The reason for our intensive focus on Kashmir is twofold. By no means will resolving Kashmir’s dispute magically cure the region, but there’s no evidence that Kashmir has a limited influence either. Kashmir is a major clog in South Asia and extremely divisive, and Pakistanis aren’t alone in this belief. India’s actions suggest that it too considers Kashmir a very big problem.
Coupled with the mainstream US media, even the counter media and international media, having little appetite for Kashmir and we’re left without options. The few must keep attention on the conflict, lest there be none. Last week, when the Kashmiri American Council and Kashmir Centre and Association of Humanitarian Lawyers recently hosted an international conference in Washington, Indian media reported that organizers miraculously “roped in a few US Congressmen to plug the Pakistani line.”
The US Congressional/lobby/media relationship with India and Kashmir mirrors Israeli-Palestinian policy. It’s a dark world.
Whether in speeches from Pakistani officials or media editorials, average Pakistani opinion or militant groups, evidence of Pakistani spite in Kashmir is abundant. A recent Pew Research poll manifested these feelings when two Pakistanis listed India as the greatest national threat for every one who picked the Taliban. 70% considered Kashmir a “very big problem,” a landslide too clear-cut to discount.
These feelings have affected Pakistani officials as much as direct relations with India and America, whose officials and supporters accuse Islamabad of hiding its support for Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) behind Kashmir. But Mumbai trials and Wikileaks don’t negate Kashmir’s legitimacy, and Pakistanis demand that their leaders to stand up for Kashmir’s determination. How else will they gain the support to follow America in Afghanistan or compromise with India?
“For us the most important thing is the rights of the Kashmiri people - we are committed to finding a resolution to the Kashmir dispute,” US-Pakistani ambassador Hussain Haqqani told the conference in Washington. “We look forward to a meaningful and result-oriented dialogue with India on Kashmir.”
He added that Kashmir is not a territorial dispute between two nations, but an international conflict: “It is about 12 to 14 million people of Kashmir, it is about Kashmiris’ right to self-determination, about killings, rapes, torture and mass graves.”
A deep-rooted paradox, India needs assurances from Pakistan that it will cease funding separatists groups, while Pakistan has no reason to believe India will negotiate Kashmir’s status. Kashmiris generally seek independence, which Pakistan likely hopes to exploit as a proxy state. India, fearful of that outcome, absolutely rejects parting with the contested Jammu and Kashmir. The two poles came to a head when the latest Pakistan-Indian dialogue shut down after one wanted to talk Kashmir and the other Mumbai.
Most Indian and US commentators criticized Pakistan for taking the easy way out, but India is doing the same by accusing Pakistan of duplicity with LeT rather than addressing Kashmir’s untenable status. Many assume that Pakistan’s double games sit on the wrong side of history, which may be true, but so does any modern occupation. India’s grip on Kashmir loosens the harder it squeezes. Defiance to addressing the issue confirms that India does believe Kashmir is a major obstacle to regional peace, that New Delhi knows it’s losing control and expects to lose control were it ever to negotiate Kashmir’s status with Pakistan or the UN.
And so it keeps silent, pushing its geopolitical weight on Washington to do the same while also containing Pakistan’s activities in Kashmir.
But within India’s government rages a contentious debate on Kashmir’s response and outlook. Back-channels between New Delhi and separatist political parties, already active before Kashmir’s latest violence, have tried inching the parties closer together. These talks were pursued as the temperature rose in Srinagar, the region's capital. Unfortunately, as the situation spiraled further out of control amid the breakdown between Pakistan and India, these channels held faint hope of producing a cease-fire.
Going on two months of spirited protests, strikes, and riots, India recently declared Srinagar calm after a momentary lull. But yesterday four civilians including a teenager were killed in various clashes with Indian security forces. India justified firing live rounds into thousands of people by accusing protesters of throwing rocks. Having seemingly learned nothing, the next day security forces killed two more protesters including another teenager.
Mohammad Dilawar Mir, general secretary of the People’s Democratic Party, remarked after the latest incidents, “This government seems to have become a man eater.”
And because India refuses to translate its private reservations into public action, Kashmir has come under increasing control of separatist authorities. The arrangement is conducive to new fits of political strife and violence which, in the absence of progress between parties, necessitates further security crackdowns, which in turn spawn new protests and violence. Clearly an unsustainable environment.
Now the hot topic in India is whether Kashmir remains under state control, a sign that Kashmir has already seized partial sovereignty. The last two months ran on the Hurriyat (Geelani) calendar, a line-up of shutdowns and protests created by Kashmir’s political umbrella. State offices and schools opened an estimated five days in July. The Hurriyat has explicitly advertised its calendar with the message that India’s government “does not run in the Valley.”
“The Omar Abdullah government seems to have been reduced to a mute spectator,” The Economic Times wrote of Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah.
Several days ago Home Minister P. Chidambaram rejected the notion that India has lost control of Kashmir, as the regional government had reaffirmed control of the territory. "May be in Srinagar or some other parts, they may be able to mobilize support and call bandhs,” Chidambaram said before qualifying, “according to the Jammu and Kashmir government, the situation is near normal.”
For starters the Jammu and Kashmir government doesn’t have its fingers on Kashmir’s pulse, and near normal makes for overt political speak. India’s Congress is also reportedly upset over the state's "handling of the situation,” which has "failed to break the cycle of violence.” A senior Congress functionary said the Jammu and Kashmir administration, "failed in containing the influence of separatists whose writ runs large. The separatists are calling the shots. They are virtually running a parallel administration. It's a matter of serious concern."
As of this moment Kashmiris’ own actions represent the best chance of altering the status quo, however high the price in blood. Washington will presumably stay out of the conflict unless it gets particularly nasty; silence greeted the latest killings. And while elements within India demand negotiations with Kashmir’s political parties, the only actions taken continue to be security-related. After appealing for calm Abdullah hinted at continual security measures to break up protests.
Meanwhile security forces are hunting Masrat Alam, the hard line Hurriyat leader who designs the calendar, as if catching him will resolve the factors of Kashmir’s instability.
India’s singular problem is a lack of credibility; few Kashmiris give it the benefit of the doubt. Any crackdown will be perceived as oppression, any political feelers treated as disingenuous. India’s actions have eliminated popular support for a dialogue with New Delhi, making negotiating that much harder.
And Kashmiris surely laugh at Abdullah’s suggestion that, “Lock-outs and strikes only lead to public discomfort and badly tell upon the education of our children. These tactics are in no way in anybody’s interest. These only mar the livelihood opportunities of the poor and hamper the process of economic growth.”
To Kashmiris only India does these things. Their tactics favor their interests plenty, boiling the issue and creating division within New Delhi and with Kashmir’s regional government. Though their short-term interests may be inhibited, shutting down the territory could be Kashmiris’ only means of achieving freedom in the long-term.
India can keep cracking down - at its own peril. But with the Naxalite rebellion killing increasing numbers of Indian security forces, the moment has finally come to address and resolve Kashmir’s status. Such a long process needs to start sooner than later. Preliminary measures should focus on restoring confidence, including a freeze on oxymoronic security crackdowns, and build into negotiations between Kashmiris, New Delhi, and Islamabad.
India knows Kashmir is a “very big problem” just like Pakistanis do. Time to treat it like one.