For those of you who are unaware, in mid-2016 tensions in Pakistan and India almost reached a boiling point in Kashmir when militant commander Burhan Wani was killed by Indian soldiers. The chain of events that followed led to strong reactions around the world, and once again proved that Pakistan and India have no interest in making any efforts to end the nightmare that the people of Kashmir have been suffering for nearly 70 years. Before divulging my own personal thoughts on what has become known as the 2016 Kashmir unrest, I want to give some background for those unfamiliar with the circumstances that led to the riots in the Kashmir valley.
Burhan Wani, from the age of 15, became a militant for the Hizbul Mujahideen, a well-known terrorist organization founded in 1999 which strongly advocates for Pakistani separatism. His older brother, Khalid, was killed in April of 2015 by the Indian Army. Burhan decided to join the Hizbul Mujahideen because of an incident where he was beaten up by security personnel in 2010. Once Burhan joined the Hizbul Mujahideen, he became popular on social media and posted regularly encouraging other Kashmiris to join him. As of today, while no terrorist attack has been found to have been committed by his hand, it has been proven that he was the mastermind behind several of them. In addition, he was known for recruiting a number of Kashmiris into the Hizbul Mujahideen.
Burhan Wani was killed by Indian security forces on July 8th, 2016 at the age of 22, which led to a large number of protests across the Kashmir valley, a significant number of them being violent. Over 70 people lost their lives in these protests and thousands of civilians and security personnel were injured. The Indian security forces dealt with both the violent and peaceful protestors by shooting at them with pellet guns, tear gas, rubber bullets, and assault rifles, effectively blinding countless civilians. Due to the turmoil and upheaval in the Kashmir valley after his death, a curfew was declared by the government for 53 consecutive days. Pakistan proved no more intelligent than its Indian counterpart and retaliated with an attack on the town of Uri in Kashmir, killing 19 Indian soldiers. Of course, neither India nor Pakistan saw fit to take a step back and work out a peaceful way to end things, and instead predictably continued their feud with artist bans and film bans respectively.
Let me clarify: I am not a Kashmiri, and therefore I understand that my views on this matter only carry so much weight, since I have not endured the suffering and trauma that Kashmiris have been subjected to for nearly 70 long years. There are multiple generations of Kashmiris who have been born into conflict and died in it, and that devastates me not just as a Muslim, but as a human being. I understand that I can never know first-hand the horrors that they have witnessed day in and day out. But it is for precisely this reason that I feel that the policies on both side of the LOC need to be heavily criticized and condemned, because day in and day out they have had to witness horrors that I cannot even begin to imagine.
While Burhan Wani’s death was the catalyst for the most recent uprising in the region, the actual question of who and what Burhan Wani was depends on who you ask. For the government and media of Pakistan, he was a martyr, a freedom fighter who died struggling for the plight of the Kashmiri people and for Pakistani separatism. For the government and media of India, he was a terrorist who needed to be taken down. This being said, one does have to be wary of who the Indian media and government calls terrorists in Kashmir, because in their eyes anyone who doesn't believe that Kashmir wholly belongs to India (i.e. the Pakistani separatists and the Kashmiris who wish to be independent from both nations) is labeled as a terrorist or an enemy, whether they've engaged in terrorist activities or not. Pakistan, on the other hand, has the opposite problem. When it comes to Kashmiri militant groups that commit acts of terror in the name of Pakistani separatism, they will consistently fail to even acknowledge them as acts of terror, let alone condemn the groups who carry them out. For this reason, and looking objectively at the evidence of Burhan Wani’s actions, I do believe in this case that calling him a terrorist would be appropriate, because for me the definition of terrorism is committing such acts of terror and violence for a political cause and gain. The Hizbul Mujahideen is known to be responsible for countless attacks and the deaths innocent people, and Burhan Wani recruited for them and is known to have planned some of them. The Pakistani government and media will always portray the Hizbul Mujahideen as freedom fighters because the organization fights for giving Kashmir to Pakistan, something that Pakistan staunchly advocates for, no matter how many innocents the organization kills.
