Kashmir’s right to self determine
0 comments | by Soraya Boyd
(This paper was presented by Soraya Boyd at a seminar on “Human Rights in South Asia: Issues and Challenges” organised by London Institute of South Asia at Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, School of Advanced Study, University of London on 30 June 2017) People become militant because they live, as in the case of Kashmiris and people in other nations (Palestine, etc), in circumstances which are intolerably abnormal. The extreme violence, torture, other forms of inhuman and degrading treatment, including sexual violence against women and young girls (rape as a weapon of war), the disappearance of people (militant or non militant) perpetrated against Kashmiris are woefully underreported by mainstream media in the west Persistent human rights violations and brutal state repressions have had profoundly dire consequences over time with multi dimensional outcomes all impacting every aspect of daily life for Kashmiris living under a protracted and brutal Indian military occupation Kashmir is chiefly a post-colonial problem created by Britain and made worst by India. Like Northern of Ireland, Palestine, Kashmir is used as a testing ground to ascertain just how far the government of India can go to take away / strip away general rights and freedoms. It’s also not the only part of India that suffers in this way. The northwest is in a similar situation and if religion is the issue, all religious minorities are persecuted in India. These young Kashmiris men are paying a huge price. They are in many ways like members of the French resistance. Celebrated as resistance and freedom fighters. Our maquisards (men and women engaged and united in their common struggle) did what they had to do and used whatever means to liberate their country, my country: France. Had I been around then I certainly know which side I’d be with/on. In matters of justice, there can only ever be one side: the right side of history.
This paper will seek to give a broad overview of some of the regional and geo-political factors pertaining to the Kashmiri people’s long quest to achieve self rule whilst focusing on some selected, specific, recent issues Nestled between the majestic Pir Panjal and Great Himalayas mountain ranges, the ancient fount from which welled scholarly learning is a celebrated gateway where multi ethnicities, cultural systems, many languages and religions intertwine. As a historic trading centre which fostered the cultural enrichment of the hearts and minds of all who travelled through across the ages, this silk route famed across time for its exquisite craftsmanship, artistry and vibrancy is the land of Kashmir which for decades has been caught between a bloodied rock and a sanguine hard place. Affected by several wars, a protracted stalemate, UN negotiated ceasefire, broken promises, unfulfilled political aspirations, human rights abuses, uprisings, curfews, hunger strikes, annexed, occupied and ruled over by three powerful nuclear state actors (India, Pakistan and China) all laying a claim to this besieged territory, interfered with by non state actors, the incredible land is where the courageous, resilient, strong and diverse people of Kashmir live, have lived and will continue to live as their ancestors did. The need for and importance of states actors to respect, promote, protect and implement human rights, as enshrined in the UNDHR and UN Charter, has never been so great in South Asia in general and Kashmir in particular. Persistent human rights violations and brutal state repressions have had profoundly dire consequences over time with multi dimensional outcomes all impacting every aspect of daily life for Kashmiris living under a protracted and brutal Indian military occupation.
In addition, the extreme violence, torture, other forms of inhuman and degrading treatment, including sexual violence against women and young girls (rape as a weapon of war), the disappearance of people (militant or non militant) perpetrated against Kashmiris are woefully underreported by mainstream media in the west. Last November writing for the Guardian, Mirza Waheed said that “On 18 September 2016, a small group of jihadi fighters, alleged to have come from Pakistan, staged a commando raid on an Indian army camp near the northern Kashmir town of Uri, killing 19 Indian soldiers – the deadliest attack on Indian security forces in Kashmir in two decades.” In a battle of words and deeds, rather than talking with Pakistan, Modi did what Americans or Israeli do, he hit back with a “surgical strike” to punish the so-called militant encampments in the Kashmiri Pakistani controlled part. And we all know there’s nothing surgical about it. The damage Modi inflicted was mostly on civilian “killing more than 90 people. Most shocking of all has been the breaking up of demonstrations with “non-lethal” pellet ammunition, which has blinded hundreds of Kashmiri civilians.” A parallel can be drawn with Israel’s use of rubber coated bullets shooting to blind young Palestinian men resisting the brutal Israeli military occupation. People become militant because they live, as in the case of Kashmiris and people in other nations (Palestine, etc), in circumstances which are intolerably abnormal. Bashraat Masood’s article published in the Indian Express (26 July 2015), titled "Guns ‘n’ poses: The new crop of militants in Kashmir", still noteworthy, .talked about “the new crop of militants in the Valley” young educated and totally social media savvy!
