Caught Between Sovereign States

  • Basharat Ali
  • Publish Date: Feb 26 2018 1:03AM
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  • Updated Date: Feb 26 2018 1:03AM
Caught Between Sovereign States

Kashmiris continue to be at the receiving end of state violence

The presence of close to a million Indian army personnel in Kashmir, making it the world’s highest militarized territory, requires a justification. The standard Indian perspective, available in academia, popular culture, and media debates is simple: army is needed there to fight against the Pakistan sponsored “terrorism”, also called by some as its proxy war against India. It holds that Pakistan orchestrated an anti-India insurgency in Kashmir in the garb of jihad and promoted “terrorism” in the “integral part” of the country, without which the idea of a secular, democratic India is incomplete.

The ideals of democracy, justice, and international relations demand that India defends its citizens and sovereignty against any threat to their integrity. If the legitimacy of Indian sovereignty is not questioned and contested by the people in Kashmir, then the presence of army, and their “standard operating procedures”, would require a different evaluation. Both Pakistan and India contest each other’s claims of sovereignty over the divided territory, each calling the other an occupier. In this fight of the sovereign states, Kashmiris were for long seen as nothing but ants—let’s think of A. S. Byatt’s Morpho Eugenia—with no speech. The knowledge production on and about the conflict in and over Kashmir has largely remained subservient to the mainstream Indian view.

A latest incident will help us understand things better. On January 27 this year, an Indian army patrol entered Ganawpora, in Shopian, demanding the removal of banners placed outside the house of a militant killed in an encounter three days ago. The locals argued and denied the army any opportunity to remove them. Locals have told reporters that later that day army returned to their village in large numbers and started smashing windows and beating people. There was a protest which was met with shooting by the army, ultimately leading to the killing of five civilians. Army’s version of the event is that it was only after grave provocation and threat of lynching from the stone-pelting mob of 200-250 people that the personnel of army convoy opened fire. It was, as they say, in self-defense that they killed five civilians. The army narrative of this incident was repeated ad nauseam while as the other side of the story disappeared slowly. This contestation of facts characterizes conflict and life in conflict. One can say that life in Kashmir is a contest between who “I” am and what “I” am made to be. It is between these two ends of the spectrum that truth oscillates. And it is in the light of this that we should analyze the Indian view on conflict in and over Kashmir.

The resistance movement in Kashmir, as Indian academic Yoginder Sikand has noted, was a case of “national liberation” that changed its course to become an “Islamist jihad.” Whether that is true or not is a matter of debate. However, one thing needs to be said here. Although different political actors in Kashmir have sought to frame the struggle differently—some as a case for national liberation (JKLF), some as a case for complete merger with Pakistan (Hizb), some for greater autonomy and self-rule within India (NC and PDP)—all of them have imagined these possibilities in relation with India. All have a unanimous opinion that political relations have to be negotiated with India. The spectrum is full; with national liberation forces on one side and those who like to engage the Indian state through electoral politics on the other. Yet, the reality of Kashmir has been obfuscated for long.

Militancy in Kashmir erupted after multiple attempts of “peaceful” renegotiation of relations with India failed. The narrative control that the Indian state has maintained over Kashmir, through its means of knowledge production, and the practices it has adopted to discipline Kashmiri bodies, blurred all colours of the spectrum and created false paradigms to support its militarization in the valley. The specter of “jihadi terrorism” is one such paradigm which is still current in dispatches sent out by India’s Kashmir experts. It is, however, remodeled as a Salafi threat to meet the demands of global consumption and the reproduction of Islamophobia. The focus of the threat, however, has shifted. The consensus is that the Indian state is facing new threats from the “radicalized” youth on the streets who are endangering the lives of security forces. The threat posed by the Pakistan sponsored “terrorism” to the integrity of Indian sovereignty and citizens in past to the threats posed by stone-pelters to army personnel is a shift in the government and public opinion in India catalyzed by the access to Kashmiri people of the tools of multimedia production and new media. To a large extent, they’ve been able to break through the studio walls and create ruptures in the established paradigms by pure facts and sometimes through arguments. As Rahul Pandita once sarcastically wrote, “young Kashmiris now read Edward Said and Dostoevsky.”

The shift in opinion has inadvertently stated the obvious. The objective of Indian state in Kashmir has always been the protection of ‘its territorial integrity’ at any cost. The challenges to legitimacy of Indian sovereignty coming from the people of Kashmir have been met with a brutal counter-insurgency campaign which has led to killings, disappearance, rape, and torture. The sheer difference in numbers between Indian forces and Kashmiri militants is so astronomical that it will take a World War of sorts to change the order. And India understands this well; militancy is considerably incapacitated by their brutal counter-insurgency campaign; stone-pelters blinded by pellets; the global opinion does not reflect their position; and Pakistan is not in a position to provide help as it would in the 90s. The time is right, they believe, that something is done.

A petition was filed in the Supreme Court of India stressing for new guidelines to “protect the dignity of soldiers acting in the line of duty.” Children of the security forces personnel deployed in Kashmir wrote to NHRC. It is said that stone-pelters, a disorganized group of political protesters, are a threat to highly trained combat forces armed with the most sophisticated war machines; not to mention that AFSPA gives them arbitrary powers to kill at will anyone they suspect without ever being convicted.The only resource available to the resistance movement in Kashmir is the remaining population. What does the Indian state plan to do with them? As Philip Gourevitch once wrote, “Genocide, after all, is an exercise in community building.”

Basharat Ali is a Ph.D. scholar and specializes in the study of Political Violence and Conflict Studies