Pakistan Arrests 22 Protestors As Pro-Independence Protests Continue

On September 7, 22 Kashmiri protestors were arrested by Pakistani forces while continuing their ongoing resistance against foreign control of Kashmir, especially India’s recent controversies in the region. The protest had been ongoing since September 6 at Tatrinote within Pakistan-controlled Kashmir. Those arrested are, but a slight fraction against the thousands of Kashmiri individuals, often politicians and/or members of the pro-independence Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Force (JKLF), arrested by India since August 5, the date on which India eliminated Article 370 of its constitution. The Article established Kashmir, the region so contentiously claimed and administered by both India and Pakistan, as a state of special status with unique rights to establish its own constitution and pass many of its own laws; its abrogation subsequently dissolved this partial independence of Jammu and Kashmir. India preempted this political manoeuvre by sending troops into the region and disabling general communications.

The commanding officer, Chief of Police Tahir Mahmood Qureshi, reported to Al Jazeera that the arrests were not politically motivated, but that rather the protestors had come too close to the Line of Control dividing determination of Kashmir between India and Pakistan, apparently rendering them vulnerable to shelling from India. He alleged, “We were giving them a safe route, but they wanted to go to an exposed area where Indians could have shelled them.” That allegation did receive some validation on September 14; Pakistani and Indian military forces exchanged fire across the Line of Control; 2 deaths and multiple injuries resulted. Meanwhile, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has persistently criticized India’s treatment of Kashmir, even claiming in a recent New York Times article that the escalation of measures against Kashmir were also raising the risks of inadvertent nuclear war between India and Pakistan, “If the world does nothing to stop the Indian assault on Kashmir and its people, there will be consequences for the whole world as two nuclear-armed states get ever closer to a direct military confrontation.”

The Kashmiri resistance since 1989 has been met with at least 70,000 deaths, according to the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, while conflicts over Kashmir have already resulted in two wars between India and Pakistan; the very human costs override whatever incentives govern the involvement of these controlling nations, and India especially should restore internet and cellular communications. Journalists and human rights groups are currently unable to assess the situation, as their access is barred, in order to determine the veracity of any accusations of abuse present there. Only the government of India has released estimations as to the arrests occurring. India should also be cognizant and concerned about the welfare impact on the people of Kashmir, who appear to not have had any input on the abrogation of Article 370. India is clearly aware of the repeal’s unpopularity, as evidenced by their preemptive response to future protests and their shutdown of communications.

Nor should Pakistan be fully exculpated for its own administration of Kashmir; the recent arrests do show some tension between the cause for independence and Kashmir’s continued control of much of Kashmir. While Khan’s claims to support Kashmir’s escape from oppression do appear well-founded, Pakistani actions may not reflect the same level of concern for Kashmir. For instance, electoral law stipulates that Kashmiri political candidates pledge support for accession to Pakistan. Pro-independence parties such as the JKLF often report intense political pressure from Pakistan, although the scale may not be comparable to India’s crackdown on its own independence protestors. Pakistan and its PM should take care not to simply use Kashmir as political ammunition against India without considering their own impact on the region.

The Kashmir conflict and the tensions across the Line of Control have inspired a great deal of controversy worldwide. President Donald Trump extended an offer to mediate a resolution between the two countries, but his proffering has not been accepted. PM Khan continues to advocate presumably on behalf of the Kashmiri, holding a solidary rally on September 6th to announce that he would be advocating on behalf of Kashmir at the UN. Michelle Bachelet, UN Human Rights Chief, has stated her own concern over the issue, saying, “I am deeply concerned about the impact of recent actions by the government of India on the human rights of Kashmiris.”

Even if the conduct in Kashmir by both India and Pakistan was utterly spotless, the communications blackout imposed by the former is unjustifiable. The disruption of Kashmiri internet and communications was a politically illegitimate move designed to counteract a prediction of civil unrest, making it clear that India had not incorporated Kashmiri sentiments into its decision to abrogate Article 370. India and Pakistan cannot allow Kashmir to escalate yet again into a cause for war, and the sincere attention of other nations may prove invaluable for dissuading such an outcome.