Campaigners on Twitter are encouraging supporters to turn their profile pictures red for Kashmir
During a recent visit to the US to meet President Donald Trump, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Iman Khan raised as a matter of urgency the need to solve the longstanding issue regarding 70 years of dispute between India and Pakistan over the Himalayan region of Kashmir.
In 1947, the partition of the Indian sub-continent by British colonialists on religious lines led to the first war between the countries over this territory ending in a ceasefire with 65% of Kashmir coming under control of the predominately Hindu India whilst the remaining area of land went to the newly formed Muslim majority country of Pakistan. This resulted in a number of militant groups forming in opposition to what they saw as “Indian occupation” some are supported by and loyal to Pakistan, others want both independence from India and separation from Pakistan’s ongoing influence.
To add to the misery of living daily life under the surveillance of thousands of troops, the people of Kashmir have suffered a long history of human rights abuses including enforced disappearances, alleged state torture, rape and extra judicial killings. Militant uprisings are common, as are curfews and a constant stream of “martyrs” funerals. Al Jazeera recently highlighted that “some 70,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in the last three decades of armed conflict in India-administered Kashmir.” For more information on the background to the conflict see the following article,
“A brief history of the Kashmir conflict”
Trump who recently met with Narendra Modi claims the Indian Prime Minister asked him to consider mediating and arbitrating on Kashmir and that he was willing to do so. However, this statement was treated with some scepticism and officials in Delhi strongly denied Trump’s claim and rejected the President’s offer of assistance.
The Independent reported,
“delegates from India and the US met on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit of foreign ministers in Bangkok. S Jaishankar, the minister for external affairs from India, told his counterpart Mike Pompeo that ‘any discussion on Kashmir, if at all warranted, will only be with Pakistan and only bilaterally’”.
In recent days, observers following the politics of the region have noted the deployment of an extra 10,000 troops to Kashmir to add to the 500,000 already stationed there. Tourists have now been warned to flee after what was described as a “security alert”. On Friday some media reported that another 25,000 troops could be heading to Kashmir which is often referred to as the most militarized zone in the world.
Michel Kugelman, Deputy Director at Asia Program and South Asia senior associate at the Wilson Center tweeted,
“the biggest story in South Asia right now may be in Kashmir. Tourists have been asked to leave amid Indian troops buildups, with little clarity from Indian officials on what exactly is going on and what could be coming next. The trend lines are troubling.”
The UK government’s Foreign Office updated its advice warning against travel to Kashmir. On the 2nd August, the site stated, “Indian media reported that the Government of Jammu and Kashmir had advised tourists and Amarnath Yatra pilgrims to curtail their stay in the Kashmir Valley immediately and take necessary measures to return home as soon as possible because of security threats.” There were also concerns over “increased threats to places visited by British nationals such as religious sites, markets, festival venues and beaches.”
Kashmiris are increasing worried as to their future with many fearing the unknown with potential threats to family life and disruption of businesses. On the one hand India is emphasising security alerts whilst Indian Express suggests mobilization of extra troops as little more than the usual increase of forces that occurs prior to each Indian Independence Day celebrations on August 15th a day resisted by many Kashmiris. No-one knows what to believe.
Alongside the security alerts, there is a further crack-down on the media with Fahad Shah Editor in Chief of the Kashmir Walla reporting on social media that Qasi Shibli, a journalist that runs the Kashmiriyat “has been detained by Jammu and Kashmir police in Anantag district” and that “he has been in custody for several days now and his family hasn’t been given any reasons for the detention”. Indian media is not widely trusted to deliver accurate reports on Kashmir so other independent outlets have taken root in the region and can be subjected to tight restrictions. Journalists walk a fine line between reporting the truth and trying to avoid being whisked away into police custody.
NDTV further added to the growing trepidation of further unrest in Kashmir by alleging there was “a massive infiltration attempt backed by the Pakistan army” and stated the following,
“Multiple attempts were made by terrorists to infiltrate into India by crossing the Line of Control between July 29 and July 31st, sources told NDTV amid a massive security build-up in Jammu and Kashmir and the deaths of 5 infiltrators.
Intelligence agencies suggest that the terrorists are attempting a massive terror attack like the one that took place in Pulwama in February, where a suicide bomber targeted a convoy of the Central Reserve Police Forces and killed 40 personnel. Intelligence agencies said allowing the Amarnath Yatra to progress at this point is untenable.”
Part of the clampdown on the daily life of Kashmiris includes the removal of social media accounts and putting local leaders under house arrest. An account claiming to be that of the Chairman All Parties Hurriyat conference, Syed Ali Geelani which was operating earlier today was yet again suspended for allegedly violating Twitter rules but not before the following message was released,
“This tweet must be taken as an SOS (Save our Souls) message to all Muslims living on this planet. If we all die and you kept quite you will be answerable to Allah the Magnificent. Indians are about to launch the biggest genocide in the history of Mankind. May Allah protect us.”
