TIC Focus l
A high-level Congressional delegation of the United States flew into the Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) capital on Sunday to see the ground situation and gauge public sentiment following the Aug 5 Indian actions in Occupied Jammu and Kashmir. The US Senators said they shared human rights concerns and would continue to urge India to lift the curfew and release all prisoners as a first step. Recently there was a showdown in the United Nations General Assembly between the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan with the latter devoting a great deal to the situation in kashmir, specifically Indian Occupied Kashmir. The situation in that area has deteriorated drastically since the current Hindu extremist government has unilaterally revoked the separate status of the occupied territory. India has long been seen as an occupying force by the locals however worldwide it has cultivated an image of the rightful owners of Kashmir. It has achieved this by the propagation of a number of myths perpetrated through pro indian lobbies and media segments. Five of the major myths and their rebuttals are as follows
Myth #1: Kashmir Issue started in 1947
- India has always claimed to this day that the issue of Kashmir is a bilateral one that started when the British partitioned the subcontinent when they left. In essence, while conflict between Indian and Pakistan started from that day in reality the Kashmiri populace was already trying to get rid of the tyrant that had been imposed on them
- It must be noted that since the conquest of Kashmir by the Mughal Empire in the 1500s, it has never been ruled by the locals with the Mughals being followed by Afghans who were in turn followed by the Sikhs. the Dogra dynasty that ruled during British times were actually governors of Kashmir under the Sikhs who backstabbed them during the Anglo Sikh wars. In return the British sold the region to the Dogras for a sum of 7,500,000 Nanakshahee Rupees and formalized it in the treaty of Amritsar.
- In order to pay back this sum which would extend into hundreds of Billions today, the Dogra rulers enforced stringent taxation from their subjects.The Dogra rule was possibly the worst phase in terms of the economic extortion in Kashmir. Most of the peasants were landless since Kashmiris were banned from holding any land. About 50-75 percent of cultivated crops went to the Dogra rulers, leaving the working class with practically no control over the produce. The Dogra rulers also reintroduced the begar (forced labour) system under which the state could employ workers for little to no payment. Not only every imaginable profession was taxed, but Kashmiri Muslims were also forced to pay a tax if they wished to get married too. The absurdity of the exorbitant tax system reached a new high when something called “zaildari tax” was introduced to pay for the cost of taxation itself!
- Not only this but as the Dohgras were Hindus they started enacting communal anti Muslim policies that turned the local Hindus into a ruling class of the Kashmir region. All high level jobs were reserved for them and Muslims were cut off from any chance of betterment. At that time Kashmir was 97% Muslim and about 3% Hindu and others like Buddhists. Because of these hostile conditions, many Muslims migrated from Kashmir to other parts of the subcontinent specifically the city of Lahore where their descendants live to this day. At last things came to a head as tensions erupted in 1930s over stringent taxation and communal policies of the state government.
- Local Resistance against the Dogras started as early as in 1865, when Kashmiri shawl weavers agitated to improve their work conditions. The regime brutally crushed the uprising and in the three decades following the protest, the number of Kashmiri shawl weavers decreased from 28,000 to just over 5,000. Despite the setback, however, Kashmiri workers continued to fight for their rights.
- Noting this growing spirit of revolt among the Muslim community, in 1931, the Dogras approved the formation of three political parties in the valley – Kashmiri Pandits Conference, Hindu Sabha in Jammu, and Sikhs’ Shiromani Khalsa Darbar. This meant only non-Muslim groups were allowed political representation in the valley, leaving the majority of the population without an official political party.
- That very same year saw several Muslim agitations that developed in reaction to the state’s oppression. But the simmering tensions come to a boil on July 13, when a crowd of thousands tried to break into the Srinagar jail during the court hearing of a sedition case filed against a young Muslim man named Abdul Qadeer. Police responded with extreme brutality and 22 protesters were killed. As scholar and activist Prem Nath Bazaz noted, the sentiments of the crowd that rushed the prison were not anti-Hindu but anti-tyranny. Yet, the riots that took place in the aftermath of July 13 took a religious turn when shops owned by the Hindus were looted in the valley.This was all due to Kashmiri Hindus being used as a tool of oppression by the Dogras.