As for Burhan Wani, I can objectively understand what set him on this path. The combination of losing his brother and the growing frustration with the plight of the Kashmiri people over the years pushed him over the edge. He is not the first nor will he be the last to stray on this path, as has been shown with the case of Mohammad Azharuddin Khan, a 25-year old lecturer at a secondary school in the town of Handwara in North Kashmir and a postgraduate student in Islamic studies at Kashmir University, who joined the Hizbul Mujahideen after witnessing the molestation of a girl and also after 5 civilians were gunned down amongst protesters by Indian security forces back in April 2016. He too was killed by the Indian security forces after some time. Nevertheless, I don't care how valid his or Burhan Wani’s cause was, whether they were fighting for Pakistani separatism, or Indian separatism, or they wanted Kashmir to be an independent state. In any of these scenarios, the moment someone like that orchestrates or participates in the murder of innocent people, their credibility and whatever validation they have put forward is lost in my eyes. I understand that for the people of Kashmir, no matter which side they supported, Burhan Wani is still considered a freedom fighter because at this point, anyone who fights the system on any side is at least making a statement. And after all the decades of bloodshed and frustration, it is easy to see him as a hero. But no hero should be fighting fire with fire, and killing innocent people is not something I can justify on either side of the border.
Whether you believe in Kashmir should be a part of Pakistan or India, or you believe that Kashmir should be independent of both nations, resorting to violence and terrorism is never the answer. It only gives more ammunition to the governments and armies of Pakistan and India to keep the cycle of violence going. If you want to advocate for Pakistani separatism, be my guest, but do it peacefully and without resorting to violence. If you believe that Kashmir rightfully belongs to India, use words and not pellet guns. The same goes for those who believe that Kashmir should be independent. In essence, it is not about what political stance you support for Kashmir, but about how you go about supporting it, what actions you take (plus, the moment you resort to violence, it makes it that much easier for the army on either side to find an excuse to harm you). I personally believe that Kashmir should be independent from Pakistan and India, but anyone who commits terrorist attacks in the name of such a cause would be just as much of a terrorist as Burhan Wani was. And to those who argue that Kashmir cannot be an independent state because it does not have the stability or resources to sustain itself, I say that that is exactly why India and Pakistan should step up and provide whatever aid is necessary to help them get back on their feet.
The Indian army did not think twice before using the pellet guns and tear gas on protesters, and injuring peaceful protesters along with the violent ones is heinous to say the least. It is reprehensible that after nearly 70 years of occupying a land (which they should not be doing in the first place) that they have yet to come up with an effective strategy to deal with violent protestors without causing loss of life, and even worse that they absolutely no care in injuring nonviolent protestors. But then again, why would they? When it comes to the Pakistani army and the Indian army, both essentially have free reign in terms of how they deal with the citizens of Kashmir. The Indian army has been accused of being behind disappearances, unlawful killings, rape, torture, the list goes on. The Pakistani army can do whatever they want to the citizens in Azad Kashmir (where they have been accused of torture, beatings, and political oppression amongst other human rights violations) because the army essentially is the government, and therefore has the most authority. In India, while the army might not have the most authority, they still are given almost free reign in Indian-administered Kashmir and are not held accountable for the human rights violations inflicted upon the Kashmiri citizens. So why would they even bother trying to come up with a more humane way of dealing with protesters when they can do whatever they want without having to properly answer for it?
