Kashmir: A Colonial Quandary

Kashmir: A Colonial Quandary

Twenty soldiers were killed by four heavily armed militants in Uri, Kashmir last week, marking one of the deadliest attacks on the Indian army. Following widespread unrest around the death of Burhan Wani, a Kashmiri rebel leader killed by the Indian army in July, these events are apart of a cycle of violence surrounding the sub-continent’s longest running border conflict.

After almost three hundred years of subjugation, the British scribbled some lines on a map and bounced without a bullet fired, nor so much as even a “farewell and good luck cleaning up the volcano of shit that’s about to erupt”. This spurred one of the biggest migrations in human history – millions of Muslims migrated to West and East Pakistan while millions of Hindus headed in the opposite direction. More than fifteen million people were uprooted, a few hundred thousand displaced, and around two million died.

A Hindu Raj controlling the Muslim majority area of Kashmir at the time of partition meant that when tribesmen from the northwest frontier (of today’s Pakistan) launched an offensive to invade Kashmir, the Raj would opt to become apart of India in exchange for military protection. He signed an instrument of accession, ceding Kashmir to the dominion of India. Thus started the First Kashmir War, which lasted a year until a ceasefire was agreed and a “free and fair” plebiscite was to be carried out. The war fronts were consolidated into what came to be known as the Line of Control, which eventually became the de facto border. The culmination of multiple cross-border skirmishes resulted in the second war over Kashmir in 1965, which lasted about 17 days. A third war between Pakistan and India broke out in 1971 surrounding the formation of newly independent Bangladesh, resulting in an influx of about one million refugees into India. Treaties committed to the prospect of peace were signed and Kashmir remained on the back burner as other domestic issues in both countries absorbed attention till the 90s.

In the summer of 1991, the Kashmir Valley was in the crossfire of a full-fledged insurrection. Frustration rooted in political discontent with the Indian state over issues of local autonomy and democratic reform motivated support for insurgents calling for violent secession. Leading the movement was the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, which sought a sovereign Kashmir. It is alleged that the Inter Service Intelligence of Pakistan provides weapons and training to guerilla movements that ally themselves with the Pakistani union, part of their strategy of keeping the Kashmir dispute alive.

To combat the rise of insurgencies, the number of Indian soldiers in Kashmir spiked from 150,000 to 700,000, creating one of the highest civilian to soldier ratios in the world. The government also mandated indemnity to the army to “quell insurgencies”. The Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), Public Safety Act, and Terrorist and Disruptive Act are among the laws that provide unchecked privilege to the army, enabling the suppression of civil liberties and violation of Kashmiri human rights. Masquerading as a “search and cordon operation to catch militants”, 125 soldiers laid siege over the twin villages of Konan and Poshpora on the night of February 23rd, 1991. Utilizing the most potent tool of repression in theatres of political conflict, they proceeded to rape and assault more than 50 women aged between thirteen and sixty. On another night in 1992, nine women were gang raped by Indian troops as they conducted a “search operation for suspected militants.” International human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have detailed the horrors inflicted on Kashmiri residents by the Indian military in various reports imploring the Indian government to investigate the matter. Reports also assert that the death toll has reached around 50,000 since 1990.

The armed forces clearly don’t give a flying fuck. With Modi raising a shitstorm about Balochistan where he basically called out Pakistan for their internal human rights issues, the climate of regional politics currently is far from conducive to abating controversy over Kashmir. Pakistani historian Ayesha Jalal incisively sums up how partition shapes our society, deeming it “the central historical event in twentieth century South Asia. A defining moment that is neither beginning nor ending, partition continues to influence how the peoples and states of postcolonial South Asia envisage their past, present and future.” Putting aside how the Brits totally pillaged our economy and how the vestiges of colonialism continue to corrode our society, the border conflict surrounding Kashmir will prove to be the linchpin of regional instability in the subcontinent for our generation’s lifetime.