Kashmir: New bus service greeted with optimism

Both the Indian and Pakistani governments are celebrating the launch of a bus service on 7 April between Srinagar and Muzafarabad, the two main cities in Indian and Pakistani occupied Kashmir respectively.

In doing this, both administrations are attempting to boost their image as being peace-loving governments. Capitalist political commentators are busy attempting to portray this as history-making in the process. They are also whipping up propaganda that the issue of Kashmir, a central issue in the historic conflict between the Indian and Pakistani ruling class, can soon be solved.

Despite all the threats and a bloody attack on the bus terminal in Srinagar by an armed group that killed 3 and injured 20 potential passengers, the bus service rolls on between the divided parts of occupied Kashmir. There is no doubt that this “confidence building measure” is one of the most significant of all those taken by both governments recently. Many divided families met each other for the first time after nearly 50 years. The commencement of the bus service is also the first measure taken which directly affects the everyday situation faced by most Kashmiris. Despite the popularity of this measure and the hopes for a more lasting peace settlement amongst the Indian, Pakistani and Kashmiri masses, it would be a mistake to draw the conclusion that the Indian and Pakistani ruling classes will be able to solve the long standing dispute over Kashmir.

Both governments are using the ‘peace process’ in an attempt to bolster the position of their administrations just as they have in the past used war hysteria to divert the attention of the masses away from the horrific social and economic conditions they face. Socialists are not against the bus service or other steps to lessen the tension, but it is also equally important to explain the limits of these measures. There are mixed feelings about the bus service: Kashmiri and Pakistani workers and youth have welcomed it with open arms, but the reactionary religious groups and hard liners are against it. Pro-Pakistan Kashmiri armed groups feel betrayed. They put forward the idea that India is reaping all the benefits of the ‘peace process’ while Pakistanis and Kashmiris are left with nothing but the rhetoric of so-called “confidence building measures”. Similar views are expressed by Islamic fundamentalist parties in Pakistan.

The situation for the Pakistani ruling elite is different from the Indian ruling class. The latter want to continue the ‘peace process’ but at a very slow pace. They are more interested in economic benefits of a ‘peace process’ rather than resolving the ‘core’ political issues. The Pakistani ruling elite, on other hand, wants some political concessions from the Indian side to answer the propaganda of the Islamic fundamentalist groups, but this has not been forthcoming. It will be difficult for General Musharraf to make too many concessions himself, without getting seeing any movement from the Indian government. The hawks and hardliners are just waiting for an opportunity to bring the whole process to a halt.

However, this is not the first time that both ruling elites are engaged in peace talks. After wars in 1965 and1971, the Indian and Pakistani regimes signed agreements at Shimla and Tashkent, but no progress was made after that. It is easy to make an agreement on paper but difficult to implement it. At the moment both ruling elites control the levers of war and peace, euphoria and hysteria in the sub-continent. Like all capitalist regimes, they both play the “control game” with their citizens. The claim by both regimes that their populations want peace is true. But the workers and youth were not initially in favour of war in 1965 or 1971; they did not want war during the Kargil standoff, or in the deployment of one million troops during 2002. If it was the case that the ruling elites were in favour of a negotiated settlement then where were all the public displays of love and amity we see today? Both governments are using peace and war for their own interests. They want to protect their class interests at any cost. So it would be wrong to draw the conclusion that they will genuinely attempt to resolve issues under conflict in the interest of the masses. All the hawks are still there, the majority of the state machinery still thinks in the same old way. They have not had a change of heart. The road towards durable peace and mutual trust is not a straight one but very bumpy, whatever government spokespeople say.

No respite for Kashmiris

The excitement over the launch of the bus service has been dampened by the fact that it has coincided with the return of search operations and crackdowns in many parts of Indian Occupied Kashmir. The Indian army is justifying this military campaign on the basis that there was heavy snowfall in the winter on mountains. This, according to them has forced armed fighters to come down to the villages and towns. According to military officials, it is the time to ‘wipe out’ the “militants” cy forever. Interestingly the new ‘mopping up’ campaign has started even as the government admits that there has been a reduction in the incidents of violence since a ceasefire was enforced along the Line of Control (LOC) which divides the two parts of occupied Kashmir. A year ago the Indian Minister for Home Affairs Sriprakash Jaiswal told Rajya Sabha recently that 4038 incidents of violence had been reported in the year 2002, while 3401 were reported in 2003. He said the numbers had declined even further, with the year 2004 witnessing only 2565 such incidents.

Despite the decline in violence, there is no reduction in the level of deployment of Indian forces. According to local Kashmiri leaders, Indian forces have actually stepped up operations giving rise to human rights violations, deaths in custody, and disappearances. One Kashmiri leader describe the situation in these words “The peace offensive launched by India and Pakistan has not travelled to Kashmir where it is most needed.”

The Indian army has also started hunting down political activists involved in public activity – what it calls “sympathisers of militants”. According to the Weekly Friday Times, “The military has prepared a list of 5000 people to be arrested under the dreaded Public Safety Act (PSA). The list includes the names of political leaders and activists, social activists, and even some journalists.” The civilian administration in Indian Occupied Kashmir might have acted on this list but to its surprise they found included on it were the names of many ruling party (Peoples Democratic Party) activists and some pro-India National Conference elements. Even the name of a senior Minister is on the list!

