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Kashmir Crisis Continues

by Edward Hasbrouck

(Peacework magazine, January 1995)

Five years into the latest uprising against India’s occupation of the Kashmir Valley, conditions in Kashmir have “continued to deteriorate”, a trend “not unrelated to signals sent by India’s one-time critics, notably the United States, that human rights would no longer feature prominently in bilateral [Indo-U.S.] discussions”, according to Asia Watch in August 1994.

India refuses to negotiate except on the precondition that Kashmir is an integral part of India. Elections and most civil rights remain suspended; half a million Indian troops remain in Kashmir.

Having failed to defeat the ten thousand or so nationalist guerrillas in combat, or to alienate them from mass support, India has increasingly used collective retaliation against areas suspected of guerilla sympathies. The result has been a substantial increase in the numbers of victims of the occupation.

Among reprisal tactics that have been documented by Indian and foreign human rights groups (foreign human rights groups are officially banned from India, but some have gotten in as tourists) are the following:

  • Shooting of civilian bystanders, regardless of whether they are armed or hostile, whenever Indian forces are shot at.
  • Rape of Kashmiri women by Indian soldiers, including public and gang rape, as a tactic of terror and intimidation against villages believed to have harbored guerrillas, or from which guerrillas are believed to have been recruited.
  • Razing of villages and urban neighborhoods believed to have given support to the guerrillas, or to have been used as bases for raids on Indian troops or installations. Much of the heart of Kashmir’s capital, Srinagar — a dense city of 700,000 people, built mostly of centuries-old multi-story wooden buildings crowded closely together — has been destroyed by fires set by Indian troops during raids on suspected guerilla hideouts.
  • Targeting of religious and medical workers and political and human rights activists, especially those with contacts outside Kashmir, for assassination by Indian death squads. Among those killed have been the Mirwaiz (the spiritual leader of Kashmiri Muslims) Maulvi Mohammed Farooq, whose son Umar Farooq has been selected by consensus of the 34 parties participating in the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) as its first chairman; H. N. Wanchoo, a Kashmiri Hindu described by Asia Watch as “Kashmir’s most prominent human rights monitor”; and Dr. A. H. Guru, a leading Kashmiri Muslim surgeon and member of the governing council of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), who had helped forward medical records documenting India’s torture tactics to international human rights groups.

Meanwhile, “As international pressure on India eases,… the government of India appears to have stepped up its catch-and-kill campaign against Muslim insurgents, resulting in an escalation of human rights abuses since early 1994,” according to Asia Watch.

The Kashmiri American Council has compiled reports that 31,000 people, (mainly Muslim civilians in and around the Kashmir Valley), have been killed since 1989, more than 1,000 of them killed during torture; 43,000 people are currently being detained without trial; 17,000 homes and 4,900 businesses have been gutted; 120,000 people have been displaced; and 3 daily newspapers and all foreign relief organizations have been banned.

The oldest and most widely-supported nationalist group is the JKLF, a democratic, secular organization opposing both Indian and Pakistani rule through both political and armed struggle. Other smaller, more Islamist, groups support incorporation of Kashmir into Pakistan. All factions are united in the APHC, which describes itself as follows in its Mission Statement:

“The All-Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) is a coalition of 34 Kashmiri political parties. It was established in January of 1993 to unite the disparate factions of the Kashmiri self-determination movement behind a common political platform and a political leadership.

“The Conference seeks a constructive dialogue with the Government of India. It is further the mandate of the Conference to pursue the assistance of the United Nations and the Western democracies to help forge a peaceful, political settlement of the dispute.

“The Government of India has refused all dialogue with moderate elements in the Kashmiri political community. It has chosen instead to enact a violent crackdown on all political dissent in Kashmir….

“The unfortunate result of India’s brutality and intransigence has been the rise of an armed resistance, which sees no hope of a peaceful negotiated settlement. Each day that India kills more innocent Kashmiris, it strengthens the armed resistance, and weakens those who still believe that a peaceful and negotiated settlement can be achieved.

“The goal of this Conference is to rebuild the Kashmiri people’s belief in a peaceful resolution, by energetically pursuing such a settlement. Only such a settlement, reached through tripartite negotiations, can remove the dangerous nuclear trip-wire between India and Pakistan and provide lasting peace to the region.”

Unfortunately, international support has waned as Kashmiri unity and organization have waxed. Too many Third and Fourth World countries have “secessionist” skeletons in their own closets (mostly as a legacy of arbitrary colonial borders) for them to support Kashmir against India. The U.N. peace process stalled decades ago when India reneged on its promise to hold a plebiscite in Kashmir. The Security Council is unlikely to act unless nuclear war between India and Pakistan appears imminent, in which case the views of Kashmiris are unlikely to matter.

While they are have suffered greatly (like Kashmir) from the drawing of borders by distant colonial masters, the ex-Soviet Central Asian states are still too pre-occupied with the construction of their own national identities to be able to help other nations in struggle. Most Central Asian leaders, themselves dictatorial and among the world’s most secular Muslims, fear Islamic fundamentalism and the spread of tribal and sectarian fighting from Afghanistan into their republics.

Since losing its empire in Central Asia, Russia has withdrawn its support for de-colonization. India’s rationale for the use of force to preserve “national unity” parallels Russia’s excuses for attacking regions seeking more autonomy.

China can’t criticize India’s occupation of Kashmir without calling into question its own occupation of Tibet and East Turkestan (“Xinjiang Province”, a huge, formerly-independent, Turkic, Islamic region adjacent to Kashmir where China has been waging a counter-insurgency campaign far more bloody, although much less well known, than that in Tibet).

Britain bears ultimate responsibility for botching the partition of India, and colluded in India’s initial occupation of Kashmir. But having washed its hands of India, Britain is unlikely to do anything now; if it tried, it would be dismissed as a colonialist meddler.

Many Kashmiris have staked their hopes on U.S. support. U.S. endorsement of Kashmir’s right to self-determination would carry great weight in India, and U.S. pressure is essential to get India and Pakistan to include Kashmiri representatives in future negotiations on Kashmir.

During the Cold War, the U.S. opposed India as socialist and too friendly with the U.S.S.R., and supported Pakistan as an ally of the Afghan opposition to the U.S.S.R. With the replacement of Communism by Islam in U.S. demonology, the U.S. now relates to Pakistan (wrongly) mainly as a nation of “Muslims with nukes”. At the same time, India has agreed to open its potentially-lucrative markets to multinational corporations in exchange for IMF aid. U.S. policy has thus shifted toward India just when many Kashmiris had hoped that Clinton would re-introduce human rights as a factor in U.S. foreign policy.

To get involved in Kashmir solidarity work, join the Kashmiri American Council. “Open to any individual who supports the right of self determination in Jammu and Kashmir,” the KAC brings together supporters of all major Kashmiri political groupings, both pro-Pakistan and pro-independence, in a united front for self-determination.

[Edward Hasbrouck previously wrote about Kashmir in Peacework in issue #200, September 1990.]

[Originally published by the American Friends Service Committee in edited form in Peacework magazine, January 1995. The views expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of the AFSC.]

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