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India’s Kashmir Crackdown Poses Risk of War

August 9, 2019

By John Riddell: On August 5, India’s Hindu nationalist government unilaterally revoked the autonomy of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, while flooding the region with troops, imposing a curfew, and shutting down all communications.

The state is to be broken in two, with the eastern portion (Ladakh) under direct rule by New Delhi.

The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi shut down Internet connections, mobile phone services, and land-line phones in the besieged region. The fragmentary news that has trickled out speaks of arrests of leading politicians and widespread fear among the region’s 12 million inhabitants.

Kashmir solidarity New Delhi-2

Left parties protest in New Delhi against Kashmir crackdown

Presenting the stunning news to India’s parliament, India’s Minister of the Interior, Amit Shah, stated that these moves would bring “better government, a flood of outside investment, and peace.”

The government of mostly Muslim Pakistan has contested for influence in the region with mostly Hindu India. Pakistan now occupies the northern third of historic principality of Kashmir. Pakistan reacted to the August 5 measures with angry condemnation.

Toronto protest Saturday, August 10 — ‘Stand with Kashmir: Decolonize, Resist, Dignify’ — 11 a.m. Dundas Square

Modi heads a “fascist regime,” government minister Fawad Chaudhry told the Pakistani parliament August 7. Another war over Kashmir was not off the table, he added. “Pakistan should not let Kashmir become another Palestine,” Chaudhry stated. “We have to choose between dishonor and war.”

70 Years of Rivalry

Kashmir Aug 2019-2

Gray zone on upper left is Pakistan-administered ‘Azad Kashmir’; gray zone at right is China-administered.

Pakistani-Indian rivalry in Kashmir goes back more than 70 years. In 1947, “British India” divided into two independent states: Pakistan and India. Jammu and Kashmir was the only state allocated to India with a majority Muslim population. Muslims made up only 15% of India’s post-independence population; their fellow believers in Kashmir felt isolated and vulnerable.

Acknowledging strong support in Kashmir for self-determination, the United Nations provided for a referendum on the region’s status, but this never took place. Nonetheless, the terms for region’s incorporation into India did include addition of two clauses in the constitution, providing for wide-ranging autonomy for the state of Jammu and Kashmir (Article 370) and banning ownership of land by non-Kashmiris (Article 35A).

The Muslim population considered autonomy plus the land-ownership protection as essential to protect them from being swamped and sidelined by India’s Hindu majority. These measures stood as a barrier against the danger of a colonial settler invasion from outsiders that would convert the Muslims into a marginalized minority in their own land.

Both these safeguards were swept aside by the Indian government on August 5, 2019.

Palestinian Parallel

The Muslims’ present status, as the Pakistani government minister noted, has an uncanny resemblance to that in west-bank Palestine, where a hostile Israeli occupation has in fact turned into a colonial settler project to marginalize the indigenous Palestinian population in their own land.

Given that India has abolished the land-protection clause, the prediction of its Minister of the Interior, Amit Shah, that Kashmir will experience “a flood of outside investment” could well signify a plan for extensive colonialist dispossession of Kashmiri Muslims through land purchases by outsiders.

An Urgent Danger of Nuclear War

Even during the decades in which constitutional safeguards existed, Jammu and Kashmir have known little tranquility. Frictions with the central government have been frequent; New Delhi’s incursions into regional governance have provoked resistance. There have been armed clashes on the Pakistani border, and on two occasions the Pakistani and Indian armies fought brief wars. An armed resistance in the 1980s seeking Kashmiri self-determination met strong Indian military retaliation. Casualties were heavy, a low-level conflict has persisted, and security forces have often attacked unarmed popular protesters.

And now the armies of both India and Pakistan have nuclear weapons. Both countries possess more than 100 nuclear warheads, each one capable of causing incalculable slaughter of civilians on the other side.

In February this year, following on a bomb attack that killed 40 Indian security personnel, India and Pakistan each carried out an air raid against the other’s territory.

Under these conditions, India’s crackdown in Kashmir could very possibly result in a military conflict escalating into nuclear war.

Voices of Opposition in India

Although many press reports speak of strong popular support in India for the government crackdown, opposition parties were quick to criticize these measures.

Speaking for the largest Indian opposition group, the Congress Party, Ghulam Nabi Azad stated that “the Bharatiya Janata Party  has murdered the constitution. It has murdered democracy.”

Five left-wing parties issued a joint statement condemning Modi’s measures as “an assault on federalism, a fundamental feature of the Indian Constitution” and called a joint national protest for August 7.[1]

“It is universally acknowledged that the unity of India lies in its diversity,” the Communist Party of India (Marxist) stated August 5. “They are treating Jammu & Kashmir as an occupied territory.”

A Role for the United Nations?

