INDIA: Political Stalemate Defines Life in Kashmir

  • by Athar Parvaiz (srinagar, india)
  • Inter Press Service

But for more than four months now, life here has pretty much been defined by the protest calendars issued by separatist leaders who have launched a fresh resistance against Indian rule in this mainly Muslim state.

The education and business sectors have suffered immensely in this fresh phase of resistance, marked by shutdowns and protest demonstrations. Over the past 140 days, pupils have attended school for less than 20 days while shops and other establishments have done business only for as many days.

'We only hope that something positive emerges from the ongoing agitation — now that we have suffered too much,' Sultan Mir, a wholesale dealer in Srinagar said.

But thus far, Kashmir leaders pushing for the state’s separation from India have been adamant that for them to call off the strike, the federal government has to agree to start a sincere process toward finding a solution to the Kashmir dispute. 'This (strikes and protests) will continue until New Delhi responds positively to our five demands,' said senior nationalist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani, whom the Indian government calls a hardliner.

Geelani wants New Delhi to formally accept the Kashmir issue as a dispute, release all political prisoners, withdraw troops from Kashmir and revoke the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), and punish the killers of 111 Kashmiris killed in the ongoing unrest.

He also wants a guarantee from no less than the Indian prime minister that there will be no more killings in Kashmir under Indian security forces.

The unrest in Kashmir has its roots back in 1947, when Britain granted India independence and the Muslim-dominated areas became part of Pakistan. A U.N. resolution, meantime, gave Kashmiris the option to join either Hindu-dominated India or Pakistan or to become independent. But Kashmiris had no chance to make a choice as their homeland is claimed by both India and Pakistan.

Roughly a third of modern-day Kashmir is administered by Pakistan while the rest is under India. But many Kashmiris challenge this, and protesters living on the Indian side rose up in arms in 1989 in an insurgency that simmers to this day.

Geelani and other separatist leaders in Kashmir say that New Delhi 'forcibly brought the territory of Himalayan state of Jammu and Kashmir' after India’s independence from Britain. 'Ever since (1947), United Nations treats Kashmir as a disputed territory, but India is unwilling to declare it a disputed issue which needs a resolution by giving the right of self-determination to Kashmiri people,' says Geelani.

New Delhi has not so far directly responded to Geelani’s demands ranging from the freeing of political prisoners to a halt to the killings of protesters, but has appointed a three-member team of interlocutors for Kashmir that is headed by a former editor, Dilip Padgaunkar. This team is holding talks in Kashmir with what New Delhi calls 'various sections of people.'

Still, the Indian government keeps calling Kashmir an 'integral part of India' and lobbies for a solution without disturbing Indian sovereignty over the state.

This position finds harsh detractors even within India. 'It is a historical fact that Kashmir is not an integral part of India, but an international dispute,' said Indian writer and Booker Prize winner, Arundati Roy during a seminar here organised by the Coalition of Civil Society Kashmir.

'The Kashmir problem is sui generis, unlike any other, not only because of its international dimensions, but because of a long history of alienation of the Valley's population from the Indian state,' wrote senior journalist Praful Bidwai in Srinagar-based English daily ‘Kashmir Times’.

Kashmiri separatist leaders Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq have refused to talk to the interlocutors, saying they have 'no mandate' and were appointed by New Delhi only to 'procrastinate' on the resolution of Kashmir issue.

'The team comprises three non- political professionals who have to grapple with a highly complicated and complex political problem. It is like engaging a mason to do a carpenter’s job,' added political commentator Mohammad Sayeed Malik.

'The fact that the interlocutors have to submit their report to the home minister of India reduces Kashmir issue just to a law and order problem. It seems as if the Kashmir issue is under the ambit of home ministry only,' Prof Sidiq Wahid said at a seminar by the Kashmir Bar Association.

But Dilip Padgaunkar, head of the interlocutors’ team, said his team 'will approach Kashmiris with a big heart' and had 'a full mandate to reach out to all sections of people in Kashmir.'

At the same time, Kashmiri separatist leaders hope to take advantage of U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to India in early November to draw attention to their cause. Mirwaiz has launched a signature campaign asking Washington to broker a solution to the Kashmir problem.

'The campaign would be conducted in support of a petition to the U.S. president from the people of Jammu and Kashmir, asking him to intervene between India and Pakistan for the resolution of the Kashmir issue and appoint a special rapporteur for the same,' Mirwaiz told IPS in an interview.

'If the United States president, Mr Barack Obama, is serious about resolving the Kashmir dispute, he should impress upon India to implement the U.N. resolutions which guarantee right to self-determination to Kashmiris,' said Geelani.

© Inter Press Service (2010) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service