India, Kashmir and Pakistan is a Trilateral Dispute, Not a Bilateral Status Quo
This article examines the relationship between India and Pakistan regarding the issue of Kashmir. It suggests that the construction of these three entities was primarily facilitated by local dynamics and political forces working under the umbrella of the former British colonial empire. It reflects on the post-independence grievances and argues that these continue to be endured by several groups without being limited to one single group over the other. This paper acknowledges the role of the Kashmiri diaspora, local and regional actors in India, Kashmir and Pakistan who have their own talking points and vested interests in sustaining hostilities and impeding peace initiatives.
Foremost, this article is critical of the role of the mainstream media and its lack of interest in presenting the complexities of Kashmir in relationship to its neighborhood. Finally, it concludes with a statement made by Professor Ayesha Jalal during her address at the Wilson Center in Washington D.C., that the resolution of the situation can only be achieved by humaneness and basic decency which has been lost sight of in the toxic narratives of two post-colonial nation states.
During a state visit to the United States in July 2019, Mr. Imran Khan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan brought up the longstanding issue of Kashmir with the President of the United States, Mr. Donald Trump. The latter immediately took to Twitter by offering to mediate between India and Pakistan on Jammu and Kashmir, a contested region between the two nuclear powers since 1947.
Two weeks after Khan’s meeting with Trump, the Indian government revoked Article 370 of the Indian constitution which had granted commitments specified by the Delhi Agreement of 1952. Although Article 370 gave the state considerable autonomy over its internal affairs, it had been agreed between Sheikh Abdullah, then Prime Minister of the state and Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of independent India, that Jammu and Kashmir’s foreign affairs, defense and communications would be directly under the control of the central government in New Delhi.
The Kashmir Question at the UNSC
Immediately following India’s announcement of abrogating Article 370 on August 5th, Pakistan called a UN Security Council meeting to condemn the move. On August 8th, UN Secretary General Antonio Guiterrez reiterated the need for all parties concerned to exercise maximum restraint. He also highlighted the 1972 Agreement on Bilateral Relations between India and Pakistan, known as the Simla Agreement, which states that the final status of Jammu and Kashmir is to be settled by peaceful means. The Security Council meeting took place behind closed doors on August 16th, with no records of the discourse. Although closed door meetings are not uncommon at the United Nations Security Council, the subject of Jammu and Kashmir hasn’t been on the agenda of the Security Council for over 50 years.
It should be noted that the idea of abrogating Article 370 did not start with the policy of the current government. Indira Gandhi, a former Prime Minister of India, and a member of the Congress Party had also expressed the disposition to revoke Article 370. Similar to her father Jawaharlal Nehru, she too shared a complicated relationship with Sheikh Abdullah, who’d been removed from his position as the Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir in 1953 during her father’s tenure as the Prime Minister.
The Sheikh had been jailed for eleven years under the charges of “disruption, corruption, nepotism, maladministration, and establishing foreign contacts of a dangerous kind.” In 1975, the Indira-Sheikh pact was signed between her and the Kashmiri politician allowing him to become the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir. During Indira Gandhi’s three consecutive terms as the Prime Minister and the fourth until her assassination in 1984, the abrogation of Article 370 was put aside.
In 2019, Narendra Modi came back to power for a second term with a strong mandate (from his party’s election campaign); of repealing Article 370 and 35A. To advocate for the government’s position, Mr. Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, the External Affairs Minister of India has argued that local governance in the Kashmir valley has created a barrier between India and the state of Jammu and Kashmir (Financial Times, 2019). Since the introduction of Article 370, a “Temporary, Transitional and Special Provisions” status conferred by the President in 1952; the Minister writes, “the state had remained out of sync socially and politically with the rest of the country.” Due to the nature of the Article, “several progressive legislations such as on women’s rights, domestic violence, child protection, besides other legislations on affirmative action hadn’t been applicable in Kashmir.”
The Minister argues that the local elites were benefiting the most from the situation. The “comfort provision” which had been provided for the alignment of a state with the Indian Union during the period of independence from the British Empire, had ended up as an obstacle, “engendering isolation among the people in the Valley.”
Since the repeal, several op-eds have been published in newspapers across the world, but their focus has remained exclusively on the aftermath of the abrogation. Unearthing necessary due diligence for a minimum of forty years would reveal that prior to the revocation of Article 370, the area of Jammu and Kashmir was hardly a model of peace and stability.