- The unrest caught the eyes of the British authorities of which the Dogras were vassals. Uneasy of any unrest in the crown jewel of the British empire, and especially as the revolutionary supporting USSR was only a stone’s throw away the British leaned on the Dogras to alleviate Muslim greivances.
- The Dogra Raja submitted by forming up a limited democracy in the form of a Praja Sabha. It had 75 members, with 15 official representatives, 33 elected representatives and the remaining seats held by the Maharaja’s nominees. Of the 33 elected seats, 21 would be reserved for Muslims, 10 for Hindus and 2 for Sikhs. The Maharaja granted a constitution providing a legislative assembly for the people, but it was powerless.
- It was in 1932, the All Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Conference was founded with Ghulam Abbas, Sheikh Abdullah and Mirwaiz Yusuf Shah as its leading figures.
- This leads onto the second myth about Kashmir.
Myth #2: Sheikh Abdullah was the only representative of Kashmiri Muslims
- As told earlier, Muslim Conference was found in 1932 with three leading personalities who were Ghulam Abbas, Sheikh Abdullah and Mirwaiz Yusuf Shah. However, the current Indian narrative tries to frame Sheikh Abdullah whose descendents are the leading political group in the Occupied territory, as the one and only leader of Kashmiri Muslims.
- Chaudhry Ghulam Abbas was born in a middle class Gujjar Kashmiri Muslim family of Chaudhry Nawab Khan on 4 February 1904 at Jammu. He graduated from the Prince of Wales College, Jammu. He received his law degree from the Lahore Law College and started his career as a lawyer in Jammu. He was offered a position of Sub-Judge but he refused to serve the Dogra Raj.
- He reorganized the socio-political organization Young Men’s Muslim Association, which was established earlier in 1909 and was the only platform that Muslims were using to raise their political voice in Jammu and Kashmir. This organization conducted some massive demonstrations against the Dogra rule and its activities.
- In order to safeguard the rights of the Muslims of the Valley of Kashmir, another organization, All Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Conference was established. Its president was Sheikh Abdullah while Chaudhry Ghulam Abbas was elected as its secretary general. Later the organization was renamed as Jammu and Kashmir National Conference in 1939. But when Sheikh Abdullah developed his association with Nehru and the All India National Congress, Chaudhry Ghulam Abbas withdrew from the National Conference. Consequently, the Muslim Conference was revived under the leadership of Chaudhry Ghulam Abbas and Agha Shaukat Ali.
- The Muslim Conference and National Conference often faced off against each other in elections. In fact the Muslim Conference was the party that had the most seats in the final elections held in January 1947 having won 16 of the 21 seats. The Muslim Conference had already declared their intent to accede to Pakistan in 1944 yet they agreed to delay their decision in order to allay the fears of the local Hindus and Sikhs.
- However, suspicions among the Muslim Conference grew when the Maharaja began to court the pro Congress figure Mehr Chandan Mahajan to become the Prime Minister of Kashmir. On July 19, 1947, a convention of All Jammu & Kashmir Muslim Conference, adopted the “Accession to Pakistan Resolution” demanding accession of the Kashmir state to Pakistan.
Myth #3: War in Kashmir started due to tribal insurgency
- It was in this backdrop, the seeds of a violent revolution were sown. While Indian narrative tries to show that Pakistan in order to annex the Kashmir region by infiltrating first tribals and undercover army soldiers before following with a full scale invasion that initiated the first IndoPak war, the reality is that the local Kashmiris had to resort to arms after the Dogra rulers unleashed their military might on them which set off the conflict.
