Razwan Hussain discusses the crisis in Kashmir and the devastating effect that the conflict has had on the Kashmiri people.
The conflict between Pakistan and India over the control of Kashmir has sparked major tension between the two countries over the last few decades. The evergreen 86,000 square mile region famed for its beautiful lakes and snow-capped mountains was once a peaceful state occupied by both Pakistanis and Indians.
India and Pakistan have been in conflict over the majority-Muslim region in the northernmost part of India. The conflict lies in the countries’ shared colonial past. The British ruled most of the Indian subcontinent from the 17th-20th century. Britain ruled most of the Indian subcontinent, first indirectly through the British East India Company, and then from 1858, it was ruled directly through the British crown.
Soon over time, Britain’s power over its colony started to show cracks. Fearing a civil war between India’s Hindu majority and Muslim minority, Britain faced increasing pressure to grant independence to its colony. Soon after World War II, in 1948, Parliament decided to end the British rule in India.
Mohammad Ali Jinnah, a Muslim politician who headed up India’s Muslim League started demanding a separate nation for India’s Muslim population. He said:
“It is high time that the British government applied their mind definitely to the division of India and the establishment of Pakistan and Hindustan, which means freedom for both.”
Whilst religious riots broke out across British India, leaving tens of thousands dead, British and Indian leaders began to seriously consider a partition of the subcontinent based on religion. Then on August 14, 1947, the independent, Muslim majority nation of Pakistan was formed. The Hindu majority nation of India followed the next day. Under the terms of the partition, more than 550 states within India which were not directly governed by Britain had the option to join either of the new nations to remain independent.
The state of Jammu and Kashmir, which had a majority Muslim population, was governed by Maharaja Hari Singh. He truly wanted independence for Kashmir. The Maharaja signed a standstill agreement with Pakistan which allowed citizens of Kashmir to continue trade and travel with the new country; this was to ease the pressure to join either new nation. India did not sign a similar standstill agreement. As this raged violence across the two nations, the government of Pakistan pressured Kashmir to join it and Pro-Pakistani rebels took over much of western Kashmir. The Maharaja asked for India’s help in staving off the invasion, but India responded that, in order to gain military assistance, Kashmir would have to accede to India, accordingly becoming part of the new country.
The Maharaja agreed and signed the Instrument of Accession, in October 1947, a document that aligned Kashmir with the Dominion of India. Kashmir was then given a special status within the Indian constitution which guaranteed that Kashmir would have independence over everything but communications, foreign affairs, and defence. In August 2009 this special status was revoked by the Indian government. The fateful decision of the Maharaja ushered in decades of conflict which included two wars and longstanding insurgency in the region.
Political unrest sparked decades of violence resulting in major atrocities towards the people of Kashmir with countless innocent lives lost. Statistics show the number of orphans under the age of 5 has risen considerably since the Indian troops were sent to Pakistan administered Kashmir. Human rights are being violated by India and the Indian Army, these could be summarised as loss of lives, lack of the right to live and personal immunity and access to courts, illegal and arbitrary decisions on the custody of civilians, including children. There is also the use of excessive force, including the use of pellet guns and shotguns, the use of torture, illegal abduction of children, lack of access to health and educational services, restrictions on freedom of expression of traditions, and repression against human rights activists and journalists.
Many waves of mass killings have happened. Targeted killings had started, firstly, the assassination of Mohammad Yousuf Halwai, and then Bharatiya Jan Sangh Leader Tika Lal Taploo was assassinated near his home in Habbakadal. The funeral was attended by many BJP Leaders. Things only started to get worse when local pandit woman was gunned down on the Habbakadal Bridge on 1 November 1989, soon after retired judge Neel Kanth Ganjoo was shot dead outside J&K High court in Srinagar three days after. He was the judge who had sentenced Maqbool Bhat to death in a murder case. The renowned advocated Prem Nath Bhat was also gunned down in Anantnag on 27 December.
