Srinagar, India-administered Kashmir – There is a running joke in Kashmir about India’s differing statements regarding its rule in the disputed region. The joke, a part of Kashmiri dark humor, always elicits a smile for its truth, and goes like this:
“While responding on Kashmir internationally, India maintains that Kashmir a bilateral issue, between India and Pakistan. But while speaking to Pakistan, India says Kashmir is its internal problem. And whenever it engages in talk to the Kashmiris, India says there is no problem at all.”
But India’s problems in the Indian-administered Kashmir appear to be steadily increasing, despite – and may be because of – trying to force a military solution to a political problem, experts say.
And with the present crisis, as nuclear-armed South Asian rivals are almost at war and major world powers reportedly mediating for calm, Kashmir has again dominated the world news, reminding everyone that the oldest unresolved conflict of the modern world can trigger a nuclear war.
What if tomorrow another 20-year-old Kashmiri blows himself up again?
The stage for the present crisis between India and Pakistan was set by a 20-year-old Kashmiri armed rebel, Adil Ahamd Dar, on February 14 when he rammed an explosive laden vehicle into an Indian paramilitary convoy, blowing up at least 42 soldiers in a rare suicide bomb attack.
While more and more young people are joining the armed rebellion the region, Indian blamed Pakistan for its problems in Kashmir.
Over 190 Kashmiris joined the armed movement in 2018 as compared to 126 the previous year. According to police, the number of fighters active in Kashmir right now is around 250.
While for now the war seems to have been averted with Pakistan’s “peace gesture” of returning the Indian air force pilot in their custody, the centre of this war, the Kashmir region, continues to remain on the dangerous edge, and its youth – pushed into the abyss of a consuming uncertainty – move perilously close to exploding.
“What if tomorrow another 20-year-old Kashmiri blows himself up again?” asks Firdous Syed Baba, a former rebel commander-turned-political columnist. “Won’t we be back in the middle of a crisis and a possible war?”
Baba says that the Indian policymakers must understand that the war and peace in the larger region has come to depend on the actions of a young Kashmiri boy from a village.
“And the way India is dealing with Kashmir, with violence and by creating a pressure cooker situation, such actions will only increase in number,” Baba says.
Since the February 14 suicide bombing attack, India has responded in Kashmir with more violence and intense psychological warfare. New Delhi airlifted more than 10,000 paramilitary men into the disputed region, adding to the over half a million troops it maintains here in one of the most militarised zones in the world.
At the same time, India cracked down on the region’s pro-independence resistance leaders and activists, arresting over more than 300 in the past two weeks.
Government orders were passed to stock up drugs and surgical instruments in the hospitals, ration depots were asked to stay open on a holiday to allow people to stock up food grains, creating the sense that a major offensive was going to be launched against Kashmiris.
“India cannot wish away the Kashmir conflict. Nor can it suppress it by force. With every killing by India, there are going to be more militants,” said Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, the Himalayan valley’s top Muslim leader and one of the senior resistance leaders.
“The Indian violence has only increased the resilience of the Kashmiris.”
Farooq said that instead of trying to address the sentiment of independence in Kashmir, India was trying to further hollow out the region’s autonomous privileges within the Indian Union and paving way for demographic changes in Kashmir.
Only Thursday evening, the Indian cabinet, headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, decided to bring in an ordinance that makes amendments to Article 370 of the Indian constitution, which establishes the autonomous relationship between Jammu and Kashmir and the Indian Union.
While the amendments themselves may sound minor, they are being seen as a breach, especially at a time when the state of Jammu and Kashmir is under the direct rule of the Indian President.
Kashmiris believe that the amendments are aimed at changing the demography of the disputed region, where the Muslims are the majority.
“There will be massive protests in every way if India acts on that course,” Farooq said. “There will possibly be many more acts like the one Dar did two weeks ago.”
Protecting the demography
The present government has maintained that it wants to scrap the Article 35A enshrined in India’s constitution that bars Indians from buying land in the disputed region. A case to scrap the Article aimed at protecting the demography of the Muslim-majority region is also being heard in India’s Supreme Court.
Each time the hearing comes up at the Indian top court, there is a shutdown in Kashmir and people wait in silence and complete attention to hear the outcome, for it is perceived in Kashmir that the scrapping of the Article would be a landmark moment in the region, that will only increase the confrontation between New Delhi and Kashmir, setting course for a stronger resistance and deadlier violence.
India kills the militants, blinds the protesters, jails the Hurriyat (pro-Independence) leaders, and humiliates us
In Kashmir, it is not only the pro-independence Kashmiri leaders and activists that are being targeted by the Indian government. As it fails to win any real ground, New Delhi seems to have turned on its “own people” too. After the February 14 bombing, the Indian government also removed the security cover of several leaders, including some pro-India politicians as well..
Waheed Parra, a young Kashmiri politician with the People’s Democratic Party, is one of them. Parra’s party shared power with the Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and ruled Kashmir between 2015 and 2018, till BJP pulled out of the alliance, bringing the disputed region under direct rule from New Delhi.
Parra, like all other Kashmiri “pro-India” politicians, is seen in Kashmir as a “collaborator” who gives some semblance of legitimacy and “a handle to the axe” to India’s rule in the region. Always at threat from the rebels and often even from people, Parra had six security guards and a bulletproof vehicle till last week. Now he has none.
“It was criminal on part of India to leave me like this at the mercy of the militants, it was almost like telling me to find out how many hours I would last,” Parra told Al Jazeera. “Only because I speak of dignified peace and human rights of Kashmiris. Even that is unacceptable to them, even when I speak within the Indian constitution.”
Parra is from Pulwama in the south of Kashmir, the same district where Dar, the suicide bomber came from, and where the worst bombing on Indian armed forces also took place.
He says he is vulnerable without the security cover considering the kind of work he did, like “arranging 6,000 Kashmiris for a visit of the Indian Home Minister [Rajnath Singh] to Kashmir,” a no small feat considering the anti-India sentiment in the region.
“India kills the militants, blinds the protesters, jails the Hurriyat (pro-independence) leaders, and humiliates us,” Parra says. “It [India] has only vindicated the stand of those leaders and people who refused to engage in its electoral process and boycotted their elections. We [pro-India politicians] have been used and discarded.”
Parra and the politics his party and other pro-India parties in the region espoused – of getting a few concessions from the Indian government, a “healing touch policy” to show the humane face of India, and of a dialogue with India even when the dialogue was an end in itself – lie in dust on the trampled ground in Kashmir.
Parra too sees the writing on the wall, which is more violence from the Indian state and a violent resistance from Kashmir, and the fact is not lost on him that what happens in Kashmir may no longer stay in Kashmir. War hangs on the horizon perpetually, till the oldest running conflict in the world is not resolved.