Local politics have pitted the Muslim-dominated valley against the Hindu-dominated Jammu region since before the princely state’s accession to India in 1947. With the continuous destabilization of the state, mass killings in the region have included those of Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and other local minorities by various state and non state actors. The deaths of civilians had also spiked since the insurgency picked up momentum during the late 1980’s. Militant groups started becoming more visible in the state of Jammu and Kashmir after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, which ended its intervention in Afghanistan. Professionally trained militants simply moved across the borders of Afghanistan and Pakistan into India.
Ilyas Chatta (Punjab University, 2009) writes that the aftermath of the partition in 1947 included a mass migration and a possible ethnic cleansing of over 200,000 of Jammu’s Muslims which was assisted by the ruling Dogra regime. During the same time, journalist and peace-activist Ved Bhasin writes, a large number of Hindus and Sikhs too were butchered particularly in Rajouri, Mirpur and areas now under Pakistan.
The murders of over two hundred Kashmiri Pundits, a minority group in the Muslim majority Kashmir valley occurred between 1989–2003. On March 20th 2000, during the visit of US President Bill Clinton to India, 35 Sikh men were targeted and shot dead by unknown assailants in Chattisinghpora in the village of Anantnag, Kashmir.
The Dangers of Simplifying Evidence
A plethora of articles on Kashmir have flooded the internet over the past few months, birthing new punditry and expertise on the region. Yet, it is easy to forget that on the ground circumstances can differ dramatically from the accounts of think-tank punditry, the fury of journalists and of click and bait headlines generated across social media platforms.
David Branigan, a human rights activist and researcher says that further confusion is created when individuals often mistranslate, mischaracterize or dangerously simplify evidence to support their ideological agendas (2019). Inaccuracies are not exclusively reserved for various “experts,” Branigan adds: “there’s also a surprising lack of interest in understanding the complexities of Kashmir in relationship to India, to Pakistan and to the immediate region.” Albeit not a prerequisite, understanding at least one of the local language spoken in Kashmir matters.
English is one of the official languages in the subcontinent, but not everybody speaks it, specially in the smaller cities, towns and villages where people interact in their own local dialects and languages. Similarly, not everyone is busy on social media expressing their grievances. Particularly in the Kashmir valley where since August 2019 the population remain largely disconnected from internet services and communication lines.
Narratives, Polemics and the Intricacy of Kashmiriyat
This conflict is simply not solely about Kashmir vs India vs Pakistan. There are many actors, both local and international, with their own talking points, circumstances and vested interests. The Kashmiri nationalist liberation movement is not new, a quit-Kashmir movement was initially established against the Hindu Dogra rulers in the 1930’s, although it carried its own basic differences.
During the initial phases, a divide existed between the Islamic medievalism of Mirvais Maulvi Mohammad Yusuf Shah and the more popular modernism led by Sheikh Abdullah. The Islamic fundamentalism was assisted with covert support from the Maharaja of Kashmir, Hindu communalists and landlords.
Sheikh Abdullah in turn, received support from the ordinary Muslims of Jammu and Kashmir. During the initial phases of the nationalist movement in Kashmir (1931–1947), numerous conflicts had sprung up in the valley, creating new groups and ideologies which have further politicized the struggle. After independence from the British, several groups have been backed by Pakistan, others by various governments and coalitions from the central government in New Delhi.
Besides local agency, there are vested interests in the diaspora. During the 1970’s onwards these were mainly concentrated in the UK, with a size-able community of Mirpuris from Azad Kashmir. This community has maintained close connections with relatives back home, transferring remittances to maintain family members over the years. It is well documented that the JKLF (Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front), an active militant organization until the mid 90’s was founded amongst the Kashmiri diaspora in Britain in 1977.
Throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s, this group and their associated predecessors carried out several terrorist attacks, including the kidnaping and murder of Ravindra Mhatre, a senior Indian diplomat in Birmingham, UK. After kidnapping the diplomat, JKLF had made a demand to the government of India for one million pounds in ransom and the release of accomplices, amongst whom was a prominent founder of the JKLF. Today, since the 1990’s the JKLF militant group has renounced its militant past to become part of the moderate “Kashmiri liberation” forces which are further divided into various components.
Current Human Rights Situation
Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), a consortium of local groups lists the total number of deaths from 2008 -2018 as 4059. Their website details the deaths of 1081 as civilian deaths, 1890 by militants and 1088 by the Indian Armed Forces. A recent report from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights report (2018) estimates that 130 to 145 civilians were killed by security forces between mid-July 2016 and end of March 2018.
