Kashmir: The sad valley

Kashmiri man and his shikara
Kashmiri man and his shikara (© Flickr/Ashok Boghani)

As the British raj left the Indian subcontinent in 1947, the rulers of the princely states were given the right to join India or Pakistan. One maharaja, wanting full independence for his state, wavered too long. Kashmir has been divided ever since between India and Pakistan. The two countries have fought three wars over the territory, and a lasting solution remains elusive.

Producer: Eric Beauchemin

Broadcast: November 12, 1994


As the British raj left the Indian subcontinent in 1947, the rulers of the princely states were given the right to join India or Pakistan. One maharaja wanting full independence for his state wavered too long. He created Kashmir, the sad valley.

India and Pakistan had three wars on this specific, sole issue. And if there can be any fourth war, that can only be with regard to Jammu and Kashmir, and if that situation happens for the fourth time, not only that India and Pakistan will be directly concerned, but of course the rest of South Asia will definitely be concerned with it.

Radio Netherlands, the Dutch international service, presents “Kashmir – the sad valley”. The programme is produced and presented by Eric Beauchemin.

Situated at the crossroads between India, Pakistan, China, Afghanistan and the central Asia republics, Kashmir has been vital to the Indian subcontinent since the 19th century. The British used this mountainous and often inaccessible area as a buffer zone between their Indian empire and the empires of Russia and China to the north. The people are primarily Muslim. So it was natural for them to join Muslim Pakistan rather than Hindu India when partition took place in 1947. But the maharaja of Kashmir Hari Singh dithered, believing he could maintain his state’s independence. Then in the face of a rebellion in Kashmir itself, back by Pakistan, the maharaja decided to join India in 1947. Pakistan intervened and went to war with India, the first of two wars they would fight over the territory.

Mountains surrounding Srinagar
Mountains surrounding Srinagar (© Eric Beauchemin)

Kashmir was divided: the area under Pakistani control became Azad or Free Kashmir, while the remaining two thirds of the territory stayed under Indian control. Under a United Nations resolution adopted in 1948, a plebiscite was supposed to be held throughout Kashmir. The vote was never held and Kashmir has remained in limbo ever since. Both India and Pakistan remain determined to keep Kashmir and could even again go to war over the territory. Another conflict, says Chaudhry Muhammad Yusef, the deputy prime minister of Azad Kashmir, would have disastrous consequences.

I do believe that it will affect at least half of the world because if there’s any instability, if there’s any war or something like that, definitely not only India and Pakistan will be directly concerned, but of course China who is a party to this situation. She is claiming the Aksai China border. She’s got land controversy with India also with regards to the borders of Jammu and Kashmir state, and also the USSR although that mighty country has broken down to 12 pieces, but of course that’s also a concern. I’m afraid that if there can be some kind of nuclear holocaust in the world during the present times, that can be due to Kashmir only.

Tensions in Kashmir have been mounting for the past four years since Muslim separatists in the territory, known as the mujaheddin, launched an armed campaign against Indian rule. The campaign has degenerated into a virtual civil war with almost daily clashes between Indian troops and separatists. Many civilians have also gotten caught up in the war, like Fayyaz, a young Kashmiri I met in Delhi, who was picked up by Indian security forces in Kashmir and tortured.

I was just walking on the street. So the military came. Somebody told them: just pick them. They put me in the jail. In the jail, what happens? I told them I am studying out of Kashmir. So they didn’t believe me and they took me to jail. They got a stick and put it on my legs. They started to give a torture: 440 volts, even in my cock. EB: Electric shocks? Yeah. Electric shocks. They were trying to do humiliation with me. They was telling me can you show me the militants. I was telling them: I don’t know any militants. How I show you the militants? I don’t know the militants So they was taking me in the jeep, show me the militants, but I was not knowing any militants, but they was beating me, beating me like a dog. And when I came out from the jail, my T shirt and pants was totally red because my blood came out. I got my marks if you want to see. Just see that. These things they did with me. They are bastards. EB: But why did they pick you up? I don’t know why because they want to kill Kashmiri boys. There was an operation there: catch and kill. They were trying to kill us, just for nothing. That was the Operation Catch and Kill. They just want to kill me. I don’t know why they just released me then. I don’t know. It was my luck. I was thinking they will kill me. EB: But are you politically active? No, I am not. These things happen in Kashmir.  EB: And as a result, you won’t go back to Kashmir. No, I don’t want to go back to Kashmir. I’m scared now about Indians.

