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Kashmir and the Indian empire

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* By Iqbal Jassat

Kashmir is undergoing a fresh impetus in resistance to Indian occupation. Following a controversial transfer of land to a Hindu shrine trust, a renewed revolt by Kashmiris has once again catapulted their freedom struggle into the living rooms of a worldwide television audience.

This new spotlight on Kashmir has resulted in many questions. Foremost seems to be the puzzling paradox of India: a country freed from the yoke of British colonialism yet itself remaining in occupation of another. It is remarkable that six decades into the post-colonial era, the formerly colonized would employ medieval repressive tactics to enforce their own version of colonial practices. Successive Indian governments have retained many characteristics of the old and current British imperial policy to subjugate Kashmir without any regard for International Conventions. Besides merely disregarding its obligations as a member-state of the United Nations, India has deliberately frustrated numerous “crisis solving” efforts, thus contributing to what analysts term as “diplomatic failure”.  

Such failure would naturally leave Occupied Kashmir at the mercy of India. And records of brutality documented by human rights organizations reveal that India’s military control of the territory has been anything but “merciful”.

This does not suggest that Kashmiri territory under Pakistani control – known as Azad Kashmir – has been free. These inhabitants’ freedom hinges on the political expediency of the current leaders in Islamabad, as indeed their fortunes have been tied to all the former military dictators – whether in civilian dress or not – in the past six decades. Azad Kashmir remains subject to the political designs fabricated in Pakistan and heavily influenced as studies indicate, by foreign Western advisors.

The dispute over Kashmir derives from the defective geopolitical process of Partition in 1947, which saw the old British Empire split up into India and Pakistan. It is symbolic of the type of legacy of Britain’s imperial achievements in India as indeed in other conflicts such as Israel/Palestine, to bequeath perpetual strife. In his book ‘Incomplete Partition – The Genesis of the Kashmir Dispute 1947-1948’, Alastair Lamb admits as much: “The British Indian Empire was just that, an empire like other empires, an assemblage of diverse territories and peoples joined together through British military might, diplomacy and duplicity over many years and then maintained in being by means of the continued forcible application of British control over non-British peoples.”   

India’s repressive policies against insurgents in Kashmir received a boost following 9/11. According to award-winning journalist Phil Rees, any hesitation over the use of ‘terrorism’ by the Indian establishment disappeared after 2001. Whereas throughout the 1990s, the Hindu nationalist government was seeking Western sympathy and support for its conflict in Kashmir, after 9/11 it was expedient to jump headlong onto the ‘war on terror’ bandwagon. Thus it served Indian interests to define the Kashmiri freedom struggle as “terrorist” and to lump its fighters with Osama bin Laden.

In this misty haze new myths have been created to hide the fact that Kashmir is a victim as Rees asserts, of the disputed division of British India during the transfer of colonial power in 1947. He explains that a border was created on religious lines and states with a Muslim majority formed the newly created Pakistan alongside a predominantly Hindu India. “When India and Pakistan became independent, it was generally assumed that Jammu and Kashmir, with its 80 per cent Muslim population, would accede to Pakistan, but Kashmir was one of 565 princely states whose rulers had given their loyalty to Britain but preserved their royal titles. The partition plan, negotiated by the last viceroy, Lord Mountbatten, excluded these princely states, which were granted independence [albeit without the power to express it]. Of the 565 princely states, 552 agreed to become part of India but the remainder posed problems: Hyderabad and Junagadh had Muslim rulers but Hindu majorities and were surrounded by Indian territory. Indian troops occupied the states and overthrew the Muslim rulers. In Kashmir a Hindu nobleman, Sir Hari Singh, was the maharaja, or governor. Two months after the independence of India and Pakistan, he was still unable to make up his mind.”

The strategic geographical location of Kashmir bordering Afghanistan and China remains an important consideration for the Indian authorities. The irony though is that amongst the two regions in China bordering Kashmir, Tibet’s political crisis is articulated regularly in the Western media while Xinjiang’s story is largely unknown. China, like India, views the Muslim majority region of Xinjiang’s struggle for greater autonomy as “terrorist”. A glance at the map of Kashmir will explain that its pivotal position will remain a factor influencing India and allies such as Britain and America not to grant Kashmir its overdue independence.

UN Resolutions or not; previous agreements on plebiscite or not; India’s empire is determined to ignore with contempt any or all its international obligations.

* Iqbal Jassat
Chairman: Media Review Network

(Media Review Network is an advocacy group based in Pretoria (Tshwane), South Africa)