The New Year, which for many around the world promised the beginning of better times ahead did not bode so well for the people in the disputed territories of Jammu and Kashmir. On Jan. 2, a relative period of calm held by a very fragile thread was suddenly snapped when security forces stationed outside a power plant in Uri, an hour away from the city of Srinagar, were confronted by demonstrators protesting the frequent power shortages. According to reports, the security personnel opened fire on the protesters, killing a 25-year-old man and maiming two others.
Regionally, power cuts measuring 72 to 96 hours a week had been designated for areas where actual consumption and usage was not being tracked and accounted for and slightly less cuts in areas where modern digital electric power reading meters had been recently installed. This did not sit well with many residents of the area, particularly as winter had begun to settle in the mostly mountainous region of the state where temperatures hover to near freezing on a daily basis. They complained that the blackouts which often lasted 15 hours a day were more drastic than in the previous year and were debilitating any form of normal existence, creating unnecessary hardships for their families.
The state’s Chief Minister Omar Abdullah attributed the blackouts due to shortages in electricity because of the practice of illegal diversion and theft of electric power – a practice that he claims is widespread across India. “People should realize that by indulging in such acts they are making life miserable for others,” he said. He even went to the extremes of requesting one of his critics, Mirwaiz Farooq, a well-known member of the clergy, to “issue a fatwa against those who indulge in power theft.”
What made the recent shootings the basis of a new flash point of violent reprisals was that those who fired at the demonstrators were not local Kashmiri police but forces of the Central Industrial Security Force, a federal government unit hired by the National Hydro Power Corporation. They had very little knowledge or experience in dealing with the delicate situation in the region, where so often the demands of autonomy or freedom by the people results in more violence. Following the arrest of five members of this force for using firearms against unarmed protesters, the state’s home secretary stated that, “The incident could have been avoided if CISF men had co-coordinated with the state police.”
But such statements have begun to fall on deaf and weary ears that have been listening to politicians and their empty promises for more than 61 years. Back in 1948, the UN Security Council approved a resolution, establishing a special commission to investigate the conflict following the partition in the subcontinent that led to the creation of two independent countries – India and Pakistan. Subsequent to the commission’s recommendation, the Security Council ordered in its Resolution 47, passed on April 21,1948, that the invading Pakistani Army retreat from Jammu & Kashmir and that the accession of Kashmir to either India or Pakistan be determined in accordance with a plebiscite to be supervised by the UN.
For 61 long years since that resolution which promised so much, the people of Kashmir remained waiting and mired between Indo-Pakistan politics. Many had died naturally, while many others killed unnecessarily through violence. The plebiscite never happened. The dispute over Kashmir had in fact led to two wars between the neighboring countries and has escalated tensions since. The region’s people are said to have less aspirations of normalcy than their counterparts in other parts of the country. Torn with successive violence and fragmented by calls of separation by various groups, the state of affairs of the people of Kashmir is not to be envied.
This prolonged state of unquenched promises and frequent violence in the region has led to the formation of many militant groups who see no alternative except to take a stand with guns and bullets, leading to a fresh cycle of violent reprisals and where many of the victims are often the innocent.
Generations have been born in the region, hearing of the promise of autonomy from the time they clung to their mothers’ bosoms, only to grow up and realize that it had not yet materialized. Some unfortunately were swayed by the romantic calls of violent resistance and would likely join elements that would spread their discord not only in Kashmir but in other parts of India.
The future of Kashmir should put an end to all rounds of violence and a fresh round of political maneuvers that would satisfy the aspirations of the Kashmiri people and a nonthreatening alliance with its neighbors should begin.
India today is a country motivated to exorcizing widespread political corruption in its march toward democracy. Pakistan has its own internal and fragmented issues to deal with. The people of Kashmir are left to wonder when they would be given the chance to decide their own fate, a promise inscribed in the annals of UN resolutions some sixty years ago.