Basharat Peer

From The National Interest, “Tear Gas over Batamaloo

“The question of Kashmir is one of the longest-running tragedies of our time…Three wars between India and Pakistan, several insurgencies, counterinsurgencies and a countless series of negotiations have failed to settle the political future of this beautiful, disputed Himalayan region since the creation of the states of India and Pakistan in 1947. For sixty years, these two countries have claimed all of Kashmir as their own. Blood has been spilled, thousands have died and still the people are in crisis.

The intractability of India’s and Pakistan’s competing policies was evident once again this fall, as foreign ministers parroted inflexible national positions on Kashmir at the United Nations General Assembly session. After several years of quietude, Pakistan renewed its call for a UN-mandated plebiscite, which would give Kashmiris the option of choosing between India and Pakistan as their home nation. “The Jammu and Kashmir dispute is about the exercise of the right to self-determination by the Kashmiri people through a free, fair and impartial plebiscite under UN auspices. Pakistan views the prevailing situation in Indian Occupied Kashmir with grave concern,” Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said in his recent address. India responded by calling off any potential meeting between Indian Foreign Minister S. M. Krishna and his Pakistani counterpart, with Krishna retorting:

Jammu and Kashmir, which is an integral part of India, is the target of Pakistan-sponsored militancy and terrorism. Pakistan must fulfill its solemn commitment of not allowing territory under its control to be used for terrorism directed against India. . . . Pakistan cannot impart lessons to us on democracy and human rights.

Far away from the rhetoric in New York, Kashmir is slowly dying. More and more people take to the streets, fighting against New Delhi’s heavy hand. The authorities trounce the uprisings with violence.

Gangbugh is a small village on the outskirts of Srinagar, the summer capital city of Indian-controlled Kashmir; a few hundred freshly built houses amid an expanse of golden paddy fields. On July 6, several hundred residents of the neighborhood came out in a protest against Indian rule—part of a wave of demonstrations triggered by the death of Tufail Mattoo, a seventeen-year-old student killed by a tear-gas shell fired by Indian troops in Srinagar. They were attempting to disperse a crowd protesting the murder of three Kashmiri villagers by the Indian Army near the disputed border with Pakistan. Indian paramilitary forces and police posted in the area charged at the crowd and broke the windowpanes of scores of houses with stones. A villager complained to a minister in the Kashmir government about the paramilitary troops’ activities. The politician then visited the village; some angry boys threw rocks at his cavalcade. The police and paramilitaries returned for a crackdown. Another protest followed, and after the confrontation was over, one more seventeen-year-old high school student, Muzaffar Bhat, was dead.

The circumstances of his disappearance remain unclear. His family alleged that villagers saw the police take Muzaffar away in a jeep. Police argued that he had jumped into a river to escape arrest when the troops charged at the protesters. The next morning, his body was recovered from the river. As the news of the teen’s death spread, several thousand people came out on the roads raising slogans against the Indian troops and demanding Kashmir’s independence. As the protest began, Fayaz Wani, a thirty-year-old neighbor of the dead boy, and the father of two young daughters, prepared to leave for work. He was as an office assistant in the Kashmir government’s Department of Floriculture. “He dressed for the office and stepped out as the protest started,” Mushtaq Wani, his older brother, told me. Fayaz, a tall, athletic man with sunken cheeks, walked with his fellow villagers in the protest. While there, he also made a phone call to a colleague saying, “I shall be shortly in the office.” A few minutes later, the protest intensified, angry mourners threw a few stones at the troops, who fired back. Four bullets hit Fayaz, two entering his back, and two shattering the right side of his face. Wani died right there.

The furious, grieving village set off on another procession, a few hours later, carrying its two dead men to one of the most prominent landmarks of war: the sprawling Martyrs Graveyard in northwestern Srinagar, where several hundred Kashmiris killed in the conflict are buried. As they reached an area called Batamaloo, Indian paramilitary troops and police stopped them. The city had been tense, under curfew. A police officer ordered the mourners to return home; the mourners insisted on the right to bury the dead where they wanted. The troops ended the argument by firing tear-gas shells at the crowd and assaulting them with bamboo sticks.”

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