Battle zone of proxy conflicts. United working class opposition needed
On 24 November, the Pakistan air force chief warned against escalating the Kashmir dispute into a full-scale war. He was prompted to do so by Indian military shelling the day before which claimed the lives of 12 civilians and three soldiers.
The mass uprising against the Indian state that began in July was one of the most vigorous and determined in Kashmir’s recent history. Largely ignored in the establishment press, its context is the combination of and interrelations between the ongoing suppression of the national rights of the Kashmiris by the Indian and Pakistani state, the heightened geopolitical tensions in the region, the world economic and political crises and the continued failure of the left parties in the region to offer solutions.
Despite brutal suppression by the Indian military the mass protests in Indian-occupied Kashmir (IOK) continued for months. This latest uprising was initially sparked by the killing of 22 year old Burhan Wani – a militant leader.
The story of Burhan whose death sparked this uprising was not atypical in Kashmir. He was the son of a well-known local school principle who became enraged by the brutality that his family faced at the hands of the military. He joined an armed militant organisation at the age of 15. His increasing popularity in the village let the state to put a one million rupee ($15,000) bounty on his head. His killing on 8 July and the triumphalist way it was portrayed in the Indian media was met with outrage across the Kashmir valley. More than 50,000 people joined the funeral procession, which went on to become a mass protest including stone-pelting against the military.
Kashmir has one of the largest concentrations of military personnel per population in the world. Over 275,000 forces are stationed in IOK. A similar number of military personnel are concentrated in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK). Following the protests it was immediately subjected to the usual terror methods to suppress mass protests. A curfew was declared. All forms of communication – internet, phone services, and social media – were blocked immediately in an effort to curb the spreading of the protests. All transport links were shut down. After closing down the area, the military engaged in a ruthless operation against the masses, including firing CS gas and live bullets at random.
According to the New York Times, 756 people were blinded in 72 days by pellets ammunition. “2016 will almost certainly be remembered as the year of dead eyes,” the Times wrote. More than 90 people were allegedly killed and thousands injured. Thousands were arrested. This further escalated the mass protests which continued for weeks. The military stepped up its terror injuring more than 17,000 adults and children and arrested over 5,000. However, the masses have defied the curfew and continued their protest. They turned up in thousands at the funeral of an 11 year old boy who was killed by the military spraying pellets.
On 18 September the military base in the garrison town of Uri came under attack. 18 soldiers were killed. It was claimed this was done by militants who crossed the border from Pakistan. One of the largest armed groups in Kashmir, Hizbul Mujahidin, to which Burhan Wani belonged, is said to be a “pro-Pakistan” group. This attack was seen by the Indian government as a direct intrusion by the Pakistani state. The Indian government seized the opportunity and started to lash out at Pakistan mainly to divert attention and hide the horror that its military was unleashing in Kashmir.
Indian home affairs minister Rajnath Singh immediately stated that “Pakistan is a terrorist state and it should be identified and isolated as such”. This was echoed by others including Prime Minister Narendra Modi who named Pakistan as the “mother of terrorism”. The media on both sides started the venomous “patriotic” mission, whipping up hatred at each other. An FT commentator pointed out that, “if it is up to the media in these countries it would have been an all-out war”.
Though both states have not yet gone as far as all-out war, there was an exchange of fire and heavy artillery bombing continues. The Indian regime also claimed to have made a “surgical strike” inside Pakistan by crossing the border, supposedly to eliminate “terrorists” and their “supporters”. Pakistan dismissed this as an “illusion” and claimed their soldiers were killed in cross-border shelling. A few more attacks have taken place since then against the Indian military base in the north of Kashmir. The Indian government continues its shelling, claiming that these attacks are made by militants who are crossing the border.
Weakened ruling class and mounting geopolitical tensions
Though it’s unlikely to result in an all-out war between these countries, minor conflicts and a tense situation are likely to continue. It could further intensify in the run-up to the general election in Pakistan in 2018 or the Indian general election scheduled for the year after. The ruling political parties on both sides will try to milk the vote by whipping up patriotism.
