Syed Mujtaba, JB Graves
Kashmir, a contentious region since 1947, has been claimed by both Pakistan and India; war, skirmishes, treaties, posturing, the UN, and the threat of nuclear war have cycled between periods of tension and cooperation that have perpetuated both the security dilemma and détente. The independence of India and Pakistan gave birth to regional competition for control over the outlying territory of Kashmir which comprises the Indian administered Jammu and Kashmir, Pakistani administered Azad Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan, and the Chinese administered Aksai Chin and Trans-Karakoram Tract. India and Pakistan were formed when the Indian sub-continent was divided along religious lines; 650 states, run by princes, were free to accede to either India, Pakistan, or remain independent. Lord Mountbatten, the first and last British Governor General of a free India, advocated for accession to either India or Pakistan because independence would sow religious and territorial tensions that would perpetuate conflict. All princely states except Junagarh, Hyderabad, Jammu and Kashmir, chose sides. Junagarh and Hyderabad were annexed in the Indian Union while Jammu and Kashmir remained independent until the United Nations (UN) established the Line of Control (LoC) in 1949. Maharaja Hari Singh, the ruler of Kashmir, advocated for a neutral state which destined the region to ongoing conflicts that have killed hundreds of thousands of people.
There remains an urgent need to address human rights violations and for justice to comfort those who have suffered in Kashmir for several decades of deadly conflict.
For over 70 years, unarmed Kashmiris, including men, women, and children have endured violence and oppression in the form of mass killings, kidnapping and disappearances, torture, rape, political repression, and the suppression of free speech. Pashtuns, supported by Pakistan’s government, invaded Kashmir in 1947. In October of 1947, Indian troops were airlifted into the region. Pakistan responded by sending troops into the region and eventually a ceasefire was brokered by the UN that drew a LoC which effectively split the region between India and Pakistan. Pakistan again broke the LoC in 1965 motivated by the Indian defeat at Aksai Chin by the Chinese. East Pakistan, now known as Bangladesh, was the result of a decisive victory that saw millions of refugees pour into West Bengal, an Indian territory; the creation of Bangladesh was supported by India and diffused religious tension. Both India and Pakistan successfully tested nuclear weapons in 1999 and nuclear war was barely avoided when Pakistan invaded the Kargil region of Kashmir in 1999. Since 2001, India places the death toll in Kashmir at approximately 47,000 while Kashmiri’s claim the number is twice the official Indian record.
Both India and Pakistan have committed violent acts in Kashmir and historical platitudes remain contentious as evident by the Wagah-Attari border ceremony that occurs daily between the two countries which displays a tense but peaceful lowering of the flags and closing of the border at sunset. While tensions remain high and the international community has given Pakistan and India support to resolve outstanding issues, it is important to remember that India and Pakistan have refrained from nuclear war albeit truce and peace remain elusive. It is true that partition, UN Security Council resolutions, agreements, mediations, and talks have yet to secure a peace deal, but the stability of instability echoes the Cold War between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. which ended without a shot being fired. The Tashkent Agreement, Shimla Agreement, Lahore Declaration, Agra Summit, Peace Process and Confidence Building Measures are all glaring examples of attempts at final resolutions and multilateral cooperation falling short of their intended goals. Bilateral approaches have failed because political motivations and national politicking have influenced the Indian and Pakistani narrative whereby preconditions for negotiations are amenable to neither India or Pakistan in their continued dispute over the Kashmir region. In the last three years, talks have not been productive and old border disputes endure physically, psychologically, and politically.
In international politics, there are two basic strategic options for national defense, a defensive or offensive posture; India and Pakistan walk a tight line amongst offense, defense, and preserving their international reputations. Violence continues in Kashmir and terrorist activity has persisted exampled by attacks near Srinagar as well as the Indian army base located in Jammu. To further propagate the issue, both sides continue shelling the other side with mortars and civilians have paid a heavy price for this continued fighting. Although a ceasefire is in place since May 2018, and Prime Minister Modi has a communicable relationship with Prime Minister Khan, history has been unable to broker a true lasting peace. Previously, Modi was on good terms with then Prime Minister Sharif but when the Pakistani high commissioner met with Kashmiri separatist leaders, the relationship became less cordial. Skirmishes and terrorist attacks always rear their ugly heads when peace is on the horizon as evidenced by the attack at Uri by the group Jaish-e-Mohammad who India alleges has ties to Pakistan’s main intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence.
Regional forums such as the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) are ineffective due to national politics and non-spoken alliances of member states. SAARC members have met on five occasions, they met in 1991 in Colombo, 1999 in Kathmandu, 2003 in Islamabad, 2005 in Dhaka, 2016 in Islamabad, and most recently in 2018. If India and Pakistan want peace and prosperity in South Asia, they must set their historical differences aside and adopt an ideology of non-violence, peace, cooperation, and mutual respect. Kashmir continues to soak in the blood of innocent civilians, and little has changed over the past seven decades. Historical platitudes weigh heavy on the possibility of change and true change can only occur when India and Pakistan commit to a sustained and unconditional dialogue; dialogue is the mechanism that allows civilized society to flourish and resolve conflicts. There remains an urgent need to address human rights violations and for justice to comfort those who have suffered in Kashmir for several decades of deadly conflict. Any resolution to the political situation in Kashmir should entail a commitment to ending the cycles of violence and unaccountability that has plagued the region into violence that propagates human rights violations. Such a resolution can only exist if the people of Kashmir are given a voice, the basic right of all democratic governments.
Both the writers are Human Rights Defender, the views expressed are their own.