It’s impossible to verify Fayyaz’s story. He did have scars on his legs, but in the propaganda war being waged by all sides – Kashmiris, Indians and Pakistanis – it’s difficult to know where the truth lies. The fact that human rights abuses are taking place on a large scale is indisputable, according to Ravi Nair, the executive director of the South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre, an independent body.

The situation can be seen as something that has taken a downslide since the troubles started in ’89 and reached a certain amount of intensity in 1990, freedom being lost in a range of issues and areas. We are concerned about the denial of democratic freedoms available to the Kashmiri people which are available to citizens of India, across the country. We are concerned about the constant extension of president’s rule, which is executive rule, which is federal rule from Delhi without the consent of the people through any form of democratic electoral or legislative process. And we are concerned about the much more acute but real human rights violations of torture, of extra-judicial executions, of disappearances, of preventive detentions without trial and a range issues. EB: Are the Indian authorities the sole perpetrators of these human rights violations? Well, human rights violations take place on both sides. The armed opposition or what is called the militants also perpetrate human rights violations. We, as human rights organisations, address violations on both sides, with the armed opposition as well as government. And government in the nature of being state has a much more important duty to uphold human rights. You cannot have those who seek to uphold the law breaking the law themselves. EB: You say that the situation is unfavourable. What does that mean in concrete terms? How frequent are human rights violations taking place there? Well, human rights violations in the Kashmir Valley are a daily occurrence. It is not something which is episodic or something that happens once in a while. From the search and cordon operations that have become a part of the normal way of life, from the abductions at the dead of night or the midnight knock that comes to you in the early hours of the morning, to run from pillar to post to find out where a suspect has been taken, a relative or a friend of yours and you get no answer. No charges being filed, habeas corpus petitions meaning very little because of the judicial delays and the inability of the Kashmir High Court to exercise its writ over the executive, which has become fairly lawless in my opinion. EB: I’ve spoken several Kashmiris here and I’ve even seen a couple who have scars and marks on their body. They say they were picked up for no reason whatsoever and they were tortured. They had electric shocks placed on their feet, on their genital areas for no reason. Is this fairly typical? Well, the most important case recently was the case of Mushaf Sultan, a 19-year-old boy who was picked up on a street, interrogated for days together, beaten up black and blue, given electric shocks to his genitals and other sensitive organs. He was finally taken to a little canal embankment and shot four times and left for dead. The boy had a miraculous escape. Now he had nothing to do…I’ve interviewed the boy personally. If he had anything to do with militants, then one is really living in cuckoo land. This case is not an aberration. There are numerous cases of this kind, and it denotes that discipline and a sense of hierarchy that you expect in a uniformed force is breaking down in the Indian armed forces in the Kashmir Valley. The attempt is to frighten, intimidate, harass, cow down, and I think it’s part of a general pattern. I don’t think it can be seen as aberrations anymore. There’s too much overwhelming evidence for us to think in any other way.

The picture painted by Ravi Nair of the independent South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre is grim. I was able to see it for myself when I went to Srinagar, the capital of Kashmir. Arriving at the airport, I saw dozens of troops. Their numbers were only to increase as I neared the city centre. The most striking thing was that unlike the rest of India, life here was proceeding in slow motion. Few people were out on the streets, and there were even fewer cars. Soldiers were standing guard every few metres. A few metres further apart, there were bunkers covered with fishnets to protect the troops from grenade attacks by the militants. The siege in Kashmir has tightened since the insurgency began. 13,000 Kashmiris have been killed over the past four years, according to independent sources, and the killings continue every day. People – whether they support independence or joining Pakistan – are so afraid that thousands have taken refuge in neighbouring Pakistan. I met some of them in a refugee camp on a desolate hillside near the capital of Azad Kashmir, Muzaffarabad, after hearing about the camp from a Pakistani government official.

In the beginning of 1990, the freedom movement in Indian-held Kashmir strongly started. Due to the atrocities and brutalities committed by the Indian army, these refugees were compelled to migrate to this adjacent area, which is called Azad Kashmir. This was liberated in 1947 a small part of Kashmir. Here these people have been putting up in different centres. Primary schools have been established in each centre. Here you can see school is there. This is mosque and that is school. This is the tent of our dispensary. So I thank you very much. If you want to ask some questions why they have migrated to this area, you can do so. EB: Can you tell me what your name is? Sakhi Walaisha (sp?). EB: How long have you been here? Three years ago. EB: Did you come alone or did you come with your family? With family. EB: Why did you come? I was going to college. Indian army come. Many orphans. I want freedom. They catch me. What you say? They sprinkled kerosene on my body, on my belly and they set fire. EB: He’s showing us the wounds. His body is badly burned. They said what do you want. Many class fellows, they catch and killed. EB: Are you working now? Do you stay in the camp all day? What do you do? Although they are free to work, go anywhere and work, there is no industries in Azad Kashmir. This time these people are living in camps. We are refugees here. What we do here? EB: What is it that you want for Kashmir? Do you want it to become part of Pakistan or do you want it to become independent? I want join of Pakistan, first free and then join Pakistan. EB: Why? Pakistan help us. EB: So in other words the Muslim identity is more important to you than the Kashmiri identity. Muslim country, Muslim country. Important. Muslim.

