The Kashmiri people themselves have long been striving for autonomy and ultimately independence. Due to its strategic position, Kashmir has been of interest to both Pakistan and India since the end of British occupation in 1947, when they were divided into separate territories. Pakistan wanted to maintain control of all Muslim territories – and Kashmir has a mostly Islamic population – while India was interested in maintaining the image of a secular country. Eventually though, in October 1947, the ruling prince of Kashmir decided in favour of India – a decision not recognised by the Pakistani government due to suspicions of fraud. Fear over the violent dynamics is heightened after three wars and considering their nuclear capabilities.
India’s northernmost state, Jammu and Kashmir, lies in the Himalayas and has borders with Pakistan, Tibet, and China. The state comprises the administrative regions of Jammu, which lies in the plains below the Pir Panjal range, and has a population of approximately 4.39 million; Ladakh, bordering Tibet, with a population of 0.23 million; and the Kashmir valley between the Pir Panjal and Panjri ranges, with a population of 5.44 million. Jammu and Kashmir is the only Muslim majority state in India. However, the state is divided roughly along religious lines. Ninety-five percent of the residents of the Kashmir valley are Muslim, the overwhelming majority of whom are Sunni, while 50 percent of the population of Ladakh is Buddhist and 46 percent is Muslim (most of the Muslims of Ladakh are Shia). Jammu has a very different religious make-up, with 66 percent of the population Hindu and most of the rest Muslim.
Although the conflict in Jammu and Kashmir has its origins in the disputed accession to India in 1947, the actual conflict erupted in December 1989 when Indian government troops launched a crackdown on the rising violence by armed militant groups in the predominantly Muslim Kashmir valley.
From the outset, that crackdown was marked by brutality against civilians, including the shooting of unarmed demonstrators, civilian massacres and summary executions of detainees. At the same time, militant groups stepped up their attacks, murdering and threatening residents, carrying out kidnappings and assassinations of government officials, civil servants and suspected informers and engaging in sabotage and bombings. In the three and a half years since the conflict began, at least 6,000 people have been officially killed by all sides (with many more unreported deaths) and over 100,000 people, mainly Hindus, have fled the valley.
According to a recent report by China Daily (January 2, 2014), compared to 2012, there has been a 38% increase in the human rights violations in the Indian-side of Kashmir during 2013. Whereas the death tolls due to violence during 2012 were 148, in 2013 human rights violations caused 204 deaths.
Indian forces and paramilitary groups have been known to use rape as a weapon of war throughout the conflict. Although the Indian government has prosecuted and punished a number of security personnel for rape, many cases are never investigated. Reports of rape in border areas have increased since the crackdown in these areas in 1997. Although Indian human rights groups and the international press have reported on the widespread use of rape by Indian security forces in Kashmir, the instrumental use of rape in the conflict has not attracted much international attention, let alone explicit condemnations.
According to the United States Department’s 2010 human rights report, 1,616 extrajudicial or unlawful killings were committed in India until 2010. The Kashmir Times, in an editorial of 4 March 1993, commented on the main victims: "During the past four years of violence in Jammu and Kashmir the majority of those killed were the innocent citizens who were neither involved in the acts of militancy nor in the retaliatory action of the security forces... The concern among the people having faith in human value, peace and civil liberties over the mass violation of human rights in the State is understandable... Unfortunately, there has been increase in the killings of innocent persons in Kashmir during the past few months while both the Government and the militant outfits have been crying hoarse about the violation of human rights".
According to Human Rights Watch Report, India's Secret Army in Kashmir: New Patterns of Abuse Emerge in the Conflict, Indian security forces in Kashmir continue to systematically administer torture to coerce detainees to reveal information about suspected militants or to confess to militant activity. Torture is also used to punish detainees who are believed to support or sympathize with the militants, and to create a climate of political repression. The practice of torture is facilitated by the fact that detainees are generally held in temporary detention centres, controlled by the various security forces, without access to the courts, relatives or medical care.
Methods of torture include severe beatings, electric shocks, crushing the leg muscles with a wooden roller, and burning with heated objects. The Indian government has not made public any investigations into any of the many documented cases of torture, nor has it ever announced that a member of the security forces was prosecuted or punished for torture. Although the government denies that torture is practiced systematically and as a matter of policy in Kashmir, government officials have admitted that torture takes place.