Modi has never enjoyed India-wide popularity, but “specialised” in whipping up Hindu nationalism, patriotism, and anti-Muslim fears to secure votes. Since his election in 2014 his popularity has been further diminished. Modi has not been able to deliver on his so-called “Gujaratification” of India. The promises of fast-track labour reforms and bringing in FDI have not materialised. Instead Modi’s attempt to attack the labour law produced the largest general strike in the world this year. This time, the 180 million-strong general strike revealed change – a shift from the usual ceremonial character that was present in the past general strikes. A certain militancy, certainly among the workers in the banking sector is beginning to emerge. A textile workers’ strike action earlier in the year forced the government to withdraw a proposed provident fund reform. Numerous social movements are emerging across India. Unlike in the past, most of these movements have taken a national character.
The recent mayhem caused by the so-called ‘demonetisation’ has shocked and rocked the country. Hundreds have died and over $2 trillion was lost by workers, peasants and the poor according to one estimate. The Modi government can only hope that the Kashmir conflict will come to its aid as a distraction as its weakness is exposed by the movements.
Political instability and crisis within the traditional parties in Pakistan is also rife. The one time mass party the PPP was reduced to a very small force in the last election. Even the PTI that pushed back the PPP in many regions with the anti-corruption message is losing popularity. Huge Chinese investment has enabled the ruling PMLN to carry out a few of the populist measures which maintain its popularity to an extent.
The true extent of the Chinese connection to the Pakistan military is not in the public domain. However it is reported that the military will be one of the main benefactors of the massive investment in infrastructure in Pakistan. In fact 15,000 military personnel were put in charge of protecting the Chinese-led infrastructure developments in Baluchistan. This followed a “sophisticated suicide” attack in the Baloch capital in August in which Chinese engineers were killed. Although in the aftermath of this attack the Chinese accused external involvement by indicating its “sophistication” –pointing the finger indirectly at India. Soon after Modi declared “moral support for the residents of Pakistan in Baluchistan”. This further fuelled the Pakistani government’s claim that India’s military involvement in Afghanistan has the aim of destabilising Baluchistan. China also wants to control Taliban activities near its border with Pakistan. All this has pushed these countries towards an unprecedented level of military build-up. Kashmir has become a proxy battle zone to test the balance of forces between these countries – particularly by India who will aim to counteract the increase in Chinese influence in Pakistan.
According to the Stockholm-based Swedish international peace research institute, 41% of Chinese arms exports have gone to its biggest arms-importing customer – Pakistan. China has also agreed to sell eight submarines to Pakistan to be built in the Karachi shipyard. Chinese involvement in Pakistan production of drones and the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which is worth $46 billion are seen as a threat by the west and India.
The US is threatening to withhold military aid (at least $300 million) and has angered the Pakistan military and its intelligence wing ISI by killing the Pakistan Taliban chief inside Pakistan without informing them. In retaliation Pakistan is threatening to cancel its military orders from the US and to buy Russian Chinese combat jets. The Pakistan military has admitted that they have “some influence” in the Pakistan Taliban, however they have not done enough to control their actions in Afghanistan against the US. Of course the Pakistan military has decisively moved against the Taliban and other armed groups inside Pakistan, particularly in Karachi, following the bomb attacks in schools and public places. This had made them enormously popular among the Pakistan masses. Military chief Raheel Sharif is the most famous and respected personality in the country. He is more famous than the other two well-known Sharifs – the Prime minister and Punjab’s chief minister. Big posters which read: “Thank you General Raheel Sharif,” can be found in Karachi. However, the military is still protecting some armed groups including a Taliban section as a tool to maintain their interests, mainly in Afghanistan. The Pakistan military employs similar tactics in Kashmir, where they use the militants – at times allowing them to operate in India – to maintain control and secure material gains. However, recent attacks by radical militant groups inside Pakistan show the difficulty that the military faces in controlling these groups. It is not possible for the military to fully defeat these groups as long as the masses suffer such dire conditions – they create fertile ground for reactionary groups to recruit.
