It started with the murder of one Kashmiri boy in June. Three months later, security forces have now killed over 90 more Kashmiris. Kashmiri civil society continues to march for justice and accountability, despite a violent crackdown by state security forces. Additionally, Kashmiris face the growing threat of the spread of violent extremism from neighboring Pakistan and Afghanistan. The separatist political movement also seems to be exploiting the young generation's emotions by encouraging curfew violations resulting in more deaths. How much longer can Kashmiris endure?
The toxic combination of helplessness and humiliation has for centuries given rise to violent uprisings across the world. Extremists in South Asia and the Middle East have plenty of helpless and frustrated-human-capital to exploit for their own violent ends. Today in Kashmir, a generation of youth find themselves in a socio-political climate similar to the post-Soviet Afghanistan era in which the fragmented Pakistani-backed militancy and brutal Indian counter-militancy campaign claimed over 70,000 lives in 1990s.
When a civil society faces repeated attacks by State apparatuses -and all the while the international community remains indifferent to abuses endured by the native people--, then an alienated and helpless civil society will eventually succumb to fissures invited by violence and lack of justice and accountability. Thus, the people will be vulnerable to violent and extreme measures of expression. As Kashmiri civil society is fired upon by Indian security forces, separatist militants in the valley and training camps in the mountains will then have the ingredients they need to mobilize a potentially weary youth towards a reinvigorated militancy campaign, thus, amplifying violence in a region already battling the extremism of Al Qaeda and Taliban in neighboring Pakistan and Afghanistan. Despite the bullets and beating sticks of security forces, the people of Kashmir, its civil society, continue to march, not bomb, for justice and accountability. However, how much longer will the international community ignore the calls of Kashmiri civil society? How much longer can Kashmiri civil society endure?
Militants and the state security forces want civil society's efforts to fail. But this time around two potential alleviating measures remain: India, (a rising international power with a recent, yet, rich democratic history), must publicly hold its military and police to account for extrajudicial killings and abuse which has most recently claimed over 90 Kashmiri lives since June. The military must also reform security legislation that currently enables security forces to commit human rights abuse without fear of prosecution and accountability. These trust-enhancing measures would also build the community's confidence in participating in non-violent institutions of the judicial and civil society institutions. In effect, this would counter an un-trusting Kashmiri population and reduce frustrated and helpless-human-capital that militants and extremists thrive upon. Additionally, the international community, (led by the United Nations Security Council or the European Union) must not let a bloodied and bruised Kashmiri civil society give up their nonviolent efforts for greater human rights, justice, and accountability.
Even as a delegation of over 30 Indian MPs visited Kashmir this week to 'asses the situation in the valley,' the Indian MPs arrived in Kashmir with no mandate and made no acknowledgment of the over 90 protesters killed by state security forces. They met with three separatist leaders who are under house arrest. The separatist leaders with whom they met, simply regurgitated their political platforms and offered no plan for resolution. There was no progress. What would show more good will would be to visit the homes of the families whose children have been killed as result of the security force's violent crackdown against protesters. The visiting Indian MPs should demand investigations against military actors guilty of firing upon crowds of civilian protesters.
In my recent conversations with Kashmiris under military curfew in Srinagar, one girl tells me, "there is nothing here. No school, no milk, no life. For three months we are made prisoners in our homes. We feel like we are mental patients locked in an institution." She reported that upon returning from a trip to the hospital she was horrified to see boys covered in blood and unarmed men being beaten by the CRPF's sticks and guns. I asked why the boys in her neighborhood were protesting. The Kashmiri told me that Indian soldiers were harassing some women by the road outside her home and the neighbors were provoked to do something about it. Whether they were provoked or not on this particular occasion, the fact remains: the youth of Kashmir have blood on their faces and bullets in their skin.
Whether you are Indian, Pakistani, Kashmiri; whether you are Hindu or Muslim or Sikh, or Kashmiri Pandit, the fact remains that all parties are in some way affected by the ongoing conflict in Kashmir. Kashmiri Pandits, for instance, have endured mass upheaval from their homes as a result of the 1989 militancy. The Kashmiri Muslims of today have lost over 70,000 lives and over 8,000 remain missing. Separatist militants, although today in dwindling numbers, have caused more harm than good as they throw grenades in markets and harm civilians in crossfire with soldiers. Individual Indian soldiers fear for their lives on a daily basis. The soldiers remain tied to the brutal counterinsurgency tactics of the Indian military apparatus in which Kashmiris are treated as terrorists. The actions of security forces exemplify an utter disregard for the people's right to life and right to movement.
I could go on about who has been affected. But I won't. Not now. I am now talking about the tragedies and threats unfolding today. I am talking about the Kashmiri mothers grieving over their dead teenage sons; the students locked in their homes and who are losing their education; the Kashmiri father who gets beaten by police for violating curfew just for trying to buy milk to feed his hungry children. Make no mistake, the people being killed today (the youth of Kashmir) are not carrying guns. They are carrying rocks, signs, and coffins of the innocents murdered. (Those few protesters who are trying to set fires on infrastructure must stop such actions as they exacerbate efforts of development of whatever little Kashmiri infrastructure exists.)
Recent events show us that we live in times where what may happen at a tiny church in Florida causes riots and death in Afghanistan. Similarly, what happens in a valley of broken promises in India will directly affect domestic security of Europe and America, whose efforts of counter terrorism and diplomacy are vital for peace and security in South Asia. Thus, the United Nations Security Council, led by the U.S or E.U member states, must exert pressure on India to cease its violent crack down on Kashmiri civil society and demand investigations into the recent killings of over 90 people since June.
Should these measures not be taken, then the Kashmiri population will grow less confident in political- judicial approaches for expressing their grievances. While planes might be kept from going in or out of Kashmir for first time in a decade, the people of Kashmir continue to march. In Kashmir, they march for human rights, not for terrorism. They march for justice and accountability, not extremism. This is the moment where Kashmiris march for the attention of global institutions and States claiming themselves to be champions of justice and human rights. It is time to recognize Kashmiri civil society and stand with them, otherwise we risk losing the opportunity to proactively curb a violent resurgence of militancy and extremism in Kashmir and the entire South Asia region.