My own thoughts on the Ladakh Standoff and beyond

Ladakh Standoff: Opportunity Knocking for Pakistan?

Carin I. Fischer

“US says Pak budget lacks transparency” screams a headline! Then it becomes clear that it is all about targeting CPEC! Clearly the Monroe Doctrine is now alive in a much wider context – from Latin America it now seeks to make the entire world its “sphere of influence!” It won’t work!

~ Shireen Mazari, June 23, 2020

While the above quote may sound to some as though US Pakistan relations may be heading for yet another nosedive, Pakistan’s Minister’s of Human Rights reaction must be interpreted as evidence of a newly emerging Pakistan, one that is more self-assured, less defensive, and aware of having options that ultimately could lead to a more honest and equitable partnership with the US.

US criticism of Pakistan today no longer focuses on terrorism or other issues used in the past as reasons for declining relations. This is despite India doing its best to keep that focus alive.  Today, China has become Enemy Number 1 in Washington, and any current negativity towards Pakistan has to be seen in the context of Pakistan’s close relations with Beijing. Although the US is very aware that Pakistan desires good relations with both countries, the US may increasingly try to pressurize Pakistan to choose between the two. Instead of worrying about this development, Pakistan could and should take advantage of the knowledge of having a reliable friend in China and use it as a bargaining chip with the US which still needs Pakistan’s cooperation in the region for many important national security reasons. In fact, Pakistan should test the US resolve to contain China’s influence at all costs by making clear that it in fact has a choice and, if pushed too far, may have to opt for China completely the way the US seems to have opted for India at the expense of other relationships while in pursuit of continued domination of the Indo Pacific.

Most recently, Washington has linked the current tensions between China and India along the LaC almost exclusively to its larger concern of a more aggressive China being out of control not just in South Asia but elsewhere. Statements have already been made by the administration that it supports India in that current conflict between the two countries. Linking Ladakh to other issues of concern to the US is a misperception also adopted by DC think tanks and voiced by mainstream media and professional journals. This kind of faulty interpretation must be corrected as soon as possible by Pakistan since the violence along the LaC is directly tied to Indian aggression, unilateral actions concerning Kashmir, and overall foreign policy issues of paramount importance to Pakistan in its own neighborhood.

It also presents a much needed opportunity to once again raise awareness about the growing expansionist approach by India in South Asia and how this approach, if further enabled by the US,  could lead to dangerous escalations both at the LaC and the LoC. In fact, Pakistan must highlight how at the moment India is at loggerheads with almost all its neighbors who have begun viewing it as a destabilizing country with hegemonic designs. Below are some talking points that could to be used to explain the roots of the current tensions and why it involves Pakistan.

The crisis in Ladakh is not directly linked to a more assertive China in Asia and other parts of the world as the US is claiming. It is a reaction to India’s unilateral actions in Kashmir beginning August 5 of last year, and has its roots in the illegal annexation of not only J & K but also Ladakh and declaring them Union Territories in contravention of UN Resolutions and all existing bilateral agreements.

India has become increasingly shrill about recapturing AJK and GB and how it plans to use covert operations and RAW sponsored dissidents to try to cause chaos in the two regions to advance its designs. This threatening posturing has become of great concern not only for Pakistan but also China because it has heavily invested in CPEC, major dam projects and road and other infrastructure in those areas.

Because of India’s unilateral and illegal actions in JKL, it can no longer be dismissed as simple posturing and there is growing concern by Pakistan and China that India may pursue its stated goals in the future.

In doing so, it has forced China to officially declare itself a fourth stakeholder in the Kashmir Dispute while also no longer feeling bound by past “gentleman agreements” about the exact delimitations of the LaC. Unlike the LoC, these delimitations were always based on perceptions by each country and never agreed upon formally.

Moreover, in an act of cartographic aggression, India is not only including AJK and GB as its own territory but now also showing Aksai Chin as such. Contrary to Indian propaganda accusing Pakistan of having “gifted” Aksai Chin to China, India lost Aksai Chin to China in the 1962 Indo-China war and Nehru consented to the territorial adjustment. Despite this region being nearly uninhabitable and having no resources, it remains strategically extremely important for China as it connects Tibet and Xinjiang. The area is also closely linked to the Karakorum Pass/ Highway which is central to CPEC. In addition it is very close to Siachen and access roads to it. This of course is also part of the dispute between Pakistan and India.

None of these important issues are being highlighted enough in Washington which mistakenly links China’s securing what it has always considered its territory to actions in Hong Kong, Vietnam, and other areas in the Indo Pacific.

Pakistan must play an important role in correcting the misperceptions and expose India for being the actual aggressor in Ladakh and much of South Asia.  It also can take advantage to once again highlight the illegal annexation of Kashmir and how the dispute has dangerous repercussions beyond Kashmir Valley.

Importantly since China has used the occasion to put India in its place in a region of much importance to both Pakistan and China, the possibility of false flag operations by India has grown exponentially since it may want to deflect from an embarrassing loss of what it claims to be Indian territory in Ladakh. Since any further potential escalation of a conflict now involving three nuclear powers instead of two, it also presents another opportunity to once again ask for international and mediation for a solution of the dispute.

As explained in the beginning, all of this must be done from a position of strength, since India clearly overreached in total violation of international law and existing conventions. Pakistan must explain the correct context but also stress that the disputed Kashmir and by extension the Ladakh regions lie at the heart of Pakistan’s own foreign policy, and that while China and Pakistan undoubtedly share the same interests there, that shared interest does not extend beyond the region unless pushed by the US to take sides in unrelated areas of conflict. 

Pakistan has been fully cooperating with the desire by the US to strike a successful peace deal in Afghanistan. It will be an important stakeholder in maintaining that peace after the US leaves. Pakistan therefore needs to fully appreciate its value for the US which goes much beyond minor concessions or occasional financial rewards. By allowing India’s aggression to continue in Pakistan’s closest neighborhood, Pakistan is most directly affected by a growing US India strategic partnership that is primarily based on containing China elsewhere. Since the US does not seem to desire a complete break with Pakistan, Pakistan should feel more confident in its dealings with the US and not only react but demand that the US strike a better balance in the region for the security of everybody concerned. This would start by recognizing India’s designs and helping curb its aggressive behavior.


