The Kashmir conflict, which is an ongoing conflict since the 1947 partition between Pakistan and India, recently became the focus of headlines after Indian government, led by Bharatiya Janata Party’s Mr Modi, decided to abrogate Article 370 of the Indian constitution, effectively ending special status of Jammu Kashmir region, parts of which are disputed by Pakistan and China but has remained under the control of India.
On 5 August 2019, Indian President Ram Nath Kovind issued a constitutional order superseding the 1954 order, and making all the provisions of the Indian constitution applicable to Jammu Kashmir. Following the resolutions passed in both houses of the parliament, he issued a further order on 6 August declaring all the clauses of Article 370 except clause 1 to be inoperative. In addition, the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act was passed by the Indian parliament, enacting the division the state of Jammu and Kashmir into two union territories to be called Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir and Union Territory of Ladakh. The reorganisation is scheduled to take place on 31 October 2019.
The suspension of the special status was seen as an act of ‘back stabbing’ by the majority of Kashmir’s Muslim population while Pakistan saw it as an annexation of a disputed region. The announcement was accompanied with deployment of tens of thousands of additional Indian troops to Kashmir valley, the world’s most heavily militarized zone. Moreover, partial curfew was imposed in the region and several Kashmiri leaders including those who have been part of the pro-India government in Jammu Kashmir in the past, were arrested and jailed, and a complete communications blackout was enforced. The justification given by the Indian government was that these measures were necessary to protect life and property. But the question remains why was it so necessary to take measures of such magnitude to protect life and property, all of a sudden? And the answer is very obvious.
By ending the special status of Kashmir without following proper democratic protocol, PM Modi’s government took a reckless and unnecessary risk with a region that is also disputed by two nuclear armed countries, Pakistan and China. The measures taken by Indian government make it quite obvious that the assessment was that the sudden abrogation of Article 370, without taking anyone into confidence, will not be seen kindly in the Kashmir region and will most definitely result in unrest of very large-scale. Problem is, the measures taken by the Indian government cannot be sustained in the long-term. Eventually, the communication blackout and the partial curfew would need to be lifted. And when that happens, thousands of Kashmiris simmering in anger will decide to act, most likely in a way that may be harmful to themselves and to the Indian security forces in the region. How will India then put a lid on it without potentially injuring or even killing a lot of people? After all, anti-India riots are part of the routine in Kashmir valley even in normal days, and these are not normal days for most Kashmiris in the region.
For a long period of time, India has consistently blamed Pakistan for causing problems in Kashmir, and Indian government has spent quite a bit of time and resources hyping up this narrative, domestically and abroad. There’s also no denying that Pakistan has historically intervened in Jammu Kashmir region in various forms. This is something that is generally accepted in Pakistan and has been acknowledged by various former Pakistani government officials, who sometimes argue that since Pakistan also controls a part of Kashmir (Azad Kashmir or AJK), it is natural for people to feel sympathy towards Kashmiri militants fighting Indian forces in Jammu Kashmir. More recently due to pressure by FATF, Pakistani government imposed restrictions on militant leaders based in Pakistan, and the result was almost nonexistent infiltration attempts into Jammu Kashmir from Pakistani side. But along with restrictions, Pakistani government increased its rhetoric combined with diplomacy over Kashmir. Pakistan’s interventions in Kashmir have taken different forms at different times and have never remained a consistency. Perhaps that’s because Pakistani state has always been more interested in using Kashmir issue as a beating stick to keep the heat on India and less in helping to improve the human rights situation of Kashmiris, even though most Pakistanis are genuinely very empathetic towards Kashmiris.
It is also a fact that pro-Pakistan militant groups like Jaish-e-Mohammed, Lashkar-e-Taiba and Hizbul Mujahideen are still the most powerful militant groups in Kashmir, despite the rise of IS and al-Qaeda in the valley. Most casualties of Indian troops are caused by these groups while groups allied with al-Qaeda and IS have not been very successful in carrying out large-scale or even medium-scale attacks against Indian targets in Kashmir.