Hindustan Times reported another statement from Geelani from Hyderpora, Srinagar where he was presiding over a meeting of the Hurriyat’s Conference’s executive council where he described a “chaotic and confusing” situation that has panicked every individual. He said, “increasing the forces deployment, rumours of tampering with special provisions of state, suspension of (Amarnath) Yatra, evacuating tourists, students and yatris has created a war-like situation.” This was being felt on the streets where locals were tweeting photos of queuing to stock up on petrol and at supermarkets and cashpoints to prepare for the worst. Later photos showed empty streets, road blocks and a sea of barbed wire.
Mirwaiz Umar Farooq another Separatist leader added his voice to Geelani’s saying, “as the holy month of Zilhajj begins and Eid approaching, the situation developing after the advisory to Amarnath Yatris/tourists in Kashmir, extremely concerning. Govt should speak up. Appeal. People to take courage and not panic. If there is something as in past we will face it collectively.”
Meanwhile Lord Nazir Ahmed a UK politician called for the immediate release of Yasin Malik leader of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) posting a photo saying that he was “critically ill” and requesting that Amnesty International, UN Human Rights and Human Rights Watch all declare him a prisoner of conscious.
There was other advice from the public on offer too on Twitter, the following tweet from an account supporting the Afghan Taliban stated,
“Don’t know why you guys are trying to affiliate with Pakistan. A country with no ability to retrieve the bodies of its soldiers. What can they do to separate you from India? Our hearts is beating for you people may Allah protect you Go ahead and do something for yourself.”
The Organization of Islamic Co-operation released the following statement in solidarity with those under threat.
OIC Expresses Concern about the Deteriorating Situation in Jammu and Kashmir
The General Secretariat of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) is deeply concerned about the deteriorating situation in the Indian occupied Jammu and Kashmir including reports of deployment of additional paramilitary forces and use of banned cluster munition by the Indian forces to target civilians.
The General Secretariat is saddened to learn about the civilian casualties resulting from ceasefire violations carried out by Indian forces across the Line of Control and expresses solidarity with the people of Indian occupied Jammu and Kashmir.
The OIC reiterates its call upon the international community to rise up to its responsibility for the peaceful resolution of Jammu and Kashmir dispute through the democratic method of a free and impartial plebiscite in accordance with relevant UN Security Council resolutions and aspirations of the people of Jammu and Kashmir.
The situation continues to worsen with a ban on public meetings and rallies and Indian Express reported that there would be no “movement of public and all educational institutions shall also remain closed”. In addition Al Jazeera is now reporting a suspension of mobile and internet services.
Kashmir faced similar restrictions following the killing of militant leader Burhan Wani by Indian government forces. Wani who was shot dead in South Kashmir on July 8th 2016, was the popular commander of separatist group Hizbul Mujahideen. His death led to months of protests with 120 deaths and thousands of injuries to both civilians and military personnel.
There are also concerns that in a further attempt at current control, Modi will ditch Article 35A of the Constitution which currently prohibits non-residents from buying property in Indian administered Kashmir. Any change has been opposed by political leaders on the grounds that it would change the demographics of the only Muslim majority state in India. Further information on Article 35A can be read here,
“The Article of Contention: Why 35A has always been controversial”
Former Chief Ministers Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah were also facing restricted movement, Abdullah tweeted, “I believe I’m being placed under house arrest from midnight tonight and the process has already started for other mainstream leaders. No way of knowing if this true but if it is then I’LL see all of you on the other side whatever is in store. Allah save us.” Mufti declared, “how ironic that elected representatives like us who fought for peace are under house arrest. The world watches as people and their voices are being muzzled in J and K. The same Kashmir that chose a secular democratic India is facing oppression of unimaginable magnitude. Wake up India.”
The situation in Kashmir is changing by the hour. The BBC has now reported the revoking of Article 370 the part of the constitution that gives Indian-administered Kashmir special status, this includes 35A. Article 370 “allowed the state a certain amount of autonomy – its own constitution, a separate flag and freedom to make laws. Foreign affairs, defence and communications remained the preserve of the central government. ” For more information see following link,
“Article 370: India strips disputed Kashmir of special status”
Campaigners are now running several hashtags on Twitter in support of Kashmiris including “Go Red For Kashmir” detailing the current concerns. Although many already consider Kashmir to be under occupation, the recent actions of the Modi government take this to another level. Ashok Swain, Professor of Peace and Conflict Research, Upsala, Sweden, stated,
“those claiming that the scrapping of Art370 will integrate Kashmir with India should know that the Article 370 is the one which was integrating Kashmir with India. Without it accession has become an occupation!”
Carol Anne Grayson is an independent writer/researcher on global health/human rights/WOT and is Executive Producer of the Oscar nominated, Incident in New Baghdad. She was a Registered Mental Nurse with a Masters in Gender Culture and Development. Carol was awarded the ESRC, Michael Young Prize for Research 2009, and the COTT ‘Action = Life’ Human Rights Award’ for “upholding truth and justice”. She is also a survivor of US “collateral damage”.