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Kashmir in Locked Down - Part 2

Please put the present furies in Kashmir to rest.


by Anwar A Khan

The Peace Process

One of the first peace initiatives, in July 2000, laid a tentative framework for reconciliation. The largest militia group, the Hizb’ul–Mujahideen, declared a unilateral ceasefire against the Indian forces after covert negotiations between the different stakeholders. However the demands from the militia group, which included India declaring Kashmir a disputed territory and that tripartite negotiation should begin immediately, were not met and the ceasefire collapsed. In 2003 another ceasefire was declared along the Line of Control which resulted in five-stage talks between the Indian and Pakistani governments, commencing in 2004.


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Some progress was made, leading to increased trade and movement between the borders. However, the talks once again took a back seat after the 2008 Mumbai attacks, which Pakistan admitted were launched and partly planned from Pakistan. This led to an upsurge in violence. Positive steps towards peace were taken in April 2012 when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Asif Ali Zardari held the first high-level talks in seven years.


The following decades were marked by an arms race on both sides. India began to develop a nuclear bomb and Pakistan also started a nuclear program with the aim of being able to stand up to its giant neighbor. Today, India and Pakistan have an estimated 140 and 150 nuclear warheads respectively. Unlike Pakistan, India has explicitly ruled out a nuclear first strike.

Pakistan also spends huge amounts on its nuclear program as the country tries to make sure it won't lag behind its neighbor in military terms.

India removed Kashmir's special autonomous status from its constitution with a presidential decree in August 2019. It also moved a bill to divide the Indian-administered part of Kashmir into two regions directly ruled by New Delhi. Home Minister Amit Shah announced that the government intended to abolish the status for the Indian-controlled region, telling Parliament that Article 370 would be revoked. "The entire constitution will be applicable to Jammu and Kashmir state," Shah said, ending the state's rights to make its own laws.

As it is written earlier, the article 370 was a provision in the Indian Constitution that conferred special status on the state of Jammu and Kashmir. But it seems its revocation would lead to Indians outside of the state gaining the legal right to own property there.

Critics say such changes would lead to demographic transformation and have accused the Hindu nationalist-led government of wanting to establish a Hindu majority in the predominantly Muslim region. "This move will be challenged in the Supreme Court," Tufail Ahmad, a lawyer, told DW. "We will fight against this bill and will not let it pass in Parliament," Derek O'Brien, a leader of the opposition Trinamool Congress party, told DW.

Such defiance is likely to be of little avail. The resolution was approved in a voice vote in August 2019 by the upper house, or RayjaSabha, which also passed a bill paving the way for a reorganisation of the state by a vote of 125 to 61. The bill and resolution will now go to the lower house, or LokSabha, where the majority enjoyed by the ruling BharatiyaJanata Party will more or less ensures they are passed there as well.

Pakistan takes a toughened view

Pakistan's Foreign Ministry responded to the revocation with a statement saying it "strongly condemns" India's decision and "will exercise all possible options to counter the illegal steps." "The Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir is an internationally recognised disputed territory. No unilateral step by the government of India can change this. Nor will this ever be acceptable to the people of Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistan," the ministry said, citing that its status had been upheld by UN Security Council resolutions. "Pakistan reaffirms its abiding commitment to the Kashmir cause and its political, diplomatic and moral support to the people of occupied Jammu and Kashmir for realisation of their inalienable right to self-determination."

Tensions and clampdowns

Earlier in August 2019, Kashmir was in a major security lockdown as Indian government forces were deployed to lay steel barricades, place razor wires on roads, and cut off intersections in Srinagar, the region's principle city. Internet services were also suspended as a way of disrupting potential protests.
"Kashmir is like a garrison," Bilal Ahmad, a shopkeeper in Srinagar, told DW. "We're not allowed to move out and all streets are filled with security personnel," he said. "We really don't know how Kashmiris will react to this decision in the coming days and weeks," Waheed Para, a political worker, told DW. "Right now, there's a curfew-like situation and this will not go down well with the people."

House arrests

A number of state leaders were placed under house arrest in a sign of rising tensions in the region after Indian officials issued an alert about possible militant attacks by Pakistan-based groups.

