India imposes graveyard peace in Kashmir

A policeman walking on a road in Kashmir during government imposed curfew on March 15, 2013. Photograph by Shahid Tantray
A policeman walking on a road in Kashmir during government imposed curfew on March 15, 2013. Photograph by Shahid Tantray

There has never been a better time for a comprehensive solution to the Kashmir conflict. The convergence of multiple factors points to the urgent need for a resolution, and also the direction this might take. Increased repression in Indian-administered Kashmir, along with a tense standoff between India and Pakistan along the Line of Control (LoC), highlights the untenability of the status quo.

Accumulating evidence of abuses against the civilian population in Kashmir by Indian forces, and the legal impunity guaranteed to the military, demonstrates that the Indian political system is unable to grasp the full dimensions of the conflict, let alone to seek a solution. At the same time, the evolving application of universal jurisdiction and international justice to other conflicts in South Asia, notably in Sri Lanka and Nepal, underlines the need to end Indian exceptionalism, and for justice and accountability to be part of a solution.

Regional strategic and economic shifts – the approaching US drawdown from Afghanistan, China’s taking over Gwadar Port in Pakistan, and the inauguration in the past week of the Iran-Pakistan pipeline – present a stark choice between conflict and cooperation.

Cooperation would be the logical and beneficial choice for India, as for all its neighbors, but it does not appear to be an option that the Indian policy-making establishment is considering. An internationally-mediated and guaranteed peace settlement in Kashmir would in fact eliminate nearly all pretexts for conflict between India and Pakistan, bringing stability to a region of great strategic and economic significance.

The past month has been a bad one for the besieged Kashmir Valley. The execution of Afzal Guru by India on February 9 has returned Kashmir to a cycle of curfew and closure.

Guru, a Kashmiri Muslim, was convicted of conspiring to attack the Indian parliament in 2001, after a trial that was marked by irregularities: the use of torture to extract confessions, the absence of due process and legal representation for the accused.[1] His execution confirmed for all sections of opinion in Kashmir, including the pro-India “mainstream”, the impossibility of justice for Kashmiris within the Indian legal system. The secrecy with which the execution was carried out – Guru’s family were not informed in advance and were unable to meet him one last time, and all legal appeals had not been exhausted [2] – lends further credence to this belief.

Guru has been buried in Tihar Jail in Delhi and the Indian government has refused to return the body to his family in Kashmir. Protests and mourning services in Kashmir are met with a violent response from Indian forces experimenting with new and deadly forms of crowd control: pepper gas that accumulates in the old city neighborhoods and asphyxiates infants and the elderly, chili powder grenades and “non-lethal” pellets which operate like tiny cluster bombs, exploding within the body to release a load of shrapnel. On “quiet” days, paramilitaries rampage through neighborhoods smashing windows, invading homes, trashing cars, destroying property, and detaining scores of boys and young men. [3]

A disturbing new trend documented by Amnesty International since 2010 is the detention and torture of minor children. [4] The suicide of a Kashmiri student in the Indian city of Hyderabad on March 1, after he was inexplicably turned in to the local police station by the university administration, has deepened the mood of grief and isolation in Kashmir, again cutting across the political spectrum.

The disjunction between the Kashmiri and Indian experiences of the conflict can be summarized in the title of a 2011 article by SA Aiyar, which asked, “Why are mass graves in Kashmir so passe?” [5] Following media and NGO reports, the State Human Rights Commission in Kashmir has conducted an investigation over three years, leading to the discovery of over 6,000 unmarked graves. The Commission’s calls for the bodies to be identified and the perpetrators to be held accountable have, predictably, gone unheeded. Aiyar writes:

Security forces once claimed any such graves were those of unidentified militants killed in military encounters. But the commission says 574 bodies have already been identified as those of local villagers, and DNA tests will expose many more. This was mass murder. Most countries would have treated this as major news, but our media barely noticed.

One of the strongest voices within Kashmir for justice and accountability has been the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP). APDP was founded in 1994 by Parveena Ahangar, one of the mothers of the disappeared. Her 17-year-old son, Javed Ahmed Ahangar, was taken away by the army in 1991 and has never been seen or heard of since.

In collaboration with the UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights, APDP has documented hundreds of enforced disappearances and campaigned for the government to discover the truth and to hold perpetrators accountable. There has been no official response to the APDP from the Indian government, nor has there been any debate in its parliament on the mass graves and disappearances in Kashmir.

