In the din of hysteria created over the Indian army’s operation across the Line of Control, the issue of turbulence in Kashmir has been undermined.

The army operation was in response to the killing of 18 soldiers of Indian army by terrorists. As such the India-Pakistan skirmishes are mostly centered on the issue of Kashmir. On the one side India claims Kashmir as an inseparable part maintaining that no power on earth can separate it from India. Pakistan on the other hand, raises doubts about Kashmir’s accession to India, and says that as a Muslim majority area it should be part of Pakistan.

The attack on Uri by terrorist killing 18 Indian soldiers rekindled the issue once again. The whole episode actually began with the killing of Burhan Wani, a Hizbul Mujahideen commandant who was killed in an encounter by Indian military. After his killing there were two types of reactions yet again.

The Indian media presented it as a big achievement in cracking down on militancy. Shocked Kashmiris started coming on the streets to protest, pelting stones. In the painful weeks that followed over 80 people have been killed, over 9000 people injured with many losing their sight because of the pellet guns used freely on the protestors by the security forces. The resulting situation led to the imposition of curfew in the state and this curfew had been the longest curfew ever.

Curfew was lifted after nearly two months, but the situation remains tense. With the attack by the terrorists in Uri, the focus has shifted to the issue of terrorism. As the disturbance in Kashmir is concerned the Government claims that the protestors are a mere 5% of the population and they are being instigated by Pakistan. Of course Pakistan has some role in keeping the Kashmir issue alive to bake its own political bread. But the discontent of the section of people of Kashmir has been simmering and has reached a peak in the last few years. The youth in particular are angry and alienated.

The people of Kashmir are squeezed between two sides. Terrorist attacks take away peace in the Valley, adding to clamdowns and arrests. The Armed Forces Special Powers act, which is operational in the area, gives impunity to the armed personnel leading to the regular harassment of innocent civilians in Kashmir. Besides human rights violations by security forces increase, with a vicious cycle of violence and deaths taking hold as had happened in the 1990’s.

Amnesty Internationals’ report on Kashmir begins with defining the scale of human rights violations in Kashmir that have been perpetrated by security forces personnel with glaring impunity. The Report states that from 1990 to 2011, the Jammu and Kashmir state government reportedly recorded a total of over 43,000 people killed. Of those killed, 21,323 were said to be ‘militants’ 10 13,226 ‘civilians’ (those not directly involved in the hostilities) killed by armed groups, 5,369 security force personnel killed by armed groups, and 3,642 “civilians” killed by security forces.

AFSPA, which gives the army sweeping powers, leads to extrajudicial executions and other human rights violations. Section Seven of AFSPA makes it mandatory to seek the prior sanction of Central and State authorities in order to prosecute any security force personnel in civilian courts. Under the pretext of protecting national security, the excesses of the security forces go unchallenged. 96% of all complaints brought against the army in Jammu & Kashmir have been dismissed as “false and baseless” or “with other ulterior motives of maligning the image of Armed Forces”.

It is in under these circumstances that every incident in Kashmir acts as a flash point and the youth in particular come to the streets to protest in large numbers.Kashmir is flushed with uniformed personnel. The people of Kashmir do not have the feel of democracy from years and this leads to deeper dissatisfaction. It is not just a Pakistan inspired problem, even though the role of Pakistan in instigating the protests is very much there.

What is the way out? UPA II had set up a three member interlocutors committee, that in its report wanted the clauses of autonomy of Kashmir Assembly restored. The report emphasized the need for dialogue with the dissident militants and with Pakistan. There has been a constant demand to repeal AFSPA from the region and to reduce the number of armed personnel in the area.

The present coalition of PDP and BJP which is ruling the state is ruthless as far as dealing with dissidence is concerned; their stand of not talking with dissidents has prolonged the restlessness in the area. The atmosphere has been further vitiated by the terror attacks on Uri and earlier, on the Air Force base in Pathankot.

The need for peace, the need to give the Kashmiri people peace is needed urgently. Pakistan needs to be engaged. The treaty of accession of 1948 giving autonomy to Kashmir needs to be respected. The report of the interlocutors needs to be considered seriously. Peace lies in dialogue.

(Cover photograph Basit Zargar)