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Kashmir's 69-year-long history of deadly strife

August 17, 2016

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A masked Kashmiri mourner holds up a Pakistani flag as others shout anti-Indian and pro-freedom slogans during the funeral of four civilians in Aripanthan village, on the outskirts of Srinagar on August 16, 2016.  — AFP
A masked Kashmiri mourner holds up a Pakistani flag as others shout anti-Indian and pro-freedom slogans during the funeral of four civilians in Aripanthan village, on the outskirts of Srinagar on August 16, 2016. — AFP

SRINAGAR: When news spread in early July that Indian troops had killed a charismatic commander of India-held Kashmir's (IHK) biggest militant group, the Hizbul Mujahideen, the public response was spontaneous and immense.

Tens of thousands of angry youths poured out of their homes in towns and villages across the Himalayan region, hurling rocks and bricks and clashing with Indian troops.

A strict curfew and a series of communications blackouts since then have failed to stop the protesters, who are seeking an end to Indian rule in Kashmir, even as residents have struggled to cope with shortages of food, medicine and other necessities.

Indian army soldiers take position inside a building after a gunfight in Srinagar on August 15, 2016.
— AFP
Indian army soldiers take position inside a building after a gunfight in Srinagar on August 15, 2016. — AFP

The clashes, with protesters mostly throwing rocks and government forces responding with bullets and shotgun pellets, has left more than 60 civilians and two policemen dead. Thousands have been injured on both sides.

But Kashmir's fury at Indian rule is not new.

The stunning mountain region has known little but conflict since 1947, when British rule of the subcontinent ended with the creation of India and Pakistan.

The history

In 1947, the kingdom of Jammu and Kashmir was asked to join with either India or Pakistan.

But Maharaja Hari Singh, the unpopular Hindu ruler of the Muslim-majority region, wanted to stay independent.

However, local armed uprisings that flared in various parts of Kashmir, along with a raid by tribesmen from northwestern Pakistan, forced Singh to seek help from India, which offered military assistance on condition that the kingdom link itself to India.

The ruler accepted, but insisted that Kashmir remain a largely autonomous state within the Indian union, with India managing its foreign affairs, defence and telecommunications.

Along the LoC: Reluctant warriors? ─ Dawn Archives
Along the LoC: Reluctant warriors? ─ Dawn Archives

The Indian military entered the region soon after, with the tribal raid spiralling into the first of two wars between India and Pakistan over Kashmir. The first war ended in 1948 with a UN-brokered cease-fire.

Nonetheless, Kashmir was divided between the two young nations by the heavily militarised Line of Control (LoC), with the promise of a UN-sponsored referendum in the future.

In IHK, many saw the transition as the mere transfer of power from their Hindu king to Hindu-majority India.

Kashmiri discontent against India started taking root as successive Indian governments breached the pact of Kashmir's autonomy. Local governments were toppled one after another, and largely peaceful movements against Indian control were suppressed harshly.

Pakistan regularly raised the Kashmir dispute in international forums, including in the United Nations.

Meanwhile, India began calling the region an integral part of the nation, insisting that Kashmir's lawmakers had ratified the accession to New Delhi.

Indian policemen patrol on a street during a curfew in Srinagar, August 16, 2016. ─ Reuters
Indian policemen patrol on a street during a curfew in Srinagar, August 16, 2016. ─ Reuters

As the deadlock persisted, India and Pakistan went to war again in 1965, with little changing on the ground.

Several rounds of talks followed, but the impasse continued. In the mid-1980s, dissident political groups in IHK united to contest elections for the state assembly.

The Muslim United Front quickly emerged as a formidable force against Kashmir's pro-India political elite.

However, the United Front lost the 1987 election, which was widely believed to have been heavily rigged.

A strong public backlash followed. Some young United Front activists crossed over to Azad Jammu and Kashmir, where the Pakistani military began arming and training Kashmiri nationalists.

By 1989, Kashmir was in the throes of a full-blown rebellion.

India poured more troops into the already heavily militarised region. In response, thousands of Kashmiris streamed back from the Pakistani-controlled portion with weapons, staging bloody attacks on Indian security forces and pro-India Kashmiri politicians.

