of Muslims.
Attacks on Muslim holy places and people have increased in the recent years. In one recent attack by Hindutva activists on a mosque a Hindu lieutenant-colonel of the Indian army was arrested for his involvement in the attack.
In Pakistan, fundamentalist religious parties have felt duty-bound to monopolise Islam, but they have never at any time gained much support in the masses. Their poor electoral results in various elections have clearly demonstrated that. However, Pakistani Muslim clerics have gained much notoriety for their inter-religious invective. The Sunni preachers direct their anger at the “infidel” Shias and the Shia preachers reciprocate by calling the Sunnis “infidels”! This leads to an unending cycle of violence and acrimony in the name of Islam. But the danger posed by militant Islamist groups in stirring violence and hatred is beyond doubt. However, the Indian treatment of the Kashmiri Muslims and the unresolved Kashmir issue because of Indian intransigence is universally condemned by all Pakistanis; it also provides an opportunity to the militant groups like Lasher-e-Taiba and others who exhort their followers to avenge the grievances of their Indian co-religionists at the hands of Hindutva militants as well as to make a stand for the freedom of Kashmir by all means, including violence. This is exactly what happened last month in the Mumbai attacks.
For the last six decades India has maintained its occupation of the Kashmir Valley by political manipulation and brutal military force. The massacres of the Kashmiri Muslims by Indian forces amount to war crimes under international law; however, the ultimate responsibility for this genocidal policy lies with the New Delhi rulers. If Indian government wants to continue with the occupation of Kashmir and also expect that people of Kashmir will forego their demands for freedom because they face a great military and economic power like India, which has extended its cooperation with other imperialist powers like America and Zionist Israel, then one thing is certain: the situation will get worse; violence and terror will flourish.
The 10-million Muslims of the Kashmir Valley want independence from Indian colonial rule and oppression. The best course left for India is to make a break with its previous policy, and accede to the to the right to self-determination of the Kashmiris. This will not weaken India; instead, it will show the strength of Indian democracy as well of the humane aspects of Indian cultural tradition.
Whether the people of the Kashmir Valley decide to join India or Pakistan, or they opt for full independence should be for them to decide. No matter what decision they make to determine their future as stipulated by the UN resolutions should be their and their alone. However, it is far from certain that they will choose to join Pakistan, but if they do so that should not worry India. In such a case, Hindu Jammu and Buddhist Ladakh will certainly join India. Thus, by a wise and courageous step Indian leaders can create the political conditions under which a new era of good neighbourly relations between India and Pakistan can materalise if they allow the people of the Kashmir Valley to control their own destiny instead of the inhumane treatment and humiliation at the hands of the Indian state and its armed forces. Once the main bone of contention between India and Pakistan is removed then the two former rivals and “enemies” can become friends and concentrate on socio-economic problems of their people within a peaceful atmosphere. An independent and self-governing entity in the Kashmir Valley will bring hope and good-will to its neighbours. By removing the biggest unresolved problem of Kashmir that has fueled hostility and has caused immeasurable damage, the two countries will also be able to contain the forces of communalism and religious fanaticism that plague India and Pakistan.