Tangled knot of Kashmir
By Brig Asif Haroon Raja
Pakistan commemorates Kashmir solidarity day on 5th February every year to demonstrate their unequivocal support for the valiant struggle of the Kashmiri people in achieving their legitimate right to self -determination. The purpose of commemorating of this day by people of Pakistan is to help raise awareness among the new generation about the historic and just struggle of Kashmiris desiring freedom from the slavery of India. Kashmir Day is also meant to pay tributes to tens of thousands Kashmiri men, women and children who lost their lives at the hands of Indian security forces. Their sole crime was that they didn’t want to live as subjugated people under the oppressive Indian rule and desired to be freed. They wanted their inalienable right of self-determination as provided for in the UN Resolutions. They wanted a free and fair plebiscite supervised by the UN to decide whether to tie their destiny with India or Pakistan as promised to them by Jawahar Lal Nehru, Pakistan and the UN. To silence them from seeking their just right of self-determination, they were tormented, tortured and brutally persecuted. Their marked and unmarked graves together with mass graves in Vale of Kashmir will keep pricking the conscience of the world, which is dead.
Fed up of unfulfilled promises of Indian leaders and lackadaisical attitude of the world including the UN, the US and Pakistan, the Kashmiri youth decided to take their fate in their own hands. They took up arms against the state forces in 1989 which soon got converted into a full blown freedom movement. Massively rigged state elections in 1987 followed by brutal repression of protests in fact triggered the uprising. Younger generation of Kashmir who were better educated and politically more savvy than the older generation, resorted to violence when they saw all other avenues for dissent blocked. It was wholly an indigenous movement but India blamed Pakistan that it was aiding terrorists and frenetically started pumping in additional security forces. In quick time the small valley was saturated with over 700,000. Pakistan was threatened and a full blown war became a distinct possibility in 1990-91.
Instead of dealing with the explosive situation politically, India got unduly alarmed and over reacted by choosing to quash the insurgency through brute force. A reign of terror was unleashed by the occupation forces which paled the atrocities committed by Changez Khan into insignificance. Besides massive extra judicial killings in fake encounters and in torture chambers where third-degree methods are used, tens of thousands have been crippled for life, thousands orphaned, widowed and raped. Torture, custodial killings and gang rape has been used as weapons to break the will of the people of Kashmir. Thousands are languishing in secret dens of intelligence agencies bearing inhuman torture. Unknown numbers died in custody and are still dying. Those who are lucky to survive are living in perpetual agony. Their houses and properties have been ransacked and their fundamental rights usurped. The Indian security forces comprising army soldiers, Black Cat Commandos, BSF, CRPC and police have been given license to kill under draconian laws and Indian courts protect them. The enchanting valley popularly known as Paradise on Earth has been converted into an open prison and a virtual hell.
Tens of thousands of refugees from occupied Kashmir living in camps in Azad Kashmir narrating tales of horror didn’t evoke any sympathy from the civilized world. Washington also made it clear that it had no intention of acting as a mediator unless India agreed to accept third party involvement. Neither the UN nor any other country was willing to put pressure on India on this count. While Pakistan was blamed for supporting Kashmiris, India was not asked to stop human rights abuses.
In a matter of two decades over one lac Kashmiris have been martyred. The repression and atrocities fanned the struggle and hardened postures. The freedom movement instead of getting contained continued to gain momentum and attracted the attention of the world, particularly of the Muslim world. The freedom fighters drew inspiration from Afghan Jihad in which many had voluntarily taken part.
It was a consequence to unsolved Kashmir dispute that Kargil conflict took place in the summer of 1999. It was a dismal end to a brilliant combat performance by few Pakistan irregular NLI regiments and 2-300 Mujahideen at the highest battlefield of the world. India once again over reacted by using up all its infantry units including a division from Strategic Reserve and one from NEFA and made maximum use of air and artillery power, but even then failed to evict handful of freedom fighters and irregulars. The encounter virtually brought the Indian military might to its knees. The US and G-8 countries had to coerce Pakistan to vacate the captured heights and bailout India from an extremely humiliating situation. While Clinton pressured Nawaz Sharif to pullback from Indian side of Line of Control (LoC), but didn’t ask Vajpayee to withdraw its forces from Pakistan side of LoC. Although the conflict internationalized the Kashmir issue, it gave reason to India to dub freedom fighters as terrorists and Pakistan an abettor of terrorism.