My remarks

  • Thank you very much for inviting me to this timely discussion. I will echo much of what previous speakers have already said, and add a few observations of my own.
  • I experienced many horrible curfews and lockdowns during the ten years I lived and worked in Kashmir. But nothing could possibly compare to what people have to contend with now and since August 5 of last year.
  • On top of all the inhumane measures that had already been implemented to incarcerate an entire population for months, the Covid 19 crisis presented yet another opportunity for Indian authorities to clamp down even further.
  • Among increasing demands by international activists, policy makers abroad, human rights organizations, and even parts of Indian civil society, as well as mounting harsh treatment by international media, instead of restoring some semblance of democracy or civil rights, the virus enabled the security apparatus to implement a double lockdown instead.
  • While claiming that it was done to curb the spread of the virus, in reality the continuous slowing of internet speed, the closing off of entire neighborhoods as Red Zones,” and once again the imposition of draconian restrictions on the movement of all people, the virus has actually been spreading at an accelerated pace for lack of communications and lack of proper care.
  • Healthcare has always been a huge problem in the Valley. In remote areas it is practically non-existent. With no proper means of communication and the absence of road connectivity, people are completely stuck during most emergencies and always at a loss whom to reach out to. Now little information about the effect of the virus has been trickling out of these places.
  • In these areas, it is impossible to get an ambulance, any emergency care, or an adequate supply of medicines during the best of times. How would testing for a fast spreading virus be done now or ever there?
  • Often the complete lack of healthcare in these areas is the result of corruption and funds never reaching.
  • Unfortunately, this has been exploited by the Indian Army on whom some of the poorest villagers have come to depend for emergency intervention.
  • Since clinics or dispensaries are only available at the nearest army camp, often the sick have no choice but to ask for assistance despite their fear of the troops.
  • To further perpetuate this helplessness of the people, the army has institutionalized this assistance by calling it part of its “hearts and minds program.”
  • In 2002, the state went as far as to create a formal program between the civil administration and the army to collaborate on providing basic healthcare to the poor in remote areas. Accordingly, the state provides an ambulance while the army makes available some nurses or doctors from among their ranks or engages select government doctors to reach out to communities.
  • Of course, none of this is done without an ulterior motive! It allows the army to expand its stable of informers in those areas by often making healthcare care conditional upon collaboration.
  • In the cities and towns, mohallas are now not only separated by concertina wires and other fencing, but often also by hastily dug trenches “to keep infected people at bay.” No vehicles can travel in or out as a result and that of course includes ambulances.
  • More often than not, people are now simply giving up on adequate relief and have stopped seeking care until it is too late.
  • Even after it became clear that the death rate of the virus has been lower in Kashmir as elsewhere in South Asia and unlike in other parts of the world, the double lockdown was not relaxed as it has been in India, and the real reason for the draconian measures has become abundantly clear.
  • Stopping the spread of the virus was at best secondary while jailing people again.
  • First and foremost, the double lockdown was used to set the stage for and accelerate the final chapter of what began August 5 and that aimed at demographic change in Kashmir without protests by the people to stop them.
  • Since the new lockdown, rules for the new Domicile Law have been implemented at accelerated speed and once again without the advice or consent by any of the locals.
  • With communication networks often shut down or slowed to a trickle, and journalist not being able to report freely without facing arrest, the full extent of the new rules has only become clear in recent days. And the result will be nothing short of total devastation of the Kashmiri identity within 5 years.
  • Outsiders will now be able to settle permanently, buy land, and occupy government jobs on a much faster timeline than originally feared. Up to a million domiciles will be inducted as part of the first batch. Many are already there.
  • Ethnic flooding has thus begun and will soon be complemented by a delimitation exercise that aims to make Hindu majority Jammu the main stakeholder in legislative processes.
  • At the same time and while the world is busy with Covid 19, the Indian Army is taking full advantage of that preoccupation by not only once again increasing the number of forces in the Valley, but also by moving heavy guns into some villages near the LoC in the hope that villagers will be hit by Pakistani firing in response to the ever increasing shelling of AJK by the Indians.
  • Furthermore, CASOs have increased exponentially throughout every district with houses being searched night after night, resulting in extreme hardships and psychological torture.
  • Dozens of local boys and rebels have been killed during the double lockdown. And a continuation of the earlier “Operation All Out” is in full swing again.
  • As part of the scorched earth policy of the Indian forces, many houses have been blown up and burned to the ground, leaving many families homeless and nowhere to turn for fear of virus transmission.
  • Several innocent bystanders have also been killed, including a 14-year-old boy and a mentally challenged young man.
  • Perhaps most upsetting is the new practice of disallowing funerals of local boys and/ or rebels near their families and communities. While it is aimed at preventing large funerals where local rebels are being eulogized as heroes, it deprives families of an opportunity to say goodbye to their loved ones as they are often unable to travel to the locations of the government designated burial sites. So mourning has now also become outlawed in occupied Kashmir.
  • This is just some of what has been happening in the guise of “virus prevention.” It is abundantly clear that Covid 19 has become a welcome ally for the cruel Indian military occupation.
  • I could go on but will now stop here.
  • In closing, I urge everybody to please note was has been happening throughout the Valley and raise the details wherever and whenever it counts.
  • Most Kashmiris are completely worn out and too scared or traumatized to reach out on their own
  • It is no longer about human rights violations alone.
  • It is about the complete dehumanization of an entire people whose will is being systematically destroyed.
  • It is up to all of us to fight for the survival of the Kashmiris as a people with a unique identity. It is unconscionable not to.
  • Things have never been as bad and hopeless as they are now.
  • Thank you very much for having me here.

