Monday was an ugly day in Kashmir for all parties involved. In their worst violence in three months of protests, Kashmiris set ablaze at least 12 buildings operated by the Indian government, along with a number of businesses and the Tyndale Biscoe School, a Christian missionary located in Tangmarg. Protesters escalated their lower-intensity demonstrations and quickly overwhelmed Indian security forces, who in turn fired indiscriminately into dozens of crowds across Jammu and Kashmir.
At least 15 Kashmiris suffered mortal wounds in addition to an Indian policeman struck by a government vehicle. Casualties are estimated over one hundred on both sides, including 41 critically-injured policemen.
Days like yesterday inevitably occur in warfare, whether in conventional or civil disobedience campaigns, due to the emotional buildup on each side. Conflicts must release energy just as natural phenomena do. But hardship also poses a test and yesterday tested Kashmir’s various actors. Only Kashmiri authorities appear to have passed.
Though the exact motivation and time-line of events is disputed by Kashmiri and Indian officials, the general consensus maintains that Kashmiris - already protesting on Eid ul-Fitr - were further infuriated after the Iranian-sponsored Press TV broadcast images of Bob Old, an evangelical Tennessee pastor, burning two Qurans. As such, Kashmiri protests took on an anti-American, anti-Israeli flavor complete with a burning effigy of President Barack Obama.
The level and targets of violence were enough to drag an unwilling America into the fray. Timothy J. Roemer, US ambassador to India, condemned the Tennessee pastor as “one misguided individual,” saying, “We strongly support local authorities appeal for calm and an end to the violence.”
But his statement reveals the futility of America’s response - only now does Washington concern itself with Kashmir, and possibly only for today. While Kashmiris normally direct their anger towards India, most are well aware that the West, specifically America and the UN, has utterly failed them. International institutions were created to favor the strong, but also to support the weak. Kashmiris can tune in Wednesday to observe the West’s full resources diverted towards Israel and the Palestinians, themselves abandoned to confront the supremacy of India’s might on their own.
Roemer’s interjection rubs off as disingenuous, sandwiched between months of isolation as US officials prepare to go dormant again. Obama has yet to mention Kashmir in office while his Pakistani envoy, Richard Holbrooke, publicly admits to his fear of the word. The White House held no press briefing yesterday and the State Department’s contained no information on Kashmir.
And half way around the world, India appears on the verge of inflicting severe damage against Kashmirs and by extension itself.
It’s true that Kashmiris acted out of control yesterday and no excuses should be made, not merely from a legal but also a resistance standpoint. Violence soils non-violence to the point where one act of violence can overshadow months of consistent non-violent; perception is critical during insurgency and counterinsurgency alike. Yet Indian officials immediately began accusing Kashmiri leaders when they possess the rational view of the situation.
With Indian reports suggesting that Kashmiri leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani orchestrated attacks on Indian police to provoke retaliation, the hard-liner appealed to protesters, "Control your sentiments... The misdeed of a person should not be made an excuse to target any minority community. I can well understand that emotions of Muslims have been hurt by the desecration of Qura’n. But at the same time, we have to control our emotions and not create such a situation which could give a chance to vested interests to defame Islam and our movement.”
Though Geelani doesn’t concern himself with targeting Indian forces, he clearly understands the principles of fourth-generation warfare (4GW) pursued through civil disobedience. Independent attacks can destroy the entire campaign, thus strict non-violence must be adhered to. Unlike India, Geelani also understands the difference between low-intensity self-defense - rocks - and the offensive intent to kill. A day of bloodshed between occupier and oppressed is the latest evidence of the state’s need to develop a 4GW response centered on political action.
Instead India’s political and military actors exploited the violence to postpone reform of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), at the least, and justify an overwhelming security response at worst.
Kuldeep Khoda, Director General of Indian Police Service, began by blaming the Hurriyat for instigating the violence, particularly Geelani’s aid Imtiyaz Haider. Hurriyat chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq also attracted scorn from Indian authorities for “deceiving” them by intentionally inciting protesters. Defense officials and the nationalistic elements within India’s parliament ominously capitalized on Kashmir’s violence to deadlock and postpone a decision regarding the AFSPA, arguing that today’s events demonstrate the act’s necessity in ending the cycle of unrest.
