ashmir is once again in the news -unfortunately for all the wrong reasons. The Kashmir Valley once famed for its picturesque beauty and the Dal Lake, which reflects the surrounding snow-capped mountain peaks has been turned into a violent battleground between militant young Kashmiris armed with stones fighting heavily armed Indian troops.
The ongoing conflict, a by-product of the division of British India into the independent states of India and Pakistan and the succession of wars between the two states to grab the entire state of Kashmir, is one of the longest running unsolved conflicts in the world. And it is this rivalry which prevents UN efforts to bring peace to the region.
The immediate cause for the latest round of unrest is the killing of Burhan Muzaffar Wani -a militant young Kashmiri, who aspired to an independent Kashmir- by Indian forces.
Since his death on July 8 this year, around 50 Kashmiris, mainly youth have been killed and thousands injured. The Indian security forces’ indiscriminate use of pellet guns as a means of crowd control against young Kashmiri stone-throwers has resulted in over a hundred young people being either blinded or left partially blind with pellets lodged in their eyes.
Kashmir remains under strict curfew. Basic communication facilities including cellular, landline and internet services have been cut and main newspapers shut down.
The root of the conflict today is the occupation of Kashmir by Indian security forces. A military that acts against civilians with impunity, as the state is subject to India’s ‘Armed Forces Special Powers Act’ (AFSPA), which gives the military wide powers to arrest, shoot to kill, occupy or destroy property.
Sri Lankans who lived under a similarly notorious ‘Prevention of Terrorism Act’ under which hundreds if not thousands were picked up by men in white vans, were tortured, died or simply made to disappear, thus easily relate to the suffering and misery of the Kashmiri people living under the yoke of the AFSPA.
A major cause for the escalation of the conflict today, is the anger of young Kashmiris against the Indian security forces and the AFSPA which enables the military to act with impunity against civilian protesters and treats them as terrorists.
To Kashmiris the stone-throwing young men who brave Indian bullets are loved by the people. When they are killed, in the words of Kashmiri journalist Najeeb Mubarki they are seen as heroes and freedom fighters against the brutal Indian security forces.
The conflict also raises troubling questions regarding allegations of crimes against humanity. Kashmiris charge Indian forces with committing rape, torture indiscriminate killings, use of pellet guns and issuing shoot to kill orders against young people armed only with stones.
A failure to take steps to stop the ongoing violence will only drive more young Kashmiris to see armed struggle as the only means to achieve their freedom.
The occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq by the US and its allies did not bring peace to those lands.
It only led to the growth of terrorism and terrorist organisations the Al-qaeda and the ISIS.
Similarly unless the violence against the Kashmir is ended immediately it could create a situation similar to that of the war-torn Middle East and make a political solution near impossible.
In 1948 the UN intervened to end the first Indo-Pakistan war (in actuality a shameless ploy to grab Kashmir) and in 1949 brokered a cease-fire. In 1949, a five-member commission drew up a resolution calling for a referendum to decide Kashmir’s future.
Both states kept blocking the implementation of the resolution and from there-forth on Kashmiris have been victims to undeserved violence. Peace cannot be achieved in Kashmir as long as India and Pakistan are permitted to continue to lay claim to the whole of that state. Kashmir belongs to the Kashmiris –NOT to India or Pakistan.
It’s time that the UN Resolution of January 5, 1949 was brought to fruition and those creating stumbling blocks, or blocking its implementation are forced to back off, if necessary by imposing international sanction against the offending party.