by Ariana Roshanzaer
Kashmir is a region in the Himalayas, spanning over 86,000 square miles, and has long been contested for by India and Pakistan, at the center of a conflict between the two countries. Part of this conflict stems from past colonial British rule. In 1947, the British empire granted India independence and Muslim citizens were given separate electoral districts, but the Muslim minority clamored for their own nation, and in the same year, Pakistan was formed. The maharaja (a Sanskrit term for “ruler”) at the time, Hari Singh, decided to join India, even though he originally wanted the region to become independent. India had helped defend the region when Pakistani tribesmen invaded Kashmir. Singh signed the agreement, since India said that Kashmir had join them in order to receive military assistance. Both countries have now claimed Kashmir in full, although the reality is that both countries only have control over certain regions, which are referred to as “Indian-administered Kashmir” and “Pakistan-administered Kashmir”.
On August 5 of 2019, India rescinded the special status of Kashmir, which was granted by Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, giving Kashmir a fair amount of autonomy, the right to their own constitution and flag, and independence over matters of state except for “foreign affairs, defence, and communications”. The current governing party of India, the Bharatiya Janata Party, was the catalyzing force behind this decision. India sees Kashmir as a part of its nation, with opportunities abound for investment and development. Pakistan harshly disagreed with the move, calling it illegal, and a subsequent decline in relations between the two countries ensued. There are varying opinions about the future of Kashmir, but the majority of citizens in both regions seem to favor independence, stating that they want their voices to be heard in a matter that chiefly concerns them.
The aforementioned citizens have unfortunately been at the receiving end of many negative consequences. Between August and September of last year, almost 4,000 people were arrested in Indian-administered Kashmir, as reported by Reuters. Those arrested include politicians, leaders and activists from pro-separatist groups. An Indian official stated that some citizens were being held without being charged and could be kept for up to two years, in accordance with the Public Safety Act. India stated such arrests were necessary for order and public safety. Although around 2,600 Kashmiris have been released, numerous amounts still remain in custody, with more being arrested each day. There have also been accounts of appalling violence against Kashmiri villagers by Indian forces. Kashmiris were beaten with sticks and cables, kicked, and electrically shocked. Men interviewed by the BBC believed that these beatings happened so Kashmiris would not protest against India. Not long after Article 370 was revoked, cell phone and internet services were disabled, and while cell phone use was reinstated, internet usage remains limited. The Kashmiri apple trade, which employs around 3 million people, suffered during this blackout, as transport connections between Kashmir and other nations were cut. Rising freight costs made it difficult for people to move their produce to other markets and militants intimidated farmers into refraining from engaging in any trade.
Pakistan is not innocent in this conflict either. They have provided support to Kashmiri militants and supported non-Kashmiri extremist groups. However, Pakistan’s government denies any such wrongdoing on their part. In addition, the Pakistani government has been known to harbor terrorist groups within their borders. Their exact reasoning for doing so is not public, but it has been theorized that the government does so as it brings “cost savings, military advantages, and bargaining leverage.” In a paper published in 2016, Professor Stephen Tankel’s research suggests that Pakistan still may corroborate with terrorist groups depending where their ideology lies. Pakistan uses these groups in order to exert influence in places like Afghanistan and go against India’s military presence.
There are valid arguments on both sides about which nation should govern the region. However, the effect of India’s decision is that the human rights of the Kashmiri citizens are being ignored and preyed upon. These people have a right to live out their lives in relative peace. As such, their needs to come first, and before claims as to who governs the region. Some may wonder, how can a region function without discussing who leads it, and that is a valid thought indeed. However, the Kashmiris are the people who are native to the land, and fundamentally, are the ones who should have first say about governance. It makes no sense to have India and Pakistan be the center of the debate, as Kashmiris are not residing within their borders, nor are they considered Indian and Pakistani. The Kashmir conflict should catch the attention of anyone in the 21st century who believes in the rights of people caught in territorial disputes. Such conflicts are not rare and uncommon; one can see this in the land of Palestine and with the Kurdish people.
While there is no right way to approach this conflict, an important first step is bringing together leaders and/or representatives of India, Pakistan, and of course, Kashmir. A mediator—from another region of the world—should start a discussion, leading the involved parties to consider alternative ways to approach this dispute; rather than coming at it with violence, peaceful and civil diplomacy should be the method of choice. The first priority should be the safety of the Kashmiris. A secondary goal is how to increase Kashmiri representation in government and lessen the restrictions on Kashmiri people. Finding solutions for Kashmir would set a positive precedent for other nations engaged in territorial disputes and potentially reveal helpful strategies for nations in similar positions.
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