- It should be noted that as the Dogra Raj was in essence a British protectorate, it had to supply men for the British Imperial wars. During the Second World War, over 60,000 Muslims from the Poonch and Mirpur districts enrolled in the British Indian Army. After the war, many of them retained their arms while returning. The Maharaja did not (or could not) absorb them into the State forces. The absence of employment prospects coupled with high taxation caused displeasure among the Poonchis in 1947.
- Sardar Abdul Qayyum Khan of the Bagh tehsil is credited with instigating the Poonchis of Bagh and Sudhnoti tehsils in February 1947 not to pay the ‘excessive taxes’ demanded by the State. This eventually came to be called a ‘no tax’ campaign. Towards the end of June, the State troops in Poonch ran out of rations and demanded the local populace to provide their supplies. When the populace eventually declared their inability to do so, the Revenue Minister of the State came down to Poonch to collect the tax arrears. This led to renewed repression.
- By the end of July, the Government ordered all the Muslims of Poonch to surrender their arms. Muslims complained that the arms deposited by them were distributed by the police to Hindu and Sikh families for self-defence, raising communal fears and tensions
- In fact, the fighting actually started when in July 1947 when Muslim Conference announced its agenda of accession with Pakistan and raised Pakistan flag in Poonch. The Dogra troops fired on the ceremony leading to the killings of many people and according to reports the Dogra army fired on crowds, and burnt houses and villages indiscriminately. This in turn inflamed the local populace and unleashed an armed rebellion. Sardar Abdul Qayyum then organised many militias mostly made up of WW2 veterans and started attacking Dogra outposts, police stations and convoys.
- The insurgency intensified when state repression in Baramulla was met with armed resistance which immediately spread across the whole region. A local leader Sardar Ibrahim shifted to West Punjab, along with dozens of rebels, and established a base in Murree across the border from Poonch in northern Punjab, which also served as a hill station for Punjab’s civil and army officers. Ibrahim attracted a core group of supporters, including retired military officers and former members of the Indian National Army. From Murree, the rebels attempted to acquire arms and ammunition for the rebellion and smuggle them into Kashmir. He also asked for volunteers which he got from the Tribal regions as well as local areas which he later got.
- Pakistan had initially tried to stay clear of this mess. The founding fathe of Pakistan and the then Governor General Muhammad Ali Jinnah had refused to meet Sardar Ibrahim despite his requests as he didn’t want ot interfere in the Dogra’s affairs. Pakistan had also signed a standstill agreement with the Dogras that assured Pakistan would not hinder travel, trade and communications and the Dogras would not change their status. However, the actions of the Dogra rulers began to raise eyebrows in Pakistan.
- Scholar Prem Shankar Jha states that the Maharaja had decided, as early as April 1947, that he would accede to India if it was not possible to stay independent. The rebellion in Poonch possibly unnerved the Maharaja. Accordingly, on 11 August, he dismissed his pro-Pakistan Prime Minister, Ram Chandra Kak, and appointed retired Major Janak Singh in his place. His overtures to pro Congress figure Mehr Chandan Mahajan had signalled his intent to the Pakistanis.
- What forced Pakistan’s hand can also be the ethnic cleansing that took place in the Jammu region of Kashmir. Dogra forces aided by sympathetic Hindus and Sikhs attempted to quell the uprising in Jammu. What some labelled as “the systematic extermination of Muslims” resulted in the deaths of thousands; estimates range between 70,000 to over 200,000 massacred in Jammu region. Hundreds of thousands of Muslims fled to Pakistan and those who stayed back went from being a majority to a minority group in the Jammu region.
- Due to these events, Pakistan which didn’t want to fight a war in the first place was forced to intervene which they did by sending undercover officers who began to guide the war effort in Kashmir and managed to liberate upto 40% of Kashmir. Muslim Conference leaders proclaimed a provisional Azad Jammu and Kashmir government in Rawalpindi on 3 October 1947. Faced with losing his fiefdom, the Maharaja acceded to Indian in return for military aid. India launched an invasion of Kashmir and managed to wrest some territory such as Srinagar from the Azad Kashmir forces. This inturn forced Pakistan to officially intervene and thus the first IndoPakistan war started.
