Indian Kashmir * | Freedom House

Freedom in the World

Indian Kashmir *

Indian Kashmir *

Freedom in the World 2003

2003 Scores

Status

Partly Free

Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

5.0

Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

5

Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

5
Ratings Change: 


Indian-administered Kashmir's political rights rating improved from 6 to 5 due to the holding of relatively fair elections in which the ruling party was removed from power, its civil liberties rating improved from 6 to 5 due to changes to the survey methodology, and its status changed from Not Free to Partly Free.

Overview: 


Tensions over the disputed territory of Kashmir, where a continuing insurgency has killed at least 35,000 civilians, soldiers, and militants since 1989, remained high throughout 2002. In response to infiltration and attacks by Pakistan-based Islamic militant groups, India amassed troops along its common border with Pakistan and threatened to conduct retaliatory military strikes during the first half of the year. In state elections held in the fall that were judged to be fair but not entirely free, the ruling but unpopular National Conference Party was ejected from power in a surprise result. A new coalition government took office in November amid hopes that elections would pave the way to renewed discussions over the region's status.

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 UN-brokered cease-fire in January 1949 established the present-day boundaries, which gave Pakistan control of roughly one-third of Jammu and Kashmir, including the far northern and western areas. (A separate report on Pakistani-administered Kashmir appears in the Disputed Territories section of the survey). India retained most of the Kashmir Valley along with predominantly Hindu Jammu and Buddhist-majority Ladakh.

Under Article 370 of India's 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 part of Jammu and Kashmir under its control. Seeking strategic roads and passes, China seized a portion of 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 (LOC), which demarcates the Indian- and Pakistani-held parts of Kashmir, and to resolve Kashmir's status through negotiation.

The armed insurgency against Indian rule gathered momentum after 1987, when the pro-India National Conference Party won state elections that were marred by widespread fraud and violence and authorities began arresting members of a new, Muslim-based, opposition coalition. Militant groups with links to political parties assassinated several National Conference politicians and attacked government targets in the Kashmir Valley. The militants 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 area.

As the violence escalated, New Delhi placed Jammu and Kashmir under federal rule in 1990 and attempted to quell the mass uprising by force. By the mid-1990s, the Indian army had greatly weakened the JKLF and had secured most large Kashmir Valley towns and villages. The JKLF abandoned its armed struggle in 1994. The armed insurgency has since been controlled by Pakistani-backed extremist groups, which include in their ranks many non-Kashmiri fighters from elsewhere in the Islamic world. Although opposition parties had joined together to form the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) in 1993, they boycotted the 1996 state elections and the National Conference was able to form a government under party leader Farooq Abdullah.

In August 2000, Hizbul Mujahideen, the largest armed group in Kashmir, declared a ceasefire and initiated a dialogue with the Indian government, but talks broke down when India refused to include Pakistan in the discussions. The two neighbors had engaged in a two-month limited war in 1999 after Pakistan seized strategic heights on the Indian side of the LOC. An Indo-Pakistani summit held in July 2001 failed to resolve the two countries' long-standing differences over Kashmir. 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. Gunmen targeted an army camp in May 2002 and Hindu migrant laborers at a shantytown in July, killing dozens in each attack. In addition, a leading moderate separatist politician, Abdul Ghani Lone, was assassinated in May, possibly by a hardline militant group.

Seeking legitimacy for the electoral process, New Delhi worked to encourage the participation of all political parties in the fall 2002 state elections, but was unsuccessful in persuading the APHC and Shabir Shah's Jammu and Kashmir Democratic Freedom Party to contest the polls. However, in a surprise result, the National Conference lost 29 of its 57 assembly seats, while the Congress Party and the People's Democratic Party (PDP) made significant gains, winning 16 and 20 seats respectively. On November 2, the two parties formed a coalition government headed by the PDP's Mufti Mohammad Sayeed. The new government promised to address issues of human rights violations, corruption, and economic development, and urged the central government to hold peace talks with Kashmiri militants and separatist political groups.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 


India has never held a referendum on Kashmiri self-determination as called for in the 1948 UN resolution. The state's residents can nominally change the local administration through elections. However, previous elections have been marred by violence, coercion by security forces, and balloting irregularities. Militants commonly enforce boycotts called by separatist political parties, threaten election officials and candidates, and kill both political activists as well as civilians during the balloting. During the campaign period leading up to the fall elections for the 87-seat state assembly, over 800 people, including more than 75 political activists and candidates, were killed. However, the balloting process itself was carefully monitored by India's Election Commission, and turnout averaged just over 40 percent. Independent observers judged the elections to be fair but not entirely free, largely because of the threat of violence.

