By Gharib Hanif
Situated in the extreme north of the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent, Kashmir has an area of 85,000 square miles and an estimated population of 13 million. It borders upon China, Afghanistan, India and Pakistan.
Reliable sources trace the history of Kashmir only to the seventh century, although it is known that in the second century, Kashmir was annexed by Emperor Kanishka and became a part of the Kushan Empire, later a part of China. For a period of over a thousand years the country, despite its exploitation, was independent and flourishing.
The long history of independence was, however, broken over two hundred and fifty years ago, when in 1752 Afghans established their rule over Kashmir. Afghan occupation was followed in 1819 by the brutally oppressive rule by the Sikhs of the neighbouring Punjab. In 1846 the Sikhs were defeated by the British and therefore had to relinquish their hold over Kashmir. The British, however, did not extend their rule over Kashmir, instead they sold the territory to the neighbouring Dogras of Jammu. Despite local resistance, Dogras ruled Kashmir as an independent princely state until 1947 when events in the Indian subcontinent overtook the events in Kashmir.
When in 1947 the British relinquished their paramountcy over India, the people of Kashmir had already revolted against the illegitimate Dogra ruler of the state. He was defeated by the Kashmir Liberation Army on 24 October 1947, and a provisional government of Azad Kashmir (free Kashmir) was proclaimed on 26 October 1947. India, to justify its military invasion of Kashmir, persuaded the fleeing Dogra ruler to sign a temporary Instrument of Accession. In the military conflict that followed, one third (37%) of Kashmir went under Pakistani control and the rest (63%) was taken over by India. Indian government, fully aware of the fraudulent nature of the instrument, quickly promised Kashmiris, and the United Nations, that as soon as peace was restored in the region it would allow the people to exercise their right of self-determination. However, any attempts to hold a plebiscite have been met with fierce opposition from India.
It is important to note that the Kashmir Freedom Movement is not about secession; it is about ending the forced and illegal Indian occupation.
CURRENT CRISIS: A HUMAN TRAGEDY
In January 1990, long-term dissent against Indian rule erupted into a popular uprising in Kashmir. In its efforts to crush the freedom movement, Indian government has pursued a policy of repression in Kashmir which has resulted in massive human rights violations by the Indian army and paramilitary forces.
Over 600,000 soldiers (1 soldier for every 10 Kashmiris) have been poured into the densely populated civilian areas of Kashmir. In their efforts to crush the freedom movement, Indian forces have acted without regard for international human rights law and have violated the laws of war protecting civilians in situations of armed conflict. The US State Department, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have recorded varying categories of human rights violations in Kashmir. These include political and extrajudicial killings; disappearances; rape, torture and custodial abuse; arbitrary arrest and detention; willful destruction of property; denial of fair trial; arbitrary interference into privacy/family/home/correspondence; use of excessive force and violations of humanitarian law; suppression of freedom of speech and press; suppression of freedom of peaceful assembly and association; and suppression of religious freedom.
Indian army soldiers, federal paramilitary troops of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and the Border Security Force (BSF) have used lethal force against peaceful demonstrators, shooting hundreds of unarmed civilians. Indian forces have also engaged in the summary executions of suspected militants and reprisal-killings of civilians. They have frequently opened fire in crowded markets and residential areas, killing innocent civilians.
In their pursuit to “Catch and Kill” Kashmiri rebels, Indian soldiers daily cordon off large sections of a locality and conduct warrantless house-to-house searches, nabbing young men suspected of being freedom fighters, taking them to interrogation centres, where they are brutally tortured. Some of them are never seen again. During such cordon and search operations, soldiers frequently engage in collective punishment against the civilian population, most frequently by beating or otherwise assaulting residents, and burning their homes. Rape and gang-rape is used as a means of targeting women who sympathise with the rebels; in raping them, the security forces are attempting to punish and humiliate the entire community.
Official figures say more than 20,000 have been killed in Kashmir since early 1990. From the records maintained by hospitals, journalists and lawyers more than 40,000 Kashmiris between the ages 15-35 have been killed in the past seven years. Since August 1992 more than 700 people have been executed without trial by the forces after being taken into custody. Thousands of Kashmiris are in illegal detention. Family members frequently have not been informed of the whereabouts of the detainees. The detainees themselves rarely have access to lawyers, and most have been denied medical care.
PATH TO A SOLUTION
The Kashmiri people believe that the conflict can be resolved by taking the following measures :
- There must be an immediate and complete cessation of military and paramilitary action by Indian forces against the people of Jammu and Kashmir.
- Torture and killings of persons arrested and captured by Indian forces must be immediately stopped.
- All those imprisoned in connection with resistance to the Indian occupation must be immediately and unconditionally released and cases instituted against them under the so-called emergency laws must be withdrawn.
- The Governments of India and Pakistan should provide facilities to Kashmiri leadership on both sides of the cease-fire line to confer and submit their own proposals regarding the procedures of peaceful settlement.
- Demilitarisation of Jammu and Kashmir with withdrawal of all foreign troops to the pre-conflict positions.
- Control handed over to an international body, preferably the UN, for an interim period.
- The setting up of an independent Plebiscite Commission.
- The holding of a free and fair plebiscite, under the control of the Plebiscite Commission, to decide whether the people of Jammu and Kashmir wish to accede to India or Pakistan or wish to be independent.