My Speech at the Pakistan Mission to the UN/ January 7, 2020

January 7/ Pakistan Mission to the UN/ NYC

  1. There would be so many things to talk about today when it comes to Kashmir, but I want to stick to the topic that brought us together here: the continued relevance of the UN Resolutions regarding Kashmir.
  2. Without any doubt, it is still the only legal basis for the dispute, and it makes Pakistan an original and continuous stakeholder.
  3. This is despite the Simla and other bilateral agreements, entered into from time to time, some under extreme duress, and all having been violated any number of times by one or the other.
  4. None of these agreements ever resulted in any meaningful dialogue regarding Kashmir and today that possibility seems more distant than ever.
  5. There are groups that are currently advocating abandoning the Resolutions and to declare them as expired or no longer valid.
  6. This is to some degree because these groups are well aware that the choices for a Plebiscite in the Resolutions contain only India or Pakistan and not Independence.
  7. This is extremely unfortunate and only helping those who want the UN to close the case.
  8. Those who are advocating it should be urged by us all to put their efforts into finding another legal vehicle for their cause, but in the meantime to still uphold the Resolutions as the only possibility for multilateral intervention and mitigation.
  9. There are others who say that Plebiscite has not happened and will never happen because Pakistan has not agreed to withdraw its troops from Azad Kashmir.
  10. But UN records show that on at least two occasions different formulae for troop reductions were proposed in an attempt to allay fears that India may take over the Pakistan administered areas if troops were to be withdrawn completely. Pakistan agreed to the recommendations, India did not.
  11. Then the Dixon and Chenab Formulas were devised at the request of the UN and in an effort to solve the dispute in accordance with the sentiments of the people of all regions. Both plans allowed for a Plebiscite in the Kashmir Valley. Pakistan agreed, India did not.
  12. I strongly feel all of this must be revisited and brought to the attention of younger generations around the world. Conventional “wisdom” has been that Pakistan has been the obstacle in implementing the Resolutions and the conducting of a Plebiscite. This is far from the truth. From the beginning, India has not acted in good faith throughout the entire process.
  13. Much that has been written by Indian historians has unfortunately successfully entered the annals of Kashmir history as “gospel truth,” and it is in desperate need of revising and dissemination everywhere where it matters. This must be a top priority for us because it allows India to claim that the Resolutions should be discarded because of non-performance by Pakistan which is not true!
  14. Last year, I met Karen Parker at a Kashmir Solidarity Event at the Pakistani Embassy in Washington. Karen was the first human rights lawyer to have filed a report about Indian atrocities in IOK with the UN in the 90s.
  15. She has always been advocating the Right to Self Determination for the Kashmiri People and is still pushing for a UN supervised Plebiscite in accordance with the resolutions while talking to member states
  16. She was quite tough on the audience during the event in DC.
  17. She pointed out that the UN Resolutions demanding a Plebiscite were undoubtedly still legally valid and enforceable, and the only legal vehicle to be insisted upon aggressively and by all.
  18. She also said that over the years the demand had been diluted not only by India’s rejection of it but also by different camps lobbying for different solutions instead of the right to be able to choose one.
  19. She said that this has left member states confused and often convinced that Kashmiris are not united in their quest for a final resolution.
  20. She concluded that while different Kashmiri groups and regions may very well not be united in what they would consider their favorite final outcome, it is that very fact that was to be addressed by a Plebiscite to begin with!
  21. I very much share her views and also want to urge everybody today to remain united in demanding the Right to Self Determination only. All else can wait until the results of a Plebiscite are tabulated.
  22. Last but not least and with many of my own friends in mind, I would like to urge those who are committed to choosing a merger with Pakistan over other solutions, to realize now and in the future that theirs is a legal choice which they are entitled to make and that declaring it openly is not a criminal act.
  23. Over the years and because of India having relentlessly portrayed a political dispute as a terrorism problem, many of that camp have been driven underground or are reluctant to voice their preference. That must stop!
  24. They should receive all our encouragement and support and be always reassured that they are not breaking any laws whatsoever by expressing their wish to join one of the two legal stakeholders as contained in the Resolutions.

Thank you.

#StandwithKashmir and IK in NYC: History in the Making!

I know some friends are waiting for a personal update about the NYC protests/ activities yesterday, but I am still so overwhelmed by it all that it is tough to sound more somber and analytical than in the below. But here are some initial thoughts. This is especially for Seeme Gull Khan Hasan whose questions and comments kept me company on the bus home. I know she was there in spirit as was my friend and sister-in-arms Helen (@Bea) in Sweden who watched all of it on social media while we were on the streets. Here it goes:

Got up at 4 am to make my way towards Northern Virginia where one batch of buses organised by the local Kashmiri Diaspora was waiting to take us all to NY. There were many such collection points throughout the entire area. All of it amazingly well organised. Thank you all for doing this! And thank you for hooking me up with them, Anwar Iqbal.

A young friend from Srinagar with whom I had coordinated for days on twitter sat down next to me, signalling the beginning of a new friendship that I know will last for long beyond our first collective action for Kashmir. We know many of the same people back home, and our talks on the bus were a drive down memory lane. Another young man from Kupwara joined us and we stayed together the entire day/ evening. I thought about the term Six Degrees of Separation which in my limited understanding of it means that all people sharing a common DNA will eventually meet.

Throughout the entire drive I felt like a huge security blanked had been draped around me. Such familiarity, such solidarity, such unity of purpose! I would have been fine never to get off the bus! And of course every few minutes there was some announcement about food with some boxes/ tiffins making their way down the isle. Nobody in the West will ever understand the food symbolism of Southasia and how it gives the term “breaking bread together” a whole new meaning. I have not felt that at home as on that bus for years!

After a 5 hour drive, the bus dropped us very close to the designated venue of the protests and right outside the UN. Thousands had already gathered and the numbers kept swelling. It was not easy to find people in a crowd that was almost uniformly wearing red #StandwithKashmir T-shirts! We looked like an army fighting for the freedom of Kashmiris! But despite the huge numbers participating (an estimated 16,000) being there together made us all realize what a small but ever more determined universe we inhabit. Again and again I bumped into somebody I knew and had not seen for ages. Some where Kashmiris I had met during our protest outside the White House a few weeks ago. Some people from back home. Some were activists I had met during a previous visit to NY during the same occasion. Many came up to me and said I am so and so, and we have been friends on twitter/ facebook for long and it is so great to finally meet.

There was another and much smaller rally of NRIs with a couple of Balochs, Kashmiris Hindus, and members of the Hindu American Foundation across the street from us, but the NY police made sure we never came into clashing distance. The barriers that had been erected to keep us apart were symbolic of a partition the gap of which seems to be growing wider today than the one having been created so many decades ago. Fortunately, their activities fizzled out long before ours. One of their cheer leaders was Tareq Fatah, and I kept wondering why their organizers could not come up with somebody with a bit more credibility!