His hip was chopped off with a knife or any sort of weapon. You can see. His name is Farouk. He came in 1990. He came with father and mother. He says he’s 7, but he’s not 7. He must be at least 10. EB: Can you ask him if he likes living here? He says he doesn’t want to live here. He wants independence because they used to cut their nails and put chillies on them, so he has to come here. He says if it is independent, I will go immediately. EB: Independent or Pakistani? He says independent. He says something different from the rest of the people. Thank you.

Besides tents and schools, Pakistan has provided the refugees with some money every month to help them make ends meet. Pakistan also gratefully uses the refugees to underscore the human rights violations taking place in Indian-controlled Kashmir. Pakistan wants all of Kashmir to become part of Pakistan, and it’s been giving the Kashmiris moral and political support in their struggle against India. But India charges that Pakistan, and in particular Pakistan’s intelligence service, the ISI, has also been providing training and arms to the Kashmiri militants. According to Jagmohan, a former governor of Indian-controlled Jammu and Kashmir and author of the book “My Frozen Turbulence in Kashmir”, the current situation would not have arisen had it not been for Pakistan.

Pakistan is supplying all the sophisticated weapons. After all, they are not dropping from the air. Somebody is providing them. They have American friends. They left 2 million Kalashnikovs in the area between Iran and Pakistan after this Afghan war. Now all this Kalashnikovs are available to the ISI. They also use 35% of the financial aid given for the Afghan refugees by the Americans. They sliced up 35% of it, and now they are using these financial resources for creating unrest in Kashmir. Then the drug money. I have given in my book in the last chapter the latest figures: 13 billion dollars of drug money is available to ISI from the no man land lying between Afghanistan and this. Now if the ISI has so many weapons at its disposal. It has got so much financial resources at its disposal. It has become the most dangerous terrorist organisation in the world. And they are pumping these resources into Kashmir to subvert. 

But even Jagmohan admits that Pakistan does not bear all the blame for the unrest now taking place in Kashmir. When he was governor, he repeatedly sent reports to Delhi, warning that arms were flowing into Kashmir, both from Pakistan and Afghanistan. But his dire warnings were repeatedly ignored.

In 1989, I have written a letter to the then prime minister, saying today may be timely, tomorrow will be too late. So even such a clear warning signal was given, but it was an attitude of permissiveness which the government of India displayed. And that is why all the problems have increased. You know very well that when the disease crops up, if you nip the disease in the bud, you can cure it by very simple medicine. But when it affects the vital organs of your system, then it requires the long and very tortuous and difficult treatment. Exactly the same thing has happened in Kashmir. The very failure of leadership has led to this.

Jagmohan also charges that corruption pervades the local Kashmiri administration, and because of Kashmir’s special status within the Indian union, Delhi has been unable to do anything to reduce the power of the oligarchy running the state. Whatever the causes for the current situation, it’s clear that most Kashmiris have had enough of Indian rule. I heard the same thing time and time again in Kashmir. Some men even stopped me as I was driving around Dal Lake near Srinagar to express their sentiments.

All the Kashmir wants independence, not less than that, anything. EB: The Indians have to go. Totally. It should be clean Kashmir. The military should remove from here, and we want independence because we hate India. EB: Why? Because they are cheaters. EB: In what way are they cheaters? Because they are Hindus. EB: They’re bad because they’re Hindus? No because they always are pressing us. We want Kashmir to be independent. We don’t like India because they are pressing us always. EB: Do you plan to stay in Kashmir or are you going to leave if the Indians don’t leave? I want to throw out Indian army from Kashmir. EB: And you’re ready to fight for that? I’m ready. If necessary, I’m ready to fight with the military here.

Deserted garden in Srinagar
Deserted garden in Srinagar (© Eric Beauchemin)

He’s not the only one. Thousands of young Kashmiris have taken up arms to fight the Indian army and administration. The mujaheddin are known to the locals, and I asked one of them, a 25-year-old I met in one of Kashmir’s beautiful gardens why he had joined the militants.

