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Crisis in Kashmir

Author: Jayshree Bajoria
September 11, 2008

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Since June, Indian-administered Kashmir has been roiled by large pro-independence protests triggered by a government decision to transfer land in the Muslim-majority state to a Hindu shrine. The ensuing violence, a rise in communal tensions between Hindus and Muslims, and the heavy-handed response of the Indian government have prompted questions about the future stability of the region.

The territory of Kashmir, currently divided between India and Pakistan by the Line of Control (LOC), has been hotly contested ever since the countries' partition in August 1947 (China also controls a small portion of Kashmir). Indian-administered Kashmir has been a hotbed of insurgency since 1989 and the LOC itself is disputed; India wants it to be recognized as an international border, Pakistan refuses. But a peace process in 2004 approached the issue in a radically different way by advancing the idea of making borders irrelevant (Hindu) through increasing trade, and facilitating greater people-to-people contact across the LOC. In the 2005 book Making Peace with Partition, Radha Kumar wrote: "A soft border will actually help India and Pakistan to stabilize Kashmir."

But the latest tensions shattered this illusion of normalcy. The Indian government's response to pro-independence protests elicited much criticism from experts. Ten thousand more troops were deployed in an already highly militarized region, curfews were imposed, and several protesters were killed (AP) by the security forces. Swaminathan S. Anklesaria Aiyar, a research fellow at the CATO Institute, argues in the Times of India that "ruling over those who resent it so strongly for so long is quasi-colonialism, regardless of our intentions." Aiyar, along with several other experts, recommends holding a referendum, as outlined in UN resolutions, so that Kashmiris can decide if they want to stay with India, join Pakistan, or form an independent state. However, India experts Sumit Ganguly and Kanti Bajpai write that Kashmir's secession presages geopolitical disaster (Newsweek) in a region of contending great powers—India, Pakistan, and China. They also question the ability of the secessionist leaders to govern in the absence of funding from the Indian state.

The violence has also revived focus on human rights concerns in the region. The Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir has been under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (PDF) since 1990. Human Rights Watch, which has called for a repeal of the act, says it has become a "tool of state abuse, oppression, and discrimination." Author Pankaj Mishra, in a New York Times op-ed, warns the latest round of state brutality against nonviolent protesters could "radicalize a new generation of Muslims and engender a fresh cycle of violence, rendering Kashmir even more dangerous — and not just to South Asia this time."

Analysts fear that deteriorating conditions in Kashmir could give impetus to Pakistan-based militants who have been gaining strength in the tribal areas. Political turmoil in Pakistan has also worsened prospects of peace with India. A new report on Kashmir by the United States Institute of Peace says "the key issue remains whether the Pakistan's army or the civilian leadership will dominate policymaking on Kashmir and India-Pakistan relations." Pakistani army and its intelligence services have been accused of backing separatist militants in the region. The crisis in Kashmir also poses problems for U.S. counterterrorism efforts in the region, say experts. South Asia experts Howard Schaffer and Teresita Schaffer write that if Kashmir sparks a new India-Pakistan crisis, it could put at risk critical U.S. interests (WashTimes) today. "The United States can ignore Kashmir only at its own peril," they warn.

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