Dignity, Respect and Peace for the People of Kashmir
A Policy Proposal for Peace
Indian policemen in front of a graffiti in Srinagar, Indian-administered Kashmir in 2016. Retrieved from: https://cdni0.trtworld.com/w960/h540/q75/7444-trtworld-368219-406626.jpg
Kashmir, if taken for its natural beauty and friendly locals, could be considered paradise on earth. Directly located in the Himalayan mountain range, Kashmir has ice cold rivers, diverse wildlife, lush, green forests and friendly, hospitable people.
Contrasting its beautiful appearance, Kashmir is one of the most dangerous, most militarized, most insecure and most desperate places to live on this planet (Goel, 2019; Yasir, Raj and Gettleman, 2019; Bose, 2003). Since decades, the region is involved in wars and its people suffer from oppression and regular human rights violations. Just this week several men were killed in Kashmir and the conflict seems to have no end (Council on Foreign Relations, 2021). Today, there are more than 500.000 Indian troops stationed in the Indian administered part of Kashmir to suppress political protests and secure the border with Pakistan (Freedom House, 2021). This paper gives an overview of the conflict in Kashmir and explains why the human rights violations especially in the Indian administered part of Kashmir have to end in order to secure positive peace in the long term. Positive peace means that a conflict is resolved in a constructive manner that involves social and political institutions to support, encourage and sustain peace between formerly conflicting parties. It is more effective and lasting than negative peace, which merely describes the absence of violence (Galtung, 1964, 1990).
First, the conflict will be introduced with a very short summary of how it arose. Second, four different policies are introduced which aim at improving the lives of Kashmiris and contribute to positive peace. This part will be followed by a conclusion and suggestions for effective further steps to ensure the implementation of the proposed policies.
How the conflict evolved
When the Indian subcontinent gained independence from the British Empire in 1946 it was divided into India and Pakistan. At that time, there were still a considerable number of nearly autonomous, regional rulers called maharajas. Raja Hari Singh (picture on the left), the maharaja of Kashmir wanted that his kingdom remains autonomous and becomes a national state besides India and Pakistan (Bloeria & Sahay, 2018). Shortly after India and Pakistan were official countries, tribal armies supported by Pakistani military troops invaded Kashmir to force it to join Pakistan.
Fearing his kingdom’s independence, Raja Hari Singh asked Indian officials for help and so the Indian army invaded Kashmir. The two armies fought each other and a line of control emerged. As a consequence, the maharaja lost his independence and his kingdom was divided. It was now part of India and Pakistan, two political rivalries. A war broke out between the two countries and only diplomatic work, as well as a cease-fire line negotiated by the United Nations could stop the bloodshed in 1949 (Korbel, 1990; Bose, 2003).
This new cease-fire line went right through Kashmir and divided the state into two with the condition that the people of Kashmir could decide which country they want to join, India or Pakistan, as soon as all invaders have left the countries. Because Pakistan and India continue to have stationed troops in Kashmir the referendum hasn’t happened since then (Bose, 2003). Both countries claim that all of Kashmir belongs to them. India claims that Kashmir is part of its territory due to the maharaja’s promise to join India when the country sent its army to fight the Pakistani invaders. But Pakistan claims that Kashmir belongs to Pakistan due to its Muslim population.
Map of Kashmir with the line of control and the claimed territories. Retrieved from: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Subrata-Mitra-4/publication/286456270/figure/fig1/AS:305493282181120@1449846682567/Map-of-Jammu-and-Kashmir-showing-territories-under-the-control-of-Pakistan-China-and.png
Both countries are nuclear powers and political enemies despite their cultural and social similarities. The Indian subcontinent is home to one-fifth of the human race. Those people live in constant fear of being wiped out in a nuclear war which could break out if either India or Pakistan invades the other to claim all of Kashmir for itself (Koithara, 2004).
The financing of separatist movements has to stop
Thousands of law makers, politicians, NGOs, international, as well as national organizations and other political or social representatives attempted to solve the conflict about Kashmir with little success until today. Violent clashes, especially in the Indian administered part of Kashmir remain part of people’s everyday lives and also the political situation between India and Pakistan is loaded with tension (Ahmed, 2021). Whereas the Pakistani administered part of Kashmir is relatively safe, the Indian administered part is regularly shaken by terrorism and attacks from separatist movements that are based in Pakistan. Those separatist groups are financed by the government of Pakistan which aims at destabilizing the Indian administered part of Kashmir (Council on Foreign Relations, 2021). They are fighting the Indian military and contribute to an annexation of the Indian administered part of Kashmir to Pakistan. In order to contribute to positive peace, Pakistan has to immediately stop the financing of such destabilizing forces. Separatist movements in Kashmir play into the hands of Indian military forces to strengthen its military presence in the area and oppress its population. The oppression of the Kashmiri population in India’s part of Kashmir contributes greatly to conflict because Kashmiris are trapped in their state without their human rights being respected (Bose, 2003; Freedom House, 2021; Goel 2019).
UN peace keeping troops are needed in Kashmir
People in Kashmir have very limited rights on both sides of the border. In India, they cannot freely travel around in India and not even in their own state, Kashmir. They are not allowed to do business in any part of the subcontinent and are usually put in lockdowns where people cannot leave their home, not even to buy groceries, have regular power cut-offs and are cut-off from the internet or any other way of receiving or transmitting information. Even landlines are cut when protests arise such as in 2019 when the article 370 was repealed (Goel, 2019, Bloeria & Sahay, 2018). The article 370 declared Kashmir an autonomous region and gave its citizens more freedom by voting own representatives in the local government and securing land rights for Kashmiris. By repealing this article, the Indian government has shown that it wants to take Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status and fully incorporate the state into India. There were no Kashmir politicians involved in repealing article 370. They also didn’t have the chance to negotiate another article or policy that would secure Kashmiris the right to elect own state representatives, make their own laws or ensure land and property rights (Freedom House, 2021; Goel, 2019).
