Indian Kashmir * | Freedom House

Freedom in the World

Indian Kashmir *

Indian Kashmir *

Freedom in the World 2002

2002 Scores

Status

Not Free

Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

6.0

Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

6

Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

6
Overview: 


Faced with a continuing insurgency in Kashmir that has killed some 34,000 civilians, soldiers, and militants since 1989, India entered into a unilateral ceasefire in late 2000, which was extended several times before being abandoned in May 2001. In addition, the government offered unconditional peace talks to militant groups in early April. In July, Indian and Pakistani leaders held an eagerly anticipated summit at Agra, but were unable to issue a joint statement on the Kashmir dispute. Militants had rejected the ceasefire and continued to attack Indian forces throughout the year; on October 1, a particularly violent suicide car bomb at the gates of the state assembly building in Srinagar killed 38 people and wounded many more. Following the September 11 attacks on the United States, tensions in the region remained high. Incidents of cross-border firing between Indian and Pakistani troops have been reported, as well as an escalation of militant activity.

After centuries of rule in Kashmir by Afghan, Sikh, and local strongmen, the British seized control of the Himalayan land in 1846 and sold it to the Hindu maharajah of the neighboring principality of Jammu. The maharajah later incorporated Ladakh and other surrounding areas into what became the new princely state of Jammu and Kashmir. At the partition of British India in 1947, Maharajah Hari Singh attempted to preserve Jammu and Kashmir's independence. However, after Pakistani tribesmen invaded, the maharajah agreed to Jammu and Kashmir's accession to India in return for promises of autonomy and eventual self-determination.

Within months of gaining their independence, India and Pakistan went to war in Kashmir. A United Nations-brokered ceasefire in January 1949 established the presentday boundaries, which a UN Military Observer Group monitors. The boundaries gave Pakistan control of roughly one-third of Jammu and Kashmir, including the far northern and western areas. India retained most of the Kashmir Valley along with predominantly Hindu Jammu and Buddhist-majority Ladakh.

Under Article 370 of India's 1950 constitution and a 1952 accord, the territory received substantial autonomy. However, New Delhi began annulling the autonomy guarantees in 1953, and in 1957 formally annexed the two-thirds of Jammu and Kashmir under its control. Seeking strategic roads and passes, China seized a portion of Jammu and Kashmir in 1959. India and Pakistan fought a second, inconclusive war over the territory in 1965. Under the 1972 Simla accord, New Delhi and Islamabad agreed to respect the "Line of Control" and to resolve Kashmir's status through negotiation.

The insurgency began in 1989, two years after the pro-India National Conference Party won state elections that were marred by widespread fraud, and authorities began arresting members of a new, Muslim-based opposition party. Muslim-based militant groups assassinated several National Conference politicians and attacked government targets in the Kashmir Valley. The militant groups included the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) and other pro-independence groups consisting largely of indigenous Kashmiris, as well as Pakistani-backed Islamist groups that want to bring Kashmir under Islamabad's control. Muslims make up two-thirds of the state's population but are concentrated in the Kashmir Valley, which is barely one-fifth of the state's total area.

As the violence escalated, New Delhi placed Jammu and Kashmir under federal rule in January 1990. By the mid-1990s, the Indian army had greatly weakened the JKLF and other indigenous groups and had secured most large Kashmir Valley towns and villages. The JKLF abandoned its armed struggle in 1994. The insurgency has since been controlled by Pakistani-backed fundamentalist groups, which include in their ranks many non-Kashmiri fighters from elsewhere in the Islamic world. While militants have continued to carry out assassinations and bombings in Srinagar and other Kashmir Valley towns, much of the heavy fighting has shifted to Doda and other southern districts.

The October 1996 state elections returned Jammu and Kashmir to local rule for the first time since 1990. The National Conference, the only Kashmiri-based party to contest the elections, won 57 of the 87 assembly seats and formed a government under party leader Farooq Abdullah. His administration is widely believed to be corrupt and incompetent.