Given that Kashmir’s disputed status was originally established recognized by the United Nations by calling for a referendum, the UN would seem to have some responsibility to assist in overcoming the present crisis. This point is strongly made in an August 7 appeal by the Kashmir Scholars Consultative and Action Network to UN Secretary-General António Guterres. The UN should appoint a Special Rapporteur, the Kashmir scholars state, to work toward an end to violence against Kashmiri civilians and a restoration of human rights.

A year ago, on June 14, 2018, the UN High Commission on Human Rights (UNHCHR) submitted a report calling for an investigation of human rights violations in Kashmir.

The UNHCHR described credible reports of massacres, gang rapes, abductions, and “wilful blinding using pellet guns” by Indian security forces, which have not met with any official response.

The Indian government opposes UN mediation over Kashmir and refused to admit UNHCHR researchers into the region. It denounced the UNHCHR report as fallacious and prejudiced.

Canada’s Role in Kashmir 

Zafar Bangash, director of the Toronto-based Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought, has pointed out that the UNHCHR decision to look into the Kashmir conflict resulted in part from a UK-based petition with strong backing from Canadians resulting in some 50,000 signatures worldwide. This is perhaps the only significant Canadian contribution to Kashmir peacemaking in recent years.

During the two-month Kashmir war between India and Pakistan that followed on their independence in 1947, Canada’s government played an active role in shaping the terms of armistice, and for a time a Canadian general, Andrew McNaughton, headed the armistice commission. Even today, that fact is remembered with gratitude by Kashmiri self-determination activists. But in recent years, Canada has abstained from such initiatives, and its government is now an obedient ally of both the U.S. and Israel, both of whom are closely aligned with the Modi government.

A more likely source of positive Canadian engagement is initiatives by social movements in this country. Toronto activists have set a good example: a demonstration organized Saturday, August 10, at 11 a.m., in Dundas Square, with the theme, “Stand With Kashmir: Decolonize, Resist, Dignify.” Another perhaps larger rally in solidarity with Kashmir is planned for Sunday August 18 at Toronto’s Nathan Phillips Square starting at 10 am.


[1]. The five parties are: Communist Party of India (Marxist), Revolutionary Socialist Party, All-India Forward Bloc, Communist Party of India, and the CPI(ML) Liberation.

  1. geoff1954 permalink

    John, thanks very much for all the facts reviewed and presented clearly here.

  2. Henry Lowi permalink

    I note that the Indian left parties uphold Indian “unity” (albeit in “diversity”), and do not call for Indian hands off Kashmir or recognition of the right of self-determination. i.e. a “social”-chauvinist position

    • Henry, thanks for raising this point. My article referred to the joint statement by five Left parties. They came out categorically in defense of Kashmir against the measures by the Modi government, which is the minimum required in the circumstances. Like you, I did not see them call for Kashmir self-determination.

      Before affixing a label such as “social-chauvinist”, I would like to know more about the context. And we should also bear in mind that these parties, after Modi’s election victory, are in a very vulnerable situation; their legality is question.

      The term “social-chauvinist” originated to designate socialist parties that, during the First World War, made common cause with their capitalist ruling class, ceasing minimal opposition, abandoning defense of the working class, and even entering into the government. The situation in India seems to me to be radically different.

  3. I agree entirely that Kashmir deserves our solidarity in the face of the Indian government’s repression and denial of its constitutional rights. However, I think we should be specific about what is meant by defense of Kashmir’s self-determination. In this regard, I question some of what John says about Canada’s diplomatic role in the past concerning Kashmir.

    The Kashmiri question is a product of the partition of the Indian subcontinent by Britain when it was finally forced to end its direct colonial control following World War II, in the face of a powerful independence movement. In a classic application of imperialist “divide and rule” politics, Britain established Pakistan in the predominantly Muslim territory, India in Hindu dominated territory. More than 550 princely states within colonial India that were not directly governed by Britain were to decide whether to join either of the new states or to remain independent.

    The state of Jammu and Kashmir, which had a majority Muslim population, was governed by Maharaja Hari Singh, a Hindu. Singh wanted independence for Kashmir. However, Pakistan pressured Kashmir to join it. Pro-Pakistani rebels, funded by Pakistan, took over much of western Kashmir. In September 1947, when Pashtun tribesmen from Pakistan invaded Kashmir, Singh sought military assistance from India. Upon the insistence of the British governor general Lord Mountbatten, India required the Maharaja to accede sovereignty to India before it could send troops. Although India granted partial autonomy to Kashmir — now nullified arbitrarily by the Modi government — it promised that the constitutional Instrument of Accession would later be submitted to a “reference to the people,” who could “decide where Kashmiris want to live.”

    No such plebiscite or referendum was held. Instead, the newly formed United Nations Organization, in successive resolutions during 1948, called for both Pakistan and India to withdraw most of their troops from Kashmir, followed by “a free and impartial plebiscite to decide whether the State of Jammu and Kashmir is to accede to India or Pakistan” under UN supervision. There was no provision for any other option, such as Kashmir’s independence.

