Kashmir at War: Ather Zia

Kashmir at War: Ather Zia

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By Ather Zia

Since 1947, Kashmir has been subjected to three full scale wars between India and Pakistan. The last one occurred as the two nations were poised to become nuclear powers. Until the late 80s, the nature of tension in the valley between these full scale battles can be viewed as latent violence. This period was dogged by rigged elections, corruption, dissent, and awry political coalitions, which led to shaky governments. It was in 1989 that the armed militancy broke out. Since then a burgeoning Indian military presence has been engaged in counterinsurgency policies.

Depending on the source, the violence in Kashmir has been described as an insurgency, low-intensity conflict, proxy war, organized violence, militancy, guerilla war, state terrorism, occupation, unresolved dispute, invisible war, and war in all its major connotations. There is no single consensus on the type of violence, since multiple actors are involved, occupying different hierarchical levels and using different forms of violence.

In her analysis, Cynthia Cockburn has gone as far as calling the situation in Kashmir a civil war. As far as the word “war” is concerned, it has been described as an “organized force between two politically independent units, in pursuit of [each unit’s] policy” or simply as a lethal intergroup violence. The studies of war do not offer quantitative cutoff point comparable to the Correlates of War project’s benchmark of 1,000 battle deaths for distinguishing warfare from lesser forms of violence. However, they do normally distinguish qualitatively between warfare organized by recognized group leaders and unsanctioned violence by certain in-group members against certain out-group members.

In these quantifying terms, characterizing the situation in Kashmir is challenging. It is an armed militancy / guerilla war against the Indian forces at best. However, there are continuing (overt and covert) skirmishes between Indian and Pakistani military on the borders. Politically, the national rhetoric on both sides is always charged. Periods of cold standoff are interspersed by lukewarm negotiations. In a siege-like atmosphere, a perpetual war is indistinguishably weaved into the Kashmiri civilian life.

The violence is chronic, ongoing, even when the guns momentarily fall quiet. It has become a structure of experience, a form of conflict, a pervasive experience – a war system.
imgKashmir is administered under two dreaded laws: the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and the Jammu and Kashmir Disturbed Areas Act. These laws allow Indian troops to arrest without a warrant and with use of force against any person. The officers are granted legal immunity against any action. Civilians are subjected to human rights abuses by armed troops because it is virtually impossible to identify the militants from the local population.

The Indian army and other state forces have carried out large numbers of summary executions, custodial killings, torture, “disappearances,” and arbitrary detentions (Human Rights Watch 2006). Around 70,000 Kashmiris have been killed. An independent survey revealed there are over 32,000 widows and more than 97,000 orphans in Kashmir. According to the Asian Human Rights Commission there have been between 8,000 and 10,000 cases of politically-motivated disappearances, including combatants and non-combatant Kashmiris. Many more have been maimed, displaced, widowed and orphaned.

Since 2008, people are increasingly engaging in open defiance against India. The last three summers have witnessed mass protests and demonstrations, which often turned bloody. In 2010, for example, more than 200 people were killed and thousands were wounded.

Kashmir exists as a war system, where a war becomes less a series of events than a system with continuity through time. This system is fueled by military spending and attitudes about war, in addition to military forces and actual fighting. India, which is highly militarized, fulfills this part of the equation. Its total national armed force (with around 1.1 million soldiers) is the third largest in the world, and its air force is the world’s fourth largest. This massive military machine confronts threats to security that are both external and internal. Externally its neighboring countries of Pakistan and China are the main perceived enemies.

A major portion of India’s defense budget is directed toward Kashmir. About 700,000 Indian military and paramilitary personnel are stationed in the region. In addition, there are about 70,000 state policemen. The soldier-to-civilian ratio is roughly one soldier for every 20 Kashmiris, which is highest in the world. The soldiers, armed with all kinds of live ammunition, are ubiquitous presences holed up in sandbag bunkers, across the length and breadth of the region. There are checkpoints everywhere; streets and neighborhoods are continuously patrolled. Civilians are frisked and checked for identification. There are frequent crackdowns, cordons, encounters, bomb blasts, and raids. Cross-firing and ambushes between the military and armed militants occurs frequently, in which both combatants and noncombatants are killed.On the borders, the Indian and Pakistani armies stand in a face off (engaging in skirmishes even in quieter times).

Kashmir exists in a continuum of violence. A chronic illness between Pakistan and India, it has periodic flare-ups manifesting in wars, uneasy peace, militancy, and dialogue. In this protracted system, a perpetual ebb and flow of physical and symbolic violence exists. Kashmir lurks in the margins of the Indian state, caught between acute militarization and everyday living.

Now is the first time a region is governed by a civil administration which has two serving military corps commanders as security advisors. The same agency, namely the military, is carrying out counterinsurgency operations in Kashmir. Thus, many experts opine that the civil government is tantamount to proxy military rule.

A war system, such as the one existing in Kashmir creates much more complexity than an explicit war. An unambiguous war is easier to witness, understand, and document. The façade of living within a democratic set-up, which is nurturing a militaristic rule-of-law, complicates the situation. Such a war system tends to become invisible to the world.

Kashmir as a dispute, within the Indian federation, which is heralded as the largest democratic power in Asia, gets relegated to the backburner. As a human rights issue, it is justified to the international community by labeling it as an insurgency, or simply as a domestic matter. There is a failure to convey the intensity of violence and tumult that exists on political and social level in Kashmir.

Ather Zia is from Kashmir. She has published her first collection of poems, “The Frame,” and her work has appeared in a variety of magazines, including Convergence Journal, Blazevox, and others. Her work of creative fiction is forthcoming.

Source: The Mantle


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