Even after considering all the above, a strong argument can be made that Indian governments of past and present – and not Pakistan – share the larger portion of responsibility over Kashmir. Kashmir was under full control of the Indian government even before the additional troop deployment. And yet, rioting and violence by militant groups has been the norm in Kashmir. Pakistan can encourage a Kashmiri to engage in violence, it can even provide the means and the method to do so if it gets lucky, but Pakistan cannot force a Kashmiri local to go out and put his life on the line. The Kashmiri locals who have been taking up arms against India have very strong grievances with the state of India, something which is not Pakistan’s doing. It is these grievances that provide the primary reason to the locals to pick up arms – with or without Pakistan’s support. This is proven by the rise of groups like Islamic State’s chapter in Kashmir as well as al-Qaeda allied Ansar Ghazwatul Hind, both groups being anti-Pakistan and anti-India. These groups are not getting any support from Pakistan and yet they have managed to find support among locals in Jammu Kashmir. So why is that?
The answer is easy. Pakistan’s support for Kashmiri militant groups has historically focused on the nationalist and ‘pro-freedom’ element while giving only cursory acknowledgement to the element of jihad. Sure, the foot soldiers genuinely believe that they are on jihad, but Pakistani state mostly sees it as a geopolitical issue and would not want the Kashmir militancy to be associated with global jihad. And so keeping that in mind, Pakistani state’s support for some militant groups operating in Kashmir worked as a check on these militant groups by keeping them away from global jihad. Without Pakistani support to keep them focused on nationalism and ‘freedom’, many Kashmiris will feel attracted by more radical groups like IS and al-Qaeda. Both global jihadist groups see this as a good opportunity to go on a recruitment drive in the region.
With Kashmir militancy taking a turn towards global jihad, pretty soon India will be left with no one to blame for the situation in Kashmir other than itself. Over the decades, Indian governments have failed to provide a long-lasting solution to the Kashmir issue. Indian governments have always claimed Kashmir’s land as India’s integral part without seeing the Kashmiri people with the same lens. On the other hand, Indian troops in Kashmir have been accused of human rights violations by UN and rights groups. This attitude of the Indian state has resulted in very deeply held grievances against India in the Kashmir valley. There’s no one to blame for these grievances other than the present and past governments of India.
In Pakistan, the violence in Balochistan has long been blamed on India by the Pakistani officials, who have their own long list of reasons, ranging from speeches of various Indian officials on Balochistan to the photo of a Baloch militant commander being medically treated in a hospital allegedly in New Delhi. And yet I have always said that the larger portion of the blame for the violence in Balochistan falls on the Pakistani state, not anyone else. Even if every single claim of Indian involvement in Balochistan is true, it alone cannot be the primary reason behind the violence. And indeed, over the decades Pakistani state has made countless mistakes in the Balochistan region, ranging from failing to provide good governance in the region to launching military operations against Baloch leaders without exhausting all other options. The grievances play the primary role in making a militant in Balochistan pick up arms against the state – with or without external support.
Even though Kashmir and Balochistan are issues of a very different nature (Balochistan is not disputed by another state, to begin with), this comparison with regards to violence in both regions is quite valid since both India and Pakistan blame each other for the violence in Kashmir and Balochistan. My argument is that even if we take claims of both sides at face value, the fact still remains the same: both sides share the larger portion of the blame for the violence in the respective regions, because no external power can provide the primary motivation for anyone to pick up a weapon and put their life on the line. The primary motivation is almost always personal.
In Kashmir, India has now created an environment of alienation and terror, something which Kashmiris say they don’t remember seeing before despite living in the most militarized zone in the world. Blaming Pakistan for all the bad in Kashmir has become a part and parcel of Indian policy on Kashmir. Promises of development and new infrastructure are not enough to win over Kashmiris, who have been under alienation for decades. Kashmir needs a comprehensive political solution. It is high time for Indian state to realize that blaming Pakistan or continuing to employ heavy hand in Kashmir will not help it win hearts and minds in the valley. India doesn’t need to prove to the entire world that Kashmir is an integral part of India, only to the Kashmiris. And the Indian state has failed to do that, consistently.