Western media is always on the alert for China’s insults to its Uighur and Tibetan minorities. Certainly, China’s occupation of Tibet since 1950 has been a brutal, bloody botch that killed upwards of half a million Tibetans during the rebellion in the 1950s and during the Cultural Revolution. Despite China’s determined efforts to fulfill its enlightened despot role and reduce the body count in recent decades, Tibet’s hostility to Han control is intense, justified, and seemingly terminal.
But I think the well-oiled Western outrage machine gives a free ride to India, and brushes aside New Delhi’s ongoing shenanigans in Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Nepal, Jammu-Kashmir, Balochistan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Afghanistan as “nothing to see here” efforts by the dominant power (and vibrant democracy!) in the region to secure its sphere of influence.
Kashmir is the place where India’s democratic ideals and regional power aspirations collide with the greatest violence.
Kashmir is largely Muslim; it would have ended up in Pakistan at partition in 1947 but for the fact that its ruling Maharajah was a Hindu and something of a dingbat.
As it has clung to Kashmir for six decades, India has recapitulated Israel’s policies on the West Bank, occupying the region, ignoring U.N. resolutions calling for a plebiscite, and steadfastly resisting calls to internationalize the issue even as Kashmir’s insurgency exploded following a rigged election in 1989.
India has benefited from Western support and complacency in keeping Kashmir off the international front burner.
An EU delegation visited Kashmir in November; its statement that “Kashmir is an integral part of India” was triumphantly and extensively trumpeted in the Indian press.
The United States, as part of its pro-India tilt in Asian policy south of the Tibetan plateau, as recently as December 10 formally rejected a call by Pakistan’s president Asif Zardari to insert itself in the issue.
Kashmir is a big deal and a big problem.
Here are some numbers:
Population of India—controlled territories of Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh: 10,000,000
Muslims as % of population: 67%
Number of people who demonstrated in the Kashmiri capital of Srinigar in 2008 to protest the Indian government’s transfer of 100 acres of land (out of a total of 6000 square miles in the total parcel) to a Hindu religious board to construct shelters for pilgrims visiting the sacred cave at Amarnath in Kashmir to worship a phallus-shaped ice stalagmite known as the Shivalingam that waxes and wanes with the seasons but is, most Hindus will indignantly tell you, not a phallic symbol: 500,000
Indian troops stationed in Kashmir: 700,000
Since all Americans are by now counterinsurgency experts, we note immediately that the locals to troops ratio is an eye-popping 14:1.
That’s the sign of a major security problem. In fact, that’s the sign of a major insurgency.
If we had gone into the Iraq occupation with those kinds of numbers (instead of Donald Rumsfeld’s ratio of roughly 300,000 troops per 24 million Iraqis for a ludicrous 80:1 or the industry standard of 50:1), we would probably have been able to keep a lid on things, too.
Make no mistake: the Indian occupation of Kashmir is as bloody, expensive, oppressive, and unpopular as the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories or, for that matter, the Chinese occupation of Tibet.
68,000 Kashmiris have died in the conflict, which reached its height in 2001 and then waned, apparently because Pakistan lessened its support of Kashmiri militants under U.S. pressure after 9/11. (By way of contrast, the Israel-Palestinian struggle has claimed less than 10,000 lives over twenty years).
The conflict has produced a great deal of ugliness and cruelty as India has pursued in heavy-handed occupation and counterinsurgency strategy in Kashmir at odds with its image as Asia’s democratic paragon.
Tim Sullivan of the AP filed a report on atrocities in Kashmir that should have received wider notice.
According to Sullivan, human rights groups have discovered 2400 bodies in multiple graveyards of the estimated 8,000 Kashmiris who were “disappeared” by Indian security forces during the worst of the insurgency in the 1990s:
Two decades after the insurgency broke out, only a tiny fraction have been accounted for.
The bodies themselves give a few clues. According to villagers ordered by police to bury them, they are often of particular sorts: there is blood and shattered bone where they were shot, or they are burned beyond recognition. Many show signs of beatings. At one cemetery, police told villagers they would bring seven bodies for burials. They brought seven heads
If support for the insurgency has withered, the Indian soldiers are still widely detested. Perhaps nowhere more than in the villages forced to bury the dead.
Atta Mohammed knows all about the nameless dead. The 70-year-old Bimyar farmer has buried 235 of them. He knows their bruises and their bullet wounds. He knows if they were burned so badly their mothers would not recognize them.
“I took mud from their mouths and ears. I cleaned the blood from them,” said Atta, a quiet man with rotting teeth and a neatly trimmed white beard. About 12 years ago, police began bringing bodies to be buried in a small empty field. They stopped only when there was no more room.
The West gives overwhelming weight to India’s democratic system, its role as a victim of Islamicist terror, its support for U.S. strategic goals in South Asia, and its value is an anti-China chesspiece in the great game of Asian policy.
And it may be justified to take the Chinese occupation of Tibet—instead of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank—as the standard of comparison for Indian misbehavior in Kashmir.
Indeed, I would expect there is a dark deal at work: the governments of the West have decided to turn the same official blind eye to India’s occupation of Kashmir as they do to China’s presence in Tibet so that both powers can contentedly brutalize their subjugated minorities without interference while fulfilling their assigned roles in the multi-polar, U.S.-directed 21st century world.
I can imagine that, in the continual cycle of wounded pride, horse-trading, and reassurance that goes on between New Delhi and Washington in the shadow of China’s strategic, economic, and fiscal importance, India insisted that, if human rights in Tibet was off the diplomatic table, human rights in Kashmir should be removed as well.
In fact, the first conspicuous retreat from the ideals of Obama’s election campaign to the realities of his presidency was the removal of Kashmir from the brief of Richard Holbrooke, who was expected to broker the rapprochement and grand anti-terrorism alliance between the civilian governments of Pakistan’s Asif Zardari and India’s Monmohan Singh.
Instead, India’s democracy was granted (im)moral parity with China’s single party dictatorship in the matter of how it could treat its occupied territories.
Meanwhile the Western media keeps the anti-Communist pot boiling by bashing China and coddling India.
But there is a bloody side to India that we are unwilling to confront.