The changing face of Kashmiri resistance
Mohsin Raza Malik
There was a curfew-like situation in the disputed state of Jammu and Kashmir during Indian PM Modi’s visit to the state on Sunday. Ahead of his visit, top Hurriyat leaders like Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Syed Ali Geelani, and Yasin Malik were put under house arrest. In fact, this ugly episode just epitomises the general state of affairs in the troubled valley. Soon after coming into power in May 2014, the Modi-led BJP regime in India came forward with its ‘muscular approach’ to suppress the ongoing freedom movement in IOK. It tried to absorb Kashmir in line with its “One Country, One Constitution” policy by scraping the constitutional provisions grating special status to the state of J&K within the Indian union. These strategies, however, have been quite counterproductive. And they have given a substantial impetus to the ongoing resistance movement in the valley.
Since the martyrdom of young Kashmiri ‘poster boy’ Burhan Wani by Indian security forces in mid-2016, the Kashmiri resistance movement has undergone a substantial transformation. Sparking a series of mass protests and anti-India public demonstrations in Indian-held Kashmir, it just gave rise to what has been dubbed the “Third Kashmiri Intifada”. Not only did this Kashmiri Intifada instantly bring Kashmir into international limelight, but it also gave new momentum to ongoing freedom or separatist movement in the valley. It has more become a mass movement than anything else by the participation of a considerable segment of the Kashmiri populace. It has also resulted in blurring the line between combatant and non-combatants in the state of J&K. Therefore, most of the Kashmiris are now just militants or their supporters, protectors, sympathisers, or at least anti-India souls who no longer want Kashmir to be part of India. We can, however, divide them into pro-independence secessionists and pro-Pakistan annexationists. Indeed, these divergent ideological groups are united under the umbrella of Joint Resistance Leadership (JRL) in Kashmir.
It is not the conventional Hurriyat leadership but the Kashmiri youth which is the pivot of current Intifada in Kashmir. This youth, regardless of age, gender, class or orientation, is actively resisting or protesting against the Indian rule in the state of J&K. These Kashmiri youngsters are now the forerunners of the ongoing resistance movement in the valley. The ‘martyred’ Hizbul Mujahideen boys Burhan Wani and Sabzar Bhat are an iconic symbol for this movement. These two young Kashmiri boys have become a role model for a large number of youngsters. Besides street protests, holding anti-India public rallies is their common activity. And Social Media is their most powerful tool. Pakistan, which is usually blamed for supporting Kashmiri separatists, appears to have nothing to do with the latest uprising in Kashmir since it has been busy in overcoming its domestic counter-terror challenges for more than a decade.
India has devised and employed a number of military, legal and political tools to legalis e and consolidate its rule in Kashmir since securing a controversial Instrument of Accession (IOA) in 1947. It has enacted and enforced various laws, generally dubbed as ‘black laws’, namely J&K Public Safety Act-1978, Terrorists and Disruptive Activities prevention Act-1987, Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act-1990, J&K Disturbed Areas Act-1992, and Prevention of Terrorism Act-2002 in Indian-administered Kashmir over a period of time. At present, besides more than half a million regular Indian Army troops, India has deployed a large number of personnel of the Border Security Force (BSF), Central Reserve Police Force (SRPF) and Special Operation Group (SOG) to crush Kashmiri resistance movement in IOK.
India’s conventional strategy to tackle Kashmiri resistance movement comprised some kinds of kinetic military actions against militants besides detaining various Hurriyat leaders in prisons for varying periods. This strategy, however, looks absolutely ineffective to contain the current Kashmiri Intifada. There is now relatively a bigger and graver challenge for India to control and pacify a large segment of civilian Kashmiri population which is in conformity with militants ideologically, and which is also actively participating in street protests and anti-India public demonstrations. To cope with this challenge, Indian has apparently devised another multipronged strategy in addition to a number of conventional tactics.
The first component of India’s new strategy involves the use of excessive force against civilians and protesters to disperse anti-India protest rallies and demonstrations. It ranges from using pellet gun to open indiscriminate fire on protesters at point-blank range. So, Indian forces have shot seven unarmed protesters dead in Pulwama district last year in a naked display of this sort of force. Imposing curfew, mostly for long durations, in the troubled valley to stop people from assembling and holding demonstrations against India and Indian atrocities is the second component of Indian strategy in Kashmir. We have seen that Indian-held Kashmir remained under the 53-day curfew, which was also the longest ever period of curfew in the valley, following the killing of Burhan Wani in mid-2016. A curfew was again imposed throughout the valley following the killing of another Hizbul Mujahideen commander Sabzar Bhat in May 2017. According to a report of Times of India, curfew and restrictions were imposed for 168 times in nine districts of Jammu and Kashmir in 2016 and 2017.
The media blackout and suspension of mobile internet services is the third major tool of the current Indian strategy in the troubled valley. Indian authorities are currently employing this tool to stop Kashmiris from communicating and collaborating with each other through Social Media and mobile phones. In addition to these measures, now Indian forces have also reintroduced cordon and search operations (CASO) in the valley after a gap of 15 years.
The conventional as well as modern tools of Indian strategy to suppress political aspirations of Kashmiri people have apparently been quite counterproductive. Rather than pacifying disgruntled Kashmiris, it has been instrumental in fanning the anti-India sentiments in the volatile state of J&K. It was official political agenda of ruling BJP to scrap Articles 35A and 370 of Indian Constitution which confer special status to state of J&K. However, Modi-led BJP could not implement this plan owing to strong opposition from Kashmiris. Now political space for BJP is gradually shrinking as it has just suffered big defeat in the Hindi heartland states in the recently-held state elections in India. Thus, people of India have somehow rejected BJP’s Kashmir and other policies. There is currently a political deadlock in Kashmir. Kashmir was placed under Governor’s Rule following the collapse of PDP-BJP coalition in June last year. This Governor’s Rule has been followed by President’s Rule in the state in December last year.
Indian forces have frequently been blamed for committing massive human right violations in Indian-held Kashmir. In June last year, calling for an international inquiry into alleged violations in the disputed territory, UN Human Rights Chief had accused Indian security forces of killing and wounding numerous civilians by using excessive force in Kashmir since 2016. This UN report says that some 145 civilians were killed by Indian security forces during this period. Similarly, the use of pellet guns also caused eye injuries in more than 6000 people. As per data available with Indian agencies, at least 413 people lost their lives in various acts of violence across the valley in 2018, which is also the bloodiest year in a decade in Kashmir. According to some estimates, more than 70 thousand Kashmiris have been killed in Indian-held Kashmir since 1989.
India lodged a ‘strong protest’ with the British Government to stop the hosting of a scheduled conference on Kashmir in the UK Parliament last week. This meeting was organized by the House of Commons’ “All Party Parliamentary Group on Pakistan” (APPG-Pakistan) to “highlight the centrality of Kashmir dispute”. However, the British Government has outrightly rejected this unreasonable Indian demand. The APPG-Pakistan has already released its inquiry report into gross human rights violations in IOK last week.
It would be hard for India to continue its killing spree in Kashmir at will in this modern era of human rights and media activism. The international community and world human rights’ bodies now look more concerned over mass killings and gross human rights violations in the Indian-held Kashmir. No mass movement in the contemporary world can be suppressed through military means. The 70-year long Indian subjugation and suppression of Kashmiris have turned Kashmir into a simmering volcano which would erupt at any time beyond the control and capacity of occupying Indian forces in the volatile valley.