Kashmir: The Unending War

A full-scale insurgency against Indian rule broke out in the Muslim-majority valley of Kashmir in 1990. Dissatisfaction with India had been building up over the previous decade, along with the desire for independence. In 1988 and 1989, armed young Muslim men began to attack government officials and Kashmiri Hindus; some of these young men even went over to neighboring Pakistan to ask for weapons and money. The custodial killings and torture by the Indian authorities of young Kashmiri men suspected of being insurgents made many more Kashmiri Muslims decide to seek military assistance from Pakistan, which had been hosting the decade-long CIA-sponsored jihad against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.

The unprovoked firings on unarmed demonstrators by the Indian police and army in the early months of 1990—a recurring, if little-reported, event in Kashmir over the next few years—alienated even pro-India Kashmiris. William Dalrymple, the English writer and journalist, who had managed to pass himself off as a tourist to Indian authorities—foreign journalists were then banned from visiting Kashmir—was walking with his wife behind a peaceful group of demonstrators in Srinagar, the capital, in May 1990 when bullets suddenly came flying from the military bunker in front. He managed to escape unhurt, but many didn’t. He had met a Kashmiri survivor of a previous, much bigger massacre who had been thrown, half-dead, by Indian soldiers into a truck full of corpses, which was then driven around the city for an hour before being unloaded at a police station.

Such cruelties—coming after the corruption and arbitrariness of Indian rule in the previous four decades—created a vast number of humiliated men in Kashmir, for whom there was something attractive about the upsurge of nihilistic energy in Afghanistan and Pakistan. So intent were the Kashmiris upon arming themselves and fighting for independence that their cultural and political differences with the Pakistanis became relatively unimportant. The first men who went over to Pakistan were still thinking of an independent and secular Kashmir. But as the movement grew and the Pakistani army’s intelligence agency, the ISI, found more Kashmiris who were willing to fight for integration into Pakistan, the country stopped bankrolling the secular Kashmiri guerrillas who were seeking independence. They were betrayed to Indian intelligence agencies, and many of them also killed, by the more militant pro-Pakistan guerrillas. These new insurgents were seen as hard-line Islamic terrorists, especially after they kidnapped and killed Hindus and, later, European and American tourists in Kashmir. Among Kashmiri Muslims, who belong to the peaceable Sufi tradition of Islam, they came to be feared for their ultra-Islamic fanaticism, which often erupted into violence against women and other unprotected civilians.

Kashmiris, who had expected as much international support as had been given to the East Germans and the Czechs when they filled the streets in late 1989, were surprised by the cautious pro-India policies followed by the EU and America. But diplomats and policymakers in the West had their reasons to be worried. In 1994, as the Taliban achieved major victories…


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