Is this a freedom struggle? -- by Prem Shankar Jha Back   Home  

THE MURDER of 15 Hindu villagers, including five women and children in a remote village in Doda, forces one to ask if this is what General Pervez Musharraf meant when he said in his breakfast meeting with some Indian editors, and later at his televised press conference in Islamabad, that “lots of innocent blood gets spilt during a freedom struggle”. It also forces one to ask whether the timing might not have something to do with Musharraf’s public endorsement of the jehadis’ valuable contribution to Kashmir’s freedom struggle.

Till he came to Agra, Musharraf had maintained that he could not stop the jehadis because jehad imposed a duty on every Muslim to go to the aid of his co-religionists when they were being oppressed. But both during and after the Agra summit, in private and in public, he maintained, tacitly, that he would not stop them even if he could. He also rejected the charge that most of the violence in Kashmir was a product of cross-border terrorism.

His foreign minister, Abdul Sattar, went a step further and declared that there is no cross-border terrorism in Kashmir because there is no border. When asked by a foreign correspondent whether the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba were Punjabis or Kashmiris, he suggested brusquely that she pose that question to “the Kashmiris”.

The timing of the Doda massacre suggests that the jehadis may have decided to celebrate the rise in their status by declaring an open season on Hindus once again. If my memory serves me right, this is the first mass murder of Hindus in Doda in three years. In four incidents between January and May 1998, terrorists from across the border had killed 85 Hindus. Only one victim was fortunate enough to be killed with a bullet.

It is difficult to see what such calculated bestiality has to do with a freedom struggle. What it does have a great deal to do with is ethnic cleansing. Doda has already seen a massive exodus of over 20,000 Hindus, who now live in tent-camps. Eleven years ago, the calculatedly brutal murder of 132 Kashmiri Pandits in and around Srinagar between January and July 1990, and the despatch of thousands of letters to Pandit families threatening their wives and daughters with kidnapping, triggered their exodus from the Valley.

The fact that insurgents have to engage in ethnic cleansing in order to create a support-base suggests that support for their “freedom struggle” is not universal. But how correct is the premise underlying the ethnic cleansing, that Muslims in Kashmir are solidly behind this struggle?

The level of violence in Kashmir, while high, is nowhere near what Musharraf and Sattar claimed in their press conferences. Against their claim that over 75,000 Kashmiris had been killed in the past 12 years, the Indian government’s tally of the total number of casualties is between 30,000 and 31,000. Of these, 2,500 were members of the security forces.

Of the remainder, 11,800 were militants killed by the security forces. This number certainly contains a number of custodial killings and some killing of civilians wrongly identified as militants, but these human rights violations pale into insignificance before those committed by the militants.

Of the 28,000 Kashmiris killed, 9,800 were killed not by the security forces but by the militants. Of these, 1,180 were Hindus, but more than 8,600 were Muslims. The pattern of violence also reflects the ambivalence of the support that the militants enjoy. Between 1990 and June 2001, militants were responsible for a total of 56,000 violent incidents of all kinds in Jammu and Kashmir. Of these, 19,000 were attacks on the security forces. But 12,000 were attacks on Kashmiri civilians.

All insurgents kill a certain number of their own people. The excuse they put forward is that these were collaborators who deserved what they got. At what point does the killing of the very people one claims to be liberating become an act of terrorism designed to cow them into submitting to the terrorists’ aims?

The failed insurgency in Punjab gives one a useful yardstick against which to compare Kashmir. Insurgency failed in Punjab when, in 1990, the ordinary people finally turned against the militants, began giving information freely to the police, asked for guns to defend themselves, and started killing the militants themselves. The reason they did this was revealed by the pattern of killings in the state.

Between 1983 and 1993, of all the people the militants killed, 61 per cent were Sikhs. The corresponding figure for Muslims in Kashmir is 31 per cent. This enables one to judge that while popular support for the insurgents was much greater in Kashmir than in Punjab, it was far from universal. The number of their own kind that the militants killed was too large for all to have been informers or collaborators. Large numbers were killed in order to terrorise the population into submission, or eliminate influential Kashmiris who did not agree with their goals or methods.

A year by year study of the pattern of violence also reveals that while insurgency in Kashmir was indigenous and genuine till about 1995, it had all but died out by 1995. Since then, violence against the security forces has been sustained almost entirely by mercenaries and Islamic zealots who have come across the border from Pakistan. This can be seen from the fact that of the just under 6,000 killed till 1995, only 85 were “foreign”, that is, not Kashmiris. By June 2001, this figure had climbed to 1,913. Thus one in three militants killed since 1996 are not from Kashmir.

The foreign origins of the “freedom struggle” of the last three years is also reflected by the sharp rise in the number of civilians that the militants have had to kill. Between January 1990 and June 1998, they killed 6,500 civilians, or 760 a year. Between June 1998 and June 2001, the number has risen by 3,300, that is, by 1,100 every year.

How credible are the government’s figures? Why should anyone believe them rather than those given by the Hurriyat or Pakistan? It is true that New Delhi has an interest in minimising the tally just as the Hurriyat or Pakistan have in inflating it. But governments are bound by laws, even in the worst of times.

Since 1990, Kashmiris have been entitled to compensation for the loss of life and damage to property that they suffer as a result of militant-related activities. Like other laws, these are not well administered, and the compensation is usually inadequate. But the fact that they are entitled to it gives people a reason to register all such losses. Thus government estimates can err, but not too much.

It is against this background that one needs to reassess the reasons for the failure of the Agra summit. Musharraf came to India with a one-point agenda — to make India concede that Kashmir was the core ‘dispute’ or ‘issue’. The way to a resolution of the dispute would open once India admitted this. Pakistan and India could then take up all the other issues that New Delhi was keen to discuss. Most of these, he felt, could be sorted out in a matter of months.

At the level of common sense, this seemed entirely reasonable — even self-evident. After all, weren’t people dying in Kashmir every day? Wasn’t it during the Kargil war that the two countries had come close to a nuclear confrontation? What Pakistan was asking India to do was to concede that there was a dispute between it and India over Kashmir; that Pakistan had some kind of claim on Kashmir that India had to address. Accepting this would have amounted to accepting that the Instrument of Accession signed by Maharaja Hari Singh in 1947 had not settled the question of sovereignty over Kashmir.

India blamed Pakistan for thwarting a plebiscite after the ceasefire in Kashmir in January 1949, and refused to be bound by the UN resolutions once Pakistan had joined the Baghdad pact in 1954. To India, the accession is final, and the only ‘standing’ Pakistan has in Kashmir is that of an aggressor who first instigated, and was now directly waging, a proxy war against India.

Despite this, Vajpayee was prepared to trade a concession along the lines suggested by Musharraf for the restoration of peace in Kashmir. For India, peace was the real core issue in Kashmir.

But Pakistan was prepared to offer neither concession.

The Agra summit was doomed from the start.

This article was published in HinustanTimes. I remember an incident when someone in a newspaper here in Toronto claimed the same 75000 figure in the Kashmir loss of life. He said all those were killed by Indian security forces. I questioned if he forgot to count the heads of those killed by those terrorists. There was no answer!