Many of us were listening to IK’s speech on our phones and people kept clapping throughout and especially during his strong comments against Modi and of course in support of Kashmiris. There was nobody in the crowd who did not draw hope and inspiration from his words, and everybody felt represented by him inside the hall not far from us and where he was reaching out to the community of nations. Thank you for managing to unite us around a common message and thank you even more for making Kashmiris and their Right to Self Determination the center piece of all your activities over the past week. This has made it possible for all of us to march into the same direction, and it has started a healing process between different camps that was long overdue. Your activities over the past week in NY were enabling all of us to speak up in unity for those who have been silenced, and whose entire identity is being completely diminished so many miles away in a place that so many of us love more than anything else in the world! Our message to everybody is loud and clear: you will never be abandoned by any of us for a minute, and the slogan #StandwithKashmir will forever be our collective leitmotif as it has been for so many weeks already and throughout the world!

Many of us decided to stay on to join the candle light vigil at Times Square which had been organized by and a few others. In between the protests and the vigil there were other side events organised by academics and writers to raise awareness about the history and plight of Kashmiris in different venues nearby. In the evening, it became a tidal wave of Kashmiris from both sides of the border and their friends and well-wishers from near and far that flooded most of Times Square. The people in red had gathered by the thousands again to send their determination and goodwill and complete solidarity back home to Kashmir. The site of the pro freedom slogans displayed on the most famous and expensive billboard anywhere is something none of us will ever forget!!! And just like the apple is lowered at the same place at midnight on December 31 every year, a sight which is shared on the same billboard with millions around the world, we felt our demand to lift the siege of Kashmiris and to set them free was beamed for once to the entire universe. Thank you to those who made this possible. I am so humbled by the efforts of so many to unite everybody and help tell the world from NY that humanity could not allow what has been happening to an entire people for so many decades.

My two new Kashmiri friends who had traveled on the same bus with me in the morning stayed with me throughout the day to make sure I felt cared for and to also meet up with others I knew at both events. For 24 hours I felt not only overwhelmingly inspired by the collective larger goal of all of us but safe and surrounded by family and friends. Nothing creates more closeness and affection than commitment to a common cause. It can be positively intoxicating.

We took a late bus back to DC and reached Union Station by 2 in the morning. Almost 24 hours after leaving my flat, I could not help but feel that I had been yet again part of a new chapter in the long and torturous history of Kashmiris. One that was the beginning of a new and even more determined story-line scripted by Kashmirir people around the world and one where everybody has finally been united by a strong Ambassador-at-Large and his sincere and well received message that neither he nor any of us would ever abandon Kashmir.

Thank you IK and everybody else who made all of this possible! Let us make it a Million Kashmiri March the next time around!!! United we stand and united we win!

Women’s Voice: Fact Finding Report on Kashmir September 17th – 21st 2019

shared by Nandita Narain

Women’s Voice: Fact Finding Report on Kashmir
September 17th – 21st 2019

[Kindly note. To protect the identity of the people we met, all names in the Report have been changed. We have not named the villages we visited for the very same reason]

These are lines by Comrade Abdul Sattar Ranjoor. We held these as a beacon during our four-day sojourn in a locked and shuttered land called Kashmir.

Spring buds will flower
Nightingales’ pain will abate
Lovers wounds will start healing
Sickness will leave the ailing
Heart’s longing of Ranjoor will be fulfilled
When the poorest will rule
Wearing the crown of glory

(Ranjoor was killed in 1990)

A team of 5 women visited Kashmir from September 17th-21st 2019. We wanted to see with our own eyes how this 43 day lockdown had affected the people, particularly women and children.

The team consisted of Annie Raja, Kawaljit Kaur, Pankhuri Zaheer from National Federation Indian Women, Poonam Kaushik from Pragatisheel Mahila Sangathan and Syeda Hameed from Muslim Women’s Forum.

Besides spending time in Srinagar, we visited several villages in the districts of Shopian, Pulwama and Bandipora. We went to hospitals, schools, homes, market places, spoke to people in the rural as well as urban areas, to men, women, youth and children. This Report is our chashmdeed gawahi (eye witness account) of ordinary people who have lived for 43 days under an iron siege.

Shops closed, hotels closed, schools, colleges, institutes and universities closed, streets deserted was the first visual impact as we drove out from the airport. To us it seemed a punitive mahaul that blocked breathing freely.

The picture of Kashmir that rises before our eyes is not the populist image; shikara, houseboat, lotus, Dal Lake. It is that of women, a Zubeida, a Shamima, a Khurshida standing at the door of their homes, waiting. Waiting and waiting for their 14, 15, 17, 19 year old sons. Their last glimpse is embedded in each heart, they dare not give up hope but they know it will be a long wait before they see their tortured bodies or their corpses… if they do. ‘We have been caged’ these words we heard everywhere. Doctors, teachers, students, workers asked us, “What would you do in Delhi if internet services were cut off for 5 minutes?” We had no answer.

Across all villages of the four districts, peoples’ experiences were the same. They all spoke of lights, which had to be turned off around 8PM after Maghreb prayers. In Bandipora, we saw a young girl who made the mistake of keeping a lamp lit to read for her exam on the chance that her school may open soon. Army men angered by this breach of ‘curfew’, jumped the wall to barge in. Father and son, the only males in the house were taken away for questioning. ‘What questions?’, no one dared ask. The two have been detained since then. ‘We insist that men should go indoors after 6 PM. Man or boy seen after dusk is a huge risk. If absolutely necessary, we women go outside’. These words were spoken by Zarina from a village near Bandipora district headquarters. ‘In a reflex action, my four year old places a finger on her lips when she hears a dog bark after dusk. Barking dogs mean an imminent visit by army. I can’t switch on the phone for light so I can take my little girl to the toilet. Light shows from far and if that happens our men pay with their lives’.

The living are inadvertently tortured by the dead. ‘People die without warning or mourning. How will I inform my sisters about their mother’s death?’ Ghulam Ahmed’s voice was choked. ‘They are in Traal, in Pattan. I had to perform her soyem without her children’. The story was the same wherever we went. People had no means of reaching out to loved ones. 43 days were like the silence of death.

