World

Indo-Pak tensions: And what about Kashmiris?

By Khadija Patel 21 January 2013

Tensions between India and Pakistan have been heightened after three Pakistani soldiers and two Indian soldiers died in a fresh spate of violence in recent weeks. But even as Indian authorities promise to “review” their relations with Pakistan and Pakistan lodges complaints with the UN over the violence, the view of the skirmish from Kashmiris themselves has been neglected. By KHADIJA PATEL.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told a governing Congress party meeting on Sunday that his government would review future ties with Pakistan after the “inhuman killing” of two of its soldiers by Pakistani troops in Kashmir earlier this month.

Three Pakistani soldiers and two Indian soldiers have died in the worst bout of fighting in Kashmir since a cease-fire accord was signed in 2003.

According to The Hindu newspaper, the spate of violence can be traced back to Reshma Bi, a 70-year old resident of the Churunda village who crossed the Line of Control (LoC) in September to live with her sons in Pakistani-held Kashmir.

Reshma Bi is said to have been able to enter Pakistani-held Kashmir undetected despite a barbed wire fence and a heavy military presence. But The Hindu says Indian authorities were concerned enough about her successful passage across the de facto border, when it came to light, to begin building observation towers on the border to beef up security.

In response, Pakistan was furious.

Kashmir has been the sore point in tetchy relations between India and Pakistan. Both India and Pakistan claim sovereignty over Kashmir and the two countries have already fought two of their three wars since 1947 over the disputed territory.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed in Indian-administered Kashmir since an armed revolt against Indian rule erupted in 1989, and despite now being at peace – officially at least – Kashmir remains one of the world’s most militarised zones, with 1.3 million Indian troops deployed.

As shots were traded across the de facto border, the Indian army says soldiers from Pakistan made an armed incursion into the Poonch district of Indian-occupied Kashmir and killed two Indian soldiers, beheading one. Pakistan has denied any involvement in the incident.

Analysts have pointed out that it is significant that a grandmother has led to a “new” standoff between India and Pakistan. The LoC has severed families and communities, severely dividing a population between two countries. The act of a grandmother to pass through the fences and checkpoints undetected to join her family living on the other side is seen as a deeply symbolic act of protest against division of Kashmir.

Inshah Malik, a PhD scholar at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi – who is studying the impact of the protracted conflict on women in Kashmir – says many of the troubles experienced by Kashmiris living along the LoC go unreported in both the Indian and Pakistani media.

“It’s unimaginable the amount of atrocities perpetrated against civilians,” Malik says. “There have been rapes, beheadings and many other human rights violations.”

Malik says the recent tensions between India and Pakistan have failed to acknowledge the opinion, place and welfare of Kashmiris themselves.

“The dominant discourse of Kashmir in the media is the border,” she points out.

“So when something like this happens it reduces a whole people, a whole land to just the border.”

According to Malik, the glaring absence of Kashmiris in discussions about a potential war between India and Pakistan over the LoC further strengthens a feeling among Kashmiris that they have no say whatsoever in the way their land is run or, indeed, the wars fought over it.

“It’s very frustrating,” she adds.

Riffat Rathor, a journalism student in Srinagar, further conveys this frustration.

“In between the violence between India and Pakistan it’s a common Kashmiri who suffers. We want an end to all of this; we want Kashmir to be acknowledged as a dispute and resolved,” she says.

Rathor points out that despite tensions between India and Pakistan at a knife’s edge in recent weeks, the majority of Kashmiris living within the valley have remained surprisingly unfazed.

“As such, it has not affected us much, because we are already living in the state of fear; we have been living in it for decades now,” Rathor says.

For Kashmiris living along the LoC, however, the recent flare-up of violence has arrived with the promise of further conflict. A veteran journalist in Srinagar, who could not be named, told Daily Maverick that for people living along the LoC, the existing ceasefire has been a small reprieve from incessant cross-LoC firing and shelling.

“It is that change that the people here saw as being threatened by the recent incidents, and the way it received the attention of the global media – a small mercy was being threatened to be taken away,” he explains.

“For the people living along the LoC, on the Indian side of the dividing line, they were and perhaps are still terrified at seeing jingoism and war-mongering of the sort the Indian media was so full of the whole week – to the extent that they started demanding rebuilding of bunkers along the LoC that existed before the ceasefire and were mostly destroyed in the 2005 earthquake.”

The approach of the Indian media to the recent flare-up of violence has rankled with many Kashmiris.

“Regarding Indian media, no Kashmiri is surprised with their approach. This media is jingoistic and Kashmiris have endured it for too long now,” Rathor says.

The journalist in Srinagar, meanwhile, is keen to stress that the tit-for-tat shelling between Indian and Pakistani forces is not unusual. 

“The latest incident is nothing new,” he says. “Such incidents have been happening even after the ceasefire of 2003, but Kashmiris are wondering what it is that brought the latest incident such attention.”

He offers an explanation to the vociferous beating of war drums that is echoed by other Kashmiris.

“Someone, somewhere; or some interest somewhere, perhaps in India, stood to benefit in a manner we don’t know. Because the Indians were quick to say that it would not be allowed to affect the ‘peace process’,” he says. “Whatever that process [may] be, or whatever that means for New Delhi.”

Conspiracy theories regarding the timing of the heightened tensions between India and Pakistan abound. Some believe the situation has been manipulated to unite Indians behind a Congress party that has been fast losing popularity – and votes. Others believe the LoC tension was one way in which the Indian government could avert attention from the gang range in Delhi last December.

“[There is a ] suspicion that the Indian army worked to create the kind of media buzz around the latest incident in spite of it not being totally unusual,” the Srinagar journalist explains.

In Pakistan, meanwhile, the spike in tensions with India is explained by some as part of the greater story of a rapidly collapsing state amid talk of a coup, as the army looks to become more relevant to national security.

And while the conspiracy theories will be left to time to unravel themselves, or not, this flare-up of tensions between India and Pakistan has illustrated the fragility of “peace” in Kashmir.

“Regarding Kashmir, at least on the Indian side… street calm or absence of visible protest is most often described as peace which is in the first place brought about through brutal militaristic means,” the journalist says.

And through it all, Kashmir has become another convenient political ploy, and Kashmiris themselves are being sidelined.

“Whenever the two countries fight, it’s the common people of Kashmir who get caught in it, and always their voices have been ignored and silenced,” Rathor says.

“It’s no longer about us; it’s about a border,” Malik adds. DM

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Photo: A Kashmiri Muslim man offers prayers outside the shrine of Sufi Saint Khawaja Naqashband on his death anniversary in Srinagar January 16, 2013. REUTERS/Danish Ismail

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