Arab-style revolt unlikely in strife-torn Kashmir

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 April, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 April, 2011, 12:00am


A huge voter turnout throughout Indian-administered Kashmir, coupled with spontaneous voting in the recently held polls to elect village-level administrative bodies, must have made the Indian government heave a sigh of relief. After all, New Delhi has been interpreting such substantial voter participation in elections as the Kashmiri affirmation of faith in Indian democracy.

Moreover, after the uprising in Tunisia spread like a bushfire around North Africa and the Middle East, the time-tested proposition of ballots over bullets might just help nip in the bud the possibility of a mass revolt.

But, with officials anxiously monitoring Kashmiri society for any signs of an uprising, the assassination of Moulvi Showkat Ahmad Shah, a prominent pro-government religious cleric from the Wahhabi sect, may well be used to amplify the assertion that Kashmiri politics has been hijacked by vested interests for far too long.

It's true that relations between the Kashmiri people and the Indian state have been uneasy since the infamous flawed elections of 1987. The undemocratic behaviour provided the perfect excuse for hardcore elements to rampage; it led to the creation of a new militant outfit, Hizbul Mujahedeen, which is headed by Syed Salahudin, a candidate at the 1987 elections who turned militant after losing faith in democratic values.

Since then, Kashmir has turned into a garrison with troops indulging in intermittent human rights violations. A recent Amnesty International report criticising the provincial administration for illegal detention testifies to the high-handedness of New Delhi.

Despite being a democratic nation, India could not prevent a sense of alienation swallowing up a large section of Kashmiri society.

According to Sam Zarifi, Amnesty's Asia-Pacific director, 'the scale and type of human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir certainly merit international attention, particularly from India's allies and trading partners'.

Furthermore, Kashmiris are targets for discrimination. A Kashmiri native trying to set up a business or settle in another part of India faces almost certain harassment from state agencies, which suspect that person of being linked to terrorist networks. Kashmiris, especially youths, remain frustrated due to limited career options. As a result, they often stray into illegal activities like drug peddling.

Yet, in spite of the frequent and spontaneous protests that highlight years of suffering from militancy and economic deprivation, Kashmir will not become another Egypt. Rather, Kashmiris, unlike Egyptians, are mere pawns in a politico-strategic game in which both India and Pakistan are competing zealously to outwit each other.

As Kashmiri politician and author Shabir Choudhry notes, both countries are guilty of human rights violations in their controlled areas.

At the end of the day, in spite of its unfolding human tragedy, Kashmir has ceased to be an indispensable foreign policy asset for the Western powers.

Seema Sengupta is an India-based journalist