Reports made by the Indian Government state 219 Kashmiri pandits were killed and around 140,000 migrated due to the violence and over 3000 remained in the valley of Kashmir. The Kashmir Pandit Sangharsh Samiti which is the local organisation for Pandits in Kashmir claimed that 399 Kashmiri Pandits were killed by insurgents. Human Rights Watch also blamed Pakistan for supporting militants in Kashmir, and in the same report it mentions,
"There is considerable evidence that over many years Pakistan has provided Kashmiri militants with training, weapons, funding, and sanctuary."
However, officially, Pakistan denies ever arming and training militants.
A 43 page report by the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights was released on July 8, 2019, raising concerns about abuses by state security forces and armed groups in both Indian and Pakistan – held parts of Kashmir. This report was dismissed by the Indian government as a ‘false and motivated narrative’. The UN human rights office also said that India should amend its Public Safety Act, an administrative detention law that allows detention without charge or trial for up to a period of two years. This law has been the trap to detain protesters, political dissidents, and other activists on vague grounds for long periods.
The tension became so tense that Indian troops were entering Pakistan administered Kashmir in fighter jets killing innocent civilians. Pakistan had freed Indian Commander Abhinandan Varthaman after his plane was shot down in Pakistan administered Kashmir. He was handed over to the Indian officials on Friday 1st March at the only legal border crossing with Pakistan. This was done by the prime minister of Pakistan (Imran Khan) as an offering of peace between the two countries.
The conflict has destroyed more families in Pakistan administered Kashmir than the Covid-19. Every day innocent civilians, including children, are being threatened with guns by militant Indian troops. The rising tensions between the two countries over control of Kashmir could potentially result in a nuclear war, with both countries heavily armed with nuclear weapons. According to Pakistan’s top nuclear scientist, Samer Mubarakmand, the prospect of a nuclear war between India and Pakistan are ‘very dim.’ The strained relationship was further antagonised when New Delhi scrapped the autonomous status of Jammu and Kashmir, by revoking Article 370. The Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, insinuated the possibility of war and said if the tension continues to rise, and a face-off between the two nuclear-armed nations will be inevitable. According to the SIPRI (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute), India currently holds between 80-100 nuclear warheads, with Pakistan holding 90-110. Furthermore, China has been a major supporter of Pakistan, assisting Islamabad’s nuclear program.
The Indian government has deployed tens of thousands of Indian troops in Pakistan administered Kashmir, schools and colleges were shut, tourists were ordered to leave, telephone lines and internet services had been suspended and regional political leaders were placed under house arrest. The main question was whether Article 35A of the Indian constitution would be scrapped, as this was the only thing, which gave the people of Kashmir some special privileges. The government then declared revocation of nearly all of Article 370, which 35A formed part of and had been the basis of Kashmir’s relationship with India for almost 70 years. This article allowed the people of Kashmir to have its own constitution, its own flag and the freedom to make their own laws. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party had argued that it needed to be scrapped to integrate Kashmir and put it in the same footing as the rest of India. Many Kashmiris believe that the ultimate aim of Prime Minister Modi and the BJP is to ultimately change the demographic character of the Muslim – Majority region and to allow non-Kashmiris to but land and settle there.
Imran Khan gave a speech at the UN, which was rated as one of the best speeches given at the UN; the speech not only stunned the Indian representatives sitting in the hall but electrified the international community sitting in the world forum. He spoke for 50 minutes without a single fumble and was only interrupted by roaring applause.
Although this has barely had any news coverage and the Indian army continues with these atrocities, several British members of Parliament have called for international intervention to resolve the dispute. An online international conference hosted by UK based Kashmir Self-Determination movement International, President of Azad Kashmir, Masood Khan sought cross-party action through British lawmakers to address the long standing Kashmir issue. British MP Andrew Gwynne who is also the Chairman of Labour said it was worrying to see the, ‘increasing tensions from India towards Pakistan.’ He also stated that
"No decision about what happens to the territory can be made without the involvement of the Kashmiris."
The people of Jammu and Kashmir must be granted the right of self-determination. They are the principle stakeholders in this conflict and should be an integral component of any future peace process, along with India and Pakistan. The British government, along with other democracies across the world, need to take a more decisive stance on championing the rights of the Kashmiri people.
Razwan Hussain is a recent LLM and LPC graduate and is a passionate campaigner for democracy and human rights across the world. He writes in a personal capacity.
He tweets at @RazwanHussain13