My topic, Conflict and Peace in Jammu and Kashmir looks at political developments, youth stone-pelting incidents, militancy, regional divide, and recommendations for peace. This project is particularly close to my heart as I am originally from Jammu city in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. I relied on interviews, books, newspaper, and scholarly articles for my research. I interviewed Virender Sahi, journalist and a retired Indian army colonel. My second interview was with Professor Anurag Gangal from the University of Jammu. Lastly, I interviewed Fahaad Bhat, a Muslim youth president of the Kashmir-based peacebuilding NGO, J&K Peace Foundation. I wish that I had spoken to more people, but many of them refused to speak on camera because of the sensitivity of the issue. I also tried but was unable to find a female expert who could give her opinion on this issue.
Recently, the Indian government revoked Article 370 and Article 35A of the Indian constitution, which granted autonomy, property rights, and other privileges to Jammu and Kashmir’s (J&K) residents. The federal government claims that this action will ensure the full integration of J&K into the Indian union and will create employment and investment opportunities. Jammu and Kashmir will become a union territory with a legislative assembly whereas Ladakh will become a union territory without an assembly. The conversion to union territory will give the federal government more control vis-à-vis these regions, especially in terms of security. President Trump’s offer to mediate in Kashmir dispute and the Afghan peace process, which will give the Taliban a prominent role in the Afghan government will strengthen Pakistan’s role. These developments and the recent thumping majority of the Prime Minister Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the 2019 parliamentary elections might have propelled the government to take this action.
a.) The desire for autonomy in Kashmir
After the partition of British India in 1947, the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir acceded to the Indian union by Maharaja Hari Singh after tribal guerillas backed by Pakistan invaded the state. The state of J&K is composed of three regions: Jammu (majority Dogra Hindus), Kashmir (majority Kashmiri Muslims) and Ladakh (majority Tibetan Buddhists and Shia Muslims in the Kargil district of Ladakh) with each of these regions being geographically, ethnically, linguistically and culturally different from each other. The idea of autonomy was always popular in the Kashmir region, whereas Jammu and Ladakh favored full integration with India. Part of Kashmir’s demand for autonomy also stems from the fact that Kashmiri Muslims were discriminated against and marginalized during the Dogra Hindu Maharaja’s rule. Sheikh Abdullah, the popular secular leader of Kashmir and his political party, National Conference rebelled against the Maharaja’s rule. Despite National Conference’s close links with Indian National Congress and declared secularism, it never abandoned its Kashmiri Muslim heritage and regional patriotism, centered on the Kashmir Valley. As a result, Kashmir and India were fraternal but ultimately separate entities, whose relationship ought to have been based on equality and mutual respect. Moreover, the Indian independence movement, which gained widespread support in the rest of India, never gained momentum in the Kashmir valley. National Conference gained popularity in Kashmir as its focus was against the Maharaja’s rule.
b.) Political developments in Jammu and Kashmir
As illustrated by the timeline of events in the slideshow above, marginalization during the Maharaja’s rule, rigging and electoral malpractices, heavy military presence and human rights violations have created separatism and alienation in Kashmir.
The turmoil in Kashmir has been further exacerbated by Pakistan’s claim on the Muslim-majority state since its own creation in 1947. There have three unsuccessful attempts by the Pakistani army to control the region in 1947-48, 1965 and 1999. The Pakistani army and its intelligence, Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) has backed terrorist activities led by Lashkar e Tayyiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, and Hizbul-Mujahideen in Kashmir. Kashmiri youth have grown up in this toxic atmosphere of insurgency, curfews, and huge military presence. Violent incidents such as the killing of Kashmiri militants lead to widespread funeral gatherings and stone-pelting by the youth. In this situation, military and police use force to maintain law and order, which in turn often results in the death of civilians. This feeds into the never-ending cycle of violence and resentment.
III. How are the Kashmiri youth getting radicalized?
For my research project on youth peacebuilding in Kashmir, I interviewed experts from the region. My aim was to examine this issue from different perspectives. Therefore, I interviewed a retired army colonel and academician from Jammu and a youth activist from a peacebuilding NGO from Kashmir.
Audio interview with Virendra Sahi
My first interviewee was Virendra Sahi, journalist and a retired colonel of the Indian Army who provided some insight into the matter from the Army’s perspective. According to Sahi, the radicalized Kashmiri youth are often paid by terrorist groups to throw stones at security forces. He expressed that the primary job of military and security forces is to maintain law and order. When protesters violently attack security forces, they are bound to take strict action against them.
Audio interview with Professor Anurag Gangal
My second interviewee was Professor Anurag Gangal from the University of Jammu. He also expressed the same sentiment as Mr. Sahi that the youth are paid by the terrorist groups to throw stones at security forces. There have been reports that Pakistan pays instigators to start the stone-throwing protest, who disappear once a mob has been formed. However, the young men who gather because of this are genuinely protesting. In recent years, many youths have turned their back on Kashmir’s syncretic tolerant form of Sufi Islam and have become attracted towards the idea of a caliphate and the implementation of Sharia.
As the director of Gandhian Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Jammu, Mr. Gangal’s Centre is involved in 150 peace education programs. In his opinion, cross-border terrorism by Pakistan-based terrorist groups and appeasement by mainstream Kashmiri political parties towards stone-pelters and militants have aggravated the conflict. Both of these interviewees were based in Jammu. Mr. Gangal also expressed his frustration that Jammu was unfairly neglected because of the unrest in Kashmir.
