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Usaid Siddiqui

Repression and resistance: Kashmiris and Palestinians find common ground

In the age if information, neither India nor Israel can perpetually pretend they're victims [Getty]

Date of publication: 4 August, 2016

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Comment: Usaid Saddiqui draws a parallel between the experiences and challenges facing Kashmiris and Palestinians, with a view to encouraging alliance-building between the two populations.

The recent flare up in Indian held Jammu and Kashmir this month has resulted in the deaths of over 50 people and is one of the worst cycles of violence in recent years. The demonstrations saw Kashmiris take to the streets to protest against the death of a local and hugely popular militant commander, Burhan Wani, in an encounter with Indian security forces. 

The Kashmir dispute dates back to 1947 (around the same time as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict), with India and Pakistan fighting two wars over the resource rich territory. During the 90s, a decade long insurgency is said to have claimed the lives of some 70,000 Kashmiris.

In many respects, the plight of the Kashmiris has parallels with the struggle of the Palestinian people: The militarisation of Kashmiri territory, clamping down on demonstrations (often violently) and routine detentions of protestors and activists is a reality the Palestinians know too well.

While the conflicts in Kashmir and Palestine stem from different geopolitical histories, and each with varied level of success in achieving lasting peace and stability, the daily pressures of living under heavy military presence and occupation have made for similar experiences for both Kashmiris and Palestinians.

Indian state violence

In January 1990, dozens were killed in what came to be known as the Gawkadal massacre. Indian forces fired indiscriminately on a large number of peaceful protestors who were chanting pro-independence slogans. The demonstrations were ignited by the Indian security forces conducting "warrantless house-to-house searches, arresting hundreds of people, beating them and allegedly harassing women".

The episode would serve as a catalyst for the sea of violence Kashmiris would be embroiled in for much of the 90s - between local and Pakistani backed militants and Indian security forces.

At the height of the "Kashmir insurgency" in 1993, Human Rights Watch published a damning report that comprehensively documented the indiscriminate killing of civilians and use of lethal force since the start of the insurgency in 1987.

In January 1993 in the town in Sopore, a battalion of the Border Security Force (BSF) indiscriminately opened fire in a public market area killing 43 people, in an apparent reprisal attack after the BSF had come under attack from local militants.

In addition to reprisal attacks and opening fire on demonstrators, the use of torture during the conflict was widespread; electric shocks, suspension by the hands or feet and severe beating were some of the methods applied by security forces. 

After the tragic events of 9/11, India saw a golden opportunity to frame its counter terrorism efforts in Kashmir within the wider context of the War on Terror.

Illegal detention and disappearances became the norm. It is estimated that since 1990, 8,000 men "disappeared" while in custody or during crackdowns. In 2006, HRW reported a similar pattern of state violence and a disregard for basic civil liberties of the Kashmiri people that it had documented 13 years earlier. 

The experience of the Kashmiris with the Indian security apparatus would be irrefutably familiar to the Palestinian people. During their near 60-year long struggle against Israeli occupation, the Palestinians have undergone two uprisings (first and second intifada) that resulted in massive crackdowns in the West Bank and Gaza.

Over the first Intifada, which started in 1988, a similar chain of events would occur; tens of thousands were injured protesting the occupation and over a thousand Palestinians were killed as the Israel Defense Forces responded with brute force.

In November 1989, Israeli Human rights group B’Tselem estimated the over 1,700 Palestinians were detained, of whom many were held for prolonged periods and tortured during their time in detention.

The "terrorism" narrative

After the tragic events of 9/11, India saw a golden opportunity to frame its counter terrorism efforts in Kashmir within the wider context of the War on Terror.

In doing so, successive Indian governments have tried to promote the idea that their counter terrorism efforts in Kashmir are to subdue a threat similar to that faced by America and Europe. This is an attempt on the part of the government to distract from its own failings in addressing the genuine concerns of the majority Muslims in Kashmir.

Israel too, like India, saw an opening and since 9/11 has tried to exonerate its occupation by jumping on the global War on Terror bandwagon

"Seen through the fog of the "war on terror" and the Indian government's own cynical propaganda, the problem in Kashmir seemed entirely to do with jihadist terrorists" wrote Indian author, Pankaj Mishra in 2008.

Israel too, like India, saw an opening, and since 9/11 has tried to exonerate its occupation by jumping on the global War on Terror bandwagon.

Israel's continued colonisation of the West Bank and the blockade of Gaza has relied heavily upon brandishing the Palestinian resistance as a threat to the survival of the Israeli state; while Israel remains the largest recipient of military aid from the United States (and is soon to receive the biggest US military package in American-Israeli history) and holds an unofficial nuclear arsenal.

Though undeniable that terrorism in Kashmir during the 90s led to the deaths of many civilians (both Muslims and Hindus) - including by groups backed by Pakistan - the presence of 300,000 - 500,000 of India's military and security forces, coupled with the hard-nosed attitude of every Indian government in the past 25 years, has robbed Kashmiris of any meaningful prospect of a peaceful future.

 Reclaiming the narrative

In today's social media era, it is near impossible that the harrowing stories of regular Kashmiris or Palestinians at the behest of Indian and Israeli forces alike can continue to be ignored. Regardless of how one views him, Wani's undeniable popularity was largely a result of his posts on the internet which won him a large fan base.

The 2014 Israeli assault in Gaza witnessed partially through the live Twitter posts of Gazan teenager Farah Baker, provided for millions a glimpse of what it was like living under Israeli bombardment for someone who has survived through three wars during her short existence - all the while the mainstream media was overwhelmingly parroting the Israeli talking point.  

In today's social media era, it is near impossible that the harrowing stories of regular Kashmiris or Palestinians at the behest of Indian and Israeli forces alike can continue to be ignored

Furthermore, as ideas and knowledge become increasingly accessible, so can transnational solidarity and alliance building between Kashmiris and Palestinians, recognising the similarities in the challenges facing each population.

This would prove beneficial in bolstering awareness of their respective struggles, and help to bring their stories to audiences around the world - especially in the case of Kashmir, a conflict well known only within the confines of South Asian politics.

In a move of solidarity, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, a prominent Kashmiri leader, has supported the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement encouraging Kashmiris to boycott Israeli products in the disputed region, a move supported by local traders and businesses in the region.

During the Gaza assault two years ago, daily protests in Kashmir took place, in which one teenager was killed after Indian soldiers opened fire on the demonstrators.

Peace may well be elusive for years to come; but in this information driven age, neither the Indian nor the Israeli government can pretend for much longer that they are perpetual victims in conflicts that are largely of their own creation.



Usaid Siddiqui is a Canadian freelance writer. He has written for PolicyMic, Aslan Media, Al Jazeera America and Mondoweiss on current affairs. Follow him on Twitter: @UsaidMuneeb16

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

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