September 19, 2010

Kashmir Enters State of Zero-Sum

“Too little, too late” is the nice way of phrasing India’s latest activity in Kashmir. After much deliberation, Home Minister P Chidambaram has prepared a 35 member all-party delegation to visit the restless Jammu and Kashmir territory on Monday and Tuesday, expecting to meet with Kashmiri authorities and protesters. An invitation has already been sent to All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) chairman Mirwaiz Omer Farooq.

India will first have to release him from house arrest.

New Delhi’s policy towards Kashmir has lacked direction and tact since the Hurriyat launched its “Quit India” campaign in June, an error magnified by the Hurriyat’s cohesion. As Kashmir's leaders maintain a continual message of self-determination, India has reacted slowly but harshly in the aftermath of Tufail Mattoo’s death, its political response in disarray. One month ago Prime Minister Manmohan Singh marked India’s Independence day by telling Kashmiris that he felt their pain - as they were killed protesting what they consider to be an occupation.

Singh opened the all-party meeting last Wednesday by announcing, “We are ready for dialogue with anybody or any group that does not espouse or practice violence.” What reason, then, do Kashmiris have to speak with Indian officials when New Delhi deployed the army to Jammu and Kashmir the next day?

Umar Farooq would declare from house arrest, "This is India's last resort. What we've been repeatedly saying should now be clear to all, that this place is under martial law."

Kashmiris had experienced a blanket curfew for six days, defying orders and shedding blood all week, before Saturday brought a reprieve. And the curfew extends to all facets of life in Jammu and Kashmir. “Essential services have been suspended,” Umar Farooq warns, including water and electricity, cutting off local print and electronic media to limit the coverage of Kashmir’s struggle for independence. Dozens of journalists have been obstructed or beaten. Ambulances have been impeded, making it difficult to treat the wounded. Mosques have been closed.

"All repressive measures are being used to quell and crush the resistance movement and intimidate people for daring to raise their voice," said Umar Farooq... “The dance of death and destruction by the government forces is at peak, and the centre is trying to mislead international opinion about the true situation on the ground in Kashmir.”

Indian army troops merely pose the latest threat to Kashmir’s stability, suspected by many of being deployed in retaliation for the Eid protests, when reports of a Quran burning led to burning government buildings. No sooner had Eid ended did Syed Geelani, Kashmir’s leading conservative, release a new strike calendar calling for protests near Indian barracks. The call rattled New Delhi and, seemingly forgetting about conflict resolution, inflamed its offensive. Summoning the army demonstrates how little India has learned over the summer, or else how stubborn it remains.

Ironically, India acts as if it possesses no knowledge of fourth-generation warfare waged through civil disobedience.

Suppressing Kashmir’s movement out of fear is not a strategy. 103 civilians have been killed over the last four months with no direct deaths to Indian forces. Though New Delhi points to its own wounded - over one thousand - Kashmir's wounded easily surpasses what Indian forces have suffered. A civil-disobedience campaign by nature isn't a fair fight.

The level of India’s response initially forced Geelani to reconsider his strategy, anticipating “disastrous consequences” for Kashmiris: “Now the Indian army has been put on war against unarmed Kashmiris and it is planning mass killings.” Finally he redirected the protests from army installations to Indian district headquarters, warning, “We have reports that the government will utilize the services of certain elements during the planned protests on Tuesday to perpetrate a bloodbath in order to brand our movement as violent and use its media to mislead the world.”

Whether Geelani’s intelligence is 100% accurate or not, India’s actions signal that it remains opposed to a political resolution of the conflict and is forcing open loopholes to escape. Leaving no doubt as to their real intention, Indian troops soon opened fired on a funeral procession that had defied curfew, killing one person and injuring a dozen. India is the Grim Reaper in Kashmir.

“Everyone I meet in Srinagar — doctor, student, taxi driver or separatist — has at some point been pushed around, abused, slapped or beaten,” writes Samar Halarnkar, editor for The Hindustan Times.

But provocation is leading India to a dead end, and the stories across Kashmir make it difficult to imagine anything positive coming out of Chidambaram’s trip. Indian officials admittedly don’t expect much, only to reacquaint the sides and calm tensions. But limited time isn’t the limiting factor so much as India’s behavior - Kashmiris have been killed each day since the all-party’s announcement. Despite India’s talk of “confidence-building,” the gap between Kashmiris grows wider as time passes.

At some point they won’t be able to see each other.

PDP president Mehbooba Mufti, one of Kashmir’s most high-profile politicians, advised the delegation to meet an array of Kashmiris, but sounded a pessimistic note: “I don’t think in the history of Kashmir or in the history of our country a democratically-elected chief minister has used so much repression to suppress his own people, crossed all limits.”

Clearly India must adopt a more rational approach to the disputed Kashmir territory. Problematically, because of New Delhi’s past and present decision-making, Kashmir has entered a zero-sum state. Compromise has become increasingly unlikely, pitting each side's gain at the expense of the other and bottle-necking the negotiation process, thus perpetuating violence in the streets. And given that Kashmiris have locked themselves into self-determination mode, India’s divided house is more likely to crack.