Myth #4: Plebiscite didn’t take place due to non-withdrawal of Pakistani Forces
- The UN intervened in the conflict and after a ceasefire was established, the Kashmir dispute of accession was to be resolved through plebiscite to which both India and Pakistan agreed. India, which had been the first to approach the UN over Kashmir, however later on has delayed any plebiscite in the region. It has claimed that as Pakistan has not withdrawn militarily from places such as Gilgit Pakistan and Azad Kashmir, no plebiscite could take place.
- Indian sources cite UNSC Resolution 47 to blame Pakistan for not pulling out its forces from Kashmir. the above resolution , among other things, has two chief characteristics, One withdrawal of forces by two countries in J&K, the disputed territory i.e demilitarization & the other Governance of disputed territory post demilitarization. Following some adjustments to the above resolution to accommodate the views & objections of two countries, the commission drafted a comprehensive resolution on 5th January 1949 which reiterated the provisions of earlier resolution and was accepted by both countries.
- The commission came to subcontinent on February 4 1949 and held meetings in Delhi, Srinagar, Karachi & Rawalpindi to implement its resolutions. While other requirements of the resolution like establishment of military observer group, exchange of prisoners etc. were implemented with ease, two items i.e demilitarization & governance post demilitarization posed problems.
- India’s representative Sir Girja Shankar Bajpayee took the position that one-time withdrawal of whole of Pakistani forces was a condition precedent to holding a plebiscite. Pakistan’s stand on the other hand, was that only Tribesmen & irregular forces have to withdraw at once while withdrawal of her regular forces has to be matched by a proportionate Indian withdrawal. This stand was upheld by the commission.
- Regarding governance, India estimated its requirement of troops in State at 27000 to assist local authorities in maintaining law & order, while Pakistan felt 20000 was quite sufficient. A compromise was reached at a figure of 22000.
- Accordingly after clearing the area of tribesmen & other irregulars, Pakistan withdrew part of her forces ( numbering around five thousand). India announced that it is reciprocating this with withdrawal of a squadron of Air force & not the army. Pakistan & the commission was aghast at this brazen misinterpretation of resolution by India .India also refused to intimate her army strength & deployment position in Kashmir. It ,also came to commission’s notice that India, instead of demilitarization was actually militarizing new areas . As Joseph Korbel, one of the members of the commission records:
“——Again it was evident that India was principally pre-occupied with the control of the sparsely populated areas north & north-west of Kashmir proper, a control which clearly went beyond the stipulations of the accepted resolutions.” (Korbel-Dangers in Kashmir-p.157)”
- When the commission couldn’t settle the issues even after holding 126 meetings, it reported the matter back to the Security Council. Following commission’s failure, the security council once again took up the matter on 22nd December 1949 when its President , General A.G. L McNaughton, formed certain proposals for demilitarization preparatory to plebiscite. Pakistan accepted McNaughton’s plan with some minor adjustments but India, again insisted upon complete demilitarization by Pakistan and the occupation of Northern areas by Indian Army. Eventually security Council disbanded UNCIP vide its resolution dt. 14th March 1950 and instead appointed Sir Owen Dixon as sole UN representative. India accepted this resolution while Pakistan expressed its dismay but went along with Dixon to find a solution.
- Dixon held a conference of the Prime Ministers of India & Pakistan from 20th July to 24th July 1950. He suggested various proposals for demilitarization of the state which were all rejected by India. So also was his suggestion for an interim administration preparatory to plebiscite. His proposal for regional plebiscite too stood rejected by India.
