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  January 25, 2002  

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PART 2: How India lost hearts and minds

By Sudha Ramachandran

BANGALORE - If in 1947-48 the Kashmiris welcomed Indian forces and joined hands with them to drive back the Pakistani tribal invaders, since 1989 they have been fighting the Indian forces with arms supplied by Pakistan.

In 1965, Pakistan sent several hundreds of military and paramilitary personnel disguised as civilians into Indian-administered Kashmir to generate an uprising. It had calculated that the Kashmiris, buoyed by Pakistani support, would rise in revolt against India. That never happened. Instead, the Kashmiri Muslims turned in the Pakistanis in large numbers.

But by 1989, popular sentiment in the Valley had turned deeply hostile to New Delhi. What happened to trigger of this anger?

Grave lapses by successive governments in New Delhi and Srinagar precipitated the alienation of the Kashmiris from India. India's record shows lapses at least on five counts: failure to respect the state's autonomy, rigged elections, corruption, slow pace of economic development and frequent use to coercive measures to deal with dissent.

Kashmir's autonomy was guaranteed under Article 370 of the Indian constitution, whereby the state's accession was limited to defense, foreign affairs and communications. Other subjects could be extended only with the "concurrence" of the state government. New Delhi received this concurrence by installing governments through rigged elections. Administrations that did not comply were dismissed for "anti-national activities".

While most elections in Kashmir have been rigged, what was distinctive about the 1987 election was that fraud was combined with violence. Polling agents of the Muslim United Front (MUF) were thrown out of booths and beaten up. Several of those who subsequently joined the militant ranks were eyewitnesses to the electoral fraud perpetrated by the Indian state.

The 1987 election undermined the Kashmiris' faith in the ballot box. It convinced the youth that with the ballot having failed them, they would have to turn to the bullet to deliver.

In the 1987 elections, then, New Delhi lost the minds of the Kashmiri people. In 1990, it lost their hearts as well when security forces killed scores of protesters at Gau Kadal. The underground militant movement was transformed into a popular uprising. The sheer size of street protests challenging Indian rule and their spontaneity shook New Delhi as never before.

The militants believed that India would lose the will to govern, but they had miscalculated. India was ready to reveal its iron fist if it was required to keep Kashmir under control. Troops were deployed to quell the insurgency and by 1993-94 the tide had turned in India's favor. The Indian security forces succeeded in breaking the back of the militancy.

The militancy itself underwent significant changes. In its early years it articulated the people's cry for azadi (independence), but the pro-azadi groups (like the JKLF) were soon decimated by pro-Pakistani groups. The Kashmiri component of the struggle fell, to be replaced by Pakistani and then Afghan and Arab fighters. With the jihadis gaining ascendancy, a conservative brand of Islamic fundamentalism, alien to the Sufi Islam practiced in Kashmir, was imposed on the Kashmiris. The people started turning their backs on the jihadis.

Instead of building on the military advantage gained by the security forces and the space provided by the alienation of the Kashmiris with the militants and the prevailing gun culture, New Delhi stumbled yet again. It failed to take advantage of the window of opportunity that had opened up.

Elections to the state assembly in 1996 brought to power the National Conference, the political party that has governed Kashmir for most years since 1951. True, the Farooq Abdullah government inherited huge problems - a civil administration in disarray, a bankrupt treasury completely dependent on New Delhi for funds, a state apparatus dependent on the security forces to fight the militancy, a shattered economy, a demoralized and sullen population.

Yet, even issues that could have been tackled were not. Rampant corruption has crippled development projects and rehabilitation efforts. Abdullah could have demanded accountability from his colleagues. He hasn't.

Mistakes of the past continue to be repeated. The National Conference's decision to join the Hindu right-wing :Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition government in New Delhi is a big blunder.

The biggest blow to Abdullah's credibility has been his inability to deliver on his election pledge that the autonomy status Kashmir enjoyed pre-1953 would be restored. But the Union cabinet rejected the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly resolution seeking restoration of the pre-1953 status. For Kashmiris, parliamentary procedures failed to deliver once again.

If India has made a hash of things in its Kashmir, the situation on the other side of the Line of Control (LoC) is worse, but less widely reported.

Pakistan, which has for long championed self-determination for the people in Indian Kashmir and criticized India's record on human rights in the Valley, has itself denied basic civil and political rights to the parts of Kashmir under its control.

Azad Kashmir was granted the right to vote only in 1970, 22 years after Pakistan "liberated" the area. The Northern Areas were allowed to vote only in October 1994, 47 years after they came under Pakistani rule.

Thousands of militants armed and trained in camps run by the Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan's paramount security agency, are sent across the LoC to "liberate" Indian Kashmir. But the Azad Kashmir wing of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) is subject to repression as it favors freedom from Pakistan and India.

Both countries have used coercion to retain control over their part of Kashmir. That is the very reason why their control remains so tenuous.

PART 3: Drawing the lines

PART 1: A question of nationhood

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