He said I was a student of 11th class, and I was not supposed to take the gun. I have been to several departments for a job. I couldn’t get a job. They were giving jobs to their own relatives, and then I thought this is the best way: to take up a gun and make freedom in Kashmir. EB: What type of Kashmir would he like to see? Would it be a secular state, a Muslim state? We want Islamic government here. Pakistan is like that. Iraq is like that. Iran is like that. We will be like that, Muslim here. EB: Has he carried out any attacks? He has been made action along with another mujaheddin, attack in the ?? near Ishbar (sp?) and he has used rocket launchers. Six mujaheddin has been killed by the military. And they have killed about 20, 25 soldiers. EB: Where did the arms come from? I don’t know.

No one knows for sure where the mujaheddin get their weapons from, but India says they are supplied by Pakistan. The mujaheddin, despite their relatively small numbers, exert considerable power over the Kashmiris. Human rights groups have catalogued abuses against people who have opposed the mujaheddin’s actions. Some Kashmiris I spoke to said they were just as afraid of the militants as they are of the Indian army. A Kashmiri store owner told me excesses were to be expected from desperate youths who have little or no prospects.

Well, there are miscreants everywhere. We don’t have to say that all the militants are bad. There are good boys also who are fighting, but it’s very difficult to differentiate them. They are always criminals or you can say they are miscreants. They got involved. It’s very difficult to stop those boys. But overall, everyone is with this movement here.

Support for the mujaheddin is strong among the general population because of India’s hard-handed rule but also because the ongoing conflict has virtually destroyed the Kashmiri economy and frightened off the state’s main source of income: tourists.

The economy is ruined here because of all this military involvement. We have got forces all around us. So it’s very difficult for the tourists to move in a real sense. EB: Most of the people here depend on tourists to live. Yes, the majority of the people are depending on tourism here, almost 60 to 70% of the economy in Kashmir runs on tourism. So the economy is totally ruined. It has become very hard for us to survive. It is very difficult for us under the prevailing situation. EB: What type of income do you have then? We don’t have any income. We have been selling our things, gold, and our boys have gone into different parts of India. We are trying to convince people, tourists, to come to Kashmir but it’s very difficult overall. EB: What about for you? I’m OK. I’m sustaining whatever we had. Savings, that’s what we’re living on and we are pulling on. EB: But the situation has been going on for four years now. Your savings must be running out. Yes, it is running out. We are just back borrowing. That’s what we are doing.

Houseboat owner
Houseboat owner (© Eric Beauchemin)

From the banks of Dal Lake, you can see hundreds of wooden houseboats where, during the good old days, hordes of tourists would put up for the night to enjoy the stunning surroundings. Today, a houseboat owner told me, he can count the number of tourists he receives a year on his two hands.

Now, I’m facing these hard days, very hard. I got just 4, 5, 6 tourists in this year. I’m depending only on the tourists. I don’t have any other sources, nor land, nor taxis nor buses. No. I’ve got only the houseboat business to feed my family with the grace of God. I don’t know how I am getting the money. EB: A maximum of 10 tourists this year. How many did you receive in 1985, for example, or in the good years? We was having good tourists. The tourists was not getting the accommodation here in the houseboats in ’85, ’86, ’87, ’88, ’89. They were not getting a single room. EB: It was always full. Always full. Full Kashmir with the hotels, houseboats. EB: How has this affected your family? One of your sons lives in Delhi. Why does he live in Delhi? My son is living in Delhi due to the problems in Kashmir. The Indian government, Indian military, they are always when they look the young boy, they are just calling him and putting him in the banker (??) and then they are getting the integration and then beating them like anything. I afraid. If we are free, we have freedom here, then he didn’t need to go to India. EB: And what about your other son? Due to the militancy, I don’t like to send him to school. The military is asking what about the militants? Who is having a gun? Because when they are small boy, they give them chewing gum, chocolates, when they given them 5 rupees, they can tell them nice, nice. Because of that, I’m interested to send this younger son also to Delhi. As long as the problem is here, I don’t want to keep my son here, and I want to keep my son away from my home. EB: Can he go to school every day or does he have problems? No. Last 15 days was curfew by the government. Sometimes when the government is making hard steps against the Kashmiri people, then the Kashmiri mujaheddin giving the call: you can close. Today is closed. Tomorrow is closed. Up to 4 days closed, 5 days closed. There is no life here during the military time in Kashmir with the fighting here. EB: What is it that you would like to see happen to Kashmir? Do you also want it to become independent? It’s my opinion, personal opinion, if it is voting here, if it is independent voting here, I will cast my vote for independence. Neither I care for Pakistan, neither I care for India.