Public transportation was zero. People who had private cars took them out only for essential chores. Women stood on roadsides, flagging cars and bikes for rides. People stopped and helped out; helplessness of both sides was their unspoken bond. ‘I was on my bike going towards Awantipora. A woman flagged me. My bike lurched on a speed breaker. She was thrown off. I took her to the nearby hospital. She went in a coma. I am a poor man how could I pay for her treatment? How and who could I inform?’ These daily events were recounted wherever we went. At a Lalla Ded Women’s Hospital in Srinagar several young women doctors expressed their absolute frustration at the hurdles that had been placed in their way since the abrogation of Article 370. ‘There are cases where women cannot come in time for deliveries. There are very few ambulances, the few that are running are stopped at pickets on the way. The result? There are several cases of overdue deliveries that produce babies with birth deformities. It is a life long affliction, living death for parents”. Conversely, we were told that several women are delivering babies prematurely due to the stress and khauf (fear) in the present condition. “It feels like the government is strangling us and then sadistically asking us to speak at the same time,’ a young woman doctor said as she clutched her throat to show how she felt.

A senior doctor from Bandipora Hospital told us that people come from Kulgam, Kupwara, and other districts. Mental disorders, heart attacks, today there are more cases than he could ever recall. For emergencies junior doctors desperately look for seniors; there is no way of reaching them on phone. If they are out of the premises, they run on the streets shouting, asking, searching in sheer desperation. One orthopaedic doctor from SKIMS was stopped at the army imposed blockade while he was going for duty. He was held for 7 days. Safia in Shopian had cancer surgery. ‘I desperately need a check up in case it has recurred. Baji, I can’t reach my doctor. The only way is to go to the city, but how do I get there? And if I do, will he be there?’ Ayushman Bharat, an internet based scheme, cannot be availed by doctors and patients.

Women in villages stood before us with vacant eyes. ‘How do we know where they are? Our boys who were taken away, snatched away from our homes. Our men go to the police station, they are asked to go to the headquarters. They beg rides from travellers and some manage to get there. On the board are names of ‘stone pelters’ who have been lodged in different jails, Agra, Jodhpur, Ambedkar, Jhajjar.’ A man standing by adds, ‘Baji we are crushed. Only a few of us who can beg and borrow, go hundreds of miles only to be pushed around by hostile jail guards in completely unfamiliar cities.’

At Gurdwaras we met women who said they have always felt secure in Kashmir. ‘Molestation of women in rest of India about which we read is unheard of in Kashmir’. Young women complained they were harassed by army, including removal of their niqab

‘Army pounces on young boys; it seems they hate their very sight. When fathers go to rescue their children they are made to deposit money, anywhere between 20000 to 60000’. So palpable is their hatred for Kashmiri youth that when there is the dreaded knock on the door of a home, an old man is sent to open it. ‘We hope and pray they will spare a buzurg. But their slaps land on all faces, regardless whether they are old or young, or even the very young. In any case, Baji, we keep our doors lightly latched so they open easily with one kick’. The irony of these simply spoken words!

Boys as young as 14 or 15 are taken away, tortured, some for as long as 45 days. Their papers are taken away, families not informed. Old FIR’s are not closed. Phones are snatched; collect it from the army camp they are told. No one in his senses ever went back, even for a slightly expensive phone. A woman recounted how they came for her 22 year old son. But since his hand was in plaster they took away her 14 year old instead. In another village we heard that two men were brutally beaten. No reason. One returned, after 20 days, broken in body and spirit. The other is still in custody. One estimate given to us was 13000 boys lifted during this lockdown. They don’t even spare our rations. During random checking of houses which occurs at all odd hours of the night, the army persons come in and throw out the family. A young man working as SPO told us. ‘We keep a sizeable amount of rice, pulses, edible oil in reserve. Kerosene is mixed in the ration bins, sometimes that, sometimes koyla’.

Tehmina from Anantnag recently urged her husband, ‘Let us have another child. If our Faiz gets killed at least we will have one more to call our own. Abdul Haleem was silent. He could see the dead body of his little boy lying on his hands even as she spoke these words. ‘Yeh sun kar, meri ruh kaanp gayi,” he tells us.

A thirty year old lawyer from Karna was found dead in his rented accommodation. He was intensely depressed. Condolence notice was issued by Secy Bar Association. Immediately after that he was taken into custody. Why? We spoke to a JK policeman. All of them have been divested of their guns and handed dandas. ‘How do you feel, losing your guns?’ ‘Both good and bad’ came the reply. ‘Why?’ Good because we were always afraid of them being snatched away. Bad because we have no means now to defend ourselves in a shootout. One woman security guard said ‘Indian govt wants to make this a Palestine. This will be fought by the us, Kashmiris’. One young professional told us, ‘We want freedom. We don’t want India, we don’t want Pakistan. We will pay any price for this. Ye Kashmiri khoon hai. Koi bhi qurbani denge’.

Everywhere we went there were two inexorable sentiments. First, desire for Azadi; they want nothing of either India or Pakistan. The humiliation and torture they have suffered for 70 years has reached a point of no return. Abrogation of 370 some say has snapped the last tie they had with India. Even those people who always stood with the Indian State have been rejected by the Govt. ‘So, what is the worth in their eyes, of us, ordinary Kashmiris?’ Since all their leaders have been placed under PSA or under house arrest, the common people have become their own leaders. Their suffering is untold, so is their patience. The second, was the mothers anguished cries (who had seen many children’s corpses with wounds from torture) asking for immediate stop to this brutalisation of innocents. Their children’s lives should not be snuffed out by gun and jackboots.

As we report our experiences and observations of our stay in Kashmir, we end with two conclusions. That the Kashmiri people have in the last 50 days shown an amazing amount of resilience in the face of brutality and blackout by the Indian government and the army. The incidents that were recounted to us sent shivers down our spines and this report only summarises some of them. We salute the courage and resoluteness of the Kashmiri people. Secondly, we reiterate that nothing about the situation is normal. All those claiming that the situation is slowly returning to normalcy are making false claims based on distorted facts.