Mehbooba Mufti on August 5, 2019 said, “Today marks the darkest day in Indian democracy. Decision of J&K leadership to reject 2 nation theory in 1947 & align with India has backfired. Unilateral decision of GOI to scrap Article 370 is illegal & unconstitutional which will make India an occupational force in J&K. It will have catastrophic consequences for the subcontinent. GOIs intentions are clear. They want the territory of J&K by terrorisingit’s people. India has failed Kashmir in keeping its promises.”

Mufti, a former ally of Indian Prime Minister NarendraModi's, said it was "ironic that elected representatives like us who fought for peace are under house arrest."

Indian historian and commentator RamachandraGuha said on Twitter: "To place two former Chief Ministers under house arrest is unprecedented and unacceptable. Would it happen in any other state of India? Is this how we build trust among the Kashmiris?"

Backdrop

Rebels in the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir have been fighting for three decades. The majority of Kashmiris support the rebels' demand that the territory be united either under Pakistani rule or become independent, and many have participated in protests against Indian control. Since 1989, roughly 70,000 people have been killed in the course of the uprisings.

India and Pakistan have had a tense relationship ever since the British divided the subcontinent into a secular but predominantly Hindu India and a Muslim-majority state of Pakistan. The partition sparked riots and communal violence across the region and led to one of the largest migrations in history.

Kashmiris face uncertain future as violence escalates.

Violence has increased in Kashmir following a terrorist strike that killed more than 40 Indian troops. The Indian army has scaled up operations in the region, and locals are increasingly worried amid rumors of war.

The Indian government, which feels that Islamabad is sheltering insurgents, has warned Pakistan of consequences. Pakistan has also threatened to respond to any military attack, adding to fears that the current violence may lead to a full-blown war.

Abdul GaniBhat, a senior leader of the separatist party, Muslim Conference, told DW that Pakistan and India needed to find a solution to the conflict."Peace should be given a chance, and the ceasefire should be followed," said Bhat, whose security was recently withdrawn.

"India and Pakistan can never afford a war. Taking dialogue forward is in the interest of the two countries. They should proceed with realism, foresight, and accommodation. If this happens, the clouds of panic will disappear," he said

Separatist leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq also said that the Indian authorities were trying to divert attention from Kashmir's political problem. "We will continue our struggle despite the Indian government's oppressive measures," he told DW.

Fears of war

Meanwhile, the Indian government has deployed 10,000 additional forces to the region, where more than 600,000 soldiers are already stationed. Police have also received orders to stay prepared. "We have been asked to remain prepared for any situation," said a senior police officer on condition of anonymity.

The way India and Pakistan are at loggerheads, a military escalation on the border would not surprise anybody. People are just caught in this bloody war where everything is uncertain. There is a lot of tension. People fear more violence and a military backlash. HameedaNayeem, who heads the Kashmir Centre for Social and Development Studies, told DW that news channels in the area were creating a kind of "war hysteria."

The analyst added that the government under Prime Minister NarendraModi's right-wing BharatiyaJanata Party (BJP) was using the deaths of soldiers for electoral purposes. Mass arrests and use of force would only lead to more militancy, she concluded.

India-administered Kashmir — known as Jammu and Kashmir — has been under a strict lockdown since New Delhi last month revoked its decades-old special constitutional status as the Indian government decided to strip Jammu and Kashmir of its statehood and turn it into two territories directly governed by New Delhi.

The move touched off anger among Kashmiris. To suppress any unrest, authorities have cut all communications, imposed a curfew and deployed thousands of additional troops to a region which is already one of the most militarised in the world.

The suspension of communication services, including the internet and landline phones, has made it difficult for information to trickle out of Kashmir.

Despite the restrictions, reports suggest that people have repeatedly taken to the streets to protest against the government's decision.

Prominent Kashmiris, including high-profile former chief ministers Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti, have been detained by the authorities. The government has repeatedly declined to provide a tally of how many people have been taken into custody. They said the "few preventive detentions" were made to avoid a "breach of the peace" in a region where rebels have been fighting Indian rule for decades. 

(To be continued)

-The End –

The writer is a senior citizen of Bangladesh, writes on politics, political and human-centred figures, current and international affairs.

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