The Kashmiri people are hoping that the international community will finally wake up and support their struggle. Yussef Chadri (sp?), the general secretary of the Liberation Council of Kashmir, says what Kashmiris want most is that India make good on the promise by former prime minister Nehru to hold a plebiscite.

He said the time will come when we will ask the people of Kashmir to decide their future: whether they go with Pakistan or be independent. If they deny India, we will never use our guns against them. These are the commitments of the prime minister of India. Now the question is whether there are some people who want Pakistan or want independence. But that is our second question. The first question is that the government of India should fulfil the commitment that they have committed to us when they entered Kashmir forcibly. They must fulfil it very amicably on the table. The will of the people will be declared after we have first settled with India.

If the plebiscite called for by the United Nations Security Council in 1948 is ever held, three scenarios are possible: the first is that Kashmiris would vote to join Pakistan. The second is for Kashmir to remain part of India. And the third option – the one neither Pakistan nor India is even prepared to contemplate – is independence for Kashmir. Chudri Mohammed Yusuf, the deputy prime minister of Azad Kashmir again.

If there can be some other solution that will be much dangerous to both India and Pakistan. If this Jammu and Kashmir state somehow or other is made independent, that will be a sort of precedent because in India, there are as many as six or seven secession movements and that would definitely be paving of the path towards disintegration of India. And that will definitely affect Pakistan’s integrity also.

Srinagar (© Eric Beauchemin)

The idea is so repugnant to India that the former governor of Jammu and Kashmir Jagmohan says India won’t even consider it.

We will not in any case allow secession of any part of territory. Who are these Muslims? They were Hindus converted to Islam. In fact, we are all Indians. The moment we let this go, there will be no end. There will be total disintegration in India. So this is a very crucial question whether you want to have a unified India or you want to have small, small India.

But Yussuf Chadri of the Liberation Council of Kashmir says India cannot simply wish the problem away. The longer it’s allowed to fester, he says, the more of a threat it poses to India’s unity.

We don’t say that it should be divided in 100 segments. But if Kashmir is being held up in the same way and same style for next months, next days, next years, this will weaken India also to keep such a big army holding for the protection of Kashmir. This will economically shatter India more. And therefore the earlier Kashmir is decided by India, the better it is for them. If it is being delayed  and delayed, not only Kashmir will get away from India, other parts of India will get away. They must decide Kashmir immediately. EB: And far-reaching autonomy isn’t sufficient. No, autonomy is not sufficient. It is just like you are given a prison, you have all the modern facilities. You have the wealth of the world and you have everything in that great prison. What do you mean by autonomy when you have half a million army on your borders, in your houses, in your streets, everywhere. And if the government changes a policy that they will only keep 100,000 tomorrow in the valley and other parts, but they keep all the army on our borders, with a simple whistle, within half an hour they come to our towns. So I don’t think that Kashmir should be with India forcibly. They should settle it.

A settlement, almost any type of settlement, would be better than the current war of nerves and attrition in Kashmir. Whatever solution is found, says the shop owner I spoke to, it must include open borders.

My ideal solution is the roads to Pakistan and to India, all the highways, the trade routes, should open, and India should back up. They should go back to the original arrangements they have made with Kashmir, and Pakistan should leave part of Kashmir they’ve occupied illegally. And India should also back out. They should go to the original position. That’s what we feel because this was never a British empire. EB: It sounds like you want independence then. Of course. Everybody would love to have independence all over the world. Everybody would feel very comfortable in that. But if that’s a solution, let it be like that. If there’s another solution which is beneficial to both India and Pakistan and Kashmiris, we will accept it. EB: It just seems like a pretty hopeless situation, doesn’t it? It is. It is. But time will tell the difference. Time will heal.

Kashmir will need a lot of time to heal after the past four years of civil strife and the nearly 50 years of what Kashmiris term India’s illegal occupation of their land. But Kashmiris are certain that they and their country will heal as soon as India goes.

We get independence, we’ll be happy. We will have our own land. So we will get everything what we need. And we have resources to live, definitely. We have agriculture. We have carpet manufacturing which is world famous. Then we are producing the world’s best wool, which we can sell. And as well the tourism is right on top in the world. Everybody used to be happy. Now you see, everybody is sad in Kashmir. It’s terrible. It was called the happy valley. Now we call it the sad valley.  

“Kashmir – the sad valley” was produced and presented by Eric Beauchemin. Technical production: Alex van Hoorn. This has been a Radio Netherlands’ presentation.