Kashmir: freedom struggle confronts barbarism

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Kashmir: freedom struggle confronts barbarism

By Eva Cheng

Most establishment media reports portray the military confrontation in Kashmir as simply a border conflict between India and Pakistan. This ignores the aspirations and the persistent struggle of the Kashmiri peoples to assert their right to run their own affairs.

The denial of the rights of the Kashmiri peoples started in January 1949, when the United Nations accepted a Pakistani amendment to an August 1948 resolution which supports the principle that "the people of Kashmir will determine their future". The 1949 amendment restricts them to choosing either India or Pakistan as their new master.

India and Pakistan have maintained their occupations of different sections of Kashmir since 1947 by naked force. Since 1989, a rising influx of armed Islamic fundamentalists, especially from Afghanistan, has brought with it mass killings, gang rape and other systematic terrors.

Last year's tests of their nuclear weapons by India and Pakistan in order to intimidate one another have raised a real danger of a nuclear war. These capabilities were developed despite attempts to ban other countries from acquiring them by the "club" of the five recognised nuclear powers (under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty), headed by the US.

Surrounded by China, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Russia, Kashmir is a strategic location in a politically delicate part of the world. This is particularly so for Pakistan, whose water supply comes from rivers originating in Kashmir.

China, apart from being a member of the nuclear club, also occupies part of Kashmir. It has given long-standing support to Pakistan and has a hostile relationship with India, which has improved little since China's 1962 war with India. The US has frequently meddled in the subcontinent, partly by backing Pakistan.

Carved up

Pakistan and India's ruling classes were acutely aware of Kashmir's importance in 1947, when Pakistan was formed out of India at the end of British rule. Pakistan, created in the name of religion, was geared to provide an exclusive turf for exploitation by wealthy Muslims, as opposed to their Hindu competitors who dominated the rest of India.

Pakistan seized on the excuse of Kashmir's population being 80% Muslim to invade in 1947. In response, the feudal maharaja, a Hindu, who ruled Kashmir within the structures of imperial British control of the subcontinent, sought the accession of Kashmir to India for his protection.

The 1948 war between India and Pakistan left them controlling roughly equal parts of Kashmir. They fought over it again in 1965 and 1971. In 1972 they agreed on a de facto but still fragile border called the Line of Actual Control. Attempts to redefine this "border" have never stopped since, leading to frequent fighting and heavy militarisation of the border areas.

Since denying the people of Kashmir the right to determine their state boundaries in 1949, the UN has treated the Kashmir problem as a bilateral issue. After 1972, it even refused to discuss the issue unless both Pakistan and India agreed. Pakistan has been keen to raise the Kashmir deadlock for an international discussion but India has consistently opposed this.

Discussion and thinking among the Kashmiri people about their situation have never stopped.

Some were attracted to the idea of accession to Pakistan because of the shared religion. Pakistan's influence was particularly pronounced among the organised opponents of the existing partition.

Many groups were primarily interested in waging a religious war against the non-Muslim people. Pakistan's intelligence agency, the ISI, has actively sought to fund these groups in order to extend its influence, according to Hashim Qureshi, an exiled activist who in 1984-85 was the chairperson of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front in the Pakistan-occupied section of Kashmir, in his 1999 book Kashmir: The Unveiling of Truth.

Tremendous odds

The aspiration for self-determination has remained strong among the Kashmiri people. A distinct current within the liberation movement has worked persistently towards this goal, according to Qureshi. Information on the political outlook of this current is scanty but, according to activists from the Jammu Kashmir Students Union, there are socialists among the self-determination supporters.

However, it has been extremely difficult for socialists to campaign openly for their perspectives in Kashmir. They and, indeed, any fighters for democratic ideals face brutal persecution from Islamic fundamentalist forces.

The fundamentalists are heavily armed. They have terrorised not only political opponents, but the general population. Seeking to impose their repressive regime, they have killed rivals and attacked — usually with rape and slaughter — the Hindu minority, the Pandits.

Since 1988, many of Kashmir's 300,000 Hindus have been driven out of their homes and are now living in refugee camps. More than 400,000 Kashmiri Muslims have fled to India.

This terror campaign has politically confused the population, weakening its support for the liberation struggle. According to Qureshi, there are nearly 160 groups in the loosely defined liberation movement, around 130 of which are armed. Many of the latter, usually called "militants" or "mujahids", subscribe to Islamic fundamentalism.

The claim that Muslims and Hindus can't live together in harmony in Kashmir is a fiction, according to Qureshi. He cites much historical and even contemporary evidence to prove his case. In spite of the terror, Qureshi said, there are still numerous examples of Muslims sheltering Hindu neighbours who are running for their lives. In March 1992, Muslim women of Nai Sarak, a Kashmiri locality, took to the streets to protest against the brutal rape and massacre of a Hindu family.

Kashmir has never been a homogeneous society in its linguistic and ethnic make-up. There are three distinct regions in Indian-occupied Kashmir: Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir valley, inhabited by ethnic groups such as the Kashmiris, Dogars, Bakarawals, Dards, Balti, Ladakhi and Pushwari, speaking a range of languages or dialects. Outside the valley, Muslims are a minority. A host of languages are also spoken in the Pakistan-occupied regions of Gilgit, Baltistan and Azad Kashmir.

Among the people of Kashmir, then, there are considerable differences in ethnic, and sometimes tribal, identities, but they are not necessarily greater than similar differences found in many countries today. These differences do not constitute grounds to deprive the people in Kashmir of their right to determine their future, free of the shackles imposed by India and Pakistan, and the threat of terror by the mujahid gangs.

Half a century ago feudal kings and the new rulers of India and Pakistan determined who would rule the different parts of Kashmir. But only the people of Kashmir have the right to determine their own future, for example, through a referendum.

Meanwhile, the regimes in Delhi and Islamabad must be pressured to draw back from their escalating "border war". Now that they have nuclear weapons, escalation threatens to devastate the lives of the people of the whole region.