Pakistan and India are two nations that have always been a great source of international news coverage, be if for terrorist-related issues, cricketing-related controversies or for being developing economies eaten up by Western capitalists. Whatever is currently going on around the World, the Indian-Subcontinent’s issues are never far from the writer’s pen and are the proverbial gold mine in the quest to fill column inches.
As a quick Google news search will verify, dramatic recent occurrences that have been the brunt of global focus include the murder of Benazir Bhutto, the Indus Valley floods, Cricket match-fixing claims and the Mumbai killings. What tends to be so conspicuously absent from most major news publications, unless one undertakes a detailed search, is the alarming atrocities that is taking place under both nation’s domineering governship. The people of Kashmir are an afterthought in the eyes of the western world and unlike equally oppressed peoples in nations such as Afghanistan, Libya and Southern Sudan there doesn’t appear to be an intervening resolution in sight. No “White” Knight appears to be riding to the rescue of the Kashmiri’s, pun intended.
So why is the Western World so ignorant to the plight of the people of Kashmir and what hardships are those courageous and inspiring people undergoing on a daily basis in the world’s longest ongoing conflict? To understand the present situation, one must analysis the historical basis from which death, displacement and despair has become a regular occurrence in everyday Kashmiri life. As with much of the world’s current flashpoints, the ongoing Kashmir conflict originated in the aftermath of the colonial break up of the British Empire and the aftermath of World War II.
With an infamous and ultimately successful non-violent campaign for independence from the British Raj, Mohandas Gandhi, Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Jawarharhal Nehru’s dream became a reality in 1947 as the occupied nation was split along religious lines and freed from British involvement. What followed was mass migration amongst the nations people as they moved from their ancestral homelands to areas more suited to their religious beliefs, the escape from possible religious persecution and intolerance the reason. The Muslim dominated west and east of the state became the Dominion of Pakistan (West and East sections) whilst the Hindu and Sikh populated middle section became the Union of India. Whilst not universally popular due to the displacement and even separation of some tribes the move was accepted by the vast majority and both nations began the growth into two distinct nations.
One issue that was not resolved by the Indian Act of Independence 1947 and has yet to be resolved in the present day is the Kashmir solution. Who has control and who does it belong to? An unanswered and unresolved dilemma 60 years has led to a lifetime of strife and struggle for generations of Kashmiri’s for whom noone seems willing to help. After the British left India in 1947 they gave up suzerainty of the many “princely states” of the region upon which they were expected to join either of the new nations or remain de facto independent. The issue of Kashmir was made more difficult by the religions of the region. In general Pakistan was created as a Islamic Republic and with the vast majority of Kashmiri’s being Muslim it was expected to annex to the new Dominion. Sceptical and worried about what would become of his nation, the ruler, the Maharaja Hari Singh signed an “Instrument of Accession” to accede his state to India on the primary condition that it retains its own constitution, autonomy and would be allowed a referendum for the people of Kashmir to determine their own future. Being a Hindu himself, the Maharaja no doubt believe that safeguarding his country in the short term against Islamic revolutionaries for long term stability was the preferred option but once the nation came under Indian jurisdiction they didn’t wish to let go. And so started the oppression of the luckless people.
To this day Pakistan and India have differing views on the status of Kashmir, both of which has left the people themselves as the victims of barbaric human rights abuses. India resolutely believes that Kashmir is an integral part of the nation as verified in the 1947 Act if Indian Independence and confirmed when Hara Singh signed the accession act, regardless of the Maharaj’s request to hold a referendum. To this end they refused to negotiate any compromises and demands that Pakistan withdraw all support and military with immediate effect to integrate the region fully into the Union of India, regardless of the people’s wishes. Pakistan naturally take the opposing view from their neighbours and although intrinsically adhering to the belief that as a muslim-majority state Kashmir should have been a part of Pakistan from partition they have at least agreed to support a referendum for the people. The Islamic Republic also rejects the actions of the Maharaj by stating he only agreed the act under duress and the popular and ongoing Kashmiri insurgency clearly displays the will of the people against Indian occupation. Essentially India believes it has full sovereignty over the region whilst Pakistan acknowledges the area as a disputed territory. With no agreement over 60 years and outside intervention slow in coming due no doubt to the nuclear capabilities of both nations, it has left the Kashmiri people susceptible to human rights infringements in particular on the Indian side.
A United Nations report states that there have been approximately 1.5 MILLION Kashmiri Muslim refugees who have left Indian-occupied territory to seek refuge in Pakistan itself and Pakistani-Kashmir, escaping persecution both perceived and real. The main bone of contention surrounds the actions of the Indian Armed Forces and their affiliated paramilitary groups who regularly swamp the towns and villages and commit murder, kidnap and rape amongst the inhabitants. Indeed, some studies amongst Kashmiri’s state that 64% of people hold the IAF responsible for human rights abuses. Numerous reports display alarming figures. In the last decade of the 20th century, it was reported that there were 4,501 civilian deaths in Kashmir and in the same period of 1990-99 there was the despicable figure of 4,242 rapes committed on women aged 7-70. The figures tally with Medicins sans Frontiere’s claims in a 2005 study that the women of Kashmir are also amongst the highest victims of sexual abuse, with 11.6% of those studied conceding they were victims of violation.
Despite being roundly condemned in particular by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, there doesn’t appear to be any change in sight and new cases appear regularly. The Public Safety Act is the latest condition that is causing concern along with the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. The PSA grants the forces the power to detain any person or persons “in administrative detention for a maximum of two years without a court order”. The act has led to estimates of up to 20,000 men, women and children being detained and imprisoned without charge and in some cases on dubious reasoning. The Armed Forces SPA is also another implementation of the Indian Government that is designed to bring upheaval and distress to the lives of the Kashmiri citizen, the act empowering the forces to adopt the ever-controversial “Shoot to Kill” policy and to destroy or occupy any property they wish with dubious reasoning. An infamous episode occurred in 1996 which drew the ire of Amnesty International when Armed Forces personnel forceably entered the residence of a Kashmiri woman and raped her four teenage daughters in an all too familiar scene. Whilst in Pakistani Kashmir the situation is not as dire or desperate there is also instances of religious intolerance for non-sunni Muslims as well as the worrying and alleged presence of Al-Qaeda cells in the area inciting fundamentalist teachings.
Whilst this multinational tug of war continues with no end in sight (China also posseses a small part of Kashmir as well) what about the people? What is that they want? Depending on the source that you get your information from you will read a triumvirate of opinions. There are those that favour joining Pakistan, there are those that favour joining India and then there are those who favour independence. The only thing that varies between each report, study and poll is the percentages. Another google search using the terms “Kashmir independence” provides examples, one Reuters result stating that as many as 87% of people in the region support independence over an allegience to either side. With the Insurgency and battle for freedom (from India at least) amongst the muslim-majority it would seem to be the favoured option for peace and stability in the area but without intervention Pakistan and India will not budge. Indeed India will not even consider discussing the issue wit any foreign powers as it feels a 1970’s agreement with Pakistan has ensure the issue can only be discussed amongst each other and ensuring the military might of the United States does not impose itself into the argument. For all the condemnation of the human rights abuses taking place throughout the Kashmir valley is appears the people have no one to turn to and their continuous struggle will continue for the near future. A nation of people left to rot? It’s the world’s hidden shame in one of nature’s most beautiful surroundings.