Poets speak for humankind. We began our report with lines from the Kashmiri poet Ranjoor, we end with lines from Hindi poet Dushyant. Both indicate the way forward for Kashmir:

Ho gayi hai peerh parbat si pighalni chahiye
Iss Himalaya se koi Ganga nikalni chahiye

We Demand:

1. FOR NORMALCY Withdraw the Army and Paramilitary forces with immediate effect
2. FOR CONFIDENCE BUILDING Immediately Cancel all cases/ FIRs and Release all those, especially the youth who are under custody and in jail since the Abrogation of Article 370
3. FOR ENSURING JUSTICE Conduct inquiry on the widespread violence and tortures unleashed by the Army and other security personnel.
4. COMPENSATION to all those families whose loved ones lost lives because of non availability of transportation and absence of communication.

In Addition:

• Immediately restore all communication lines in Kashmir including internet and mobile networks.
• Restore Article 370 and 35 A.
• All future decisions about the political future of Jammu and Kashmir must be taken through a process of dialogue with the people of Jammu and Kashmir.
• All army personnel must be removed from the civilian areas of Jammu and Kashmir.
• An time bound inquiry committee must be constituted to look into the excesses committed by the army.

My preliminary rebuttal to the lies propagated by the Indian Ambassador to the US in the wake of abrogation of Article 370/ Article 35-A and bifurcating the region against the will of the people

In response to the pack of lies by the Indian Ambassador to the US:

For starters:

(1) The J & K RTI Act is much stronger than the Indian law which has been watered down again and again since 2014; in fact, RTI has been used in Kashmir more than anywhere else and there was an influential civil society RTI Movement;
(2) Women could very much participate in Panchayat elections, and if needed I can provide a list of names of some who won in 2011, including one KP panch from Tangmarg;
(3) The inheritance provisions contained in Art 35 A and prohibiting women who married an outsider from claiming their inheritance etc were struck down by the J & K High Court years ago and were already no longer valid;
(4)Economically J & K is much better off than most states in India, including and especially Gujarat;
(5) All important socio economic indicators are much better in Kashmir, including nutrition, health and education and especially for women and children;
(6); J & K never experienced the kind of poverty levels India experiences throughout because of Sheikh Abdullah’s land reforms. They were revolutionary at the time and made it possible for every Kashmiri to own land (land to the tiller) and prohibited large landholdings to remain in the hands of the rich and privileged; no Kashmiri will ever be homeless unlike the poor in India.
(7) Funds appropriated by India for “the development of Kashmir” have always been utilized primarily for paying the salaries of government employees the number of which is ridiculously high. Among other things, Delhi always felt providing/ funding government employment would create loyalties to the state and never discouraged it!
(8) According to his statement, there will be an additional 50,000 state government jobs added to an already hopelessly bloated bureaucracy!!! This will drain “development funds” even further.”
(9) The communications blackout has NOT been lifted at all. Landlines have been restored in many areas, but the saturation of landlines has been poor for a long time. Many people disconnected their lines and switched to mobile telephony a long time ago; he is simply lying because of all the pressure brought on India from abroad!
(10) There were thousands of migrant workers from India in Kashmir. All of them said they were paid higher daily wages and treated better than in India. Add to that hordes of beggars from India having created a begging mafia in the Valley!
(11) There have been several “investment conferences” like the one planned but which has already been canceled/ postponed because of the communications blockade. Nothing ever came out of it before, despite companies being able to lease land for 99 years the terms of which were renewable (The Taj and other hotels built properties that way in Kashmir); the main problems for investors is no all weather road communication throughout the year and the dismal power situation which is not only a function of poor management, discriminatory policies, most of the power generated being added to the Northern Power Grid of India, but also the water levels getting lower and lower during winters because of climate change.
(12) The armed rebellion has nothing at all to do with economic/ job issues. In fact, most of the “New Age Militants” since 2016 have been from well-to-do families and some left their jobs as teachers/ lecturers etc to join. Armed rebels join primarily because they have been abused by security forces and/ or because they demand secession from India. Not because they have nothing to do!

And none of this even touches on the political, including that Kashmir NEVER merged with India; that the document of accession was signed under duress but even so mentions that “a referendum would follow;” and then of course the promise to hold a plebiscite which is demanded more and more every day. He also does not mention that aggression/ tension between India and Pak this time was started by India with Rajnath Singh reversing the no-first-use policy in a recent statement and ringing alarm bells everywhere; moreover the “plan” to take back AJK/ GB is no longer just a fleeting threat but is discussed on TV almost every night!

Sample cover letter to submit JKCCS report on torture in Kashmir to elected representatives


The Honorable ________
Office Address
United States House of Representatives or United State Senate
Washington, DC

Dear Representative/Senator/ Member of Parliament ______________: 

As a constituent, a concerned citizen, and member of the Kashmiri American (or Australian/ British/ Canadian etc) community, I am attaching a copy of an extremely disturbing report regarding past and present use of torture by the Indian Army in Indian Administered Kashmir. The comprehensive report prepared by a prominent civil society group (JKCCS) and released on Monday shows how India has been using torture as a “matter of policy” and “instrument of control” in Kashmir, where rebels have been fighting against Indian rule since 1989.

Torture is the most under-reported human rights violation perpetrated by the Indian state in the disputed region, but due to legal, political and moral impunity extended to the armed forces, not a single prosecution has taken place in any case of human rights violations. The new report includes 432 case studies involving torture and maps trends and patterns, targets, perpetrators, locations and other details. The cases include 293 civilians and 119 militants, among others, and 27 were minors when they were tortured. The report says 40 people among those later died due to various injuries inflicted due to torture. It also criticizes Indian troops for firing shotgun pellets against protesters, and blinding and maiming hundreds of people, including children.

The report recommends an investigation be led by the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. It also urges India to ratify the U.N. Convention against torture and also allow global rights groups “unhindered access” to Kashmir. Last year, the U.N. in its first report on Kashmir called for an independent international investigation into reports of rights violations like rape, torture and extrajudicial killings in the region.

Much global attention and condemnation of torture followed exposés of torture practiced in Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib prisons and other places, but the use of torture remains hidden in Kashmir, where tens of thousands of civilians have been subjected to it. Despite the UN and relevant committees dealing with human rights finally taking note of the issue, they cannot or will not take more effective action without pressure from member states. I therefore ask you to take note of the most recent findings and kindly take a stand at the earliest.

Thank you for your attention to this pressing matter.

