Oggi ritorna Laura Schuurmans (biografia a fine articolo) con il suo tema principale, il conflitto in Kashmir irrisolto da oltre 60 anni. Grazie a Laura! Today we thank Laura Schuurmans, who is back with her key topic, the Kashmir dispute; still unresolved after more than 60 years. Thank you very much, Laura!
A breathtakingly beautiful region is hidden behind the Himalayas that the Mughals used to call ‘Paradise on Earth’. The former princely State of Jammu and Kashmir, or Kashmir, is also considered a bone of contention that was left ambiguously divided between India and Pakistan towards the end of British colonial Raj. The Jammu and Kashmir region lies amidst China, Pakistan and India.
Great rivers flow down from the snow-covered mountains through dense forests into the Kashmir valleys with turquoise colored lakes that are embedded by meadows of orchards, lilies and blue forget-me-nots. Most visitors would fall in love with Kashmir at first sight. Today, unfortunately, Kashmir is no longer that paradise it used to be – its beauty and geopolitical significance is its curse.
The origins of the Kashmir conflict date back to 1947, when both Pakistan and India became independent nations following the partition of the British Raj. It was natural and widely expected that Kashmir would join Pakistan for three major reasons: Muslims were and are in majority; the region had been geographically and economically contiguous to the land that is now called Pakistan, and the majority of the population favored to join Pakistan. That did not happen despite these demographic realities: a Hindu Maharaja Hari Singh ruled the State of Jammu and Kashmir. Indians claim sans providing documentary evidence that Hari Singh signed a so-called “Instrument of Accession” with New Delhi in October 1947. This document is, however, yet to see the light of day.
It is but natural that the people of Jammu and Kashmir would rise against this controversial accession and usurping of their rights of self-determination. Indians have always turned a blind eye to this fundamental right of the Kashmiris and the bone has been the source of several wars between India and Pakistan.
In January 1948, then Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru brought the disputed case of Kashmir to the United National Security Council, where both India and Pakistan pledged that the will of the people of Kashmir would be reflected upon in a plebiscite.
More than sixty years later, however, the people of Kashmir have never been granted that right to democratically vote in a referendum under international oversight.
Today, Kashmiris are living in the world’s heaviest militarized region where human rights are violated on gross scale. More than 700,000 security forces are keeping a population of seven million Kashmiris hostage and under brutal control.
In the early 1990s, when popular mass uprisings led to armed conflict, Indian authorities extended some of its draconian laws to the disputed Kashmir region. Indian security forces have enjoyed impunity under the “Armed Forces Special Powers Act”, and the “Public Safety Act” that allows imprisonment of innocent Kashmiris without trial for two years. The “Disturbed Areas Act” grants Indian Security Forces the legal right to fire upon, and even kill anyone in Kashmir who they believe is indulged in any act that disturbs public order. Delhi has ignored the fact that the United Nations has repeatedly stated that these draconian laws are a violation of international law. Enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests, torture and imprisonment have been haunting the daily lives of the Kashmiri youth.
Moreover, systematic violence against women remains mostly unreported. In 1991, in Kunan Poshpora’s impoverished region more than 40 women of all ages were mass- raped by Indian security forces. Those who indulged in this horrendous act have never been convicted for their crimes and the international community has failed to take appropriate action.
The ‘Half-Widows of Kashmir” is another vital issue which the international community has mostly neglected. Half-widows are those women who have no clue about the whereabouts of their husbands – possible under Indian detention or resting in peace. During the height of the armed uprising against Indian occupation in the 1990s, an estimated 8000 people went missing in the conflict.
Over the past few years, thousands of mass graves have been discovered throughout the Kashmir Valley. It is widely believed that those bodies contain the remains of innocent civilians. Indian authorities have continued to state that these are the remains of militants who were killed during the conflict.
Kashmir’s Half-Widows have demanded a proper investigation including DNA testing. India has been distancing itself from the issue stating that they do not have sophisticated laboratories to conduct such tests. Many in Kashmir, however, are of the opinion that DNA testing could cause mass outcry in the Valley.
Besides the ongoing uncertainty of the whereabouts of their husbands, the Half-Widows are often dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other psychological issues making their daily lives all the more unbearable.
Based on religious and cultural grounds, these women cannot get remarried. Often these women face discrimination within the family, and children are forced to drop out of school due to the lack of financial means to make monthly ends meet.
In order words, Kashmir has plenty of humanitarian issues to be dealt with.
Although India and Pakistan have continued to state their determination to resolve the dispute bilaterally, over the past six decades, no significant progress has been made, and the people of Kashmir have been excluded from any formal peace talks. India has become increasingly dismissive towards Pakistani offers of confidence building measures like making Kashmir a heavy weapons free zone.
To move one step ahead into resolving the dispute, first and foremost, Kashmiris of all different regions should be included into peace talks. Secondly, India should repeal its draconian laws, and thirdly, a reduction of the total number of Indian security forces is essential for the peace process. This includes withdrawal of its forces from urban areas where they now are illegally occupying the land that belongs to the people.
If no immediate efforts are made by Pakistan, India and also by the international community, nuclearized South Asia and potentially the entire world, may ultimately pay the highest price.
The author is an expert on the Kashmir dispute. She recently completed a post-graduate research program at Peking University, P.R China. Visit www.lauraschuurmans.com for more information.