by Zia Sarhadi (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 45, No. 6, Shawwal, 1437)
Kashmiris are again being targeted by one of the most ruthless regimes in the world. The Indian occupation troops have introduced a new weapon this time: pellet guns that spray hundreds of steel-tipped bullets that have blinded hundreds of people.
Stone-throwing youth some with faces covered, heavily armed Indian troops firing live bullets, tear gas shells, and rubber-coated steel pellets at protesters, and using thick bamboo sticks to club women, men, and children are what characterize life in Kashmir today. Round the clock curfew, defiance by the people, and hospitals under siege by Indian troops dragging the wounded out of beds are some of the other features of life in this troubled land.
The latest eruption occurred in the aftermath of the killing of Burhan Wani, the 22-year-old popular leader of Hizbul Mujahideen by Indian occupation forces in the remote village of Kokernag (south Kashmir region) on the night of July 8. Two of his associates were also killed in a brief gun battle with occupation forces.
The Indian occupiers chortled at their “success.” Wani had evaded arrest for many years since he joined the group at the young age of 15 and quickly rose through the ranks for his daring and exploits as well as inspirational messages on the social media. He had become the most recognized face of the Kashmiri resistance struggle as well as leader of Hizbul Mujahideen’s operations, one of the best-known groups fighting against the occupiers.
What the Hindu occupiers and their Muslim accomplices in Kashmir had not anticipated was the reaction of the people. Clearly, anger was bubbling beneath the surface that the brutally oppressive occupiers misread as a sign of people’s submission and acquiescence to occupation. Wani’s killing proved the spark that ignited their pent-up rage. Thousands of people poured into the streets, especially in the capital Srinagar in defiance of the curfew braving bullets, tear gas shells, and rubber pellets that have become a favorite tool of the occupation forces. Hundreds of young men have been shot in the eyes resulting in getting their sockets blown out. More than 200,000 people attended Wani’s funeral on July 9, again in defiance of the curfew. The people have renewed their demand for freedom.
“Each day this week has brought a new surge of resistance by young, rock-throwing protesters in jeans and bandanas defying curfews to face down Indian troops firing live ammunition, pellet guns, and tear gas,” reported the Associated Press (AP) from Srinagar on July 13. “Officials worry that they’ve unwittingly revived a rebellion that may be hard to control.”
Within the first week, at least 43 people were shot dead and thousands wounded including hundreds that had their eyes blown out. Even the former chief minister of state, Omar Abdullah, a puppet of Delhi, was forced to call for optometrists to be sent to the state otherwise hundreds of youth would lose their eyesight. Abdullah’s call is likely to fall on deaf years in Delhi as it is ruled by the Hindu Nazis, aka the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) headed by the Muslim-hating Narendra Modi.
“We were not expecting this huge public reaction,” a top security official engaged in counterinsurgency operations told the AP. He insisted on anonymity telling the news agency he was not authorized to speak to reporters. However, he conceded, “It [people’s uprising] is disturbing.”
Pakistan, which has a huge stake in the future of Kashmir, reacted angrily to the killing of civilians. “The extra-judicial killing of Kashmiri leader Burhan Wani and scores of other innocent Kashmiris is deplorable and condemnable,” Foreign Office Spokesman Nafees Zakaria said on July 11. He added, “Such acts are a violation of the fundamental human rights of the Kashmiris and cannot deter the people of Jammu and Kashmir from their demand for the realization of the right to self-determination.” Pakistan Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry also spoke to envoys from the US, Britain, China, and France as well as a number of ambassadors of Muslim countries. On July 13, the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon offered his good offices to mediate between India and Pakistan to contain the crisis from escalating. He put a caveat: this was subject to both countries agreeing to such mediation efforts. While Pakistan welcomed the UN chief’s offer, India as usual dismissed it, calling its killing of Kashmiris an “internal matter.” Pakistan rejects such a position emphasizing that Kashmir remains disputed territory. There are several UN Security Council resolutions that call for holding a referendum on Kashmir to determine the wishes of the people.
The Kashmir dispute as it has come to be known cannot be properly understood without a reference to the unfinished business of partition of British colonial India into the dominion states of Pakistan and India on August 14 and 15, 1947 respectively. Kashmir was left unresolved through British intrigue even while its demographics, culture, and geography made it a natural part of Pakistan.
When the Hindu Maharaja (ruler) Hari Singh hesitated in declaring Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan, the people rose up in revolt. The maharaja fled the state capital Srinagar and with Delhi’s connivance, was forced to sign a conditional instrument of accession to India. Even the “conditional instrument” of accession is mired in controversy. Nobody has seen the instrument to this day. India claims it possesses the instrument. Based on this claim, India landed its troops in Srinagar in October 1947 to restore what it called peace and calm.
At the same time, Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru pledged that as soon as calm was restored, the people’s wishes would be determined through a plebiscite (referendum). Nehru gave a similar pledge to the UN while calling for a ceasefire in Kashmir. When the UN supervised ceasefire went into effect, India was in occupation of two-thirds of Kashmir while Pakistan controlled the rest. This is where the situation is to this day. The ceasefire call and pledge to respect the Kashmiris’ wishes was a ruse. India was losing the war and Nehru feared that if it continued, the entire state would be in Pakistan’s control.
The Kashmiris residing on the Pakistani side have had no problems or difficulties. They are quite happy with their situation. It is the Kashmiris under Indian occupation that are totally fed up and want out. In order to demonstrate their abhorrence of Indian military occupation, they have staged numerous uprisings. In 1989, for instance, they staged an uprising lasting nearly 20 years. Indian troops and paramilitary forces numbering some 700,000 have been ruthless in attempts to crush the people’s aspirations. More than 100,000 people have been killed; tens of thousands of people have disappeared or have been tortured to death in detention. To cap it all, the unruly Hindu paramilitary forces have also raped thousands of Kashmiri women, some as old as 70. Even young girls have not been spared; the youngest girl raped was just seven years old.
Kashmir is the most heavily militarized region in the world. There are 300,000 Indian troops and paramilitary units in Srinagar. With a population of one million, this means there is one soldier for every three civilians. India, which claims to be the largest democracy in the world, has given carte blanche to unruly mobs in uniform. Not one soldier has been charged with rape of any woman or torturing people to death. Instead, they are provided legal cover through various laws enacted in Delhi.
The people of Kashmir refuse to put up with such brutality or humiliation. To demonstrate their strong desire for freedom, they have staged numerous uprisings. The latest eruption occurred in the aftermath of Burhan Wani’s coldblooded murder by Indian troops. There will be no peace and, therefore, prosperity for people of the region unless the world’s longest festering Kashmir dispute is resolved according to the wishes of the people.