My Memo to PMO regarding Opening of Trade from IOK to Muzaffarabad


 Submitted to

The Honorable Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of India


The All Valley Fruit Growers Association of Kashmir

August 16, 2008


The All Valley Fruit Growers Association (AVFGA), an apex body of orchard owners, is the premier trade group representing the interests of the fruit industry of Kashmir. Based in Srinagar, its membership  comprises fruit growers from all fruit growing areas of the state.

As a result of the economic blockage of the Jammu-Srinagar Highway and the continuing protests throughout our state, the Kashmir fruit growers industry has already incurred cumulative losses of over Rs 75 crore, with an additional loss of Rs 2.5 crore suffered each passing day of the current crisis in Jammu & Kashmir. Eighty per cent of the population in Kashmir is directly or indirectly dependent on horticulture.

The health of the fruit industry of Kashmir, estimated at Rs 2500 crore annually, has been in serious jeopardy following the economic blockage of Jammu-Srinagar Highway, the only official route connecting Kashmir to other parts of India. It is in this spirit that the AVFGA decided, while being faced with the total destruction of the state’s fruit crop, to attempt on August 11th to export its stranded produce across the LoC via the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad Road. 

The Government’s brutal actions against the fruit growers while seeking relief for the industry were unconscionable, inhuman, and unjustified, as the march towards Muzaffarabad was peaceful and prompted by economic need rather than larger political aims. The program organized by the fruit industry was also seen as a logical extension of steps already taken by the Governments of Pakistan and India regarding the opening of border points between the two parts of Kashmir, including the one at Muzaffarabad near the LoC.

The fruit growers of Kashmir deeply regret that because of the current crisis in the state, and the prolonged instability in Pakistan, the Government of India has not been able to put a final text regarding cross-border trade at the LoC on the table of both parliaments.

However, the fruit growers of Kashmir fully support all principles espoused by the Governments of India and Pakistan over the past four years, and believe that making borders irrelevant between India and Pakistan is not only the bridge to permanent good relations between the two countries but also the key to greater stability in the state and region.

In view of the above, the fruit industry begs for relief and requests that the Government of India open the alternative trade route at the border near Muzaffarabad (PoK) at the earliest, so that fruit growers of Kashmir can sell their produce  across the LoC and potentially reach other markets in the region.


Over the past several years, the Governments of India and Pakistan been negotiating the opening of the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad Road as well as the softening of other border points in the region as part of a composite peace dialogue between the two countries that begun in 2004.

Top-level representatives of both countries, leaders of the J & K State Government, and a broad range of local and regional public and private interest groups view the opening of the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad Road, among other traditional trade routes, as the ideal vehicle for advancing vital economic ties between India and Pakistan, the two parts of Kashmir, and other SAARC nations. Furthermore, allowing hassle-free transport of people and goods along traditional trade routes, including the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad Road, would not only satisfy overwhelming public sentiment in J & K in favor of opening these routes, but also provide the bridge to permanent good relations between India and Pakistan.

An opened Srinagar-Muzaffarabad Road would assure:

  • accelerated economic development of both parts of Kashmir;
    • additional foreign exchange through the free flow of goods between both parts of Kashmir;
    • a much-needed additional artery for expanded trade development between India and Pakistan and other SAARC countries;
    • an alternative route to export goods from Kashmir to PAK and other parts of India in case of any future closures or obstructions  of the Jammu-Srinagar Highway;
    • ending of economic isolation of both parts of Kashmir;
    • significant new tourism opportunities for both parts of Kashmir; and
    • some alleviation of security problems through regional infrastructure development and attendant social and economic benefits to local and business communities on both sides of the border.

Based on overwhelming public and private support in Kashmir for the opening of the Srinagar- Muzaffarabad Road, the Government of India should signal project priority and trigger immediate implementation action.

The political pre-conditions for the opening of the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad Road and other border point trade routes have already been satisfied through:

  • An agreement reached in September 2004 between the President of Pakistan and the Prime Minister of India stating that borders would be softened between the two parts of Kashmir;
    • Consensus between India and Pakistan during an April 2005 meeting in Delhi to adopt a more “people centered” rather than “territory centered” approach that would make borders irrelevant between the two parts of Kashmir;
    • Multiple re-affirmative decisions espoused during various Roundtable Conferences on the Future of Kashmir by  representatives of both India and Pakistan, committing to making borders between the two parts of Kashmir irrelevant,; 
    • Various agreements on and implementation of a large number of steps, including the commencement of bus service between the two parts of Kashmir along the Srinagar- Muzaffarabad Road, and the opening of various other border points as part of the composite dialogue between India and Pakistan begun in 2004,;
    • A broad framework agreement reached during back channel discussions between India and Pakistan, concretizing the principles for a permanent settlement of the Kashmir dispute, including the opening of trade routes between both parts of Kashmir;
    • An August 13, 2008 statement by the Union Home Minister at Delhi categorically assuring that the Government of India would have no objection if Kashmiri traders sent their goods to Muzaffarabad across the LOC;
    • Assurance in the same statement, that a list of goods to be traded across the LOC had already been submitted to Pakistan authorities for approval, and that once Pakistan had taken the required steps towards finalizing cross-border trade at the LOC, Kashmiri traders could commence exporting their produce to Muzaffarabad at the earliest.


Recent Crisis

On August 11, a broad contingent of trade bodies, including the All Valley Fruit Growers Association, All Traders Federation, Kashmir Chamber of Commerce, J & K Transporters Association, and Hotel and Houseboat Owners Associations, among others, began a peaceful “Chalo March” from Srinagar towards Muzaffarabad along the Srinagar- Muzaffarabad highway. A wide variety of prominent civil society groups and non-political associations from throughout the state, and thousands of villagers from localities along the way, joined the march from their respective localities to express solidarity for the move. Several  Lakh people from different parts of the state participated in the program.

The short-term goal of the march was to enable fruit-laden truckers, having been stranded in various parts of J & K, to transport their loads across the LoC into PAK Kashmir and from there to alternative markets in Pakistan, India, and other regions.  As a result of an informal economic blockade imposed by anti- Muslim and anti-Kashmiri rightwing extremist agitating along the Jammu-Srinagar Highway, Kashmiri fruit truckers have not only been brutalized repeatedly, but flow of essential goods to and from other parts of India have been critically interrupted, causing not only crores in economic losses to the local fruit industry but also seriously affecting the availability of medicines, petrol and other crucial items in the state.