From late 1990s onwards, western opinion colored by Indian lobbies started to insist that UN resolutions and promise of plebiscite were outdated. India took the plea that elections are a substitute for a plebiscite not realizing that issue of Kashmir is not about territory, but about right of a people to self-determination. It is a poignant human issue calling for a human approach. After Kargil conflict, India changed tack by emphasizing that LoC must be respected by both sides and it formally placed the notion of the LoC as the international border. While the US and UK promptly accepted the idea but the duo didn’t take into account previous violations of LoC and occupations by Indian troops like the Siachin Glacier. Neither was it realized that the UN and USA cannot alter the nature of dispute by accepting India’s proposal of LoC.
The movement that had assumed dangerous proportions for India in 2001 received a set back after 9/11 since all freedom movements were put in the category of terrorism. Terrorism became the buzzword and India fully cashed it to its advantage. In order to demonize the Kashmiri fighters, drama of attack on Indian parliament by unknown 5-6 terrorists was enacted in December 2001. Pakistan was blamed and the event was equated with 9/11 and war hysteria created which continued for ten months, with troops on both sides in eyeball to eyeball contact.
General Musharraf signed peace treaty with India in 2004 and agreed to ceasefire along the LoC. Under intense pressure from India and USA, Gen Musharraf banned six jihadi groups based in Azad Kashmir that were actively supporting the freedom struggle in Occupied Kashmir and their funds frozen. India was also allowed to fence the LoC. APHC which was providing leadership to the movement was cleverly divided into two factions so as to isolate hard line Geelani. Moderate leaders led by Mir Waiz were induced by giving false promises that Kashmir issue would be solved through dialogue.
Putting aside the sacrifices rendered by Kashmiris and their aspirations, Gen Musharraf swayed by western opinion secretly gave his consent to the Indian proposal of accepting LoC as permanent border. It was in this context that he came out with harebrained out of box solution to Kashmir dispute and sacrificing UN resolutions. Had he not been caught up in lawyer’s movement in 2007 which led to his ouster, he would have implemented this infamous scheme. All these developments gave a severe blow to the freedom struggle and instances of clashes with Indian security forces dropped down substantially. Indian military started bragging that the terrorist movement abetted by Pakistan had been successfully quashed. However, contrary to claims made, it refused to scale down its presence in Kashmir and continued with its killing spree and violation of human rights.
India’s tall promises proved elusive. While no progress on core issues of Kashmir, Siachin, Sir Creek and water was made, India kept wasting time on elusive CBMs, which amounted to putting the cart before the horse. It made no change in its stated stance and kept singing the old mantra that Kashmir is Atoot Ang (indivisible part) of India and that India will never accept its vivisection for the second time. It kept building dams on the three rivers flowing into Pakistan from Occupied Kashmir with a view to convert fertile lands of Pakistan into desert. The much trumped up composite dialogue got stalled after Mumbai attacks on 26 November 2008. India refused to resume talks despite Pakistan’s best efforts.
Seeing that they had again been betrayed by India and their own leaders as well as by Pakistan, the Kashmiri teenagers spearheaded unarmed movement in 2009. This cycle of protests by teenagers carrying pebbles in their small hands was repeated in the summers of 2010 and 2011. Disregarding their small age and the fact that they didn’t carry any arms, the barbaric gun totting and trigger happy Indian security forces sprayed bullets on them mercilessly killing and injuring hundreds.
Under international pressure and owing to deteriorating situation in Occupied Kashmir, Manmohan Singh softened his stance slightly by agreeing to resume composite dialogue but didn’t refrain from imposing unreasonable conditions. Pakistan on the other hand kept up with its flawed policy of appeasement to calm down Indian leaders and to renew talks. RAW-created ‘Aman ki Asha’ (quest for peace) forum is another farce to befool the world and to buy time. How can India seek peace with Pakistan when its forces are callously shedding blood of unarmed Kashmiris and dishonoring the women and not agreeing to resolve the chronic dispute in accordance with the wishes of the Kashmiris and UN Resolutions? On what moral grounds preachers of ‘Aman ki Asha’ desire peaceful co-existence when RAW continues to support anti-Pakistan terrorist groups in Balochistan and FATA and conspires to breakup Pakistan?
While the world look the other way to Indian atrocities and massive human rights abuses, the Kashmiris continue to resist and shed blood and raise Azadi slogans. For over six decades they have borne the cruelties of Indian military. The younger generations having grown up amidst the din of rattle tattle of guns and sound of explosions, refuse to be cowed down. But so far there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel. India is now the strategic partner of the sole super power which looks the other way to Indian human rights violations and its refusal to resolve the oldest dispute.
The US on which Pakistan pinned high hopes sides with the aggressor. It is bent upon making India the policeman of the region. The US wants solution of dispute on Indian terms which envisages conversion of LoC into permanent border. For 65 years the international community has maintained a studied ambivalence towards the Kashmir issue. Tangled knot of Kashmir has not been untangled because of India’s pigheadedness and the US led civilized world’s insensitivity.