Although Jammu and Kashmir was returned to local rule in 1996, many viewed the National Conference government as corrupt, incompetent, and unaccountable to the wishes and needs of Kashmiris. According to a November 2002 report issued by the International Crisis Group, official corruption is "widespread" and corruption cases are seldom prosecuted. Much corrupt behavior and illegal economic activity can be traced directly to political leaders and parties and to militant groups tied to both India and Pakistan, the report added.

The insurgency has forced Kashmiri media to "tread carefully in their reporting," according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. In recent years, militant groups have kidnapped, tortured, killed, or otherwise harassed and threatened numerous journalists, causing some self-censorship. The New York Times reported that four journalists were shot and wounded by militants in attacks between April and September. In addition, authorities occasionally beat, detain, or otherwise harass journalists. In May 2001, security forces assaulted 17 journalists as they attempted to cover a funeral procession. 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. Despite these restrictions, newspapers do report on alleged human rights abuses by security forces. In June, Kashmiri journalist Iftikhar Ali Gilani was arrested, charged under the Official Secrets Act, and detained for more than seven months before the military admitted that the case against him was baseless.

Several human rights activists have been killed since 1989, and only a few individuals and groups continue to do human rights work. Although local and national civil rights groups are permitted to operate, the Indian government has banned some international groups from visiting the state. The APHC, an umbrella group of 23 legal secessionist political parties, is allowed to operate, although its leaders are frequently subjected to preventative arrest and its requests for permits for public gatherings are routinely denied. The Indian government has also denied permission for APHC leaders to travel to Pakistan. Politically motivated strikes, protest marches, and antigovernment demonstrations take place on a regular basis, although some are forcibly broken up by the authorities.

Under heavy pressure from both the government and militants, the judiciary barely functions, according to the U.S. State Department's annual human rights report for 2001. The government frequently disregards judicial orders quashing detentions, while militants routinely threaten judges, witnesses, and the families of defendants.

Many judicial abuses are facilitated by the 1978 Public Safety Act and other broadly drawn laws, which allow authorities to detain persons for up to two years without charge or trial. Amnesty International's 2002 report noted that hundreds of people remain held in preventive detention or on a range of criminal charges despite a court order for a review of all cases. Although detentions under the security laws are nonrenewable, authorities frequently re-arrest suspects on new charges and impose new twoyear detentions. The Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA), which became law in March 2002, gives authorities wide powers of interrogation and detention while expanding the definitions of punishable crimes and prescribing severe punishments for a broad range of criminal acts. Between October 2001 and mid-July 2002, there were 161 people detained under POTA in Jammu and Kashmir, including 2 high-profile separatist political leaders. However, after the new government was sworn in, a number of political prisoners were released from preventative detention in November.

Two other broadly written laws, the 1990 Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act and the 1990 Disturbed Areas Act, 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. While the state human rights commission investigates some human rights complaints, it cannot directly investigate abuses by the army or other federal security forces. Efforts to bring soldiers to justice for rights violations are rare.

In a continuing cycle of indiscriminate violence, several thousand militants, security force personnel, and civilians are killed each year. Approximately 700,000 security forces, including Indian soldiers, federal paramilitary troops, and the police, carry out arbitrary arrests and detentions, tortures, disappearances, and summary killings of suspected militants and alleged civilian sympathizers. As part of the counterinsurgency effort, the government has recruited former servicemen for Village Defense Committees as well as organizing and arming pro-government militias composed of former militants. Members of these groups act with impunity and have reportedly carried out a wide range of human rights abuses against pro-Pakistani militants as well as 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 pro-India politicians, 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 hundreds of thousands of Hindus to flee the region. Along the LOC separating the two adversaries, intensified shelling by Indian and Pakistani troops killed numerous civilians during the year, displaced thousands more, and disrupted schools and the local economy. Women continued to be targeted in 2002 by a little-known militant group, the Lashkar-e- Jabbar, which last year issued an ultimatum that all Muslim women wear burqas, or head-to-toe veils; members of the group threw acid and sprayed paint at several women who refused to comply with the directive. In December, another militant group active in Rajouri district declared that all girls over the age of 12 should not attend school. Female civilians are also subject to arbitrary harassment and intimidation, including rape, at the hands of both the security forces and militant groups. In April, a 17-year-old girl was gang-raped by members of the Border Security Force in Pahalgam.