Indian Kashmir * | Freedom House

Freedom in the World

Indian Kashmir *

Indian Kashmir *

Freedom in the World 2005

2005 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
Overview: 


Overall progress on finding a political solution to the conflict over the territory of Kashmir, where a continuing insurgency has killed at least 40,000 civilians, soldiers, and militants since 1989, remained slow throughout 2004. A reciprocal ceasefire between Indian and Pakistani troops declared in November 2003 was largely upheld in 2004, and the two national governments held several rounds of talks during the year.

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 into the new nations of India and Pakistan 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 ceasefire 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. 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, India 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.

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, which abandoned its armed struggle in 1994. The armed insurgency has since been dominated by Pakistani-backed extremist groups, which include in their ranks many non-Kashmiri fighters from elsewhere in the Islamic world. Although opposition parties 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, 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 limited war in 1999 after Pakistan had seized strategic heights on the Indian side of the LOC. A summit held in 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. In addition, a leading moderate separatist politician, Abdul Ghani Lone, was assassinated in May 2002, probably by a hard-line militant group.

Seeking legitimacy for the electoral process, New Delhi encouraged all political parties to participate in the fall 2002 state elections, but was unsuccessful in persuading the APHC to contest the polls. However, in a surprise result, the ruling 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. In November, 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 separatist political groups. Sayeed also created a committee within the state assembly to study all autonomy-related issues.

After initial signs of improvement during the new government's honeymoon period, the incidence of both violence and human rights violations rose to previous levels in 2003. Nevertheless, the Indian government has shown a greater willingness to initiate a dialogue with various Kashmiri groups, including the APHC. In January 2004, talks were held for the first time between Kashmiri separatists and the highest levels of the Indian government. Numbers of fatalities decreased somewhat during the year; an estimated 1,800 people were killed during 2004, compared with more than 2,500 in 2003, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal. The new central government announced in November that in response to an improved security situation, it planned to reduce troop numbers in the region, and in addition presented a four-year, $5 billion development package designed to improve infrastructure, education, and tourism.

Authorities in New Delhi also attempted to improve relations with Pakistan via a series of "confidence-building measures" announced in October 2003, including a resumption of transport links between the two countries. In November, Pakistan declared a ceasefire across the LOC, to which India reciprocated; the ceasefire was largely in place throughout 2004. After announcing the resumption of a "composite dialogue," including the Kashmir dispute, in January 2004, the two governments held several rounds of talks during the year. Although little substantive progress was made on finding a lasting solution to the conflict, the two sides did discuss a range of issues, including territorial control over the disputed Siachen glacier and the possibility of opening a bus route between the Indian and Pakistani portions of Kashmir, as well as affirming their commitment to solving the Kashmir dispute through peaceful negotiations.

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, but historically, elections have been marred by violence, coercion by security forces, and balloting irregularities. Militants commonly enforce boycotts called for by separatist political parties, threaten election officials and candidates, and kill political activists as well as civilians during the balloting. During the campaign period leading up to the 2002 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. Most 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. A report issued by the International Crisis Group noted that 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. The new state government made a commitment to address issues of corruption and governance; however, progress in improving both has been slow, and government opacity remains a major concern.

The insurgency has forced Kashmiri media outlets to "tread carefully in their reporting," according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Militant groups regularly threaten and sometimes kidnap, torture, or kill journalists, while authorities occasionally beat, detain, or otherwise harass journalists. Though it is generally not used, under India's 1971 Newspapers Incitements to Offenses Act (in effect only in Jammu and Kashmir), district magistrates can censor publications in certain circumstances. Other forms of pressure have also been employed against the media; in 2003, Reporters Sans Frontieres criticized a decision by the state government to stop placing official advertisements in the independent Kashmir Observer newspaper, thus depriving it of an important source of revenue. Despite these restrictions, however, newspapers do report on controversial issues such as alleged human rights abuses by security forces. Civilians' right to communicate was enhanced when the use of mobile phones was legalized in August 2003.

Freedom to worship and academic freedom are generally respected by Indian and local authorities. For the first time in over a decade, the state government granted permission to separatist groups who wished to organize a procession in order to mark the anniversary of the prophet Muhammad's birthday. However, Islamist militant groups do target Hindu and Sikh temples or villages for attack; a number of such instances, in which dozens of civilians were killed, occurred during the year.

Although local and national civil rights groups are permitted to operate, the Indian government has banned some international groups from visiting the state. Several human rights activists have been killed since 1989, and only a few individuals and groups continue to do human rights work. The APHC, an umbrella group of 23 secessionist political parties, is allowed to operate, although its leaders are frequently subjected to preventive 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 2003 human rights report. The government frequently disregards judicial orders quashing detentions, and security forces refuse to obey court orders, 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 that allow authorities to detain persons for up to two years without charge or trial. Although detentions under the security laws are nonrenewable, authorities frequently re-arrest suspects on new charges and impose new detentions; Amnesty International's 2003 report noted that hundreds of people remain held in preventive detention under such legislation. The new state government promised in November 2002 to review cases of detainees being held without trial and to release those against whom there were no charges. Although a screening committee met several times in 2003 and several political prisoners were released, progress in implementing this commitment remains slow.

In a positive step, the draconian 2002 Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA), which gave 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, was repealed by the new central government in September 2004. However, two other broadly written laws, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and the 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 examines some human rights complaints, it cannot directly investigate abuses by the army or other federal security forces or take action against those found guilty of violations. Efforts to bring soldiers to justice have been rare. However, the new state government did undertake several initiatives to improve accountability. In June 2003, it announced that 118 security force personnel had been punished for having committed rights violations.

In a continuing cycle of violence, several thousand militants, security force personnel, and civilians are killed each year. Approximately 500,000 Indian security forces based in Kashmir, including soldiers, federal paramilitary troops, and the police, carry out arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture, "disappearances," and custodial killings of suspected militants and alleged civilian sympathizers. From 3,000 to 8,000 people are estimated to have "disappeared" during the course of the insurgency. As part of the counterinsurgency effort, the government has organized and armed 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. Local activists report that human rights violations continue to occur at levels similar to those of previous years.

Armed with increasingly sophisticated and powerful weapons, and relying to a greater degree on the deployment of suicide squads, militant groups backed by Pakistan continued to kill pro-India politicians, public employees, suspected informers, members of rival factions, soldiers, and civilians. Militants also engage in kidnapping, rape, extortion, and other forms of terror. Violence targeted against Kashmiri Hindus is part of a pattern since 1990 that has forced several hundred thousand Hindus to flee the region; many continue to reside in refugee camps near Jammu. Until the ceasefire declared in November 2003, shelling by Indian and Pakistani troops along the LOC killed numerous civilians during the year, displaced thousands more, and disrupted schools and the local economy.

Female civilians continue to be subjected to harassment and intimidation, including rape and murder, at the hands of both the security forces and militant groups. In recent years, women have also been targeted by militant groups. In 2001, the Lashkar-e-Jabbar group issued an ultimatum that all Muslim women wear the burqa (a head-to-toe covering); members of the group threw acid at and sprayed paint on several women who refused to comply with the directive. In late 2002, another militant group active in Rajouri district declared that no girls over the age of 12 should attend school.