This silence is not accidental. It complements the legal impunity with which Indian forces operate in Kashmir and the northeast. [6] A Supreme Court judgement in 2007 upholding that impunity deemed it an essential element of Indian control. [7]

In January, the military standoff between India and Pakistan on the Line of Control (LoC), which separates Indian-administered Kashmir from the Pakistani side, escalated into a shooting incident in which one Pakistani and two Indian soldiers were killed. Following a complaint by Pakistan, a UN spokesman announced that the UN Military Observers Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) would investigate the incident. [8]

The UNMOGIP has monitored the ceasefire along the LoC since 1948. In response, the Indian Ambassador to the UN, Hardeep Singh Puri, called on the UN to withdraw the UNMOGIP on the grounds that its mission had been overtaken by the 1972 Simla Agreement under which India and Pakistan agreed to resolve all issues bilaterally. [9]

The UN’s reaction was to publicly set aside the Indian demand as “its observers were fully active in Kashmir and the mandate of its UN Military Observer group would continue to exist as only the Security Council could decide to end it. [10] The Indian claim at the UN that the Kashmir issue can be settled bilaterally was rather dented the very next day by the appearance of public notices issued by the police in Kashmir, advising the populace of safety measures to be followed in case of a nuclear war. [11] So much for bilateralism.

Nor can the Kashmir conflict be solved unilaterally by India, as India would like, by imposing the peace of the graveyard. The return of mass protests against Indian rule since 2008 have given a new shape to the Kashmiri movement for independence, one that is now spearheaded by the conflict generation that has grown up knowing only military occupation and its abuses.

The elements of a solution are not difficult to list: demilitarization; accountability and justice for human rights abuses which amount in nature and scale to crimes against humanity; reunification across the LoC, which is as arbitrary and hated a divide as was the Berlin Wall; a political mechanism such as the plebiscite mandated by UN Security Council resolutions to enable the people of Kashmir to determine their own future. What is eminently lacking is the will.

Against what anthropologist Marshall Sahlins called the hard-headed surrealism of proponents of perpetual military confrontation and conflict, the argument must be made that peace and cooperation are not merely wishful thinking but economic and strategic necessities. With so much at stake, it is time for the international community to live up to its obligations to mediate a peace settlement in Kashmir.


Shubh Mathur is an Indian anthropologist whose interests include human rights, nations and borders, the death penalty, minorities, immigration and Muslim communities in the United States, South Asia. Her first book, The Everyday Life of Hindu Nationalism, was published by the Three Essays Collective press.

1. Afzal Guru’s Hanging Sparks Death Penalty Debate, The Diplomat, February 12, 2013. Sense of an Ending, Outlook India, February 25, 2013. India’s message to Kashmir: the noose can extend beyond the gallows, The Guardian, February 15, 3013. In mourning and under siege – A despatch from Srinagar: Saadut Hussain, Kafila, February 12, 2013.
2. The disturbing truth about an execution, The Hindu, March 13, 2013.
3. Indian forces use pepper gas in Kashmir, The Kashmir Walla, March 10, 2013. Lady dies due to pepper gas, second death in a week, The Vox Kashmir, March 8, 2013. Pepper gas claims life, Greater Kashmir, March 9, 2013. The Pellet Stories!, The Vox Kashmir, March 10, 2013. Women on forefront to get their dear ones released, Greater Kashmir, March 11, 2013.
4. India: A Lawless Law: Detentions under the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act, Amnesty International, 2011.
5. Why are mass graves in Kashmir so pass??, The Times of India Blogs, August 28, 2011.
6. The Apparatus, Caravan Magazine, March 1, 2013. Impunity in India, Guernica, February 1, 2013.
7. After Wikileaks Report, Torture Victims in Kashmir Speak Out, Global Press Institute, January 31, 2011. Masooda Parveen: judicial review of India’s special security laws goes from bad to worse, Human Rights Documentation Centre, July 2, 2007.
8. United Nations observer group to probe LoC incident, DNA India, January 10, 2013.
9. UN mission in Kashmir can be terminated only by the UNSC: Martin Nesirky, Ban’s spokesperson, The Economic Times, January 23, 2013.
10. Blue Gate Dispute, Greater Kashmir, January 28, 2013.
11. India warns of nuclear threat to Kashmir,, January 21, 2013.

First published in Asia Times. Copyright protected.

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