Kashmir in flames again: Complete shutdown for more than a month

Kashmir is aflame again amid a renewed outpouring of popular, non-violent, revolt against India’s military occupation.

Kashmiris are out in streets, bringing the Valley to a complete shutdown for more than a month. Despite a curfew and military crackdown, the current political revolt is rapidly developing into a mass movement, resurrecting the memories of Kashmir in the late 80s and early 90s and giving a new dimension to this indomitable struggle for freedom (Azadi).

The hundreds of thousands of protesters that fill the streets of Kashmir’s cities today are overwhelmingly young, many in their teens, and armed with nothing more lethal than stones. Yet the Indian state seems determined to silence their voices, as it did to a previous generation. Since June this year, Indian soldiers have shot dead more than 120 Kashmiri protestors, most of them teenagers. There is a deliberate and direct targeting of young people by the military, intent on crushing the anti-occupation movement.

To misrepresent the gravity and magnitude of the Kashmiri uprising, the Indian government is crying wolf by raising the threat of “terrorism”. Kashmiri youths are only throwing stones against trigger-happy Indian soldiers. “Non-combatant” youngsters are the sole fatalities. Not one casualty has been reported on the side of the Indian paramilitary forces! The military occupiers have been given sweeping powers to open fire, search houses, detain suspects and confiscate property. At the same time they enjoy total immunity from prosecution.

Aside from the scale of violence unleashed by the military forces against the protestors, the most poignant aspect of the situation is the acute suffering of the whole population caused by frequent curfews, disregard for normal daily life, arrests, detentions and sometimes disappearances of innocent civilians picked up by authorities.

This time, as was the case two years ago, nobody can blame a foreign hand for the Kashmir uprising. The Kashmiris have chosen to speak for themselves and are speaking loud and clear by chanting Azadi! Azadi! (Freedom, Freedom) They want nothing but freedom from Indian occupation and to be able to exercise their inalienable right of self-determination – pledged to them by India, Pakistan and UN Security Council resolutions. This movement is an indigenous protest and inevitable eruption of simmering resentment among the Kashmiri people which has been developing for several decades.

The New York Times described the present nature of Kashmiri uprising on August 14th: “today they (Indian forces) face a threat potentially more dangerous to the world’s largest democracy: an intifada –like popular revolt against the Indian military presence that includes not just stone-throwing young men but their sisters, mothers, uncles and grand parents”.

Now the situation is even more explosive than it was in August. The ongoing incidents of human rights violations have been decisive and created an unbridgeable gulf between the ordinary Kashmiri masses and the Indian state. These tragic events have acted as a catalyst to bring a large and growing layer of the population onto the streets. Those on the demonstrations have been prepared to fearlessly challenge the state forces across the Valley. On several occasions the curfew has been broken by spontaneous protests. The Indian army high-command is unwilling to demilitarise even the urban areas or repeal the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), a law that gives security forces powers to operate without fear of prosecution.

This repression has re-ignited previously missing indigenous character and non-violent face of the mass movement. This new upsurge has nothing to do with Pakistan or radical Islamic militants. The character of this movement has the potential to win support from within Indian masses if a clear appeal is made to them. The support of working class of India and Pakistan is crucial for the success of freedom movement in Kashmir. The winning of mass support from the Indian and Pakistani working class can force the ruling classes of both countries to retreat and demilitarise Kashmir. The working class and trade union movement of both countries must be appealed to come out in support of the demands of Kashmiri working masses.

This movement is different from the movement of 90s, which was an armed struggle initiated by nationalist militant groups. This began in 1989 and lasted for a decade. It was Kashmir’s first significant uprising and it ran its complete cycle. More than 100,000 Kashmiris have lost their lives during this armed conflict. The Pakistani establishment intervened through the reactionary Islamic militant groups and Jehadi organisations. It encouraged Islamic militancy that eventually marginalised the local and particularly the nationalist forces. This policy turned indigenous uprising into an Islamic and broadly Sunni-extremist led movement controlled by the Pakistani security agencies through its Pakistani based militant organisations. The Indian ruling class used this intervention to justify the deployment of more than 700,000 (0.7million) Indian soldiers in the valley. This military presence turned the valley into garrison. Whenever the Kashmiri masses tried to organise resistance to this military occupation, they were dubbed as terrorists and Islamic militant intruders from Pakistan. Brutal military forces were released to crush the movement. Islamic militancy was used as a justification to deprive the Kashmiri masses from their basic democratic and political rights.

Now the situation has once again changed. Since the 9/11, Pakistan was forced to change its policy and strategy towards Kashmir which is has adopted during the last decade. Even the Indian authorities now accept that “militancy” is at its’ lowest levels in the valley. India’s highest-ranking man on the ground, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, acknowledged that “levels of militancy are at the lowest that they have been for the last 20 years”. But still the brutal military operations are continued against the innocent civilians. The militant groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba have been forced to take a back seat. At the moment, Kashmiris have moved away from guns. It is very rare today for a Kashmiri young man to join an “extremist- militant” Islamic group today. Islamist politicians and activists are a minority, though a very visible one. In the post-Kargil period, taking advantage of the global concerns about terrorism, the Indian establishment has remained locked into the alleged nexus between “terrorism” and the Kashmiri struggle. In 2006, it managed to secure a guarantee from general Musharaf that Pakistan would not let its territory be used for cross-border terrorist activity. Since November 2008, India has sought to redefine the Kashmir question purely as an issue of terrorism.

The reality however is alarmingly different. The renowned Indian writer Pankaj Mishra wrote in the Guardian: “once known for its extraordinary beauty, the valley of Kashmir now hosts the biggest, bloodiest and also the most obscure military occupation in the world. The Indian media amplifying the falsehoods and deceptions of Indian intelligence agencies in Kashmir, which argue that the Kashmiri protests are the work of Islamic fundamentalists and/or terrorists. But in case of Srinagar, the population of a major town can not be composed entirely of such elements. Virtually everyone, men, women and children, has taken to the streets in Srinagar against the continuance of Indian military occupation”.

The nature of Kashmir’s defiance has clearly changed, and that must shake the Indian establishment out of any complacency. What is homegrown usually has deep roots, develops slowly, but persists, as is the case with the current cycle of mobilizations. It has grown to its present level in the last two years. There were moments of lulls but these gave way to growing mobilizations. What originates from external intervention will tend to be short lived, violent, destructive and aimed at giving quick results.

The Chief Minister of Indian held Kashmir, Omar Abdullah, has accepted that the present movement is leaderless. What he is saying is that the traditional leadership of the Huriat conference and liberation struggle has become somehow irrelevant in the present circumstances. The young stone throwers have pushed the old leadership aside and have taken the center stage themselves. In Srinagar, when a gentle knock fails, stones work to break a slumber. Those hurling one do not care about the rebound. The outlook of many of those who have grown up in last 25 years of turmoil has hardened. The reaction of a vociferous section of youngsters- from the elite to the most down-trodden has been to fight in a determined if anarchic way. Frequently they have humbled even the most prominent icons of the separatist brand of leaders such as Syed Ali Gilani and Umar Farooq. They want to see the back of the Indian army and demilitrisation of Kashmir. They are also demanding independence and freedom. The overwhelming majority of street protesters want an independent Jammu and Kashmir.

The people of Jammu and Kashmir are yearning for peace, justice, freedom and right of self-determination. They want a just and dignified peace that guarantees total freedom from foreign occupation and alien domination. They can achieve this by linking their struggle to the masses of India and Pakistan for the establishment of a voluntary, democratic, Socialist Federation of India, Pakistan and Kashmir and the whole sub-continent

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September 2010