As the casualties mount it’s tempting to believe that Muslim Kashmiris have turned suicidal in their quest for self-determination. Each day and night they defy India’s curfews to protest the suppression of speech, media, and religion, condemn Indian security forces and Kashmiri deaths, and demand independence. They come en masse to counter India’s numerical odds, over 600,000 total security personnel for an area the size of Switzerland.
The next generation, those rock-wielding youths famous (and infamous) for resisting India’s security network, are, in the words of Dr. Mushtaq Margoob, “angry, aggressive and helpless.”
Roughly 19% of Kashmiris suffer from depression and 16% from post-traumatic stress disorder, according to Margoob. The psychiatrist has done extensive studies on trauma and recalled countless heartbreaking suicides to The Associated Press; nearly every Muslim in Jammu and Kashmir has been touched by violence. But dying for a cause isn’t necessarily suicidal, and Dr. Margoob has reached the conclusion that Kashmiris have simply lost their fear of death. For those exhausted of Indian rule, taking to the streets with their lives at risk makes more sense than doing nothing.
The only suicidal tendencies are coming from India.
A root cause - India’s long-standing position that Kashmir is an integral part of the state - has split into two drivers of the current unrest. As an occupying force to Muslim Kashmiris, who populate 67% of Jammu and Kashmir and 95% of Srinagar, its capital, India possesses only a top down view of the environment. Heavy handed, legally protected police have cut off India’s decision-makers from Kashmir’s information grid. As a result New Delhi has belatedly responded to every development since the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) released its strike calendar in June.
The Indian army was summoned in early July after Kashmiris overwhelmed police and paramilitary forces, each protest fueling new protests and violence.
Combined with a deteriorating, uncontrollable situation, the entrenched positions within India’s political parties have brought New Delhi to an impasse. Tensions with the regional Kashmir government have persisted throughout the crisis, but when Kashmiri authorities rejected Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s original offer of autonomy, so too did many Indian officials and pundits. Singh later retracted his offer under pressure from India’s parliament. Indecisiveness on the ground and within India’s government has fueled Kashmir’s “New Intifada" by simultaneously offering an olive branch and live bullets, generating additional distrust.
Singh’s initial outreach in August, part of India’s Independence ceremonies, attempted to sympathize: “I can feel the pain and understand the frustration that is bringing young people out into the streets of Kashmir.” Three days later and Kashmiri teenagers lie dead - three weeks later and Kashmiris lie dead. Though non-lethal, “pump action rifles” have begun to replace live fire in certain situations, the latest deaths on Monday prove that India has yet to adapt to the situation and its control of the territory is slipping.
And because embattled state minister Omar Abdullah - having accused New Delhi of inaction, called for Kashmir’s autonomy, and threatened to quit - lost control months ago, that would mean India has already lost its grip on Kashmir. Thus hanging on instead of changing this grip will prolong the region’s suffering. Except Kashmir's cycle is sustainable, unlike India’s.
As Kashmir continues drawing comparisons to the Palestinians' First Intifada, India’s government and media have initiated a counter-response to deflect growing international concern. Either Kashmir is indisputably part of India, or radicalized Muslim Kashmiris are hijacking the territory from Hindus, or jihadists cannot be negotiated with. All of these issues are debatable, but none invalidate the overriding reality that Kashmir’s Muslim majority is waging a true fourth-generation war using the First Intifada’s blueprint.
Kashmiris didn’t copy rock-throwing from the Palestinians. According to M.A. Wani, a medieval history professor at the University of Kashmir, Kani jung or “throwing stones in anger” dates back to the 16th century. Still, the comparison is inevitable after Kashmiri leaders matched local traditions with the successful Palestinian tactic. Terror attacks only serve the interests of the government in question. Though stones can inflict plenty of damage, their relative nature to bullets will always be viewed as defensive.
Palestinians utilized this advantage to great effect against heavily-armed IDF soldiers and tanks.
Now Kashmiris are too, even starting Facebook pages, and Pakistan doesn’t have to pay them to throw. One Indian commander who called the stone-throwers "gun-less terrorists” issued the standard accusation that Kashmiris are “directed and funded by Pakistan-leaning insurgent groups.” But Arab governments supported the Palestinians without negating their cause, and the same goes for Pakistan’s political and material support for Kashmiris.
