Once again, chaos has erupted in Kashmir valley. The death toll is continuously on the rise as protesters clash with the police in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir for third consecutive day. On Friday, 22 year old Burhan Muzaffar Wani, commander of Kashmiri insurgent group Hizbul Mujahedeen was killed in a gun battle with security forces. His death marked beginning of new series of demonstrations causing widespread unrest that has left over 20 dead.
The recent crisis going on in Kashmir isn’t something new. The conflict has been going on for decades. It escalated into an armed conflict in the late 80s when Kashmiris rebelled against the Indian rule. The long lasting issue of Kashmir conflict has always been the burning question in both India and Pakistan, which to this day not just stands as the biggest problem between the two neighboring countries but even serves as the backbone of bilateral relations that these two countries share. Despite that, the complexity of the issue has almost never been understood by the masses in both countries. This is why the oversimplification of the issue – where one side always portrays the other to be the sole reason behind chaos in the valley as well as the biggest hurdle in bringing peace and stability in the region – leaves many questions unanswered.
There's a lot that people in both countries are not aware of. There are several documented "assurances" and "promises" that were never fulfilled, The story of betrayal with the hopes of Kashmiri people is something both Indians and Pakistanis need to know to at least understand if not solve the long lasting conflict.
On 26th October 1947, Maharaja Hari Singh, the last ruling Maharaja of the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir signed the instrument of accession to India and requested Delhi for military assistance to fight the tribal forces of Pakistan that invaded Kashmir to support the local Muslim population that revolted against the Maharaja in the aftermath of Muslim population massacre in the princely state. As a result, the next day on October 27, 1947, the Indian army officially intervened in Kashmir. The same day, Indian Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru sent a telegram to the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Liaquat Ali Khan, saying:
“I should like to make it clear that the question of aiding Kashmir in this emergency is not designed in any way to influence the state to accede to India. Our view which we have repeatedly made public is that the question of accession in any disputed territory or state must be decided in accordance with wishes of people and we adhere to this view.”
(Telegram 402 Primin-2227 dated 27th October, 1947 to PM of Pakistan repeating telegram addressed to PM of UK)
However, the war had already been started between the two newly formed states that went on for a year. After fighting a year long war, a cease-fire was agreed to by both countries, which came into effect. The terms of the cease-fire required Pakistan to withdraw its forces, both regular and irregular, while allowing India to maintain minimum strength of its forces in the state to preserve law and order. On compliance of these conditions a plebiscite was to be held to determine the future of the territory.
The Kashmir resolution, formally known as United Nations Security Council Resolution 47, which was adopted on April 21, 1948 states:
“Noting with satisfaction that both India and Pakistan desire that the question of the accession of Jammu and Kashmir to India or Pakistan should be decided through the democratic method of a free and impartial plebiscite, Considering that the continuation of the dispute is likely to endanger international peace and security, Reaffirms its resolution 38 (1948) of 17 January 1948.
(The Resolution) Recommends to the Governments of India and Pakistan the following measures as those which in the opinion of the Council and appropriate to bring about a cessation of the lighting and to create proper conditions for a free and impartial plebiscite to decide whether the State of Jammu and Kashmir is to accede to India or Pakistan.
1. The Government of Pakistan should undertake to use its best endeavors:
To secure the withdrawal from the State of Jammu and Kashmir of tribesmen and
Pakistani nationals not normally resident therein who have entered the State for the purposes of fighting, and to prevent any intrusion into the State of such elements and any furnishing of material aid to those fighting in the State.
2. The Government of India should:
When it is established to the satisfaction of the Commission set up in accordance with the Council's Resolution 39 (1948) that the tribesmen are withdrawing and that arrangements for the cessation of the fighting have become effective, put into operation in consultation with the Commission a plan for withdrawing their own forces from Jammu and Kashmir and reducing them progressively to the minimum strength required for the support of the civil power in the maintenance of law and order.’’
Since the adoption of this resolution, both countries claim to solve Kashmir conflict peacefully. Even though Pakistan once attempted to gain control over Indian held Kashmir through "Operation Gibraltar" – which resulted in a major failure as India retaliated on the International border which led to Indo-Pak war of 1965 – the state of Pakistan repeatedly urges to solve Kashmir conflict as per United Nations Security Council Resolution 47. However, both states seem in no mood to act upon the resolution because the very first clause of the resolution that talks about demilitarization of Jammu & Kashmir directing Pakistan to secure withdrawal of its forces from the State of Jammu and Kashmir hasn't been fulfilled by Pakistan even after 65 years. Acting upon the first clause of resolution means Pakistan pulling out of its Kashmir and going back to 1947 borders, something that is almost impossible for Pakistan to do now.
Indian state, on the other hand, initially under the leadership of Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru promised plebiscite to people of Jammu and Kashmir in 1947. Not only did he send telegrams to his Pakistani counterpart, Prime Minister Liaqat Ali Khan, proposing to make a joint request to U.N.O. to undertake a plebiscite in Kashmir at the earliest possible date, he also spoke about solving the conflict in accordance with the wishes of people of Jammu & Kashmir even in Indian parliament.
“We had given our pledge to the people of Kashmir, and subsequently to the United Nations; we stood by it and we stand by it today. Let the people of Kashmir decide.”
(Statement in the Indian Parliament, 31 March 1955)
Things however are different now. Currently, Indian state seems highly unlikely to support any sort of plebiscite given the fact that back in 1940s and 1950s when PM Nehru talked about plebiscite, Kashmir had quite considerable population of Hindus, Buddhists and even Sikhs. However things changed in the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s.
Due to the success of mujahideen in Afghanistan against Soviets, Pakistan decided to apply same model in Kashmir. Arming the separatist guerrillas and militant groups, the armed Islamic rebellion in Kashmir backed by Pakistan started in the late 80s and the local Hindu Kashmiri population became the first target of the insurgents. This resulted in mass exodus and ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Hindu Pandits who were either killed by Insurgents or were simply forced to flee. Indian state responded by deploying massive force in the valley, launching crackdown on the militant outfits.
Since then, the vicious cycle of armed insurgency => Encounter of militants => Public protests => Use of force by security forces on protesters => Imposition of curfew – keeps repeating itself. This vicious cycle produced Burhan Mazzafar Wani after his brother Khalid was killed by the Indian security forces. The more the violence against civilians, the more Wanis will be produced and the brutal cycle will unfortunately continue. In the aim of curbing separatist movement, Indian Armed forces and Jammu & Kashmir police have been involved in atrocities ranging from mass killings, enforced disappearances, torture, rape and sexual abuse. Security forces have been accused and held accountable for committing severe human rights abuses against Kashmiri civilians. These crimes must be condemned openly. Using violence against Kashmiri civilians is doing nothing but suppressing the voice of Kashmiri citizens.
With ethnic cleansing of Hindus, current demographics of Kashmir have changed to such an extent that result of any plebiscite, or referendum would be simply unacceptable to India as the vote bank of Hindus in Jammu and few Buddhists in Ladakh will never be enough to counter those of separatists and that's something India wouldn't want to witness happening in territory it calls its "integral part." In this war between two regional rivals, where one calls Kashmir its "Sheh ragg" (Aorta) while the other refers to it as its "Atoot Ang" (Infrangible) it is the average peaceful citizen of Kashmir who has to go through regular interrogations, deal with draconian laws like Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), bear the routine checking and search, witness long curfews and pay the price of being the citizen of Kashmir valley because,
‘’When two elephants fight, it is only the grass that gets destroyed.’’