But it’s obvious to most non-Indians observers - and many Indians too - that the AFSPA exacerbates the conflict by allowing Indian security forces to operate with impunity in quasi-foreign territory.
“Imagine that you are unlucky enough to live in a district where it’s in force,” writes Pratik Kanjila in The Hindustan Times. “The law empowers soldiers to kick down your front door on suspicion and without a warrant, break open your almirahs and cabinets, ransack your home and apprehend anyone they see fit. If you resist, the law empowers them to shoot you in the head and, for good measure, flatten your home on the way out, without fear of prosecution.”
By postponing a decision on the AFSPA out of opposition rather than preparation, India is signaling that it still considers the use of force as its counterinsurgency spear-tip. The trust divide with Kashmiris stands to rise.
Judging by yesterday, amendments to the AFSPA likely would have been minimal anyway. While Kashmiris did lose control of their demonstrations after evolving to arson - threatening the lives of hundreds of Indian police - firing wildly into crowds returned the advantage to the Kashmiris. No excuse exists for this response, which occurred at many protest sites and immediately fueled new demonstrations and violence. Security forces fired back as if at war when protesters overran a police station.
A 4GW illusion, this reaction makes perfect sense to the state even though it’s actually counterproductive to neutralizing unrest.
While India tries escape from Kashmir’s 4GW through the small window of opportunity, Kashmiri leaders have demonstrated working knowledge of 4GW as applied by the Palestinians during the First Intifada. Kashmiri authorities lobbied to block Press TV once the protests spun out of control. Maintaining the moral high-ground and clarifying the message were treated as imperative, and Kashmiri protests will likely return to their normal intensity - although the numbers may increase.
“We appeal the people of Kashmir not to resort to violence or damage the public property especially educational institutions,” Farooq and senior Hurriyat official Aga Syed Al Hassan Mousvi, a Shia leader, said in a joint statement. “People should not undertake any such activity which will give chance to the international community to point fingers on us and our ongoing movement for freedom... This could have repercussions on our peaceful struggle.”
This is a man who’s studied civil-disobedience extensively, including the First Intifada, and is determined to cast India as the violent occupier, undermine its control of Kashmir, and destroy its political will to maintain the status quo. On cue, New Delhi’s message hinted towards a looming crackdown largely caused by political indecision - a recipe for disaster.
Kashmiris have a clear plan going forward. Local authorities must maintain a strict emphasis on low-intensity protests; rocks beat bullets every time in 4GW as they provoke a disproportionate response. Although average Kashmiris have a general grasp of the Palestinians’ struggle, distributing literature comparing the First Intifada’s success with the second, more violent Intifada’s failure would prove beneficial and inspirational. The same goes for other 4GW material detailing the success and failure of non-violent struggles.
So long as Kashmiri leaders keep protester turnout high and stay on the defensive, they possess the local mandate and international credibility to fix their demand at self-determination.
Farooq stated that “half-hearted measures” would not bring peace to the valley. Warning that lifting the AFSPA would not satisfy Kashmiris, Geelani declared, "We want end to Indian occupation here and have already laid out our proposal for initiating a dialogue.” Their proposal amounts to independence.
India’s policy isn’t so easy since New Delhi has been knocked on its heels. With no decision on the AFSPA, Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah once more threatened to quit. Indian officials claim not to have entertained the idea, but Omar has few friends in New Delhi or Kashmir. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh issued another personal appeal to Kashmiri youth, but again his sympathy coincided with Indian bullets. New Delhi’s mixed messages have impeded both its internal response to the conflict and its interaction with Kashmiris. And 4GW is largely a matter of whose message is clearer.
Kashmiri leaders should be able to concentrate and re-energize their campaign in response to yesterday’s events. They'll be assisted by a panicking India, which just issued a blanket curfew over Jammu and Kashmir with air services suspended for three days. Wasim Khalid, a reporter for the Rising Kashmir newspaper, said journalists were unable to function on Monday because, "the curfew is so strict, even ambulances can't go. There is so much anger." Naturally India’s new curfew will inspire fresh protests, leading to potential casualties and media attention, further distorting New Delhi’s policy debate.
India still cannot bring itself to negotiate Kashmir’s status, but until then the world’s largest democracy will find itself locked in a fourth-generation, 21st century prison - the image of an oppressive occupier. It bears repeating that Kashmir’s cycle is sustainable.
India’s is not.