BURNING KASHMIR

Editor’s Note: The Kashmir issue lies at the core of the relations between India and Pakistan. The world has, for long, buried this issue under the sand-it cannot be buried any more. Unless and until, Kashmir issue is addressed, there never will be peace between the two nuclear countries. All the Amn Ki Ashas of the world cannot make an iota of difference to the ground reality.

By Eric Margolis

The world’s longest-running international conflict – Kashmir – has burst once more into flames.

At least 69 Muslim Kashmiris protesting Indian rule have been shot down in the street by Indian paramilitary police in recent weeks.  Scores more have been wounded as unrest spreads across the Himalayan mountain state.  Kashmir’s capital, Srinagar, is under military curfew.

Indian and Pakistani military forces are on heightened alert as a result of the growing tensions.

A century ago, the great British geopolitician, Sir Halford Mackinder, called Kashmir one of the world’s primary strategic pivots – the nexus of continents, empires, and civilizations.

In my first book, `War at the Top of the World,’ which explores the Afghanistan and Kashmir conflicts, I described Kashmir as “the world’s most dangerous crisis.”

The danger still remains.   India and Pakistan, now both nuclear-armed, have fought three major wars over Kashmir. They remain at scimitars drawn over the divided state.  India keeps 500,000 troops and paramilitary police in Kashmir.

In 1999, Pakistani troops moved into the Indian-ruled Ladakh region of Kashmir, nearly provoking another war between the two old foes.  Both sides put their nuclear forces in high alert.   India and Pakistan have only a hair-trigger three minute alert window once they get warnings of enemy attack.  This is almost launch on warning; the potential for an accidental war is enormous.

A nuclear war between India and Pakistan would kill and injure tens of millions – and produce clouds of radioactive dust that would pollute all of Asia’s major rivers and, eventually, the entire globe.

I have frequently been under fire on the tense Pakistani-Indian cease fire line, known as the Line of Control, that divided Kashmir into Indian and Pakistani-ruled portions. Border clashes between Indian and Pakistani troops have frequently threatened to escalate into a wider conflict in the south on the broad plains of Punjab.

Kashmir, some 92,000 sq miles (239,000 sq km), is roughly the size of Great Britain. It has 11 million people, which makes it larger than half the world’s nations.  Eight million Kashmiris live in the Indian-ruled portion; 3 million in the Pakistani part.  Another million people of Kashmiri origin live in Pakistan’s Gilgit-Baltistan region, which is part of historic Kashmir.

Like so many of our world’s problems, the Kashmir conflict harks back to the British Empire.   In 1947, Imperial Britain divided the Indian subcontinent into India and the Muslim majority state of Pakistan.   Millions of Hindus and Muslims died in the ensuing carnage of partition.

Kashmir was an independent princely state ruled by a Hindu maharajah.   Seventy-seven percent of Kashmiris were Muslim; 20% Hindu; and the rest Sikhs and Buddhists.  The Hindu prince wanted to join India, but most of his people wanted union with neighboring Pakistan.

Violence erupted.  Pakistan and India went to war over Kashmir.  By the time the UN imposed a cease-fire, India held two-thirds, including the Vale of Kashmir, and Pakistan one third of the beautiful mountain state.  They have sparred and warred over Kashmir ever since.

Further complicating matters, during the 1950’s,  China quietly occupied and annexed  Kashmir’s 15,000 ft Aksai Chin region in order to build a military road linking its westernmost Xinjang province (the scene of the recent uprising by Muslim Uighurs) with Tibet.
China also claims the Indian-held Ladakh region of Kashmir as part of Chinese-ruled Tibet.    Ladakh is also called “Little Tibet.”

Anti-Indian sentiment in Kashmir simmered until 1989 when full-scale rebellion or intifada by Kashmiri Muslims erupted. India battled for a decade to crush the uprising, often using tactics that Indian human rights groups and foreign rights groups condemned as brutal and violations of human rights.  Massacres, torture, collective reprisals and gang rape became common. So did massacres of Hindus and Sikhs by Muslim insurgents.

Pakistan’s intelligence service, ISI, armed and aided Kashmiri mujahidin, and helped sustain the popular uprising, until 9/11 2001 when Washington forced Pakistan to mostly end its intervention in Kashmir.

After 40,000-80,000 deaths, most of them Muslims, India seemed in recent years to have extinguished the uprising.   But now, it has sprung once more to life, sharpening Indian-Pakistani tensions and drawing China into the dispute.

In 1948, the UN Security Council ordered a plebiscite to determine if Kashmiris wanted to remain in India, or join Pakistan.  India has adamantly rejected the UN resolution and insists Kashmir is a purely internal matter.

The uprising, asserts Delhi, is all due to “cross-border terrorism” from Pakistan.  So the conflict has festered for 62 years – even longer than the dispute over Palestine.  Further complicating matters, numerous Kashmiri Muslims are calling for an independent state and demand Pakistan return Gilgit-Baltistan (“Northern Territories” to Pakistan).