Burhan Wani, for instance, was the son of a headmaster, a normal young man, said to be helpful, quiet and polite. However after “his older brother [Khalid] was [brutally] beaten to death by troops on patrol near their home.” The people who carried out the beating were “policemen as well as paramilitary forces of the Special Operations Group (SOG) of the J&K Police”. And having himself been beaten on the same day as his brother, Burhan felt compelled to join Hizbul Mujahideen and consequently became a militant aged 15 -having witnessed the murder of his brother. After Burhan’s death -he was killed on 8th July 2016 by Indian security forces- Kashmiris rose up in the tens of thousands to ”renew [their] demands for freedom from Indian rule.” Burhan has indeed become a super hero “[so] in death, Wani has become something that India has long feared ─ a home grown militant openly lionised across the embattled region, a powerful symbol against Indian rule who has united IHK's many factions.” Regrettably India’s brutal repression is a long way off from the days of combating British rule. It seems it has morphed into its former oppressor. India’s behaviour and conduct has become similar to that of America ‘shoot first, ask questions later.’ One among many courageous women went on one of the world’s longest hunger strike protesting against India’s Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). On 9 August 2016, reporting on behalf of Amnesty International India, Abhirr VP who is a Senior Campaigner stated “At a hearing in a local court, Irom Sharmila said, “I have been fasting for the last 16 years. I haven’t got anything from it yet. I am ending my fast today. I want to try a different agitation now. I will contest against the Chief Minister of Manipur in the upcoming state elections.” The activist signed a bail bond and is likely to be released on bail soon”. … “Irom Sharmila’s hunger strike over the last 16 years has been a testament to her passion for human rights, and her belief that a draconian law like the AFSPA has no place in any society. The government arrested her, confined her to a hospital room and force fed her for 16 years, seemingly to break her will. There was zero dialogue. A peaceful protest was criminalized.”
AFSPA leads to mass impunity which in turn enabled for one of the worst crimes in Kashmir to be committed against the women of Kashmir “Six of the Kashmiri women who were allegedly gang raped by Indian soldiers in 1991 have died, 17 survivors are still awaiting for justice. It has been twenty six years since 23 women living in the twin villages of Kunan and Poshpora (Kashmir’s twin villages) were raped by four personnel of the Rajputana Rifles.” What started off as a cordon-and-search operation to mark out militants soon became one of the “blackest of nights in Kashmir’s violence-ridden history. As per the 2012 Jammu and Kashmir State Human Rights Commission (J&K SHRC) report – the men in the villages were first ordered to come out of their houses and taken to a separate location. Then members of the security forces who had “turned into beasts” forcefully entered these houses and “gagged the mouths of the victims and committed forced gang rape against their will and consent”. Even minor girls as young as eight years of age were not spared.” Do you remember Kunan Poshpora? a book published last year gives a wide-ranging account -albeit gruesome. When his 17 years old nephew Javaid Ahmad Magray “was killed in April 2003 by security force personnel” Mohammad Amin Magray said “If the Army knew they would be charged, and will have to go to court and be prosecuted, they will think ten times before they pull their triggers on an innocent … The AFSPA is a like a blank cheque from the government of India to kill innocents like my nephew”. (Amnesty International India)
The last decade has seen a shift in approach calling on “unarmed uprisings” where “tens of thousands of civilians” have “repeatedly taking to the streets to protest Indian rule, often leading to street battles between rock-throwing residents and Indian troops.” Echoes Palestinian rock throwing youths vs the Israeli military might. Many other young, bright and academically gifted (had conditions been normal) would have chosen to pursue their studies and resume normal lives. Conditions on the ground being such as they are (unbearable) brave young men are taking up arms out of sheer necessity, still daring to hope, setting in motion as best they can an unstoppable momentum leading them to charting the course of their long awaited and much yearned for independence as affirmed by the basic principle underpinning self determination and as promised in the 1948 and 1949 UN Resolutions whilst resisting a belligerent military occupier by any means whatsoever as enshrined in international law. The right of self determination is a right which is under the control of the people rather than under the control of the government as declared by the International Court of Justice. As stated by JFK “who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” These young men are paying a huge price. They are in many ways like members of the French resistance. Celebrated as resistance and freedom fighters. Our maquisards (men and women engaged and united in their common struggle) did what they had to do and used whatever means to liberate their country, my country: France. Had I been around then I certainly know which side I’d be with/on. in matters of justice, there can only ever be one side: the right side of history.