As a sign of the difficulty in finding a peaceful solution to the conflict, talks between India and the largest armed group in Kashmir, Hizbul Mujahideen, broke down just days after they began in August 2000. In holding the meeting, New Delhi had dropped its long-standing precondition for talks, that the militants accept Indian sovereignty over its only Muslim-majority state. However, the initiative foundered when the Hizbul Mujahideen called off a unilateral ceasefire, which had enabled the talks to take place, after India refused to include Pakistan in the dialogue.

India's insistence that Pakistan be excluded from talks had hardened after the two countries fought weeks of border battles beginning in May 1999, when India began air and ground attacks to dislodge hundreds of Pakistani troops and Pakistani-backed fighters who had seized strategic heights in the Kargil-Dras region on the Indian side of the 450-mile Line of Control, which demarcates the Indian- and Pakistani-held parts of Kashmir. Pakistan withdrew in early July 1999, but separatist violence later escalated.

In November 2000, New Delhi for the first time suspended counterinsurgency operations against Kashmiri militant groups during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. Although Pakistan responded by saying it would exercise "maximum restraint" along the Line of Control, most militant groups rejected the ceasefire and continued to attack security forces. Nevertheless, India extended the ceasefire in several increments before finally abandoning it in May 2001.

At a summit held in July, Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf failed to resolve the two countries' differences over the Kashmir dispute. Militants stepped up their attacks in the aftermath of the summit, with an increasing focus on targeting Hindu civilians in the southern districts of the state. In response, at the request of Chief Minister Abdullah, the Indian government extended the Disturbed Areas Act in August to cover six additional districts in southern Kashmir, as well as proposing an amnesty for security forces accused of human rights violations.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 


India has never held a referendum on Kashmiri self-determination as called for in a 1948 UN resolution. The state's residents can nominally change the local administration through elections. However, the 1996 state election was marred by violence and irregularities. Militants enforced boycotts, threatened election officials and candidates, and killed at least 20 people prior to and during the balloting. Soldiers and state-backed militias coerced some Kashmiris into voting. Violence and intimidation also severely disrupted voting in the 1999 Indian national elections, when militant groups again threatened to kill voters, assassinated at least three politicians, and carried out bombings and other attacks. The All Parties Hurriyat (Freedom) Conference (APHC), an umbrella group of 23 legal pro-independence and pro-Pakistani parties, urged voters to boycott the 1996 state elections and the national elections. In January 2001, voters were able to participate in the first village-level elections in 23 years, which were held to choose members on 125 village councils. Despite threats from separatist groups, polling went smoothly, with an 80 percent turnout being reported in some areas.

Under heavy pressure from both the government and militants, the judiciary barely functions. The government frequently disregards judicial orders quashing detentions, while militants routinely threaten judges, witnesses, and the families of defendants.

In a continuing cycle of violence, Indian soldiers, federal paramilitary troops, and the police carried out arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture, disappearances, and summary killings of suspected militants and alleged civilian sympathizers. Amnesty International estimated that since 1989, up to 1,800 people have disappeared after being arrested by police or armed paramilitary forces. In addition, Human Rights Watch noted last year that in response to increased militant attacks on security forces following the 1999 Kargil conflict, army cordon-and-search operations had resumed in the Kashmir Valley and increased in the southern border districts. During these operations, the army detained young men, assaulted other family members, and summarily executed suspected militants.

Many abuses by Indian forces are facilitated by the 1978 Public Security Act (PSA) and other broadly drawn preventive detention laws, which authorities have used to "punish those who criticize the government," according to a June report by Amnesty International. The PSA allows authorities to detain persons for up to two years without charge or trial. Amnesty International noted last year that "hundreds" of people are thought to be held in preventive detention on a range of criminal charges despite court orders for their release, including some people who have been held without charge or trial since the early 1990s. Although detentions under the security laws are nonrenewable, authorities frequently re-arrest suspects on new charges and impose a new twoyear detention. In June, a number of human rights activists were detained and beaten following public protests over the killing of six women.

