Nuclear Flashpoint Kashmir: A Humanitarian Crisis Unfolds Amidst an Authoritarian Crackdown

by Joshua Shurley

Over a hundred people gathered this past Saturday at a busy Fresno, California intersection for a peaceful demonstration in order to call attention to what has been happening in the India-administered area known as Kashmir. Since August 5 the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir has been under an intense military lockdown and a blockade of both goods and communication. Mass protests that have sprung up are being brutally suppressed. Access to the Internet (and thus, communication with the outside world) has been cut off, and a blockade of food and medicine has ensued the past four weeks, leading to a humanitarian crisis.  Needless to say, this situation is troubling to the millions who live in the region, and to their relatives around the world–including those living here in California’s Central Valley. While the signs of the demonstrators were full of information about the situation, their faces displayed shock, fear, and deep concern.

Members from Fresno, California’s Kashmiri community demonstrate in north Fresno to raise awareness to the atrocities endured by their relatives on the other side of the world.

“the actions since August 5 are nothing less than an unfolding crime against humanity of epic proportions.”

Background

The formerly princely state of Kashmir was independent until it became absorbed by India in 1947. About one third of Kashmir is controlled by Pakistan, and the other two-thirds (where most of the population resides) is controlled by India. The 1947 Indian constitution acknowledges Kashmir as an unresolved issue still in dispute between the two countries, and has recognized its special autonomous status ever since. In the ensuing years the two countries have experienced two wars and a long-running insurgency in the majority-Muslim state. The tensions between India and Pakistan have been especially heightened since the end of the Cold War, and tens of thousands of Kashmiris have been killed by Indian troops since 1989. Amnesty International reports that disappearances, torture and rape by Indian Army units against Kashmiri Muslims are commonplace. 

Given the longstanding conflict over the region that is so heavily disputed between India and Pakistan, the question is, why this move? And why now?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in power since 2014, is an immensely popular but divisive figure in Indian politics. His political career was began in the movement known as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a far-right group associated with promoting violence against non-Hindus and glorifying Adolf Hitler‘s notion of “cultural nationalism.” Modi was re-elected in May, becoming the first prime minister in nearly fifty years to win a majority in successive parliamentary elections. Modi and his BJP party have viewed this as a sweeping mandate to impose Hindu dominance in political affairs, to the dismay of Muslims and other Indian minorities in the diverse country of more than 1.3 billion.

The Current Crisis

On August 5, 2019, the President of India revoked the Special Autonomous Status of Indian administered Jammu and Kashmir, in apparent abrogation of Articles 370 and 35a of the Indian constitution. That morning, ten million Kashmiris woke up in a complete lockdown. Stories emerged about Indian security forces rounding up people in anticipation of a public backlash to the crackdown. Thousands have been arrested and many jailed in preventive custody, which the government says it can do for up to two years with  no formal charges. Eyewitnesses tell of barbaric unspeakable acts of cruelty such as torture, beatings and displays of public humiliation on the streets by the occupying troops–apparently in an attempt to emphasize to Kashmiris their helplessness.

Today, four weeks since this began, a 24/7 curfew is being enforced, as is a complete communications blackout with each other and with the outside world. The movement of people and goods, as well as the freedom of the press is being restricted. This has continued for four straight weeks, and the humanitarian crisis is grows worse each day.

According to Fresno physician Dr. Saadat Farooqi (who organized the demonstration), food supplies and lifesaving medicines are not reaching the people who desperately need it. This includes countless family members of local residents who have not taken much-needed medications for preventable illnesses such as hypertension and diabetes. While people are being jailed and millions of vulnerable civilians are under siege, more troops continue to pour in, bringing the number of troops to just under one million. Dr. Farooqi reminded us that the current ratio is about one soldier per ten or eleven Kashmiri people.

Further complicating the situation is the fact  that this is amidst a nuclear standoff. Both India and its neighbor Pakistan are nuclear powers, as is China to the north. Fresno peace activist Dan Yaseen (host of Speaking Truth to Empire) emphasized the precariousness of the escalating tensions which could quite possibly lead to a conflagration involving the deployment of nuclear weapons. This is made more potentially hazardous considering recent statements by defense minister Rajnath Singh indicating India is rethinking its “no first strike” rule. This opens the possibility for an offensive first-strike with nukes if the Modi government feels threatened by the response to the current unrest (that his own government provoked).

What compounds the human rights abuses happening in the Kashmir valley is not only it’s potential to spark nuclear war, but the fact that it’s happening amidst an information blackout. Modi appears to be acting with impunity, since no significant external pressure has yet been applied as a result of these events. In a tactic often used by despots, Internet and social media access have been cut off.

The author with Dr. Saadat Farooqi, who organized the demonstration among Fresno’s Kashmiri community

What Now?

This troubling rise of Hindu nationalism coincides with a disturbing global trend of fascism and far right movements around the world. Again, this is a nuclear-armed nation, and one that is operating under what appears to be Donald Trump’s endorsement.

Genocide Watch is issuing a Genocide Alert for Indian administered Kashmir. The factors that lead to genocide are present, and mant steps in the process are well underway. The unresolved political conflict over Kashmir has been a terrible thing for many decades. But the actions since August 5 are nothing less than an unfolding crime against humanity of epic proportions. Taking in the magnitude of the situation and what is facing the region that is home to millions of proud Kashmiris, as well as the threat to global stability, the worry on the faces of our fellow Fresnans gathered at the demonstration became more than understandable.

The antidote to such darkness is light. Sane observers are calling upon the United Nations and its member states to warn India not to commit genocide in Kashmir. What is needed immediately is the removal of occupying security forces and an immediate return to diplomacy, followed by an aggressive agenda of nuclear disarmament and prohibition, and a commitment to honest and transparent reporting on human events in Jammu and Kashmir.

Please consider contacting your elected officials and urge a peaceful resolution to this dangerous situation–one that respects the human rights of all people.

Dr. Joshua Shurley teaches political science at Clovis Community College in Fresno, California. He sits on the board of the Fresno Center For Nonviolence and is an organizer with the Fresno chapter of Veterans For Peace. He can be reached at fresnovfp@gmail.com

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