My interview with Fahaad Bhat (YouTube link: https://bit.ly/33Lm3AD)
My third interview was with Fahaad Bhat, youth president of the Kashmir-based peacebuilding NGO, J&K Peace Foundation. His NGO has created peace forums involving different stakeholders from inside and outside Kashmir. The organization is involved in social welfare programs and educational opportunities for the Kashmiri youth. Mr. Bhat blamed the stone pelting by the youth on the lack of job opportunities in Kashmir. He stated that unemployed or uneducated youth without any job prospect use stone-pelting to vent their anger against the Indian state. He looked at the Kashmir conflict mostly through an economic rather than a political viewpoint.
IV. What peacebuilding efforts are being undertaken in the region?
Mr. Sahi talked about Operation Sadbhavana (Goodwill) launched by the Indian Army under their Military Civic Action programs. Under this program, the army builds infrastructure (e.g., schools, bridges, roads, etc.), provides healthcare and educational tutoring and conducts sports events and educational tours for youth. He stated that the infrastructure projects are mostly implemented in remote areas where the state government has limited reach. The program aims to win the hearts and minds of the Kashmiri youth so that they would not indulge in stone-pelting or militancy.
Mr. Bhat stressed the importance of love and solidarity in winning the cooperation from youth. He explained that his organization also helps youth gain admission in universities outside Kashmir through government scholarship programs. Through these federal programs, Kashmiri youth are eligible for admission in colleges or universities outside Kashmir if they have attained the required cut-off marks in their 12th-grade board examination. Mr. Bhat’s organization helps eligible students in this admission process.
There are several organizations in Jammu and Kashmir who have been conducting work in the area of youth peacebuilding. One such organization is Yakjah: Reconciliation and Development Network. It has held workshops and mentorship sessions for the youth so that they can respond to conflict and become peacebuilders for their society.
Global Youth Foundation, based in Srinagar, Kashmir seeks to promote peace, inter-community harmony and justice. It works on issues of justice, women empowerment, unemployment among youth and social services. It has also hosted forums and discussions to address conflict resolution and peacebuilding.
V. The Jammu-Kashmir Divide
There has always been a regional divide between the Jammu and Kashmir regions. This divide was also visible in the interviews of the two Jammu-based experts. The people of Jammu feel that Kashmir gets disproportionate attention and resources because of the conflict. In recent decades, the demand for separate statehood among the people of Jammu has grown. Communal tensions based on Hindu versus Muslim identity have also increased between the two regions. Despite being pro-India, the people of Jammu feel that they are unfairly affected by the unrest in Kashmir. By attaining separate statehood, Jammu will have more control over its resources (such as economy, employment, investment, etc.) and be able to insulate itself from the turmoil in Kashmir. The people of Jammu were ecstatic about the revocation of Article 370 and Article 35A but expressed disappointment with the fact that Jammu did not become a separate state. Interestingly, the Jammu and Kashmir Interlocutors Group’s appointed by the federal government published a report in 2012, that recommended the creation of regional councils for the three regions, i.e., Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh. These three distinct regions would then be able to control their resources and implement policies if certain legislative, executive and financial powers are devolved to them.
VI. Conclusion and Recommendations:
Peace in Kashmir is affected by both external and internal factors, therefore my recommendations also address both: the external factor, i.e., tension between India and Pakistan affects peace (or the lack thereof) in Kashmir. During the Musharraf era, there was relative peace because of his government’s curb on terrorist groups operating in Kashmir. As mentioned earlier, Pakistan’s support for militant and terrorist groups operating in Kashmir has exacerbated the conflict. Normalization of relations between the two nations could have a significant positive impact on the unrest in Kashmir.
The internal factors determine the steps India can undertake for peace in Kashmir. Firstly, there should be a review of Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which provides security forces immunity from prosecution and vast powers such as the right to search, arrest, and even fire upon individuals associated with insurgent activities without a warrant. The 2012 interlocutors group report also advocated this. This act has also led to increased militarization and animosity among people as they feel that security forces are not held accountable for their violations. Therefore, security forces are always the primary target for youth stone-pelters who feel resentful for not having their grievances addressed.
Secondly, the Indian government should invest more in tourism and education to generate employment. Investments in tourism can greatly generate local government’s revenue and create employment opportunities. However, this requires relative peace to attract tourists. During my phone conversation with a Kashmiri student, he expressed that Kashmir has limited higher educational institutions. This leads students to travel long distances to gain higher education outside Kashmir. Even the Jammu region, which was previously underdeveloped, has more colleges and universities now.
Thirdly, there should be a plan to grant statehood to Kashmir with some autonomy. While the Jammu and Ladakh regions have welcomed the revocation of Article 370 and 35A, the response in Kashmir has been particularly lukewarm. Indian Home Minister, Amit Shah has stated that full statehood of Jammu and Kashmir will be restored at an appropriate time when normalcy returns. However, it does not seem like that the present government led by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has any plan of restoring Article 370 and 35A. BJP’s election manifestos have always advocated the revocation of Article 370 for the full integration with the Indian union.
Finally, the Indian government must realize that the present curfew in the state following the revocation of autonomy would not be helpful in addressing the Kashmir issue in the long term. Curfews and shutdowns add to the growing resentment of the people. Efforts should be made to provide a platform to all the stakeholders in J&K to determine their future and have their voices heard in order to prevent further radicalization of youth leading to a rise in insurgency and violence in the region.
This project was written and prepared by Abhi Slathia. His twitter is @Abhi_000000