    As John states, “Canada’s government played an active role in shaping the terms of armistice, and for a time a Canadian general, Andrew McNaughton, headed the armistice commission.” McNaughton was now serving as President of the UN Security Council, his career as Canada’s Minister of Defense having been cut short when he was defeated in two successive by-elections in 1945. In his report to the UN in December 1949, he reiterated that the plebiscite, “to take place as early as possible,” would “settle this issue between the Governments of India and Pakistan.”

    Canada had only recently obtained control over its foreign policy, through the Statute of Westminster in 1931. McNaughton’s role was consistent with the intention of the newly formed Department of External Affairs to carve out a role for this country as a junior imperialist power capable of performing as an intermediary in international conflicts that the larger powers like Britain and the United States, its closest allies, were unable to do. Within this context, Canada played a major role in the formation of the State of Israel. Mediating between India and Pakistan, the two huge former colonies of Britain, was one of Ottawa’s initial attempts to make a name for itself as a “peacemaker” or “peacekeeper” in disputes that in one way or another threatened to destabilize geopolitical imperialist interests.

    In 1956 Lester Pearson make this explicit when he got the UN to establish a “peacekeeping force” to resolve the crisis resulting from the British-French-Israeli invasion of Egypt after it nationalized the Suez Canal.

    At the same time, of course, Canada was equally willing to commit its own military forces in defense of imperialist interests, as its participation in the founding of NATO and its role in the Korean War, clearly indicated.

    Referring to Canada’s early role in the Kashmir conflict, John says that “in recent years, Canada has abstained from such initiatives, and its government is now an obedient ally of both the U.S. and Israel….” But is there really such a qualitative difference between its conduct then and its foreign policy stances today?

    John writes: “Given that Kashmir’s disputed status was originally established recognized [sic] by the United Nations by calling for a referendum, the UN would seem to have some responsibility to assist in overcoming” the crisis in Kashmir. He cite a June 14, 2018 report by the UN High Commission on Human Rights calling for an investigation of human rights violations. That report urges both India and Pakistan to “[f]ully respect the right of self-determination of the people of Kashmir as protected under international law” but without more — not even a reference to a plebiscite limiting voters to a choice between joining India or Pakistan, let alone the choice of an independent state.

    What do the Kashmiri people want? It is hard to tell at this point, especially from afar. A 2010 survey by the conservative London-based Royal Institute of International Affairs (a.k.a. Chatham House) found that 50% of people in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir favoured accession of the entire state to Pakistan, but 44% favoured independence; on the Indian side, 28% preferred accession of the entire state to India, 43% favoured independence and 19% favoured the status quo. In the predominantly Muslim majority Kashmir Valley, the main area of unrest, support for an independent Kashmir varies between 74% and 95%, according to this survey.

    Perhaps a sovereign and elected Constituent Assembly in Kashmir should be the recommended means of deciding these issues, as at least one of the international far-left tendencies argues. However, it is hard to find any evidence that either India or Pakistan would accept that course, and there appears to be no support for it in or through the United Nations, John’s hopes notwithstanding.

    In a 2018 article on the issue, John reported favourably on a conference in Mississauga convened by the Kashmir Welfare Society (KWS). Its 200 participants, he said, called on the government of India (and not of Pakistan?) to withdraw troops from Kashmir in order to permit an “enabling environment” for implementation of the UN’s resolutions calling for a plebiscite to determine the territory’s future. However, as I indicated, those resolutions, while purporting to favour self-determination for the Kashmiris, have always allowed them only one choice: to join Pakistan or India, not independence.

    I could find no further particulars on the Kashmir Welfare Society’s Facebook site. However, a guest speaker at the KWS event, John reported, was President Sardar Masood Khan of Azad Kashmir, the Pakistan-administered portion of Kashmir. He “described … a broad unarmed protest movement in Indian-administered Kashmir that seeks self-determination for this territory [my emphasis].” Question: Does the KWS conflate its concept of “self-determination” for Kashmir with Pakistan’s control of the entire territory?

  4. Dayne Goodwin permalink

    The Canadian government should also get ‘credit’ for being part (along with gov’ts of Poland and India) of the International Control Commission set up in 1954 to supervise the implementation of the Geneva Accords in Vietnam.

    • Richard Fidler permalink

      When Dayne puts scare quotes around “credit” he suggests irony; and well he should. Canada’s role in the ICC was throughout designed to serve U.S. interests. The story is related in the authoritative history of Canada’s role in Vietnam, Victor Levant’s book “Quiet Complicity: Canadian involvement in the Vietnam War.” See also

  5. We are a small organisation. But there are some Indian communists who have a different position, provided you read what we said and not the distortion in Socialist Action (US).

  6. Kunal Chattopadhyay permalink

    Also, this essay, a few years old, and now expanded in Bangla which I cannot translate immediately, looks at the details of Kashmir’s history

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