The tactic of stone-throwing is less significant in isolation; the First Intifada took off when local Palestinian leaders combined stones with the right message. Israel made the error of occupying the West Bank following the Six-Day War in 1967, and the Palestinians finally switched their objective from Israel’s destruction to Palestinian statehood in 1987. That Palestinians only demanded their own home magnified the defensive characteristic of stone-throwing and turned IDF soldiers into hulking occupiers, which Indian soldiers presently mirror.
Kashmiris have followed the same outline by moving militants to the rear and civilians to the vanguard, thereby changing the message from the offensive to defensive. Instead of plotting harm against India, Kashmiris have re-focused on self-determination and flipped the tables on New Delhi through massive, coordinated protests. A single terror attack can justify 600,000 security personnel, but no attack makes them all appear unnecessary.
Intifada translates to “shaking off” in Arabic and this is Kashmir’s aim, not terror.
Such fourth-generation warfare is designed to reduce the possibility of compromise by locking the government in an ultimatum. The Times of India recently quoted Singh as saying, “I can’t pull a rabbit out of the hat” and that New Delhi is “groping for a solution.” The result of a properly executed fourth-generation war spearheaded by political and media weapons - without violence to exploit - is a government out of room to maneuver.
Among many compromises proposed in New Delhi: reforming or revoking the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which protects Indian Forces from crimes committed, a reduction in security personnel in the region, and the removal of troops from civilian areas. Beyond India’s defense establishment rejecting amendments to the AFSPA, these measures either intentionally avoid the point or miss it completely. Having gained the upper hand through low-intensity demonstrations and demanded independence, nothing else can satisfy the political authorities in Kashmir or their base.
“Kashmir does not need a job or economic package but its struggle is for azaadi (freedom),” said Mirouz Umar Farooq, chairman of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC). “And autonomy is not acceptable to us. The Kashmir problem either has to be addressed as per the UN resolution or in a phased manner one can grant people the right to self-determination.”
Problematically, India still refuses to address Kashmir in this context despite the last three months of violence and political stalemate. Though India’s influence over Kashmir is clearly waning, Singh recently announced that “Kashmir is an integral part of India” and that "within this framework, we are ready to move forward in any talks." Yet no Kashmiri authority will submit to these preconditions.
"Yes, Singh did say that New Delhi is ready for talks but in the same breath, he insisted that Kashmir was an integral part of India," responded Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Kashmir’s popular hard-line leader. "There lies the whole problem... If India refuses to consider Kashmir a disputed territory, then what is the point of holding talks?"
Geelani has issued his own demands for negotiations, most of which comply with the moderate Farooq. He seeks Indian acknowledgment that Kashmir is disputed, followed by canceling the AFSPA, releasing political prisoners, punishing Indian soldiers guilty of crimes, and finally the withdrawal of Indian forces from Kashmir. In short, self-determination.
At this point compromise appears unlikely; neither India nor Kashmir seem willing to capitulate their demands. Kashmiri leaders (including Farooq and Geelani) have also repeated their call for negotiations between India, Pakistan, and the UN, a sentiment echoed by Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Gilani during a televised address on Pakistani’s Independence Day. Yet because India has lost its leverage in Kashmir, it appears particularly unwilling to engage Pakistan and forfeit the Mumbai terror attack, where India seeks to begin bilateral negotiations.
Unable to compromise with Kashmiri or Pakistani authorities, India’s isolation will build and slowly crush New Delhi - unless a terror attack rescues it.
History is not on India’s side. Though it may hold onto Kashmir longer than expected, the Quit Kashmir Movement is steadily propelling the territory towards independence. The First Intifada lasted six years and Kashmirs are equally capable of long-term resistance. India must realize that its hold on Kashmir has been broken and should seriously consider negotiating the territory’s status, or it will regret procrastinating once the international community is forced to act.
India’s power and strategic location have managed to keep the West silent, but the international community will have no choice except to intervene if the conflict festers.
The reality is that denying an Intifada completes it. Israel’s violent rejection of the First Intifada ensured the Palestinians accomplished their goals of “demonizing the occupier” and forcing withdrawal from the West Bank through the Oslo Accord, unsuccessful as it was during implementation. India is standing in front of the same train, one that speeds up the more bullets are fired into it.
When Abdul Ahad Jan, an assistant sub-inspector of police, threw his shoe at Omar Abdullah’s head, the police statement accused him of being “mentally unsound.” Jan, treated as a hero in Kashmir, is perfectly sane.
India is the one in need of a head check.