Thoughts On Violence In Kashmir

Thoughts On Violence In Kashmir

by Subhash Kak

Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA 70803-5901, USA

It has been said that history will judge the dismantling of the socialist system of economy in India to be the most important event of the early nineties, more important than the Gulf War. Notwithstanding this, the recent dialogue between India and the West has been dominated by reports of the militancy in Kashmir and the attendant human rights abuses by the police. Not only has the unrest in Kashmir received considerable attention in the media but President Clinton has mentioned it in many of his public speeches.

One wonders why this should be so considering that there are any number of places around the world with longer and more bloody conflicts. It is not for love of freedom that the US and its camp-followers have raised Kashmir as an issue in their dealings with India.

Consider the Kurds, for example; they have been fighting for their independence for decades. Their cause was featured in the pre-Gulf War publicity build-up by the Americans, although this publicity then cynically ignored that the Kurds were persecuted equally badly by Turkey and Syria, American allies in that War. After the defeat of Saddam Hussain, there has been no talk of an independent Kurdistan. Edward Pearce, in his marvellous recent book {Machiavelli's Children} explains: ``The Kurdish tragedy illuminates the gap between real reasons for fighting a small war---oil, money, client-assurance, bravado and figure-cutting---and those put on display: civilization, hostages, the rule of law, peace (after war) and `our moral duty'.''

Machiavelli said, ``Nothing brings a prince greater prestige than great campaigns and demonstrations of his personal ability.'' Bill Clinton's seemingly altruistic rhetoric on human rights was primarily an adoption of slogan bound to play well in the media. That this is not a moral issue is clear from the fact that the question of human rights is never raised with regard to Saudi Arabia, the greatest ally of the U.S. in West Asia, a totalitarian dictatorship that is firmly anchored in the eighth century.

The other function of the human rights slogan has been to keep pressure on countries that would otherwise wish to chart independent foreign policies. Internal difficulties have made Russia dependent on the U.S. The United Nations is now like the Church of the Middle Ages in Europe when it was invoked to bless campaigns whenever convenient to a prince.

The Kashmir issue offers delicious possibilities to the great powers; it is a stick that can always be applied on India. Each time the issue of human rights in Kashmir is raised in international forums, India might be pressured to make trade concessions to one great power or the other to stave off censure.

To return to Machiavelli, a campaign should have real risks, howsoever small, to lead to honour. Clinton's capitulation before the Chinese on the human rights question has effectively taken this issue out of his foreign policy. Nevertheless, Kashmir will undoubtedly keep coming up in the bilateral discussions between the Western nations and India.


Those who fight are often caught up in forces that they cannot control. The mujahideen of Afghanistan hastened the breakup of the Soviet Union, but their support by the U.S. was like the support of the rope for the hanged man. Afghanistan as a nation is no more. It is battleground for murderous warlords marching on each other.

The lip service that the U.S. has paid to the Kashmiri militants, helped no doubt by the generous contributions to the election funds of American Congressmen and Senators, is a support that does great harm to the Kashmiri people. In politics, as in life, it is foolhardy to set out on an unknown terrain without sufficient resources.


The unrest in India should be seen in the context of violence in the modern times. All around one sees a malaise replace the optimism of the post-Second World War days.

Consider the United States. According to a study of the Sentencing Project, the rate of imprisonment in the United States in 1990-1 was 455 per 100,000 of the population. The rate for India for the same period was 34 per 100,000 of the population. The US locks up fourteen times as many of its citizens on a proportional basis than India! One might ask whether the unrest we see in India is because it does not lock up its criminals like the U.S. does.

An even more significant piece of statistics relates to murder. This year the murder rate in New Orleans, a city of less than half a million people, is running at 100 per 100,000 people. At this rate New Delhi would have 8,000 murders a year. And the urban sprawl of the Kashmir valley would have 3,000. The number of deaths in the valley has been much lower than this figure. The crime rate for the entire US is several times that of India.

It is striking that the murder rate of American cities exceeds that of a region caught up in militancy. But rightly no one is speaking of human rights violations of American citizens in international forums, although one can imagine that in the heyday of the Cold War this would have been fodder to the Communist propagandists.


As everywhere else, there are two main arguments being given regarding crime in the US. On the one hand are those who claim that urban terror in the US is a response to police brutality, lack of opportunities for the urban poor, and the easy availability of guns. On the other hand, there are those who blame the breakdown of the family, poor education in the schools, gratuitous violence on TV, the harsh nature of American capitalism, with its attendant insecurities, and racism. And then there are others who see urban violence a natural condition of the post-modern state as societies struggle to decentralize themselves.

Perhaps the non-political aspects of the unrest in Kashmir have not been properly stressed. It appears that the initial breakdown occurred because the security mechanisms were not upto par in dealing with the firepower of the small group of militants, just as the police in American cities is incapable of dealing with their criminals.


If the city of Washington, the capital of the US, can carry on with a killing rate higher than that of Srinagar by isolating the violence away from the places most citizens work, perhaps the lesson is that the government of India should likewise endeavour to increase the areas in the valley that afford relative security and bring back the refugees who fled in the past five years.

Better training to the police should ensure that human rights abuses are minimized. But it is essential that criminals be dealt with severely.

Violence by the militants is expression in a language. How this violence plays in Delhi and Washington is very important to them. Clearly what is important is to engage the public in civil discourse so that the violent theatrics of the militants lose any symbolic power.

But one cannot wait for absolute calm to return. No place is absolutely safe. If we can be provided reasonable security in Kashmir, we should return. Our presence may help build bridges of understanding.

Source: Koshur Samachar

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