- The world press was highly critical of the obduracy & intransigence displayed by India at every stage to frustrate the global attempts to resolve the matter peacefully through a plebiscite. The Economist of London commented- “ But the whole world can see that India, which claims the support of the majority people of Kashmir has been obstructing the holding of an internationally supervised plebiscite”. Two days later, the London Times wrote “Like most great men, Nehru has his blind spot because he is not amenable to reason and allows emotions to get the better of common sense”
- In the end, eight years later, V.P. Menon, the Constitutional Adviser and Political Reforms Commissioner to the last three British Viceroys in India, admitted in an interview to H.V. Hodson, the editor of British paper ‘Sunday Times’ & author of ‘Great Divide’ that India never had any intention to hold a plebiscite in the State thus giving a lie to the theory that Pakistan frustrated holding of one due to her failure to withdraw troops.
Myth #5: War within Kashmir is between Pakistan-backed militant groups and Indian Government
- The last myth revolves around the situation of insurgency and guerilla warfare in Kashmir. India claims that all the turmoil in Occupied kashmir is due to Pakistani backed militant groups who are waging war against both the Indian state and local Kashmiris.
- The fighting in Kashmir started as an indigenous movement of Kashmiri people fighting against Indian army and its affiliates. This developed in the massively rigged elections of 1987. A leader of the Congress Party at the time, Khem Lata Wukhloo, recalls: “I remember that there was a massive rigging in 1987 elections. The losing candidates were declared winners. It shook the ordinary people’s faith in the elections and the democratic process.”
- Many believe that these elections were a turning point in the history of Kashmir.
- Many parties – like the Jamaat-e-Islami, the People’s Conference and the Ittihad-ul-Muslimeen which were on the losing side – are now part of the main separatist alliance, the All Party Hurriyat Conference, campaigning for self-determination of the Kashmiri people.
- More importantly, key figures in militant groups fighting against Indian rule – took part in the 1987 polls.
- The APHC Chairman, Abdul Gani Bhat says the outcome seriously disillusioned many Kashmiris. “Kashmiri youths participated in the 1987 elections with great enthusiasm and seriousness and after due thought. But the poll results fired them with anger. They decided to fight violence with violence.”
- Ever since the outbreak of the insurgency in 1989, militant groups have boycotted the polls on the grounds that they can’t be a substitute for a plebiscite. The elections of 1996 were held amid widespread allegations by ordinary people that the Indian troops coerced them into voting. And the turnout was not more than 10% cent anywhere in the Kashmir Valley.
- Crimes by militants are said to be incomparable with the larger scale abuse by Indian state forces. Some rights groups say more than 100,000 people have died since 1989 while the official figures from Indian sources state the estimates of number of civilians killed due to the pro-freedom movement are above 50,000 civilians mostly killed by Indian Armed Forces.The abuses range from mass killings, enforced disappearances, torture, rape and sexual abuse to political repression and suppression of freedom of speech. The Indian Army, Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), and Border Security Personnel (BSF), have been accused and held accountable for committing severe human rights abuses against Kashmiri civilians.
- Indian forces act under a culture of impunity as Kashmir is governed under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act that lets Indian soldiers get away with almost anything. In a recent incident, India got international condemnation by awarding a medal to an army officer who tied a civilian to the front of a jeep
- India has its own militant proxy in the form of a militia known as Ikhwan which it used to commit atrocities and torture Kashmiri people. The Ikhwan-ul-Muslimeen was formed by Mohammad Yusuf Parray, better known as Kuka Parray and by early 1994, the group sided with the Indian security forces to fight the armed fighters struggling for self determination. Besides Ikhwan, other groups operated by Javed Ahmad Shah (who had the backing of the state police’s Special Operations Group) and Liaqat Khan (who operated in Kashmir’s Anantnag district). By the end of 1994, all three groups had merged into one entity known as Ikhwan-ul-Muslimeen
- According to locals, India is also supporting footprint of Al-Qaeda and ISIS in Kashmir in order to sabotage the indigenous movement of Kashmiri people against Indian government.