By Aijaz Hussain
SRINAGAR, India (AP) — When news spread that Indian troops on July 8 had killed 22-year-old Burhan Wani, a charismatic commander of Indian-controlled Kashmir’s biggest rebel group, the public response was spontaneous and massive. Tens of thousands of angry youths poured out of their homes in towns and villages across the Himalayan region, hurling rocks and bricks and clashing with Indian troops.
A curfew and a communications blackout has failed to stop the protests. The violence has left 48 civilians dead, as government forces fired live ammunition and pellets to try to quell the unrest. About 2,000 civilians and 1,500 police and soldiers have been injured in the clashes.
But Kashmir’s fury at Indian rule is not new. The stunning mountain region has known little other than conflict since 1947, when British rule of the subcontinent ended with the creation of India and Pakistan.
The Himalayan kingdom of Jammu and Kashmir was asked to become part of one of the two newly independent nations. But Maharaja Hari Singh, the unpopular Hindu ruler of the Muslim-majority region, wanted to stay independent.
A raid by tribesmen from northwestern Pakistan forced Singh to seek help from India, which offered military assistance on condition that the kingdom accede to India. The ruler accepted, but insisted that Kashmir remain a largely autonomous state within the Indian union, with India managing its foreign affairs, defense and telecommunications.
The Indian military entered the region soon after, and the tribal raid spiraled into the first of two wars between India and Pakistan over Kashmir. The war ended in 1948 with a U.N.-brokered cease-fire. Nonetheless, Kashmir became divided between the two young nations by a heavily militarized Line of Control, with the promise of a U.N.-sponsored referendum in the future.
In Indian-controlled Kashmir, many saw the transition as the mere transfer of power from their Hindu king to Hindu-majority India. Kashmiri discontent against India started taking root as successive Indian governments breached the pact of Kashmir’s autonomy. Local governments were toppled one after another, and largely peaceful movements against Indian control were curbed harshly.
Pakistan continued raising the Kashmir dispute in international forums, including in the U.N. India began calling the region its integral part, saying that Kashmir’s lawmakers had ratified the accession to New Delhi.
As the deadlock persisted, India and Pakistan went to war again in 1965, with little changing on the ground. Several rounds of talks followed, but the impasse continued.
In the mid-1980s, dissident political groups in Indian Kashmir united and contested elections for the state assembly. The Muslim United Front quickly emerged as a formidable force against Kashmir’s pro-India political elite. However, the front lost the 1987 election, widely believed to have been heavily rigged.
A strong public backlash followed. Some young MUF activists crossed over to Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, where the Pakistani military began arming and training Kashmiri nationalists.
By 1989, Kashmir was in the throes of a full-blown rebellion.
India poured more troops into the already heavily militarized region. In response, thousands of Kashmiris streamed back from the Pakistani-controlled portion with guns and grenades. More than 68,000 people have been killed since then.
Though the militancy waned, popular sentiment for “azadi” or freedom, has remained ingrained in the Kashmiri psyche. In the last decade, the region has made a transition from armed rebellion to unarmed uprisings as tens of thousands of civilians frequently take to the streets to protest Indian rule, often leading to clashes between rock-throwing residents and Indian troops. The protests are usually quelled by force, often resulting in deaths.
In 2008, a government decision — later revoked — to transfer land to a Hindu shrine in Kashmir set off a summer of protests. The following year, the alleged murder of two young women by government forces set off fresh violence.
In 2010, the trigger for protests was a police investigation into allegations that soldiers shot dead three civilians and then staged a fake gunbattle to make it appear that the dead were militants, in order to claim rewards for the killings.
In all three years, hundreds of thousands of young men and women took to the streets, hurling rocks and abuse at Indian forces. At least 200 people were killed and hundreds wounded as troops fired into the crowds, inciting further protests.
The crackdown appears to be pushing many educated young Kashmiris, who grew up politically radicalized amid decades of brutal conflict, toward armed rebel groups. Young Kashmiri boys began snatching weapons from Indian forces and training themselves deep inside Kashmir’s forests.
The number of militants has, however, remained minuscule, not crossing 200 in the last several years.
The All Parties Hurriyat Conference is a conglomerate of social, religious and political groups formed in 1993. It advocates the U.N.-sponsored right to self-determination for Kashmir or tripartite talks among Indian, Pakistani and Kashmiri leadership to resolve the dispute.
The Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front was one of the first armed rebel groups. It favors an independent, united Kashmir. Currently led by Mohammed Yasin Malik, the group gave up armed rebellion in 1994, soon after Indian authorities released Malik from jail after four years.
Hizbul Mujahideen is Kashmir’s largest and only surviving indigenous armed rebel group. Formed in 1990, the group demands Kashmir’s merger with Pakistan. Its supreme commander, Syed Salahuddin, is based in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-controlled Kashmir. The group was led in Indian Kashmir by Burhan Wani until his death on July 8.
The Lashkar-e-Taiba is a Pakistan-based group fighting for Indian Kashmir’s merger with Pakistan. The United States lists it as a terrorist group. Its leader, Hafiz Saeed, is on a U.S. terrorist list, with a $10 million bounty on his head. He’s also one of India’s most wanted men. New Delhi blames the group for several deadly attacks in Kashmir and Indian cities, including the 2008 Mumbai attack that killed 166 people.
The Jammu Kashmir National Conference is a pro-India political group that has ruled Kashmir for the most part since 1947. Its most recent leaders, Farooq Abdullah and his son Omar Abdullah, the current opposition leader in the state assembly, are seen as the strongest proponents of India in Kashmir.
The Jammu Kashmir Peoples Democratic Party emerged in the early 2000s as the strongest opponent to the National Conference, strategically using pro-separatist views for electoral gains. It soon came to power in 2002. It currently rules Indian Kashmir in coalition with India’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.