In addition, the report adds that 16 to 20 civilians were killed by armed groups in the same period. The report also documents the meeting of the High Commissioner for Human Rights with the representatives of both the Governments of Pakistan and India, despite which, access to Kashmir on either side of the Line of Control was denied by both parties. This led to the OHCHR report being undertaken through remote monitoring of the human rights situation, “largely drawing on information mostly available in the public domain.”
Information was also procured via official documents and statements, such as Parliamentary questions, court orders, and police reports. Despite facing several challenges, the OHCR notes that the NGOs, human rights personnel and journalists were able to operate in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir and generate some reports. On the other hand, the report also notes that various restrictions in Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistanm in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, limited the ability of observers and International bodies such as the OHCHR to assess the human rights situation.
Added to the violence exerted by militants and other non state actors, Kaia Leather, in a detailed US Congressional Report (2002), has written extensively on the widespread allegations of human rights violations committed by the paramilitary and security forces of India. These include extrajudicial killings, execution of detainees, denial of medical treatment to Kashmiri prisoners, torture of those under interrogation and the excessive use of force.
Rafiq Kathwari, a Kashmiri poet and activist says that Articles 370 and 35A, were important symbols of self determination for the Kashmiris. These symbols were forcibly taken away from them in August. He questions the need for the presence of an Indian soldier for every eight Kashmiris, who he says, daily confront the dark reality of militarization.
Speaking on various public platforms in New York and other cities where he is invited to talk, Mr. Kathwari also highlights the mental crisis affecting the population of the Kashmir valley, an overlooked consequence of militarization and the lack of access to justice for the average person. This, he says is the direct result of the heavy presence of the Indian military affecting the daily life of the locals, specially of women and children. He draws comparison with “the Israeli playbook in Palestine,” which, he says “is being used in Kashmir.”
To add to this volatile brew, is the elephant in the room: the history of British colonialism in the subcontinent. Its difficult to forget that in April 1947, British policy changed, and the princely states were advised to accede to one or the other dominion (India or Pakistan). Throughout the Kashmir War (1947–1949), Britain successfully ensured the Pakistani occupation of a part of Jammu and Kashmir, renamed as Azad Kashmir, went undisturbed.
Narendra Singh Sarila a former aide de camp to the last Viceroy of British India Lord Mountbatten, and later a diplomat with the government of India, writes that several British officers opted for service in Pakistan when the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir signed the Instrument of Accession in favor of India. (Sarila 2005). After independence in 1947, these officers could’ve easily asked for a request for release from appointment but instead chose to serve in the Pakistani armed forces. General Douglas Gracey, a British army officer, born in India to British parents, was one of the first two Commanders-in-Chief of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan’s army.
The immediate concerns after the abrogation of Artciles 370 and 35A is the demotion of the state of Jammu and Kashmir to status of a Union Territory (UT). This overrides autonomy and places the UT under direct administration by the Central government in New Delhi. Professor Philip Oldenberg (Columbia University, 2019) argues that creating the Union Territory of Ladakh is itself a problem, as the Kargil area clearly does not “belong” to Ladakh proper, being (largely) Buddhist, and Kargil largely Shia [Central Asian] Muslim.
The rifts between Hindus, Muslims and smaller groups was certainly not invented by the British, yet it was fomented by them in India, based on their principle of divide and rule. Seventy-two years after independence, it is apparent the Kashmiris have paid the highest price, in terms of the enormous loss of lives, economic insecurity and continued political instability.
To conclude, I quote excerpts from Professor Ayesha Jalal’s address at the Wilson Center, in honor of the late social activist Asma Jehangir. “If we are to navigate the way to peace, not war, the triggers of the contemporary disenchantment will have to be addressed, not silenced or eliminated. In framing their political narratives politicians in both India and Pakistan vie for popular support by manipulating the public discourse through corporate owned media houses while owners of TV-channels practice self censorship. The role of the media should be to question narratives and decisions, through even handed critical debate and public discourse.
Both New Delhi and Islamabad instead of scoring points with each other for political gain should move towards some sort of a resolution of the Kashmir issue — which is an open ended wound that will continue to threaten peace, prosperity and stability in the region. This resolution can be achieved by humaneness and basic decency, that has been lost sight of in the toxic narratives of two post-colonial nation states.”
Citation: Singh, Priya. India, Kashmir and Pakistan Is a Trilateral Dispute, Not a Bilateral Status Quo. 2019. medium.com/@missSingh/india-kashmir-and-pakistan-is-a-trilateral-dispute-not-a-bilateral-status-quo-bc21b45970f.
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