David Cameron And The Continuing Mayhem In Kashmir
By Murtaza Shibli
03 August, 2010
Kashmiris may have become the unintended victims of David Cameron's verbal attack on Pakistan, which has encouraged the hardline Indian establishment to continue to brutalise Kashmiris in the Kashmir Valley.
As a salesman determined to shift as much deadly weaponry as he could, including Hawk fighter bombers, it was not surprising that Cameron chose to ignore the suffering in Kashmir. By blaming Pakistan, Cameron not only fed India's national paranoia about Pakistan, but also shifted the focus away from Kashmir and the increasing death rate of its civilian population, which otherwise might have received some media attention.
Since May this year, when the fresh wave of protests started, nearly 50 Kashmiris have been killed, many of them teenagers. Hundreds of civilians have also been injured, which has created perpetual chaos in Kashmiri hospitals as medical supplies dwindle under prolonged curfew and an embargo on goods. Since Friday, more than two dozen people have been killed, including an eight-year-old boy Sameer Ahmed Rah, who was allegedly beaten by police. In another incident, a teenage girl, Afroza, was killed when police fired on protesters at Khrew, on the outskirts of Srinagar, the summer capital of the disputed region. At least 25 people were wounded, two of them critically, when troops resorted to indiscriminate firing and tear gas shelling in Naaman village in South Kashmir. Nearly 100 miles away, in Baramulla, Indian troops fired at another group of protesters, injuring two more youths.
During the fresh wave of protests, India has adopted an uncompromisingly militant posture towards Kashmiri civilians protesting against human rights abuses. In June, Indian home minister Palaniappan Chidambaram linked stone-throwing Kashmiri youths to members of the dreaded terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba, a charge that was termed as an insult by pro-Indian Kashmiri leader Mufti Sayeed, former Indian home minister and former chief minister of Kashmir. This charge of linking Kashmiri protesters to terror groups in Pakistan was seen by many Kashmiris as an Indian excuse for the continuing murder of Kashmiris.
The new Indian approach denies the civilian status of its Kashmiri victims. Earlier in June, India's home secretary, Gopal Krishna Pillai, questioned press reports that described murdered Kashmiris as innocent civilians. Responding to a particular incident in which Indian paramilitary forces were said to have killed three civilians, he said: "There is a misnomer that civilians are getting killed. They are attacking police pickets. They are unruly mobs attacking CRPF pickets. They [forces] have shown considerable restraint and killed just one person".
The latest response from the Indian chief minister to the growing unrest has been demand for more troops. This is ironic given the fact that Kashmir is one of the most militarised places on Earth. Although the real number of Indian troops in Kashmir is unknown, some reports suggest that the number of Indian forces in the region is 250,000.
The absence of any criticism of the growing repression has emboldened the Indian government to target the Kashmiri population with greater ferocity. When the doctors of the Government Medical College, Srinagar recently protested against growing human rights abuses, the government registered cases against them for rioting and disobedience. Earlier, many leading lawyers and human rights advocates including Mian Abdul Qayoom, president of Kashmir Bar Association, which is the main lawyers' forum, was arrested under the draconian Public Safety Act, which allows incarceration for two years without charge.
This law, along with the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, that gives licence to Indian forces to kill with impunity, have been used to murder or silence thousands of Kashmiris for more than two decades. In an increasingly brutal response, the police even seized trucks of relief goods such as food and vegetables for the inhabitants of Srinagar, a city that has been under curfew for weeks at a time.
The continued focus on al-Qaida in Pakistan and the war in Afghanistan have cast a shadow over the suffering of Kashmiris, which is hardly reported in the international media. In order to contain and control unrest, the government has adopted a heavy handed approach against local journalists, stopping them from reporting the true extent of the suffering inflicted. Kashmiri journalists have been threatened, beaten up and gagged, as the paramilitary forces have refused to honour their curfew passes. In some instances, the government has refused to issue them passes at all.
As a result, many Kashmiri newspapers have had to suspend publication several times, confining them to online versions only. This has compelled a new generation of Kashmiris to articulate their frustration through social networking sites and YouTube in order to make known the torment of Kashmir. Determined to stifle any criticism, the government has now launched a new cyber war. According to the Indian news magazine Outlook India, "there are reports of Kashmiris being detained for 'anti-national' posts on Facebook".
David Cameron's statement blaming Pakistan has been seen as a vindication of a long-held Indian accusation that any unrest in Kashmir is a consequence of cross-border terrorism. As a new generation of Kashmiris take on Indian might with a few stones and their defenceless bodies, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, head of the moderate pro-Independence Kashmiri alliance, said despairingly: "First they [the Indians] said the guns came from Pakistan. Will they now say that stones come from Pakistan, too?"guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010