Now, the Kashmir conflict can no longer be avoided.  It has become part of the arc of crisis that includes Afghanistan, Pakistan and India’s violence-plagued western regions.  Recent murderous attacks on India by Pakistan-based extremists were motivated by the ongoing conflict in Kashmir.

Equally worrying, there are reports that Chinese troops have entered northern Pakistan, adjacent to Kashmir.   Beijing says these troops are helping repair the fabled Karakoram Highway (KKH), the only land link between close allies China and Pakistan.  I have been over this 15,000 ft-high marvel carved from the ever-shifting mountains, one of my most hair-raising, thrilling adventures.

China is just finishing a deepwater port and naval base on Pakistan’s western Arabian Sea coast at Gwadar.  I first wrote about this highly strategic port in a 1980’s New York Times op-ed piece, predicting it would become a major strategic issue.

Gwadar will afford China’s expanding navy a supply base and safe haven that gives onto the Indian Ocean and Gulf. Today, 55% of China’s oil comes from the Gulf; in a few years, some 80%.  Gwadar lies right on China’s vital oil artery.

New roads, a railroad, and a gas pipeline are building northeast from Gwadar to the KKH, then into China.   India is increasingly alarmed by this strategic development, which it claims is part of China’s growing “encirclement” of India.   Furthermore, India also warns that Chinese troops along the KKH are ready to intervene in Kashmir in the event of a new conflict between Delhi and Islamabad.

In spite of great reluctance, Washington is slowly being drawn into the Kashmir dispute.  The US wants India and Pakistan to resolve their bitter Kashmir conflict so that the bulk of Pakistan’s army, now deployed against an attack from India, can be sent into action in Afghanistan and the Northwest Frontier (recently miserably renamed, Pakhtunkhwa).  But this cannot happen so long as Kashmir burns, so Washington is tip-toeing into a new diplomatic mess in the Himalayas.

What a tangled web we weave…..Afghanistan can’t now be solved without stabilizing Pakistan.  But Pakistan will remain unstable and angry so long as the Kashmir conflict continues.  But the Bush administration allied the US with India, infuriating old ally Pakistan which sees India and now the US as its principal enemies.

Enter the dragon, China, Pakistan’s closet current ally, expanding its power westward towards the oil-rich Gulf.   Sir Halford Mackinder, it appears, was quite right about Kashmir, which lies at the nexus of these great events.

(The writer is a Senior Journalist, he writes also for the Toronto Sun).

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Comments

  • Raheel Dogar  On September 21, 2010 at 2:25 am

    Actions speak louder than words.
    Amn Ki Asha-by whom GEO GROUP?
    HAHAHA!

  • Laila  On September 21, 2010 at 3:43 am

    It needs no expertise to assess how New Delhi is looking at what all has been happening in Kashmir over the past about three months. The arrival of planeloads of ‘additional’ contingents of central para-military forces in Srinagar, following chief minister Omar Abdullah’s recent visit to the union capital, tells it all. Central government’s approach in this case continues to be influenced by the entrenched militaristic mindset of the intelligence-bureaucratic establishment. There is no sign at all of any worthwhile political input into New Delhi’s decision making apparatus. Obviously no one over there feels any need for such an approach. Looking from here, it is clear beyond doubt that the central government, now in effective control of the situation in Jammu and Kashmir, is on course to sharpen its coercive tools in dealing with ‘obstinate’ people of Kashmir. Various definitions are being trotted out to justify this stance. By now it is obvious beyond question that the present situation is an outright revolt against gross injustices being perpetrated upon the people of this state in general and those in the Valley in particular. This line has always suited the partisan political interests of whosoever happens to be at the helm in Delhi. Kashmir bashing is not only a fair game in the domestic politics of India but it also helps the incumbent beneficiary to extract that extra bit of mileage against rivals in the field. The greater the degree of repression in Kashmir better are its dividends in terms of domestic political calculus. This is also a familiar pattern of centre-state ‘relationship’ dating back to 1950s. It has been practised over and over again.

    What, however, is new is the fact that this kind of narrow mindedness is accompanied by colour blindness. Repression is nothing new for the people of Kashmir. But their determination to resist it and fight it with whatever they have is certainly something which others are yet to come to terms with. What one sees happening across every nook and corner of Kashmir Valley today is unprecedented. It is a full blown resistance movement against injustices, against suppression and against tyranny. It is inconceivable that in a similar situation in any other state of India voices of reason would disappear as blatantly as they have in the case of zulm in Kashmir. Daily dance of death and destruction does not seem to be pinching anyone’s conscience. Innocent children, boys and girls, are being cruelly gunned down. It is shame on the society that calls itself civilised and expects to be recognised as such. The huge casualty toll resulting from resort to naked repression upon unarmed people seeking justice and voicing their basic rights is staggering. Lack of compassion and sensitivity is starkly evident in the authoritarian statements coming out of New Delhi. There is a grudging reference to colossal loss of precious human lives while so much energy is wasted in ‘our determination to crush anti-national and anti-social forces’. Sonia Gandhi’s statement that the present popular movement in Kashmir is ‘instigated by vested interests’, union home minister P Chidambaram’s oft repeat version that ‘elements from across the border’ have a hand in it and the Congress party’s position that the ‘trouble makers should be dealt with firmly echo the UPA government’s line of thinking. Despatch of additional para-military forces to the already over-militarised Valley caps the paranoid afflicting the central establishment.