Indian officials would loathe this analysis, but the status quo as they know it has come to an end. One path to quell Kashmir’s unrest remains open: cease hostilities against Kashmiris and start talking self-determination. Economic incentives and dilution of the 60 year-old Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) don’t guarantee freedom, offering an arrangement similar to a colony. Until then Kashmiris will march their “Quit India Movement” forward, ready to trade rocks for bullets and death for freedom.

Obstructing this determination is a fool’s errand.

Unfortunately New Delhi is rife with opposition to Kashmir’s independence; the all-party delegation came under immediate internal criticism for losing ground. Still fiercely possessive of the territory, India has resorted to suppressing the Hurriyat’s protest calendar with brute force and a media counterattack. And when Pakistan Foreign Affairs Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi condemned India for its “brutality” earlier this week, the official spokesman for India’s Ministry of External Affairs, Vishnu Prakash, didn’t even bother to play the militant infiltration card.

“India firmly rejects gratuitous statements issued by Pakistan on Jammu & Kashmir,” he said, “which amount to interference in the internal affairs of India.”

India may be the last state on Earth that believes Kashmir, recognized as a disputed territory by the UN, is an internal affair. America comes close though. In spite of the alleged pressure from its entanglement in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Washington issued few comments on Kashmir throughout the summer and none since Monday’s Eid protests. Nor has the UN issued a reaction since being chastised over a month ago. The EU is a non-factor.

The West and India’s position is obvious, however this was the situation Palestinians found themselves facing in 1987 - largely ignored and demonized by Western states and media as terrorists. Then six years of relatively non-violent civil disobedience, organized at the grassroots level, yielded negative media exposure of Israel’s crackdown, raising the cost of Western support. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat found himself on the White House front lawn through almost no doing of his own, and eventually proved unable to handle the task.

But fourth-generation warfare had proven its power in the First Intifada.

Kashmir’s Intifada is as well organized and, just like Israel, Indian’s political system refuses to accept responsibility for Kashmir’s current state. While quietly admitting that a problem exists, Indian officials and media continue to blame outside factors like Pakistan, America, Kashmiri separatist leaders and militants, even 12-year old stone-throwers. But regardless of how illegal New Delhi perceives Kashmiris' behavior, India's disproportionate force is sealing Kashmir’s independence in the long term.

“The government remains only in name,” vowed Umar Farooq after the Indian army deployed. Geelani won't budge either, uniting Muslim Kashmiris in defiance: “Indian rulers want Kashmiris to surrender by holding a gun to the heads, but the policy-makers in New Delhi should understand that such tactic have not worked in the past and will not work in the future.”

India's government should spend more time understanding this message and crafting an appropriate response, rather than fight with both Kashmiris and itself. Having potentially lost the territory already, India would be wise to salvage its reputation, preserve relations with a potential Kashmir state, and turn its attention towards more critical issues.

The Maoists, another proliferating, semi-justified insurgency for instance.


  1. It isn't that straight forward. The much maligned Army isn't the one responsible for this recent violence at least. Its the cops. The state government is democratically elected and this time, the elections were not rigged.

    While it can't be denied that the Army has been responsible for excesses, there have been some actions taken, and there has been an increasing call for accountability.

    The "Indifida" is to a large extent a political gimmick of the separatists. Essentially, what it amounts to is while earlier Kashmir had two sides victimizing it - army and militants, there are now three. Intercepts of separatists conversations asking for riots to be organized and "10-15 martyred" isn't exactly an indigenous thing. There have been several incidences of the local population being threatened into following the separatists calendar, stone pelters being paid to organize protests and trigger violence, protests against separatists silenced.... Nor has this radical shift in the Kashmir situation meant any single leader who wasn't already a separatist desiring to leave India. The protestors are largely Sunni Muslims. How can they represent the entire valley when Kashmir has a Shia majority? How is it that India only represses one valley out of the entire state in question?

    However, the government has failed to have a coherent response to all this and is now caught in a bad place as protests allowed to happen lead to vandalizing, arson and attacks on government personnel and dispersing protests adds to the "toll" of the "repression".

    Essentially what has happened is that the state government did not assert itself when it could. Not against the army, not against the separatists and now has an overwhelming mess of its own creation in its hands.

  2. In terms of who exactly is protesting in Kashmir, the demographic and religious makeup of Kashmir's entire territory appears to make self-determination essential to the region. We do not advocate Muslim Kashmiris hijacking those who wish to remain a part of India, nor do most separatists wish to join Pakistan. Hold an internationally-monitored referendum and let everyone choose which state they identify with. No doubt this will be complicated, but the territory cannot survive in its current state.

    I would also caution against underestimating Kashmir's own Intifada. The Indian army undoubtedly faces a hard decision when pelted with rocks or attacked in other ways, but the lesson of the First Intifada is holding true: bullets are disproportionately bloodier than rocks. The situation will continue deteriorating against India's favor until it permanently adjusts its policy in Kashmir.