As 2019 drew to a close and winter set in, the annual total of ceasefire violations (CFVs) by India across the Line of Control reached an all-time annual high of 3,351. The deep winter snowfall along much of the Line of Control slowed the growing surge of attacks momentarily but with the warmer weather starting to melt the snow, the numbers are already escalating for 2020. The first attack took the life of Chaudhry Ishtiaq, a young man in Nidhi Sohana in Kotli District, in early January. He was the first casualty of what is likely to be a challenging and dangerous year for the people of Azad Jammu and Kashmir.
In 2003, the number of CFVs by India stood at 11. Over the years since, the numbers have continued to escalate culminating in the alarming 2019 total. During the year, 52 civilians were killed and 261 left with life-long injuries. Men, women and children, living and working peacefully in and around their homes, going to the markets and to school, became victims of the aggression. In May, a woman in Kotli and a boy in Poonch, and in July, four people in Nakyal. In September, a 60-year-old woman and 13-year-old boy in Nakyal. In October, 6 civilians in Muzaffarabad and Neelum Districts. The list goes on. So many innocent lives have been destroyed because of the Indian Army’s deliberate targeting of civilians.
In February 2020, Indian troops fired on villages in the Neelum Valley that were receiving food assistance to get communities through the overwhelming snowfall and avalanches. Although on this occasion no lives were lost, however, numerous homes were destroyed or seriously damaged. This creates another burden for people who are simply trying to live their lives in peace and to get meagre incomes due to their remote location. Rebuilding a home, no matter how humble, is a costly exercise and with little income, almost impossible.
Not only do humans fall victim to this murderous onslaught but also their animals – one of the prime sources of income for these rural families – are targeted and crops destroyed. The loss of income and nutrition these assets provide leave a profound impact on the health and wellbeing. How does one exist in such circumstances? Azad Jammu and Kashmir is a spectacularly beautiful part of the world, especially the areas along the Line of Control (LOC). It should be a tourism paradise, but the risks of shelling from India make it unsafe for tourists to visit much of the time.
Tourism would provide livelihoods for thousands of people and increase the overall wellbeing of communities. People would have better access to decent incomes to improve their family’s quality of life and opportunities for future generations. But until the Indian Army stops targeting them, their lives remain at risk and without decent prospects for a prosperous future.
There is a clear pattern of escalation of Indian CFVs after 2014 when Narendra Modi became India’s Prime Minister. He soon showed his true colours as a fascist leader with a goal to make India a dominant regional power. Paired with the in what is now becoming apparent is his aim for a purely Hindu country and to crush not only the Muslims of India, but those in the region. This colours India’s view on Pakistan. All overtures by the past and present prime ministers of Pakistan for peace and dialogue have been rebuffed and the anti-Pakistan, anti-Muslim rhetoric has been increasing alarmingly.
Aided by a small but powerful group of like-minded aggressors, Modi is changing the dynamics and face of India from a secular country to a violent nation. He has empowered the Army to raise the stakes in Indian-Occupied Jammu and Kashmir, crushing the will of the Kashmiri people and brutally enforcing draconian laws like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. Indian troops along the LOC were also increased. When General Bipin Rawat became India’s Chief of Army Staff at the end of 2016, the reasoning behind his decision to increase the number of troops on the LOC became all too clear as the trajectory of CFVs incidents against Pakistan ratcheted sharply upwards.
There is no doubt that civilians are deliberately targeted to shake their faith in the protection of Pakistan. Time and time again, Indian shelling and sniper fire kills and maims people along the Pakistan side of the Line of Control and the Working Boundary. Indian troops strike areas where there are no Pakistan military posts of any kind, just villages, homes, schools, and other areas where people are working and playing. Widespread, systematic targeting of civilians who are not a party to a conflict meets the definitions of a crime against humanity. Offences which qualify as crimes against humanity could also amount to war crimes. No matter how often this is raised, even by the United Nations, there is no backing down by India.
New threats are emerging in Kashmir and across India which will have a profound impact on the peace and security of the entire region. After annexing the disputed territories of Indian-Occupied Jammu and Kashmir on August 5, 2019, and absorbing them into India along with Ladakh, India has lately been threatening Azad Jammu and Kashmir. While this sounds alarming, it will not happen. But India's threatening posture does little for regional peace and stability, and will surely increase the risks for people living along the Line of Control.