Further contributing to the army's ability to act with near impunity are two other broadly written laws, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and the 1990 Disturbed Areas Act. The laws allow Indian forces to search homes and arrest suspects without a warrant, shoot suspects on sight, and destroy homes or buildings believed to house militants or arms. Moreover, the Special Powers Act requires New Delhi to approve any prosecution of Indian forces. In August, after a militant attack on the Jammu train station that left 11 people dead and many others injured, the government extended the Disturbed Areas Act to cover six additional Hindu-dominated districts in southern Kashmir. While a state human rights commission has been investigating some human rights complaints since 1998, it cannot directly investigate abuses by the army or other federal security forces. Efforts to bring soldiers to justice for rights violations are rare. At the end of August, political leaders as well as human rights groups expressed concern over government proposals to give an amnesty to security force personnel facing human rights charges.

Seeking support during security operations, the army has recruited former servicemen for Village Defense Committees, whose members have committed extrajudicial executions, assaults, and other abuses. Since the mid-1990s, the army has also organized and armed militias composed of former militants who have reportedly carried out extrajudicial executions, disappearances, torture, and other abuses against pro- Pakistani militants as well as journalists and other civilians.

Armed with increasingly sophisticated and powerful weapons, and relying to a greater degree on the deployment of suicide squads, militant groups continued to kill politicians, party workers, public employees, suspected informers, members of rival factions, soldiers, and civilians. Repeated violence against Kashmiri Hindus throughout the year is part of a pattern since 1990 that has forced tens of thousands of Hindus to flee the region. Separatists have also kidnapped numerous government officials, politicians, and businessmen, and are accused of using rape to deter women from acting as informants.

Women were targeted in 2001 by a hitherto unknown militant group, the Lashkare- Jabbar, which in early August issued an ultimatum that all Muslim women wear burqas, or head-to-toe veils. Members of the group threw acid at five women in downtown Srinagar who were not veiled. The group, which later in the month insisted that men and women be segregated on public buses, was condemned by other militant groups and political parties for its aggressive tactics, but was supported by the Dukhtaran-e- Millat (Daughters of the Nation), a hardline Muslim women's organization. Following Lashkar-e-Jabbar's September 10 deadline, several women were sprayed with paint and women have been threatened with harsher measures in the event of noncompliance. However, news reports suggest that only about 60 percent of women were complying with the directive.

Kashmir's journalists have been whipsawed between the demands of both the government and the militants to suppress information about human rights abuses or information that would otherwise be damaging to their respective sides. In recent years, militant groups have kidnapped, tortured, killed, or otherwise harassed or threatened numerous journalists, and occasionally coerced newspapers into suspending publication. In February, suspected militants fired grenades at the government-run television center; previous attacks had led to the death of a senior official there. The Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontieres said last year that nine journalists had been killed in the state since 1989. Authorities occasionally beat, detain, or harass journalists. On May 10, seventeen journalists were assaulted by members of the Border Security Force as they attempted to cover a funeral procession. Those implicated in the assault were recalled from Kashmir but no other disciplinary action was taken against them. Though it is generally not used, under India's 1971 Newspaper Incitements to Offenses Act (in effect only in Jammu and Kashmir) district magistrates can censor publications in certain circumstances. Given these constraints, journalists generally practice self-censorship but do report on some abuses by security forces.

Several human rights activists have been killed since 1989, and only a few individuals and groups continue to do human rights work. In recent years, authorities have briefly arrested political leaders either before or during peaceful protests and have broken up numerous pro-independence or antigovernment demonstrations. Along the Line of Control separating the two adversaries, shelling by Indian and Pakistani troops each year kills numerous civilians, displaces many more, and disrupts schools and the local economy.