Keeping Kashmir’s Flame of Hope Lit

Keeping Kashmir’s Flame of Hope Lit

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By: Eric Walberg

A meeting in Toronto on November 5, 2016, commemorated the July 8 tragic killing of young resistance leader, Burhan Wani. He was 22 when shot and killed by Indian occupation forces in a remote village. Two of his colleagues were also killed in the late night raid.

More than 200,000 people attended Wani’s funeral on July 9 despite a curfew being in force. Virtually round-the-clock curfew has remained in force in large parts of Kashmir. Indian occupation forces shot and killed another 23 people during Wani’s funeral procession. Such killings have only increased the Kashmiris’ determination to demand an end to India’s occupation that has gone on since October 1947.

So far, more than 100 people have been killed and some 15,000 others including children, injured. Most have suffered grievous injury to their eyes by pellets fired by Indian forces. According to hospital sources in Srinagar, the capital of Indian occupied Kashmir, at least 560 people have been blinded permanently. In the two months since, hundreds of others have been blinded.

As an occupying power, India is obliged to afford protection to the population under its occupation and to ensure adequate provision of food, medicines and other amenities. Far from fulfilling its obligations under International Humanitarian Law, India is guilty of gross violations of the basic rights of the Kashmiri people. India’s killings of innocent Kashmiris, most of them youth, constitute war crimes.

In 1947, Kashmir’s Maharajah Hari Singh had hoped to achieve independence from Britain, just as India and Pakistan were doing. The Kashmiris’ uprising supported by tribesmen from Pakistan’s northern areas left Singh desperate for military aid. A Hindu, he secured the help from India—at the cost of independence for his predominantly Muslim people. The post-independence war between India and Pakistan left Pakistan in control of the northern and western parts of Kashmir, Azad Kashmir, a self-governing administrative division of Pakistan and the northern territories known as Gilgit-Baltistan. Together they represent 30% of the overall territory. China won control over areas in the east during the Sino-Indian war of 1962, which constitutes 10%, leaving India with 60%.

Pakistan and India have been through three wars since independent. The current lines of demarcation were proposed in the 1960s, in which the Kashmir valley and other Muslim-dominated areas north of the Chenab River would go to Pakistan, and Jammu and other Hindu-dominated regions would go to India. The end of hostilities was negotiated in Tashkent, Uzbekistan in January 1966. The Soviets, represented by Premier Alexei Kosygin, moderated between Indian Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri and Pakistani President Muhammad Ayub Khan that brought a formal end to the September 1965 war.

When resistance efforts are made in Indian occupied Kashmir, the Indian government has often turned to heavy-handed tactics, which have only become more brutal, as this summer’s demonstrations showed. There are 700,000 Indian troops and another 100,000 police, one-armed soldier per three Kashmiri in the capital Srinagar.

The October 2005 earthquake killed tens of thousands of people in Azad Kashmir, and left another three million people displaced, with widespread devastation, and reconstruction still proceeds. Azad Kashmir’s economy largely depends on agriculture, services, tourism, and remittances sent by members of the British Mirpuri community. The region has the highest literacy rate (72%) in Pakistan. Despite the earthquake, Azad Kashmir is a peaceful haven, a model for what should have been.

Violence in the Indian occupied state was on the decline since 2004 with the peace process between Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpay and Pakistani President Pervez Musharaf, but military and bureaucratic interference undermined their efforts, and the present situation is not hopeful, with a more nationalistic Indian leader Narendra Modi and the US intent on courting India against China.

One of the speakers at the gathering, US marine-turned-peacenik Phil Taylor suggested that Kashmir’s independence could happen sooner than later, as the Kashmiris are not cowed. Two popular uprisings in 2008 and 2010 saw the death of more than 200 people. The large demonstrations this summer saw defiant protesters facing spray bullets, which have blinded hundreds, show the people are not going to submit. “The Kashmiris are a free people. But a people in chains,” said Phil Taylor.

Speakers at the gathering included

* Ken Stone, who compared Azad Kashmir and Indian occupied Kashmir, the latter resembling more the occupied Palestinian territories.

* Phil Taylor reflected on his own American background as a US marine who saw the light, and joined the efforts of all colonial peoples struggling for independence. The US neocolonialism continues the British colonial policy of world policeman, one concerned more with its own geopolitical interests, which do not favour an independent Kashmir.

* Two young Canadians, Kashmiri Faiza Khawaja and Sikh Jay Grewal, spoke touchingly about the plight of women in Kashmir, and the struggle for an independent Sikh homeland. Both the Kashmiris and Sikhs have had a sorry post-independence existence in India and see the way forward as independent nations.

* Balkar Singh Heer is a Canadian Sikh who was caught in the Indian attack on the Golden Temple when Indian troops killed thousands. They left him for dead, covered in straw. By a miracle, he lived and came back to Canada to tell the tale.

* Eric Walberg suggested a way forward must involve a ‘carrot and stick’ approach with India, which is lobbying to gain a seat on the UN Security Council. Kashmir is a bleeding wound, full of Indian troops carrying out atrocities. It must be convinced it can only find international credibility by following through on its UN commitments. With Pakistan following suit. Another ‘carrot’ would be offering India access to the China Pakistan Economic Corridor, and agreement through the Afghanistan Pakistan Transit and Trade Agreement to include opening the India-Pakistan border to transit for trade and energy shipments.

India needs Pakistan, and good diplomacy should be able to move the Indian elephant without squashing either Pakistan or Kashmir. Russia can be a positive neutral power to help resolve the long-standing dispute, as it was in Soviet days in 1966. This is a precedent worth remembering today.

As host, Zafar Bangash brought the meeting up to date on the current unrest and reiterated the bottom line: that UN resolutions must be observed and a referendum finally held in Jammu and Kashmir to allow the people a free choice.

Writer can be reached (https://crescent.icit-digital.org/authors/eric-walberg)

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