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Jammu and Kashmir

  • Kunwar Khuldune
  • Jan, 2021
  • 937
  • The Unheard Voices of Kashmir

While India and Pakistan argue and fight over the fate of Kashmir, is anyone listening to the Kashmiris?

At least 15 people were killed when Pakistan and India exchanged cross-border shelling across the Line of Control on November 13. Indian shells reached well into the Pakistani-administered territory of Kashmir, burning villages in the Neelum Valley. While locals die on both sides of the divide, both New Delhi and Islamabad accuse each other of violating the 2003 ceasefire. The Kashmir region is claimed in its entirety by both South Asian nuclear powers; each occupies part of the region with the Line of Control (LoC) marking the divide.

The Neelum Valley is part of the Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) territory, which along with Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) forms the two regions in Pakistan’s control. India holds the state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), which has since been bifurcated into two union territories following the separation of Ladakh after New Delhi revoked J&K’s special status in August 2019. Pakistani-administered Kashmir was formally bifurcated into its much larger constituent Gilgit-Baltistan, formerly called the Northern Areas, and Azad Jammu and Kashmir in 1974.

The bifurcation of J&K, meanwhile, was carried out for administrative reasons according to the Indian government, but critics claim that religious demographics were the actual motivation. However, in addition to Pakistan’s condemnation, New Delhi’s move on J&K also invited blowback from China, which claims parts of Ladakh.

The developments over the past 16 months have included a military standoff between China and India, in addition to growing ceasefire violations between Islamabad and New Delhi. In October, India accused Pakistan of 3,800 LoC violations in 2020. By July, Pakistan recorded 1,595 ceasefire violations by India. However, last month’s shelling in Neelum Valley was by far the most destructive this year.

“At least 100 houses have been damaged in the valley. The shelling was completely unexpected. There is regular crossborder firing near the LoC, but it rarely reaches Neelum Valley,” says local resident Jalal Uddin Mughal, an amateur filmmaker and photographer.

The Pakistan military claims that the Indian army encountered a few Kashmiri “freedom fighters,” which prompted the bombing of the Neelum Valley. The timing of the shelling, two days before last month’s election in GB, meant that many fingers were pointed toward an apparent Indian attempt to sabotage the polling.

“I couldn’t connect the dots between GB elections and Indian shelling. The LoC connects GB and Ladakh as well; if the aim were to target the GB poll, the shelling could’ve taken place there. If the mujahideen (freedom fighters) intervened across the LoC, then India is using this as justification for this shelling,” believes Mughal.

Mughal also maintains that it is unlikely that Indian forces would’ve targeted the GB elections since he says there appears to be an understanding between New Delhi and Islamabad to mainstream their administered Kashmir territories.

“We feel there is backdoor agreement between India and Pakistan and steps are being taken to formalize the LoC as the border. That’s where we are headed. Like Indian-occupied Kashmir, there will be strong reaction in AJK, but the state will control the people similarly. So India targeting GB elections doesn’t make any sense.”

The polls last month saw 330 candidates compete for 14 constituencies in elections for the assembly of Gilgit-Baltistan. All the mainstream Pakistani parties contested the elections and had unanimously vowed to transform GB into the country’s fifth province following the polls, in which the centrally ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) triumphed.

The mainstreaming, in effect, means Pakistan engaging in political reengineering of its own administered part of the disputed Kashmir territory, following India’s move in Jammu and Kashmir. The push to mainstream GB has come in part from China, which wants to secure its highest-ever overseas investment in the shape of the $87 billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which enters Pakistan via GB and is hence embroiled in the Kashmir dispute, too.

Kashmir today is the gateway of the 21st century’s most expansive neoliberal venture and a major front of the new cold war. And yet its four multiethnic and religiously diverse territories, intertwined over the past two centuries via power plays passed on from imperialistic empires to repressive nationstates, house a wide gamut of aspirations. However, for many locals, it is becoming increasingly clear that their desires are unlikely to be factored in by power wielders unilaterally acting on their “behalf.”

While Indian military occupation ...

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