In the more recent past, militancy which began in the late 1980s and carried on until the mid 1990s saw endogenous militant youth originating from the Valley joining such groups as Hizbul Mujahideen. However from the mid 1990s, the composition of militant groups changed. It was mostly exogenous therefore made up of foreign militants (primarily Pakistani). Local militants are presently the major constituent part with less foreign militants. Working together to foster peace, stability and prosperity, bringing a just solution would benefit all stakeholders (India, Pakistan, China, the US) in South Asia, but especially Kashmiris. They should and must be a priority. Regrettably that doesn’t seem to be the preferred approach as demonstrated by the fact that the US seems/ed to have adopted (as it usually does) a neutral –sort of non committal- stance leaving India and Pakistan to thrash out a way forward to solve the Kashmir question. So where does all of this leave Kashmir and the Kashmir people: it still leaves them with the right to exercise their legal and lawful right, the right of a people to resist an occupier, an aggressor, an oppressor as enshrined in international law namely to exercise the right to engage in resistance whatever its form. Recently, an unambiguous message was sent to Pakistan, the once favoured US political ally in relation to its role in the war on terror. As recently as Tuesday 27 June 2017, in the lead up to a meeting between Trump and Modi, Syed Salahuddin, the commander in chief of Hizbul Mujahideen, was put on the Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) list by the US State Department pursuant to "Section 1(b) of Executive Order (EO) 13224, which imposes sanctions on foreign persons who have committed, or pose a significant risk of committing, acts of terrorism that threaten the security of US nationals". Unsurprisingly Gopal Baglay, spokesperson for the Indian Ministry of External Affairs, stated that this move by the US was vindicating India’s long held assertion that “cross-border terrorism has been behind the long-standing disturbance in Kashmir since last year, and the outfits he leads perpetuates cross-border terrorism against India from Pakistan and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. It also underlines quite strongly that both US and India face threat of terrorism, and terrorism knows no boundaries and is a global menace.” The winds of change now favouring India indicate that in matters of cooperation the US is going to be working far more closely with India on counter terrorism including counter insurgency (meaning more militarisation, brutal repression and disproportionate use of force to quell dissent -Kashmir especially) thus seemingly setting out to accord further validation to India’s repeated concerns about Pakistan sponsored terrorism. US collaboration for defence, internal, regional well as international security and stability to include developing bi-lateral trade cooperation with India in order to protect its economic interests in the region is the new norm. Seeking to keep China and Russia in check, the emerging matrix between the US and India (special new relationship) further consolidates existing military, defense, economic and financial ties between India and Israel, and Israel and America. A new military axis is shaping up. Nothing good can over come out of that. The US and India have a common enemy now: dissent, Criminalising dissent and calling it terrorism to justify repression, war crimes, crimes against humanity and crimes against the peace. So far as the US is concerned it is not a benevolent force, never was. India may not be the favourite for long.
Kashmir is not a religious issue. It never was a religious issue. Kashmir is about and has always been about territory. Many Kashmiri Hindus would equally like independence. Kashmir is chiefly a post-colonial problem created by Britain and made worst by India. Like Northern of Ireland, Palestine, Kashmir is used as a testing ground to ascertain just how far can the government of India go to take away / strip away general rights and freedoms. It’s also not the only part of India that suffers in this way. The northwest is in a similar situation and if religion is the issue, all religious minorities are persecuted in India. To conclude, enjoying a unique cultural identity that is uniquely specific and distinct from India or Pakistan, in the words of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, leader of the Kashmiri democratic movement, Kashmir belongs to no one else but the Kashmiri people be they Muslims, Hindus or Sikhs all of whom are integral actors realising their country’s political destiny and international legal status for they all are Kashmiri first. Soraya Boyd is Founder and CEO of Facilitate Global a London based human rights ngo. (www.facilitateglobal.org)