As for the Kashmiri citizens, I understand that life is a warzone. It has been for nearly 7 decades. And for that reason I might sound incredibly idealistic when I talk about non-violence and peaceful protest. And I know that being morally opposed to the killing of soldiers and citizens is easy for me because I am not living this struggle day in and day out. For me it is easy to say that Burhan Wani was free to protest Indian occupation but that he crossed a line when he resorted to violence. I also know that it is the violent protests and dissenters like Burhan Wani that get any real attention, and that at this point things have deteriorated so much that it doesn’t even matter what the citizens do anymore, whether they protest or not, whether they use violence or not, they are still being targeted by the Indian army and by the militants that Pakistan sends across the LOC. The majority of them just want to be left alone by both nations, and quite frankly nothing seems to save them from the “concern” of either Pakistan or India. This includes the Kashmiri Pandits as well, who are in constant fear for their lives either by the Kashmiri citizens who want Pakistani separatism, or by those who want Kashmiri independence because they feel that the Kashmiri Pandits are an obstacle to their goal for separatism because of their allegiance to India.The fact of the matter is that Kashmiris have been suffering the tug of war between Indian and Pakistani governments for 69 years and ultimately it's the soldiers on both sides and the Kashmiri citizens who pay the price for their government's desire for war and to one-up the "dushman" (enemy). And the Pakistani government is no innocent victim here; The Pakistani government sends militants across the LOC supposedly to "free" the Kashmiris, saying they're supposed to kill Hindu Pandits and Indian army, when in reality they end up killing countless Muslims in the process of their "azaadi ki jung" (war for freedom). India wants Kashmir on principle, saying it is their land, and oppressing the Kashmiri citizens in the process, because that's what a functioning democracy does, right? And the only reason the Pakistani government wants Kashmir is because a) they have access to the water supply to the region, so it would benefit them economically (but that becomes only an advantage in contrast to the actual well-being of the Kashmiri people, which always takes a back seat) and b) the main reason, the majority of the population is Muslim, so they want it on an "Islami" (Islamic) basis. They want to "free their Muslim brothers". If the Indian government and army were doing this to a majority Hindu population, there is no doubt that Pakistan wouldn't say a word, wouldn't lift a finger to "help" them. This feigned humanitarian concern that Pakistan puts forth is nonexistent.
If the role was reversed and Pakistan had the majority of the Kashmir state and the majority population were Hindus, the Pakistani government and military would do the same barbaric acts to them that the Indian government and military have done to the Kashmiri citizens on their side of the border, and like the Indian government, Pakistan wouldn't even flinch. And then it would be the Indian government on the other side angrily speaking out against the oppression of their people, speaking for the freedom of their Hindu brothers and sisters. And the Indian government would gladly support the Hindu separatist groups who'd commit acts of terror (killing anyone in their path, never discriminating between Hindus or Muslims, the same way all terrorists do) because they're "freedom fighters". No one sees the fact that when the Indian and Pakistani armies fight each other, they are doing it based on the brainwashing of their governments that the other side is their enemy. This has become little more than a battle of egos between the two nations.
In today's world, if the majority of India's Kashmiris were Hindu Pundits who didn't want to be there, I envision that one of two scenarios would have taken place: Pakistan would have given up on Kashmir from the get go, because (by their flawed logic) why would they want a land filled with kafirs (non-believers, aka non-Muslims)? Either this, or more likely, the Pakistani government would still continue fighting with India (and engaging in the same oppression of the Hindu population that India currently does to their Muslim population) over a piece of land citing both economic reasons (because of their access to the water supply) and also because at the end of the day, it's all about beating India, right? Who cares how many innocent civilians are bombed, how many soldiers are "martyred" in the name of taking back what is "rightfully theirs"? As long as India loses, we can sleep at night, no matter what the cost is to us.
Bottom line: Neither the Indian nor Pakistani government care about the people of Kashmir. The citizens on both sides of the border are nothing more than pawns in their sadistic game. They brainwash the citizens on both sides of the border (the non-Kashmiris) that they are valiantly fighting the enemy for “freedom” and “oppression”. When asking certain Indian citizens about the blatant human rights violations by the Indian army towards the citizens of Kashmir, they defend them citing that they are fighting terrorism, as if shooting protesters with pellet guns and tear gas is fighting terrorism. Pakistani citizens also have no trouble defending their army’s actions, saying that the army is fighting for the freedom of their oppressed Muslim brothers and sisters, because nothing screams liberation like sending militants across the LOC and engaging in political torture, right? Blind patriotism on both sides is what apparently justifies the actions against the Kashmiri citizens that they supposedly love. The majority of the Kashmiri citizens have made it clear that they want to be independent from both nations, but of course, God forbid India and Pakistan actually give the Kashmiri people what they want and take their desires into account. It is not difficult to see why the majority of Kashmiri citizens want to be left alone by both Pakistan and India. If I'd spent 69 years in the middle of tug of war with my parents, I'd probably disown them too.