This year the conflict between India and Pakistan over Kashmir reached its most violent point in 20 years, with suicide bombings, airstrikes and shot-down planes. Between India and Pakistan on the western edge of the Himalayas, Kashmir is a region home mainly to Muslims, with a large Hindu minority that the two nuclear-armed powers have been fighting over for years. Especially this year, the conflict has been retaliations for the retaliations to the retaliations between the two countries, who often blame each other. Speaking to his Parliament on Aug 7, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, proclaimed, “[India] may strike us again, and we will strike back… Who will win that war? No one will win it and it will have grievous consequences for the entire world.”
This conflict started in 1947. That was the year the British left India, partitioning the territory they controlled into two countries, one that would be for Hindus and the other for Muslims. However, certain provinces were not directly ruled by Britain, and had to choose to join either India or Pakistan. That was the case for Kashmir, where a Hindu leader governed the majority Muslim population, eventually causing war to break out between pro-Pakistan and pro-India groups. India sought the assistance of the United Nations (UN) in ending the war, which recommended that there be a referendum for Kashmiris to decide which country they wanted to join. But India and Pakistan couldn’t agree to end the war before holding the vote, and the fighting dragged on. By 1949, the countries finally agreed to a temporary ceasefire, establishing a de facto border known as the line of control. They then went on to fight two more wars in 1965 and 1999, both of them ending in stalemates with the line of control still the border. And that vote where Kashmiris could have made their wishes heard was never held.
Fast forward to early 2019, when what might be the fourth war between the two countries arose. On February 14, a militant group that Pakistan allows to operate within its borders carried out a suicide bombing, killing over 40 Indian soldiers. India blamed Pakistan for the attack, launching airstrikes twelve days later that targeted the group’s training bases. In retaliation, Pakistan shot down two Indian Air Force planes and captured one of the pilots on the 28th. The situation finally cooled down when they released the pilot, but that did not conclude the conflict in 2019.
On Aug 5, the nationalist prime minister of India Narendra Modi and his government repealed Article 370 of their constitution which had given Kashmir a large degree of independence from the government in New Delhi. They had had a separate flag and constitution, governing themselves in all matters except foreign policy and communications. Part of that independence involved non-Kashmiris not being allowed to live there, which made it easy for the pro-Pakistan insurgency in Kashmir to curry favor with the majority-Muslim population. Now that Hindus will be allowed to settle in the province, Pakistani officials are worried that there will be an ethnic cleansing of Muslims in the region, and that Pakistan will thereby lose its claim to the entirety of Kashmir. Pakistan has therefore ratcheted up tensions with India again, downgrading diplomatic ties with their neighbor and suspending all trade. India responded by saying that the repeal is an internal matter and that Pakistan should have nothing to worry about.
India has also taken two more widely condemned actions in accordance with their repeal of Article 370, affecting both Pakistani and Indian Kashmiris. Affecting Pakistani Kashmiris, the Indian military has begun firing on Kashmiris across the line of control. According to the Pakistani military, at least five Pakistani Kashmiri civilians have been killed since the repeal, and many more wounded. Prime Minister Khan said of the ceasefire violation in a speech on August 14 that “the Pakistani army has solid information that they [India] are planning to do something in Pakistani Kashmir. We have decided that if India commits any violation we will fight until the end… The time has arrived to teach you [India] a lesson.” Of course, all that rhetoric from Khan about a war with India obscures the fact that Kahmiris have already suffered a great throughout this conflict, as demonstrated by the five killed civilians and their grieving families.
Affecting Indian Kashmiris, India has cut their section of Kashmir off from the outside world. First, they evacuated all tourists in the area under the pretense that there was a terrorist threat. Then they locked the place down, closing all phone networks and internet connections, cutting off TV and radio, closing all schools, and banning public gatherings. Being so isolated, Kashmiris have no way of knowing that India has revoked Article 370, taking their independence and their freedom. They also have no way of contacting anyone, including family that lives permanently outside of Kashmir or happened to be traveling at the time of the lockdown. This can create some truly unfortunate circumstances: some Kashmiris could find themselves unable to tell their family that lives elsewhere that a new baby has just been born, or that they found out a family member is about to die.
It is quite possible that India initiated the lockdown in an attempt to avoid massive protests of the repeal of 370. However, the lockdown’s end result has been to drive masses of people to assemble to protest the lockdown itself: Since August 5, there have been over 500 protests in India’s part of Kashmir, some with more than ten thousand peaceful demonstrators. The Indian military has responded to the protests by firing pellet guns and tear gas on the protesters. Almost 100 protestors have been injured so far as a result, and on September 4th, the first death occurred. An 18 year old demonstrator, who had been hospitalized on August 6th, succumbed to his injuries sustained from a pellet gun.
Is this just the story of Kashmir? Always cut off, bombed, shot at, and silenced? When they are cut off, they protest against it. In turn, they get shot at, and silenced. In the past 70 years, in which they’ve never gotten their vote, what have they been doing but trying to get their wishes heard? Will they keep trying? Will they finally be heard?