Ultra-right populist Donald Trump’s victory and the decline of China will further exacerbate the geopolitical tensions in the pacific region. The “Pivot to Asia” strategy devised under the Obama administration has been a failure. Encircling China may even force them to take desperate measures. This can further fuel the already existing tensions. Kashmir is a flashpoint area where these emerging geopolitical tensions can lead to a proxy war. However, the US’s interests flowing through India are also not a straightforward matter. Although the US economy is still powerful, with a 33% share of the world economy, it can no longer dictate policies at its will. China has overtaken the Eurozone, with a more than 16% share of the world economy (there has been a 50% decline for Eurozone since 1980). China wants to control the sea route and in the process of establishing a so-called “new silk road”. Even in the Philippines – referred to in the past as a ‘colony of the US’ and where the US has a significant military presence as part of its pivot to Asia – the situation has become complicated for the US. The new president there has secured a $13 billion deal with China which was a major blow to the US. In Sri Lanka, the pro-western government’s attempts to stop the new port city planned in the capital Colombo with Chinese money failed.
Alternative needed against destruction and exploitation
The South Asian region is home to most of the world’s poor. Clearly the establishment parties across the region have no ideas of how to avoid escalating human catastrophe. Their continued rule means the billions of people face new levels of poverty and unemployment, war and destruction. If this is to be avoided, alternative mass parties of the workers, peasants, youth and poor need to be built in all these countries. Indian-occupied Kashmir has endured puppet administrations. No independent forces have emerged in Kashmir. Now, national aspirations are high in Kashmir. Political parties that do not articulate these national aspirations will not get far with the masses. And yet the ruling bodies in Kashmir are always forced to do the bidding of the Indian state. This massive political vacuum, this forceful denial of any political voice of the masses, continues to drive young people towards the militant organisations.
The traditional left parties such as the Communist Party of India (CPI) and the Communist Party of India(Marxist) (CPI(M)) have not only failed to provide a platform for struggle, but have taken dreadful positions vis a vis the national question – in effect defending the Indian state. In the face of the horrific atrocities, the CPI released a statement in the name of its general secretary Sudhakar Reddy which stated that the “CPI is of the opinion that the Union Government should call an all-Party meeting to discuss and make a joint appeal for restoration of peace. Ego should not stop from calling the all Party meet. People never reacted so massively with anger at the death of any youth earlier. There is something wrong in dealing with the entire affair”. The CPI leadership has a history of collaborating with the Indian state against the struggles of the people fighting injustice and has no willingness to understand “what is wrong” in Kashmir. The idea that the puppet parties should come together to broker a peace in itself shows exactly the role that the CPI leaders play, not just in Kashmir but with regard to the majority of the policies. The CPI leaders see themselves as “negotiators of peace” against the class anger and therefore act as effective agents of state.
The CPI (M) on the other hand acknowledges the “deep sense of alienation of the people from the Indian State. At no time has the gulf between India and the Kashmiri people been so wide”. But the conclusion they draw from this is dismal. This “serious situation,” they say, calls for an “examination of the Kashmir problem”. They pin the problem on the erosion of the “autonomy and special status” given to Kashmir. In other words, if the Indian state had maintained the “special status”, the problem would have been solved. On the contrary, the special status is designed to control the Kashmir region. Under Indian control the Kashmir masses have never enjoyed any freedom or felt free to express their political and national aspirations. The CPI (M) leaders’ arguments flow from their firm position that Kashmir should remain a part of India.
In a joint statement signed by the CPI general secretary Sudhakar Reddy and CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury, both so-called left parties asked for “autonomous structures” based on article 370. Article 370 was accepted by the Indian state at the time of partition to keep the princely state of Kashmir under its control. Insurgency against the very unpopular king supported by Pakistan, the legacy of gross failure of British Imperialism, and the rotten role of the UN combined to allow Nehru to manoeuvre and bring forth article 370 which effectively guaranteed the King’s power and Indian military control of Kashmir. The so-called promise by the UN of a plebiscite via the Security Council resolution 47 – or the promise that association with India “would have to be considered by the people of Kashmir later” did not come to pass. The Kashmiri population did not have a chance to decide for themselves. Instead they saw the dismissal of the Kashmir government and the detention of then leader Sheikh Abdullah. A new constitution was soon enacted unilaterally by the Indian state which declared that Jammu and Kashmir shall be an “integral part of the union of India”. Since then many laws and restrictions have been “extended” to Kashmir.
