Twenty Indian Army soldiers were killed recently in clashes with the Chinese Military. The confrontation took place in the Ladakh region, a mountainous area that straddles the border between India and Tibet. The skirmish reportedly broke out because of construction along the contested border. The Chinese side also suffered an unconfirmed number of losses, with Indian sources claiming up to forty three casualties inflicted. Currently both sides are engaged in talks to de-escalate the situation and prevent further skirmishes. However, volatile rhetoric has been levelled from both sides of the border, and several Indian officials have called for the boycotting of Chinese products.
Rows with neighbours are sadly a common occurrence in India. Just last year the country conducted airstrikes in Northern Pakistan along the “Line of Control” (a de facto military demarcation line in Kashmir) in retaliation for a suicide bombing that killed 40 Indian security forces. India accused neighbouring Pakistan of orchestrating the attack, something which Pakistan vehemently denies. This resulted in Pakistan shooting down an Indian fighter jet in the following days. This is but a short footnote in a storied history that includes five major conflicts, thousands of soldiers and non-combatants killed, and innumerable skirmishes as well as an ongoing insurgency. Of those five major conflicts, four were between India and Pakistan, and one was between India and China. Almost all of them were fought over the Jammu-Kashmir region.
Plainly put, all of these countries share a regional issue. The recent dispute between India and China is just a continuation of that issue. Kashmir is divided into four primary regions. The Ladakh/Jammu and Kashmir region in the south is controlled by India; the Gilgit-Baltistan region is administered by Pakistan; an unnamed region was ceded to China by Pakistan but never recognized by India; and the Aksai Chin region is disputed between both India and China. It was on the border between Ladakh and Aksai Chin that the border conflict took place. Now there is a buildup of military installations near the border, despite the rhetoric of de- escalation surrounding the issue.
Kashmir was, until 1947, a princely state under the administration of the British Empire. Once the British left after the Partition of India, Kashmir was given the choice of joining either Pakistan or India or remaining independent. The majority of Kashmir was Muslim while the ruling class was primarily Hindu. Fearing that neither side would be content should Kashmir accede to India or Pakistan, the Hindu king of the country decided to remain independent with a national referendum to be held later to determine statehood. The referendum never occurred. Pakistan incited an armed revolt and, facing overwhelming odds, the king of Kashmir acceded to India in order to procure their military assistance. A wider conflict exploded and ended with a stalemate between India and Pakistan. The ultimate result of the successive conflicts was the de facto partitioning of the region into the aforementioned segments.
Those in Kashmir today are born into, grow and die under the oppressive shadow of state violence. Current estimates put the number of Indian troops within the region of Jammu-Kashmir at somewhere between 500,000 to 1 million. A low level insurgency has been waged within the country since 1989, with various groups fighting for independence while others seek the ascension of Jammu-Kashmir to Pakistan. Pakistan originally was heavily-involved in the arming and training of separatist forces within the region, something which furthers the divide with India. Meanwhile civilians often become the victims of fighting. According to the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, around 40,000 civilians have died as a result of the violence since 1989, and that is to say nothing of those displaced by the two conflicts predating 1989.
Civilians are subject to frequent abuse by police and rarely are their rights respected. Just last year, the Indian government cut off internet-access across all of Jammu-Kashmir in response to protests against India’s National Registry of Citizens (which critics fear could be used to further disenfranchise Muslims). Rapes, disappearances, and even massacres have been committed on numerous occasions by the Indian military and security forces, yet these acts rarely have repercussions. Not one member of the Indian military has been prosecuted for crimes as of 2015. Some human rights groups even claim that the actual number of civilian casualties is closer to 100,000.
Neither China, India or Pakistan have proven themselves willing to compromise on the issue of Kashmir’s statehood. India asserts that Kashmir is a part of India as per the accession signed by the king in 1947. Kashmir is provided with a degree of autonomy under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, but it comes at the cost of military occupation and rights can be stripped away at a moment’s notice. Pakistan asserts that the statehood of Kashmir must be determined by its people, that the king of Kashmir at the time of the partition was not representative of the majority Muslim population, and that the accession of 1947 was made under military duress and as such is invalid under international law. China states that the Aksai Chin region is part of China rather than Kashmir and does not recognize the boundaries as originally drawn up by the British. These positions all run counter to each other and with no side willing to compromise, it ensures the inevitability of future conflict. The ultimate losers here are the Kashmiris, who have little say in the matter. They must live their lives navigating the constant threat of violence brought on by outside forces.
For all these countries maintaining their current position is a continuation of an unjust system. This is simply not working. In order to combat an insurgency, India has flooded the region with troops. This brings about further resentment among the populace. Adil Ahmad Dar, the man who conducted the bombing last year, reportedly became radicalized after being beaten by Indian police years prior. India must reduce its presence and visibility in the region in order to curb violence. The government may claim that Kashmir is an integral part of the country, but the appearance of armed men on every street corner tells the opposite. It shows the populace that they live in an occupied territory and that military force is necessary to keep them in line. If Kashmiris are citizens of India, then they should be treated with the same respect as citizens in all other areas of the country.
In order to reduce the military buildup within Jammu-Kashmir however, a vast reduction of military presence is needed on all sides. Pakistan, India, and also China must engage in more peaceful dialogue and work towards some sort of deal that might limit the deployment of troops. Much like the agreements between the United States and Soviet Union that limited the proliferation of nuclear weapons, all countries should recognize the benefits of de-escalation. It would help to prevent both border conflicts and insurgent attacks. That means that many of the insurgents will have to be party to the agreement as well. That is not a defeat on the part of India; rather it is a prudent move to save lives in Kashmir.
An ideal solution would be for the people of Kashmir to finally decide for themselves the issue of statehood. Whether such a referendum could ever be carried out is another question entirely. Based upon past evidence, it seems unlikely. So much has already been written about this topic, and so much blood and tears have been shed. According to one survey by the Delhi’s Centre for the Study of Developing Societies in 2007, over 90% of those surveyed within the city of Jammu desire independence. A similar study carried out by British academic Robert Bradnock in 2010 found that over half interviewed wanted independence, but almost all desired a peaceful solution to the conflict. The contention over Jammu-Kashmir is a complex problem but one that must be resolved peacefully. If any of the countries claim to uphold the sanctity of human life, then they must take steps to deescalate the situation. Otherwise more skirmishes will flare up, insurgencies will persist, and the people of Kashmir will continue to suffer.
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