The incumbent Indian Army Chief, General Manoj Mukund Naravane, took an early aggressive posture towards Pakistan in a media conference shortly after he took command. He said that if his army receives orders from the Indian parliament to 'reclaim' Azad Kashmir from Pakistan, it will take action. He stated, "If the Indian Parliament wants Azad Kashmir to be a part of India, then we will take the necessary action to achieve that goal. There is a parliamentary resolution that entire Jammu and Kashmir is part of India. If Parliament wants it, then, that area, AJK also should belong to us.” This is a most irresponsible and reckless statement.
During his tenure as India’s Army Chief, General Bipin Rawat, now India’s first Chief of Defence Staff, was responsible for many attacks on civilians along the Pakistan side of the Line of Control and Working Boundary. Judging by his initial public statements it seems his successor is already ramping up the aggression. In his new role as Chief of Defence Staff, General Rawat is unlikely to be a force for stability and regional peace given his previous tenure as Army Chief.
So, what does this aggresive posturing and sabre-rattling say for the future of peace in the region? It certainly doesn’t appear promising. Given the extraordinary steps the Indian Government has taken against the people of Indian-Occupied Jammu and Kashmir with the abrogation of Article 370, the introduction of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) that started in Assam, removing over a million Muslims from the right to citizenship, and now sweeping across all of India, there is surely unrest and displacement ahead.
The introduction of the NRC and CAA have drawn widespread massive protests across India, responded to by state-sponsored riots and profound levels of violence against Muslims and other minorities across the country. India is fast becoming a fractured and fascist State. Demonising of Muslims and other minorities, and physical attacks against them by the Nazi-inspired RSS thugs, destroys India’s long cherished belief in itself and international portrayal as a secular country. In recent years, and particularly the past twelve months, India has shown its true face under the leadership of Narendra Modi and his coterie of fascist collaborators.
Although the CAA protests have drawn international media attention away from Kashmir, the situation for Kashmiris continues to be bleak. India continues to station more than 800,000 troops in Kashmir. It remains one of the most heavily militarised regions in the world which poses a daily risk to the people of Kashmir and to neighbouring Azad Jammu and Kashmir. Although the lockdown of August 5 has been partially lifted in Kashmir, the people remain at the mercy of their oppressors with restricted movement, heavy surveillance on every aspect of their lives, loss of livelihoods and land, and limited access to the internet. Thousands of Kashmiris were thrown into prisons following the abrogation of Article 370, adding to the thousands already improperly detained under the draconian Public Safety Act. Most remain imprisoned to this day. Many have disappeared or died while in custody.
With the level of violence and the very real threat of ethnic cleansing increasing across India and Kashmir, concerns are being raised about the risk of mass migration by Muslims, and possibly other minorities, to seek safe haven in another country in the region or across the world. This would create a catastrophic humanitarian emergency not only in the region but for a world already beset by mass migration crises which numerous countries are already struggling to cope with as millions of people flee persecution and wars.
Negative global opinion and flouting international law do not bother the Indian Government or Army be it in Kashmir or now, across India. But one can only wonder why for so many years, this has continued without genuine and prolonged international intervention to find peaceful resolutions. The reality is India has no interest in meeting international obligations so no matter what the United Nations or other countries say, they will ignore it. Until there is respect for international law and the rights of the people, innocent civilians will continue to suffer greatly. Many will lose their lives, and many are likely to be displaced. Despite India’s extreme reluctance and resistance to be a good global citizen, the United Nations and the international community must never look away. There is too much at stake for millions of people.
The flow-on from the chaos in India, the ongoing situation in Kashmir, and continuing threats from India’s leaders, are likely to have an impact on the region. None more so than for the communities along the Line of Control in Azad Jammu and Kashmir. So as the snow melts and summer comes to this beautiful but dangerous part of the world, community hopes for a peaceful and prosperous year ahead seem unlikely to be fulfilled. Ceasefire violations by India, deliberately targeting the most vulnerable of people, may well reach new heights in 2020.
The writer is an Australian Disaster Management and Post-Conflict Reconstruction & Rehabilitation Advisor who lives in Islamabad. She consults for Government and UN agencies and has previously worked at both ERRA and NDMA.
E-mail: [email protected]
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