The long-term goal of the march was to raise awareness domestically and internationally about the need for additional trade routes to be opened into and out of Kashmir, so that any current or future obstruction of the only official artery linking the state to the rest of the world could be mitigated locally, and to derail any additional designs by vested interests to cripple the state’s move towards peace and greater economic self sufficiency.

The essence of the march was strictly non-political and peaceful with a view towards future borderless trade with other SAARC nations, and also to remedy Kashmir’s economic isolation vis-à-vis the rest of the world. 

The fruit traders’ concerns had been expressed in various public fora, reported in major local and national media, and the planned program had been announced to the public and government officials at least five days in advance. During the visit of the Delhi all-party committee constituted to mitigate the raging shrine issue, the traders had publicly announced their intention to seek opening of alternative trade links in view of the atrocities that had been committed along the Jammu-Srinagar Highway, the increasing shortages of essential goods seriously affecting the normal every-day-life of ordinary Kashmiris, and the economic losses that had been incurred by the state’s major industries as a result of the Jammu agitations and the ensuing economic blockage.

While the Home Minister of India commented in his press conference on August 10 at Srinagar that “the march would be a mistake and he hoped it would not be done,” no curfew was imposed on August 11 in any part of Kashmir, nor were any official prohibitory orders issued. Participants in the march thus did not violate any existing or temporary restrictions on their civil and constitutional rights to express their views as part of a peaceful demonstration solely aimed to raise awareness about the current plight of the people in the state and the need for practical change in view of the most recent crisis. In no way was the planned march aimed at raising levels of violence in the region, nor was it part of any ulterior designs by any group to align Kashmir more closely and politically with any of its immediate neighbors at the expense of its relationship with the rest of India.


Therefore, in light of the on-going economic crisis the Kashmir fruit industry is facing, the atrocities that have been committed during and after the peaceful protest march organized by the fruit growers of Kashmir, and in memory of the many innocent protesters that have succumbed to their injuries, the AVFGA urges the Prime Minister of India to take cognizance of the state’s plight and assure extra-ordinary steps to immediately (1) make the highway to Jammu permanently safe from fanatical elements; (2) provide traders with the security of armed convoys to assure that Kashmir’s produce reaches other parts of India without any further delay and obstruction; (3) discuss with Pakistan the possibility of buying some or all of Kashmir’s fruit crop across the LoC near Muzaffarabad; and (4) most urgently coordinate with Pakistan regarding the creation of trade and  transit facilities on both sides of the LoC at Muzaffarabad, so that the fruit industry’s attempts to reach alternative markets via the only other viable trade route connecting Kashmir to the rest of the world can succeed.

The Kashmir Show

This from 2009 but now enter Shah Faisal!

Carin I. Fischer

I was thinking last night of a movie I watched many years ago while still living in the US. It is called The Truman Show and the hero of the story is Truman Burbank. Everything Truman Burbank does is witnessed by a global audience of millions. Whether he’s eating, sleeping, heading off to work or taking a bath, the world is watching – and he doesn’t know it. At least not at first. Truman has been brought up inside a giant Hollywood dome, inside of which is a made-for-TV town. Everyone he knows – his neighbors, his workmates, his parents, his wife, and even his best friend since childhood – are actors hired by a media mogul for the planet’s biggest and most intricate one-man gawp-fest. The trouble is, Truman gradually starts getting itchy feet. He wants to travel the world in search of his one true love, an actress quickly pulled from the show for attempting to tell him the truth. And, when things start going wrong in the make-belief town, such as giant pieces of production equipment falling from the sky and he is accidentally picking up a radio frequency describing his every movement, Truman finally begins to smell a particularly large rat and tries to escape into reality. 
The story corresponds to life in Kashmir. Most everything one does here is watched by entertainment censors and directed by show producers. All that is projected is choreographed to suit the taste of a specific audience. A media mogul has been put in charge of creating a sanitized set that hardly reflects reality and is aimed to show outside viewers a make belief world. Much money is spent on the set to assure that no accurate picture of events, more complicated undercurrents, or the true nature of the leading actors is projected in print or on television. No criticism of the producer or main script writers is allowed. Anyone who attempts to tell the truth is quickly removed from the set.
As I am looking at the front pages of today’s local press, I am stunned by the remarkable distance between the choreographed and the real. But like most of the audience of the Kashmir Show, I willingly force myself into a daily suspension of disbelief.  There are reports of the young and dynamic Chief Producer attracting crores in private investment soon to be spent on the set of the show. A former and much more seasoned Chief Producer is depicted inaugurating make-belief tourism venues while interacting with larger-than-life actor officials in a surprise return appearance as though he had never been cancelled from the show. Then there is a statement of a rebel chief actor from another set across a nearby border saying that militancy would remain very much part of the plot as violence always sells and assured a continued worldwide viewership. Other actors portraying forensic experts in a nearby locality have all over sudden changed their story-line on their own, proclaiming that one victim previously believed to have died of rape and murder had in reality been a virgin and that the script would need to be adjusted to reflect that new turn of events. A fictional pro freedom leader, portrayed by a young and  independent actor, is urged by older more seasoned independent ones, who have refused to join the national actors’ union, to stick to the story line of previous episodes and to stop revising the script on his own. Meanwhile another former Chief Producer is making the rounds, while handing out previews of his own parallel plot, insisting that his script was the only one that was acceptable to the local audience and that the current program was bound to be discontinued for lack of creativity. Then there is a small subplot of some small-time actors playing bad guys and who continue to loot the forests of the set with full knowledge of those cast as forest protection officials. Undoubtedly, it pays more to play a bad character than one who is cast to uphold the law. In a different part of the show, award winning actors from other movie sets are reportedly enjoying a game of golf with discarded Chief Producers. Meanwhile members of the independent local script writer guilds are contemplating strikes aimed to project a different kind of drama to the audience at large. They are hoping that broadcasting a more accurate reality show might be appreciated by a more analytical and sophisticated viewership. However, past and present reviews of the Kashmir Show clearly demonstrate that truth never qualifies as entertainment, and as bubbles burst ratings also plummet.
Having been rejected as both a main character or even an extra in the Kashmir Show, I wonder if I can still aspire to one day participate in a different story line, or whether I have  permanently lost the plot?