Youth Revolt In Kashmir Surprises Both India And Pakistan

Youth Revolt In Kashmir Surprises Both India And Pakistan

22 August 2010
Vancouver Sun
Jonathan Manthorpe

Srinagar: After more than 60 years of dispute and conflict - even to the brink of nuclear war - over the Himalayan foothills territory of Kashmir, India and Pakistan have been caught off guard by an outpouring of disgust by the region's people themselves. As of Tuesday, 59 people have been killed in more than two months of sustained mass demonstrations and riots by teenagers and young men in the Indian-occupied southern portion of Kashmir. In almost all cases, those killed have been shot by the Indian security forces who have come under attack by the stone-throwing mobs. The uprising, which resembles the anti-Israeli 'intifada' of the early 2000s by young Palestinians except there is no evidence of prompting by politicians, stems from an incident in late April. Three young local men in Kashmir's Machhil district were shot by locally recruited security forces. The soldiers insisted they had killed fighters who infiltrated from Pakistan-controlled northern Kashmir. But investigations quickly established this was what is known in India as a 'fake encounter.' Indian police and soldiers are notorious for attempting to cover up their killing of innocent civilians by claiming the deaths occurred in an 'encounter' with criminals or militants. But the Machhil encounter seems to have been one incident too many for young Kashmiris who have known nothing but heavy-handed Indian attempts at subjugation. The most serious acts of anti-Indian violence in Kashmir have been committed by provocateurs and terrorists infiltrated with the help of Pakistan's security forces. But 10 years ago India succeeded in smothering most of the imported insurgency. So what Kashmir is seeing now is an entirely domestic and apparently spontaneous uprising among young people. It's a very different upheaval from those that have marked the terrible history of Kashmir since its ownership became a focus of dispute between New Delhi and Islamabad on the separation of predominantly Muslim Pakistan from constitutionally secular India in 1947. At the time of Britain's retreat from its Indian empire the maharaja of Kashmir, a Hindu, opted to take his quasi-independent state populated mostly by Muslims into the new Indian state. His decision has been the cause of two wars between India and Pakistan, during which Kashmir was divided, and provoked a conflict which came dangerously close to nuclear war between the two states in 1999. For more than six decades successive governments in New Delhi have not moved from the position that Kashmir is an inalienable part of India. Those governments have lavished money, elaborate elections and brute force on Kashmiris in a so-far unsuccessful attempt to win their loyalty. For its part, Pakistan has used Kashmir as a handy sore with which to distract India from the intense rivalry between New Delhi and Islamabad for security and regional influence. Pakistan's military and intelligence agencies have aided and abetted militants who train in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and even created terrorist groups such as Lashkar-e-Toiba. Despite this, in 2007, India and Pakistan came close to agreeing to a peace formula by which Kashmir would be given a high degree of autonomy. But this move collapsed when Pakistan's then-president, Pervez Musharraf, fell from power. The prospects of reviving an accord were buried when terrorists organized by Lashkar-e-Toiba in Pakistan attacked the Indian commercial centre, Mumbai, in November 2008. Earlier in 2008, India staged in Kashmir what looked like highly successful elections for the regional legislature. There was a 60 per cent turn out despite a call for a boycott by the vehemently separatist All Parties Hurriyat Conference and the election produced a People's Democratic Partyled government headed by the young and politically well-connected Omar Abdullah. But Abdullah has failed to follow through on election promises. There was a familiar demonstration of popular frustration on Sunday when a policeman threw a shoe at Abdullah during a ceremony to mark the anniversary of Indian independence. Of particular irritation to the public appears to be Abdullah's failure to repeal, as promised, the hated Armed Forces Special Powers Act, which shields security forces from investigation and prosecution. Abdullah says police investigations into all the recent killings by the military, except the April Machhil killings, show the actions were justified. But he acknowledges that without greater transparency, the public cannot be sure. jmanthorpe@vancouversun.com


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