However, to restore long-term, positive peace in the region, the Kashmiris need to be given exactly that by the Indian government – an assurance that they can keep their rights for autonomy while being part of India. A replacement for article 370 has to be executed that assures land rights, political representation by Kashmiris and the right to formulate own state laws for Kashmir among other freedoms for its people. If not, the population of the Indian administered part of Kashmir will remain politically unheard and oppressed by India. Consequently, hostile sentiments against unity with India would remain. Separatist and terrorist movements such as Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed could easily recruit new members that are frustrated about the exclusion from social and political decisions about Kashmir.
The rise of new members in such separatist movements also has to do with the harassment of Kashmiris by Indian forces and the abuse of their human rights on a daily basis. For Kashmiris this means to be threatened from multiple actors, such as the Indian military, separatist movements that want to gain new members but also from terrorist organizations that pressure people to cooperate (Freedom House, 2021).
Even when the article 370 was still in power, the human rights of Kashmiris were regularly violated and people were arrested, killed or tortured for no apparent reasons by the Indian military. An example was the brutal reaction to peaceful protests in the second half of 2019 after the article 370 was revoked. More than 5000 people were arrested and dozens killed when the Indian military opened fire on peaceful protesters in Srinagar, Kashmir (Yasir, Raj & Gettleman, 2019).
Due to such actions the Indian government seems not capable of protecting the human rights of Kashmiris. The surveillance and ensures of human rights abuses by an international organization such as the United Nations is therefore necessary. By sending UN peace keeping troops to Kashmir, a ground level of security would ensure that the human rights of Kashmiris are not further violated. This status, security, dignity and peace, would be necessary for the following policies to be effectively implied. The UN would be suitable for this because it has been involved in the conflict since it emerged in 1947 (Koithara, 2004). In addition to that, the conflict in Kashmir threatens the security of all of South Asia and the UN as an intermediary is a suitable impartial agency that has experience in dealing with the two countries. Under the protection of UN troops, a replacement for article 370 could be found as well as policies that ensure stability and political participation for the people of Kashmir in India.
Grassroot political participation for Kashmiris is essential for peace
A grassroots city council in Indian-administered Kashmir. Retrieved from: https://mcmscache.epapr.in/post_images/website_350/post_18759879/full.jpg
Kashmiris are excluded from the political process and officially do not have a right to vote political representatives for Kashmir since the article 370 was repealed in 2019. Even before that, Kashmiris could not effectively participate in the public sphere for the last thirty years due to the security instability caused by regular terror attacks of separatist movements and the heavy presence by the Indian military (Bose, 2003; Bloeria & Sahay, 2018). To contribute to peace, Kashmiris should be given back their basic rights, most importantly, the right to vote, to participate in the public sphere without intimidation by public, political or religious organizations, to do business in India and abroad, to study in India and abroad and to freely move within Kashmir. For now, all this is not possible for Kashmiris (Freedom House, 2021).
If people would be given those basic rights, they could start living their lives autonomously and life satisfaction would increase. Studies (Bali, Akhtar & United States Institute for Peace, 2017) have shown that grassroot peace building initiatives such as enabling Kashmiris to do business or to travel freely in Kashmir have shown great improvements in regional life satisfaction and security. Those grassroot operations initiatives involve the local population in political, social and cultural enterprises that benefit Kashmir (Bali, Akhtar & United States Institute for Peace, 2017).
The majority of Kashmiris is tired of the years of conflict and wants to live a life in peace. Due to the brute force with which the Indian military reacts to clashes in the area and suppresses political participation, many Kashmiris continue to see India as an oppressing power rather than their own country. To contribute to positive, lasting peace, Kashmiris (1) have to be included in the political decisions that are made about Kashmir and (2) the dialogues about Kashmir should be transparent and easy to access for the people of Kashmir. Furthermore, (3) those dialogues should address the political dispute and not be subsumed by economic and social issues (Council on Foreign Relations, 2021). Pakistan’s claim on Kashmir is based on religion and India’s claim on the ruler’s accession to it in 1947 (Bose, 2003). Until today, neither country has tried to ascertain what the population of Kashmir wants. Consequently, sensitive political negotiations are needed in which Kashmiris are represented and respected to ensure that their voices are heard. As mentioned in the previous policy, the UN peace keeping troops would be needed to ensure this.
Allow people to travel freely in Kashmir
The people of Kashmir are historically connected. Only the emergence of the two national states, India and Pakistan has led to the separation of their state (Bose, 2003; Korbel, 1990). That is also the reason why many Kashmiris still have family members in the opposing part of Kashmir. Ideally, they would not be hostile towards each other and would appreciate their freedom of traveling in Kashmir without restriction. By being able to travel freely between the two parts of Kashmir, people would also get to know each other better which would create more trust between them.
The long road to positive peace
The policies introduced in this proposal need further elaboration by experts in the field of south Asian studies, international relations or law to be effective in reality, not just on paper. Grassroots initiatives by and for the people of Kashmir are important for lasting positive peace as they oppose the dominant authoritarianism from India and Pakistan to decide for the people of Kashmir.
However, before any of those initiatives can become effective in the long run, intimidation by the Indian military or destabilizing attacks by Pakistan-supported separatist movements have to stop. As mentioned earlier, UN peace keeping troops would be an agency to ensure this. The conflict in Kashmir cannot be ended by implementing a handful of policies. It requires wise peace keeping missions that have lasting, positive peace as their goal and most importantly, include the people of Kashmir in this process.
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