Kashmir’s occupation at the root of the crisis

February 28, 2019

With the two nuclear-armed powers of the Indian subcontinent once again facing off, the left should categorically reject the patriotic cheerleading that serves to obscure India’s decades-long colonial project to occupy Kashmir, explains Nagesh Rao.

ONCE AGAIN, the threat of war looms over the Indian subcontinent.

On February 26, Indian Air Force (IAF) jets crossed over the Line of Control (LOC), the de facto border that divides India and Pakistan in occupied Kashmir, into Pakistani airspace and bombed what they claimed were camps belonging to the militant group Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM).

There were conflicting accounts about whether the Indian jet fighters had succeeded in striking their targets, but it was confirmed that Pakistan shot down two of the jets and captured one of the Indian pilots.

The IAF bombing was, as Siddharth Vardharajan put it in an article in The Wire, a revenge attack pure and simple, carried out in retaliation for a February 14 car bomb attack on an Indian military convoy by Kashmiri JeM militant Adil Ahmad Dar, which killed 49 soldiers belonging to the Indian Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF).

In the wake of the attack, Indian politicians and pundits — not to mention Bollywood stars — wasted no time in taking to the airwaves calling for retaliation and, since the IAF bombing, for a wider war on Pakistan. Everywhere, the same words are echoed, denouncing “terrorism” and calling on people to honor the “martyrdom” of those killed in the attack.

Indian troops enforce a curfew in occupied Kashmir
Indian troops enforce a curfew in occupied Kashmir

Since the 1947 partition of the Indian subcontinent into India and Pakistan, military conflict has engulfed the two countries in 1965, 1971 and 1999, and countless smaller skirmishes and cross-border aggressions. And with the far-right Hindu fundamentalist government of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi facing an election this spring, Modi is under pressure to appear tough. The capture of the Indian air force pilot further raises the stakes.

Disappointingly enough, the same language of anti-terrorism has shaped the response of even the best voices on the left, such as the statement issued by Jammu Kashmir Awami Workers Party and Radical Socialist, and circulated by International Viewpoint.

But this was an attack on CRPF jawans, who are soldiers in an Indian paramilitary force. The jawans were traveling in an armed convoy in a war zone: the Indian state has been at war with the Kashmiris since at least 1989. This was a guerilla attack, an ambush, conducted by a group that, although based across the border in Pakistan, has in recent years attracted more and more Kashmiris to its ranks. This wasn’t a “terrorist attack.”

To begin by denouncing the “terrible,” “tragic,” and even “heinous” attack, as many commentaries, even leftist ones, have done, is to absolve the Indian state of its responsibility for the decades-long colonial occupation of Kashmir, which is the prime mover of violence in that country. Well over 80,000 people, mostly Kashmiris, have been killed since 1989.

Like with every colonial occupation, the history of Indian rule in Kashmir is littered with sordid tales of torture, rapes and murder. Do an Internet search for Kunan-Poshpora. Search the names Asiya and Nelofar Jan.

KASHMIRIS IN turn have fought against this occupation using whatever means at their disposal. They have every right to do so, and they have every right to seek safe haven across the border. Once there, yes, they might find themselves in a fighting unit with fidayeen (guerrilla fighters) who have a different agenda than they do, but politics has made stranger bedfellows than this in the past. It’s the occupation and the denial of Kashmiri azadi (freedom) that’s the culprit here.

You want to end the violence? End the occupation. Withdraw the military and CRPF. Repeal the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), the legal fig leaf that grants the occupying forces complete immunity. Bring the accused perpetrators of torture, rape, murder and other crimes to face trial in open civilian courts.

Set up a special fund for care and rehabilitation of victims of pellet guns. Authorize an independent international commission to investigate the thousands of “disappeared” persons, as well as the 8,000 unmarked graves unearthed by Kashmiri activists. Demilitarize the LOC, normalize relations with Pakistan, and open up the border.

The starting point for any democratically minded person must be acknowledging and defending Kashmiris’ right to self-determination.

The Indian state has long used the so-called “disputed status” of its colonial possession Kashmir as a pretext for military buildup against, and permanent arms race with, Pakistan. This rivalry is not secondary but rather forms a core element of the Indian nation-state from its very foundation. This is the meaning of Partition. The new jingoism is yet another declaration that the legacy of Partition (including the suppression of the popular will in Kashmir and elsewhere) can never be questioned.

The left should categorically reject these national myths.

The French were willing to kill a million Algerians before acceding to their demands for azadi. How many more Kashmiris will Indians be willing to kill to hold onto this land? How many more jawans must be sacrificed? How many more Kashmiri students must be beaten up in the streets? How many more antiwar Indians must be silenced in the name of patriotism?

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