    The disastrous results of this myopic approach are mind boggling. The people of Kashmir who were till recently being hailed as ‘patriots’ are now sought to be subjugated at gunpoint. Their grievances are being seen as a great threat to the Indian nation. They were being praised for their courage in defying grave threat to life posed by militancy and making recent elections a success for the benefit of Indian democracy and Indian diplomacy. But suddenly the same lot is now targeted for worst kind of atrocities and excesses. The only change between then and now, which brought about such a radical shift in centre’s thinking, is that the genuine grievances resulting from gross failure of the system of governance have found the only available outlet. The entire population is being treated as hostile and dealt with as an enemy. Licence to kill with impunity and wanton destruction of private property is being made use of liberally by the growing number of police and para-military forces. How these forces have developed a sixth sense for manufacturing situations for indulging in wanton killing and destruction is no more a secret. Numerous instances of fake encounters have been unearthed but has anyone been held to account? The system is impotent in this case because Kashmir is a fair game for excesses and atrocities so long as it is a profitable bargain in the Indian political market. But, for once, Kashmiris seem to have had enough of it. They have shown their determination to do whatever it takes to resist and fight this tyranny. Human spirit has never been vanquished by these tactics. This awareness seems to be the driving force behind the present phase of popular struggle in Kashmir, irrespective of who is spearheading it.

  • Professor Shahid Iqbal  On September 22, 2010 at 12:37 am

    I like both,Eric & Laila s,article & coments.

    I just want to comment on Erics article , that ,maharaja of Kashmir Hari singh was not interested in accession with India.Under the standstill agreement with Pakistan ,there were already Pakistani flages vaving on the Post Office & on the telecommunication buildings in srinagar kashmir .Personally Maharaja was in favour of a independent country.
    The last Governor General Lord Mount Batten & his wife Edwina mount batten are also respponsible for Kashmiris sufferings .Edwina was a close friend of Indian Prime Minister J L Nehru,she went with the Indian army on 27th of October 1947 to occupy kashmmir.Maharaja had not signed the accesion document which is claimed by India falsely <Maharaja was travelling by road from Srinagar to Jammu & did not reach Jammu on that day when Indians claim that Maharaja has signed the accesion document on that day.

    Maharaja was threatned by the Indian agencies to keep silent about the false sinning aggreement

    .Aksai chin was not occupied by Chhina but was gifted by the then Army general & president of pakistan Gen Ayub Khan to China,as china offered her help & even pressurised Ayoub khan to grab the opportunity & Take kashmir in 1962 when China invaded India & defeated Indian army with no major damage to China.

    It was actuallay the bad luck for kashmir that every time Kashmir was on the top of the agenda,there occured a conflict in other regions of the planet earth,the Bosnian war ,Iraq war , Afghan war,Kargil war & now the Natural disasters in pakistan ,was & is a major set back for Kashmirs freedome movement.
    Pakistan was a great help for Kashmir but Indians with the help of America has damaged pakistan a lot ..But as they say..where there is a will there is a way,..the current uprising contains young blood,which has forced the Kashmiri leadership to unite on one point programme..Now or never…India Quit kashmir..

    BUt India is still trying to buy the time by expermenting ,divide & rule policy In Kashmir through their agents ,& recently have floated one romour that Kashmiri muslims have threatned Kashmiri Sikhs to quit kashmir ,Indian agents are planing to kill some sikhs & blame KASHMIRI MUSLIMS , so that In Jammu province The sang Prevar ,Shive Saina & Co will motivate & use their workers & Sikhs to attack on Muslims & derail the kashmiris freedome movement.

    The sikhs are very sincere with Kashmiri muslims .When US president Bill Clinton visited India he was gifted with the murder of 36 sikhs in Chatti sing Pora district Islamabad{Annantnag} by the Indian Army To show him that Kashmiris are terrorists.The Human Rights groups of Indian Punjab did publish a report soon aftter this incident that this massacer was done by the Indian army.That is why Bill clinton once said ,I regret my visit to India ,because they have killed the innocent people because of my visit,,

    Pakistan joined Seto & cento ,went to American block ,with the result Russia vetod against Kashmir in UNO, Pakistan lost its one wing East Pakistan on the false hope of its friend America that ..7 fleet is on its way & soon Pakistan army would be able to defeat Indian army ,It never happened ,& 7 fleet never reached to its destination ,kargil war was also a American plan ,Nawazharif was promised by Americans to help Pakistan in resolving Kashmir issue ,did not happen.India is actively involved to destablise Pakistan ,Balochistan ,NWF are very much under the Indian influence ,with the patronage of America,still Pakistan is closing her eyes from the Drone attacks on the innocent Pakistani citizens.

    China is still trying to help Pakistan to help Kashmir .China has allowed Kashmiri student to enter china without Indian passports .China has refused visa to Indian army general Jaswal to visit china .what do we expect more from China ,it needs 2 to clap.Shake your hands honestly with China & China will not let you down.

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