Since they both gained independence from Britain in 1947, India and Pakistan have engaged in two separate conflicts over Kashmir, a Himalayan region over which both countries claim total control. As it currently stands, each country administers a section of Kashmir. The most recent conflict over the territory occurred in early 2019, when India and Pakistan each engaged in attacks against the other’s area of control. Conflict in the region has been a concern since an important constitutional amendment was passed by India in August 2019. The amendment put an end to the special autonomy that had been possessed by Indian-administered Kashmir, thus cementing its status as a region that can be affected by India’s government in the same manner as other Indian territories. While Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has repeatedly expressed interest in having an outside influence like the United Nations or the United States help mediate talks between India and Pakistan, leaders in India have so far been adamant that any continuing debate over territory will occur solely between the two involved countries, or not at all. The likelihood of conflict in the region, especially in the wake of India’s decision to revoke Indian-administered Kashmir’s autonomy, raises concerns about how citizens could be affected by violence. Since the 1980s, Indian-administered Kashmir in particular has seen an increase in violence on the part of separatists. India’s efforts to quell potential protests by limiting internet access to the region also raise concerns about the freedoms of citizens in the area to speak freely and communicate with the outside world.
Since the responses to this issue have been so different depending on the actor, the criticism of responses can vary. The willingness of leaders and decision-makers in Pakistan to get actors from the international community involved in negotiations between the two countries is admirable. Having an outside actor to influence talks and mediate conversation between India and Pakistan could offer many advantages that would be impossible in bilateral discussions. Other countries, like the U.S., could offer new perspectives on the issue of who can claim Kashmir which can only be seen by an entity that isn’t directly involved in the conflict and that doesn’t have anything to gain from a resolution as far as territory. Since there have already been two major conflicts between India and Pakistan over who has a rightful claim to Kashmir, something must be done to change the current situation to prevent any further violence or even another war that could ravage the area. In order to make progress and move beyond the current contentious situation, it’s important that India in particular is receptive to opportunities to move forward with discussions that could help craft a resolution.
The continuation of the problem undoubtedly has major roots in India’s reluctance to consider negotiations and the current tendency of decision-makers in India to restrict the freedoms of citizens. While protests can lead to more violence and do tend to signal unrest in an area, restricting access to the internet and social media is not an appropriate response to the potential demonstrations. Engaging in censorship to attempt to cut off communication between the people of Kashmir and the rest of the international community is not a course of action that will help to end the current conflict. If anything, pacifying citizens will give them even more reasons to protest and raise their voices up against oppression. Attempting to reconcile problems with Pakistan that could prevent any further need to stage forceful attempts to assert power over Kashmir is a more productive way to approach the problem. Engaging in some form of talks involving Pakistan would lead to a more lasting resolution for the people of Kashmir.
Early in the morning on January 31st, police in Indian-administered Kashmir stated that security forces just outside the city of Jammu engaged in a gun fight with rebels who were being transported by a goods truck heading for Srinagar. According to police, three rebels and one police officer were killed in the fight incited by the rebels. While the fight has since ended, police are continuing to pursue any possibilities of terrorist activity in the area. School and road closures are some of the precautions being taken in the area against further violence. This incident is just one example of the unrest that has plagued citizens in Kashmir in the wake of the conflicts over the territory between India and Pakistan. Living in a divided place where violence is so common and widespread is not a viable living situation for anyone. Living in a place where freedoms are frequently violated in order to quell demonstrations is not conducive to a good living experience.
While some sort of conversation is necessary to resolve the current situation, some of the recent moves made by involved actors have exacerbated the state of things and therefore, a certain amount of conflict could have been prevented had these moves been avoided. First of all, if an agreement, or at least a more peaceful situation, can be reached like the situation that emerged after the larger conflicts between the countries over Kashmir, that situation should be maintained in the absence of a better more permanent solution in order to prevent more violence. Though conditions in the divided Kashmir were far from perfect before the autonomy of Indian-administered Kashmir was taken away, the situation has undoubtedly become more volatile and prone to unrest since the amendment was adopted. India’s decision to integrate its area of Kashmir as a part of its regularly governed territory without autonomy, disrupted the relatively more stable situation that had been established by Kashmir’s division.
Another aspect of the conflict to keep in mind is the preferences of the citizens of Kashmir and whether they favour being under the control of Pakistan, under the control of India, or independent as their own entity. If Indian control is not the preferred situation for Kashmir citizens, having their territory absorbed into another country is likely to cause outrage and possibly lead to more violence and unrest. The identity of the people of Kashmir and their preferences are just as important as the requests of decision-makers in India and Pakistan.
Engaging in talks to incorporate not only the views of India and Pakistan but also the requests of the people of Kashmir could help prevent further violence in the area. However, while talks or meetings between representatives of the involved countries and possibly outside influences are important steps toward resolving the conflict, attention should also be given to how decision-makers in India might react if pressured too severely to engage in such conversations. Given the recent tendency of India to refuse to participate in any negotiations with outside actors from the international community, it’s important to realize that continued pressure could lead to further restriction of citizen’s freedoms in Indian-administered Kashmir. The protests that Indian decision-makers are attempting to quell by restricting freedoms are a sign that citizens in Kashmir are engaged in the current situation and conflict. Citizens in Kashmir should have the right to utilize the internet and social media to voice their opinions and organize together in pursuit of a better situation. Protesters should be listened to and their requests should be taken into account rather than silenced.