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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 44, October 23, 2010

The Kashmir Stalemate

Sunday 24 October 2010

by Sajad Padder

One does not have to be a rocket scientist to understand the importance of the Kashmir issue which has been like a thorn in Indo-Pak relations for over sixty years. How different that relation-ship might have been, had there not been this interminable dispute over the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir! Open borders and unrestricted movement between one country and another, such as now occurs throughout Europe; trade, cultural, educational, social exchanges, free from bureaucratic impediment, budgets spent on health and education rather than military build-up, all this and more could have been the hallmark of India and Pakistan’s co-existence as neighbours on the same landscape in South Asia, had it not been for Kashmir.

Kashmir is still a dispute, there is no resolution yet. India and Pakistan can still only agree to disagree on the state’s status. The Government of India has not even given official recognition to that part which is currently under Pakistan’s administration, Azad Jammu and Kashmir and the Northern Areas. Maps issued by the Depart-ment of Tourism in Jammu and Kashmir do not give any indication at all that there is a Line of Control separating the one-third administered by Pakistan and the two-thirds of the state administered by India. Even the Line of Control is still where the ceasefire line was established in 1948. There is no agreement over the Siachen Glacier, where people only exist artificially as one Army facing the other. There is disaffection in the Valley of Kashmir and some regions of Jammu. People are dissatisfied with their status as part of the Indian Union and are demanding their right to self-determination. Granted that aspirations differ, which makes resolution more difficult, but to move away from the stalemate, there has to be some resolution of the state’s political status, acceptable to both India and Pakistan and the people living in the state. Throughout the Valley of Kashmir, there is still a strong military presence. Human rights are still being abused. Srinagar still feels like a city under siege with troops bunkered down, surrounded by sandbags and barbed wire. The same is true—even worse—for other towns in the Valley. Custodial and indiscriminate killings as well as torture are routine. There are still thousands of disappeared Kashmiris who have not been accounted for. Revelations of mass graves beg the question: how many more are yet to be found? Local journalists are still harassed and do not feel entirely free to write what they want.

Next, the rule of law—although there has been a marginally better functioning of the courts from the virtual breakdown in the early years of the insurgency, the lack of respect for the rule of law remains part of the stalemate. There are still draconian laws in operation which enable the security forces to act with impunity. For these reasons one can endorse the view that there is stalemate over the Kashmir issue, both politically and socially. This stalemate has adverse consequences for the people of Kashmir and in the broader context also hinders improved political and economic relations between India and Pakistan.

The border was made porous with the opening of the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service in 2005. Although with bureaucratic delays, it has removed the conception of the ‘Berlin Wall’ existing between the two regions of the State of Jammu and Kashmir. Some people have been able to see what life is like on the other side and this knowledge has enhanced their under-standing of the ground realities. Others have managed to see members of their family from whom they have been separated for over half-a-century. In the summer of 2007, once again people felt compelled to agitate on the streets to protest against the allocation of land to the Amarnath Shrine Board. Although the government revoked transfer of land order but this happend not before more than 50 people had lost their lives and this entrenched a regional divide in the State which gave the communal elements a fair chance to play with their divisive tools.

It was in July 2008 that Omer Abdullah gave a passionate speech in the Lok Sabha during the debate on the vote of confidence motion which was praised by almost all quarters and won him a lot of fans. Consequently, after the Assembly elections, he became CM in January 2009. People were optimistic and hopeful that peace would prevail over the lost paradise, the dialogue process would be carried forward and draconian laws might be removed. But all hopes were shattered with the Shopian rape and murder case on the intervening night of May 29 and 30, 2009. This incident epitomises the wrongs and injustices perpetrated on the people living in a militarised society. The incident not only manifests the extent of the fear psychosis, denial of security and democratic rights to the people, it also demonstrates the abject refusal of those at the helm of affairs to bring the culprits of gross violation of human rights to book. As the memories of this incident were still haunting the people, what followed was the Machil fake encounter of April 30, 2010 which led to the death of three innocent youth by the Indian security forces. On June 11, there were protests against these killings in downtown Srinagar. The police used massive force to disperse the protesting youth during which a teargas shell killed one seventeen-year-old Tufail Ahmad Mattoo by bursting his skull. Since then the ‘cycle of violence’ has continued claiming more than 60 lives.


The eye of the world is on Kashmir. In international seminars attended by think-tanks, the issue is coupled with Palestine and it is recognised that for world peace, these two issues must be resolved. Although the Amnesty Inter-national representatives have still not been allowed into the Valley of Kashmir, other groups have been able to report on human rights abuses and their reports, as well as those of the Amnesty, help to keep Kashmir on the international agenda. In political terms, the Kashmiris’ right to self-determination is also on the international agenda, helped by the large number of the Kashmiri diaspora living in numerous countries throughout the world, especially in Britain, the United States, Germany and Norway. There are numerous bodies and think-tanks deliberating, trying to work out how the Kashmiris’ wishes can be fulfilled.

Looking at the future, to move beyond the stalemate, there is still a question-mark over the representation of the Kashmiri voice. The APHC has not and cannot participate in elections held in the State because its members refuse to acknowledge Kashmir as a part of the Indian Union. But until and unless these dissident Kashmiris are included, there will always be a voice which is not being heard in the inclusive environment of the Legislative Assembly. And as much as it is important to listen to the voices of the APHC leaders, ways have to be found to listen to the views of other groups in the State of Jammu and Kashmir, those who support the National Conference, People’s Democratic Party, Congress party, not forgetting the Kashmiri Pandits, the Sikhs, the Buddhists of Ladakh, the Bakerwals and Gujjars. There has to be a way to find that representative voice, because you cannot talk about a resolution for some and not for others. This also means talking to political leaders in Azad Kashmir and the Northern Areas, including those who are dissatisfied with their status as a part of Pakistani-occupied Azad Kashmir. The will of the minorities is as important as that of the majority. There has to be good governance for all. There has to be respect for the rule of law so that people can lead their lives in dignity. There also has to be a situation where there is even greater fluidity between the two regions of the former princely state. There are still Kashmiris who have not forgotten that the Jhelum river was used for transporting logs from the forests of Kashmir before the border was sealed at Baramulla. We have to remind ourselves of the geography—the distance between Muzaffarabad and Srinagar is not more than 120 miles.

More than sixty years have passed since the original dispute over the state of Jammu and Kashmir began as a territorial issue in 1947 at the time of partition. It was then envisaged that the whole state would either become part of India or part of Pakistan and that the will of the people would be ascertained by a general referendum or unitary plebiscite. The world has changed dramatically since 1947 and new generations have grown up with different aspirations, demanding independence of the state from both domains. If we really do want to build political and economic linkages in South Asia and beyond, it is important to try—and I say ‘try’ because it is going to be hard—to remove suspicions born out of past conceptions, to reconcile the new aspirations and to look forward.

Sajad Padder is an M.Phil scholar (Political Science), University of Kashmir, Srinagar. He can be contacted at sajadveeri@yahoo.com

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