Widespread impunity prevailed for violations of international law in Kashmir, including unlawful killings, extrajudicial executions, torture and the enforced disappearance of thousands of people since 1989. The majority of cases of more than 100 youths shot dead by the police and other security forces during protests in the summer of 2010 were not fully investigated.
This is all due to the fact that the Indian government has enacted a set of laws called the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) in parts of Northeast India and in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. AFSPA, which has been in place since 1990, allows the armed forces to detain people without a warrant, shoot to kill under certain circumstances and it protects the security personnel from prosecution. The laws have been widely criticised by the international community.
National Conference Party
Founded by Sheikh Abdullah, the National Conference Party has dominated electoral politics in Indian-administered Kashmir for decades. The party supports autonomy for Kashmir within the scope of the Indian constitution.
Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front
The Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) was founded in the 1960s with the aim of forming an independent state of Kashmir through the reunification of Indian-administered Kashmir with Pakistan-administered Kashmir.
Jammu Kashmir People's Democratic Party
Founded in 1999 by Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, the Jammu Kashmir People's Democratic Party (JKPDP) is an ethnic Kashmiri party advocating self-rule for Jammu and Kashmir.
As of 1999, the major militant organisations fighting in Kashmir were the Hizb-ul Mujahideen, Harkat-ul Ansar and Lashkar-e Toiba. The latter two, in particular, are reported to include a large number of non-Kashmiris. Most of these groups support accession to Pakistan. All groups have reportedly received arms and training from Pakistan. Officially, the Pakistani government has denied involvement in arming and training Kashmiri militants.
Central government forces operating in Kashmir include the Indian Army and India's federal security forces, the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), and the Border Security Force (BSF). The army's role in the conflict expanded in 1993 with the introduction of the Rashtriya Rifles, an elite army unit created specifically for counter-insurgency operations in Kashmir. The Rashtriya Rifles have been the main force in charge of counter-insurgency operations in Doda, Rajouri and Punch.
The local Jammu and Kashmir policemen are generally not involved in counter-insurgency operations, largely because they are believed to be sympathetic to the insurgency. However, in 1995 the Special Task Force (STF) and the Special Operations Group (SOG), counter-insurgency divisions of the Jammu and Kashmir Police made up of non-Muslim, non-Kashmiri recruits, including some former militants, were formed apparently to create the impression that the counter-insurgency effort had local support. These police forces frequently operate jointly with the Rashtriya Rifles.
Since at least early 1995 Indian security forces have armed and trained local auxiliary forces made up of surrendered or captured militants to assist in counter-insurgency operations. These forces function outside of the normal command structure of the Indian army and other security forces, yet are considered state agents under international law. These groups participate in joint patrols, receive and carry out orders given by security officers, and operate in full view of army and security force bunkers and camps.
Kashmir-specific, community-based solutions have not yet been able to have any significant impact in the improvement of people’s lives because they are still too closely intertwined with India-Pakistan bilateral relations, and the governments of Jammu and Kashmir and AJK regard each other as little more than puppet regimes. Nor can they be effective unless India and Pakistan move beyond their rhetoric to strengthen Kashmiris’ ownership of the process.
The governments should recognise that the benefits of reducing the Valley’s isolation, such as by granting Jammu and Kashmir access to international telephone dialing, would outweigh the perceived security risks. The government should also consider developing an intra-Kashmir postal service as well as environmental preservation and natural disaster responses.
The region faces similar environmental challenges on both sides, such as deforestation, land erosion, pollution of fresh water sources, rising temperatures and insufficient rainfall. They should collaborate by sharing information and devising a common agenda on environmental preservation, waste, forest and water management. In a region particularly prone to seismic events, a joint framework on natural disaster responses is also critical. After the October 2005 earthquake, for example, many lives could have been saved in the more remote areas hit hardest if villagers had been allowed to seek relief assistance across borders and governments had coordinated their efforts.
Lastly, it’s important to tackle current human rights violations as well as a transitional justice process focussing on past violations. People from the region as a whole need to be part of a process that would allow them to adequately approach those six decades of grievances and have their accounts of injustices heard and taken into account.