Now the army has issued the instructions to the police officers and deputy commissioners to start the campaign on 10 April. They have set quarterly targets to “neutralize sympathisers”. The army has also directed the administration to “coordinate” reports sent to the media and to crackdown on journalists who they claim have been indulging in “anti-national activities”. The government in Srinagar has already attacked the English daily ‘Greater Kashmir’ on the allegation of spreading “misinformation”. Civil administration officials as well as politicians in Kashmir maintain that whenever India and Pakistan have entered into a dialogue before, there has been some kind of relief in term of release of prisoners or lowering of military operations in Indian Occupied Kashmir.

However, since the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, headed by Congress, came to power in India, even the routine release of prisoners has stopped. According to one senior military officer “We are upset that these over- ground activists and sympathisers have managed to create a scene by holding public demonstrations against the army. They spread propaganda and misinformation which badly affects the morale of the forces.”

The Indian military has also started a crackdown against the most radical youth and trade union activists. Nine army men have been punished for raping women. Two months ago, one soldier was charged with the allegations of raping a mother and her 13 year-old daughter. But the brutal use of force and torture has failed to stop the resistance, despite the fact that there is one soldier for every 10 Kashmiris in Indian Occupied Kashmir.

There is a similar situation in Pakistani Occupied Kashmir (POK). There are no trade union rights and labour laws in this part of Kashmir. Nobody can contest an election until he signs a declaration under oath accepting POK as part of Pakistan.

The so-called elected government of POK is nothing more than the puppet of Pakistani ruling elite. One Major-General sitting in Murree (the famous hill station [a mountain retreat for the rich elite] near Islamabad) runs the affairs of Muzafarabad. In effect he decides the Prime Minister and main posts in the POK government. The Inter Service Intelligence (the secret services section of the Pakistani army) decides who will form the government even before the elections.

Kashmiris suffer on both sides of Line Of Control (LOC). The bus service will not end their suffering but could provide them an opportunity to share their miseries. This is why both the governments are very selective in granting travel permission for the bus service. Thousands of people want to meet their relatives, have applied for travel documents. However, they will have to wait for years to travel to the other side, because bus will only run on fortnightly basis.

Different political forces want different solutions to the Kashmiri issue. The Islamic fundamentalist groups want to merge the territory with Pakistan, making Kashmir an Islamic State in the process. The Indian ruling class wants to keep at least what it regards as its part of Kashmir, and the Pakistani ruling elite also wants to get its share. Different nationalist leaderships want to make Kashmir independent but on the basis of capitalism. But as previous experience has shown, on this basis it is impossible to satisfy the aspirations of the Kashmiri, Indian and Pakistani masses.

Both ruling elites want a solution that can serve their interests, and most likely that means the division of Kashmir. But Kashmiris will not accept this solution in the long run and this will lead to more bloodshed and instability in the region. If they failed to solve the conflict over the disputed Siachen glacier high up in the mountains of Kashmir, which is less complicated issue, how will they resolve all the issues involved in the Kashmir dispute.

More than 80, 000 Kashmiris have lost their lives in the fight for the liberation of their homeland. Almost every family has lost at least one family member in the struggle against occupation. More than 3500 women have been raped, hundreds of youth have become disabled as a result of torture they faced during imprisonment, and hundreds are still missing.

The armed Islamic groups which were trained by the Pakistani secret service to fight against Indian occupation have played a very destructive role in this resistance movement. They were not only involved in the killing of many radical young fighters and political activists, but also gave Islamic colouration to the national liberation struggle and divided it on a religious basis. They also used violence against the other militant but more secular and liberal organisations. Now some of these groups have turned against their masters. They feel betrayed by the Pakistani government, which forced the military to stop open assistance to them after September 11. The pro- Pakistan faction of the Hurryet conference (APHC) also feels let down by its political masters. As a result, for the first time ever, they boycotted the Pakistan Day event in Pakistani Embassy in Dehli, India.

There is no viable solution possible under capitalism to the Kashmiri issue. An independent socialist Kashmir is the only way forward which can bring durable peace, stability and prosperity to the Kashmiri workers and peasants. A mass movement of the working class in the region needs to be built to force the withdrawal of all foreign troops from both Indian and Pakistani Occupied Kashmir and the working class of the area should enforce the territory becoming a non-military zone. As part of this struggle trade unions and working class organisations should form elected committees to take control of the running of society into their own hands. These committees should discuss and draw up plans for the holding of a constituent assembly, with representatives from all sections of the working class and poor peasantry on an equal and democratic basis, to decide the future of Kashmir

A planned economy under the democratic control of Kashmiri workers and poor peasants, using the huge human and mineral resources of the country could solve the economic and social problems faced by the masses, within a generation. But the overthrow of capitalism is essential to achieve this goal. Through this socialist transformation of society the lives of millions of impoverished people will be transformed.

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April 2005