India used Article 370 to lure the Kashmir elite towards them, but had no intention of implementing it then and will never consider implementation. Narendra Modi provoked debate on this issue with the aim of abrogation of article 370 during his election campaign in 2014. This had the sole aim of rallying patriotic votes. Even before the High Court ruling in 2015 that this article cannot be abrogated, experts know the absurdity of the proposal of Modi. But Modi wanted to end all possibilities of any further special rights being granted to Kashmir and to further crush all hopes and aspirations for Azadi – Freedom. This has been the character of not just the Hindu Nationalist BJP party, but also the capitalist Congress.
The CWI and the Indian section NSA(New Socialist Alternative) support the demand to immediately remove the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), to end the use of pellet guns now, and for adequate compensation to be given to victims. These are a few of the demands that the CPI and CPI(M) also put forward. However, we disagree that a genuine investigation can be carried out through the Indian judiciary. We demand an independent inquiry into all the killings and atrocities conducted by democratically elected committees from all sections of the Kashmiri population.
Any concessions to the Kashmiri people should be welcomed. However, aiding the illusion that the Indian ruling class will revoke the laws that they have so far implemented in Kashmir – and allow constitutional freedom for Kashmir via the pro-capitalist, castist Indian constitution is a dishonest deception. It can be seen as the same “trick” that Nehru played – to control the Kashmiri masses. It is an attempt by these parties to bury their bogus stand of not accepting the national rights of the Kashmiris. The statement also asks to put and to “Kashmiris are being depicted as secessionists” as though, the majority of Kashmiri’s don’t accept secession from India. On the contrary what is burning the fuel is the very desire for self-determination and freedom from Indian oppression.
Working class people in India in many states must reject many laws and restrictions that bind them to maintaining national, caste and other oppressions. An appeal should be made by the workers and poor in both POK and IOK to allow the Kashmiris to decide their own future. The demand for the formation of a democratically elected revolutionary constituent assembly in Kashmir is vital. India is a prison house of nationalities only kept together by the authoritarian constitutional and political control that serves the political elite and super-rich. From Tamil Nadu in the deep south to Kashmir in the north, the national aspirations of the masses at various levels, expressed against the Indian state. This is also connected to the masses’ desire to improve their economic and political condition. The struggle to improve conditions can also impact on the ebbs and flow of national aspirations. Recognising this and the masses’ desire for self-determination is vital to achieve the unity of the working class. Accepting the demand for the right to self-determination is not the same as advocating the disintegration of India. Instead it is united class struggle that can create unity – through which a formation of the confederation of socialist states on a voluntary basis can emerge. The traditional left parties reject this and in doing so have been in reality subservient to the ruling class. This has alienated the masses, pushing them to reject the left parties. It is in this huge vacuum that nationalist and tribal or caste-based parties have mushroomed across India and Pakistan. The alternative mass force in India needs to be built with farsighted perspective and a clear programme that can bring together the workers, peasants, youth and poor.
The CPI-CPI(M) statement also includes the supercilious demand that Pakistan should be “brought to the discussion table” as though it was only the Pakistani state that is preventing peace. With this Indian “nationalist” standpoint the traditional left parties assist the state in maintaining the status quo. Among other reasons, this factor played a part in keeping the Kashmiri masses away from the left parties and helped to create enormous suspicion about left organisations. In contrast to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, the development of left organisation has not taken place in IOK. A number of organisations and Marxist activists from POK have organised protests in Pakistan and across the world in condemnation of what is going on in Kashmir. The CWI while supporting and taking part in protests and meetings, points out that initiatives should be taken to build a mass party of the workers and poor.
Given the long history of oppression and division, a diverse view exists in Kashmir in relation to the nation question and with regards to links with India and Pakistan. The various regional, tribal, religious, and caste-based divisions that exist in Kashmir have been used by the ruling class to divide and control. Establishing freedom for all Kashmiri people is linked to forging an organisation that is capable of overcoming all these divisions through protecting the rights of all minorities and at the same time building united class actions against the states. Such an organisation will also need to appeal to the working class and their organisations in Pakistan, India and other countries in the region to join forces to fight to end the enormous inequality, dire conditions and national oppressions that are rife in the south Asian region. Real freedom for all oppressed masses in the region can only be realised in full by ending capitalism and establishing a voluntary confederation of democratic socialist states.