Kashmiris shout pro freedom slogans during a joint funeral of four civilians at Aripanthan village, west of Srinaga, August 16, 2016. ─ AP
Kashmiris shout pro freedom slogans during a joint funeral of four civilians at Aripanthan village, west of Srinaga, August 16, 2016. ─ AP

An unidentified family member of a killed civilian cries during a joint funeral, August 2016. ─ AP
An unidentified family member of a killed civilian cries during a joint funeral, August 2016. ─ AP

Indian soldiers, empowered with emergency laws giving them legal impunity, carried out a brutal military crackdown, leaving Kashmiris exhausted and traumatised.

More than 68,000 people have been killed since then.

Kashmir rebels suffered a major setback after 9/11, when the US pressured Pakistan to rein in the militants. Indian troops largely crushed the militancy after that, though popular demands for "azadi" ─ freedom ─ remain ingrained in the Kashmiri psyche.

In the last decade, the region has made a transition from armed rebellion to unarmed uprisings, with tens of thousands of civilians repeatedly taking to the streets to protest Indian rule, often leading to clashes between rock-throwing residents and Indian troops.

The protests are usually quelled by force, often resulting in deaths.

Recent developments

In 2008, a government decision ─ later revoked ─ to transfer land to a Hindu shrine in Kashmir set off a summer of protests.

The following year, the alleged rape and murder of two young women by government forces set off fresh violence.

In 2010, the trigger for protests was a police investigation into allegations that soldiers had shot three civilians dead, and then staged a fake gunbattle to make it appear that the dead were militants in order to claim rewards for the killings.

Over those three years hundreds of thousands of young men and women took to the streets, hurling rocks and insults at Indian forces.

At least 200 people were killed and hundreds wounded as troops fired into the crowds, inciting further protests.

August 16, 1965: 'Oppression' and 'revolution' in Kashmir. ─ Dawn
August 16, 1965: 'Oppression' and 'revolution' in Kashmir. ─ Dawn

The crackdowns appear to be pushing many educated young Kashmiris, who grew up politically radicalised amid decades of brutal conflict, toward armed rebel groups.

Young Kashmiri boys began snatching weapons from Indian forces and training themselves deep inside Kashmir's forests.

Despite that, the number of militants has apparently remained tiny, with security experts estimating there have not been more than 200 for the last several years.

Anti-India groups

The All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) is a conglomerate of social, religious and political groups formed in 1993.

It advocates the UN-sponsored right to self-determination for Kashmir or three-way talks that include India, Pakistan and Kashmiri leadership to resolve the dispute.

The Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) was one of the first armed rebel groups. It favours an independent, united Kashmir.

Currently led by Mohammed Yasin Malik, the group gave up armed rebellion in 1994, soon after Indian authorities released Malik from jail after four years.

Hizbul Mujahideen is Kashmir's largest and only surviving indigenous armed rebel group. Formed in 1990, the group demands Kashmir's merger with Pakistan.

Police woman stands in front of a picture of Burhan Wani during inauguration ceremony of Azadi Train at Margalla Railway Station, Islamabad. ─ Online
Police woman stands in front of a picture of Burhan Wani during inauguration ceremony of Azadi Train at Margalla Railway Station, Islamabad. ─ Online

Its supreme commander, Syed Salahuddin, is based in Muzaffarabad, the capital of AJK.

The group was led in Indian-held Kashmir by Burhan Wani until his death on July 8, which sparked the current clashes. Lashkar-i-Taiba is a Pakistan-based group fighting for the merger of IHK with Pakistan. The US lists it as a terrorist group.

Its leader, Hafiz Saeed, is on a US terrorist list, with a $10 million bounty on his head. He's also one of India's most wanted men.

New Delhi blames the group for several deadly attacks in Kashmir and Indian cities, including the 2008 Mumbai attack that killed 166 people.

Pro-India groups

The Jammu Kashmir National Conference (JKNC) is a pro-India political group that has ruled Kashmir for much of the time since 1947.

Its most recent leaders, Farooq Abdullah and his son Omar Abdullah, the current opposition leader in the state assembly, are seen as the strongest proponents of India in Kashmir.

The Jammu Kashmir Peoples Democratic (PDP) Party emerged in the early 2000s as the strongest opponent to the National Conference, strategically using pro-separatist views for electoral gains.

It came to power in 2002. It currently rules Indian-controlled Kashmir in coalition with India's ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).