The Kashmir tinderbox

Recent unrest in Kashmir has undermined peace prospects between nuclear powers. Meenakshi Ganguly lo

The last week of violence in India’s Jammu and Kashmir state has seen at least 20 people killed and hundreds more injured. The local economy is at a standstill. Tourism has dried up.

Pakistan and India traded angry words after Islamabad condemned the violence and called for international intervention. Since the neighbors have fought two wars over Jammu and Kashmir and come perilously close
to nuclear blows several times since, held apart by pressure from the US and Europe, the world may try to wish the problem away, but it ignores this critical land at its own peril.

The protests in Jammu and Kashmir have been ongoing since June, but have turned increasingly violent igniting religious hatred.

The immediate trigger for current protests seemed innocuous. A tract of land was handed over to a trust to provide facilities during an annual Hindu pilgrimage called the Amarnath Yatra. What followed was a disproportionate outburst of fear, rumor and rage. Muslim Kashmiris were quick to believe it was ploy to populate the area with Hindus and alter the demography of the region. Hindus said that Kashmiri Muslims were opposed even to providing rest sheds and toilets to pilgrims. With state elections due soon, political parties advanced their causes while separatist groups led pro-secession marches.

New Delhi’s failure to act promptly allowed the violence to escalate. In the predominantly Muslim Kashmir valley hundreds of thousands gather on the streets, usually after noon prayers at the mosque, shouting slogans, starting fires and pelting stones, evoking memories of similar anti-India protests in 1989 and 1990. The protests in the predominantly Hindu Jammu areas are even more surprising. There have been daily demonstrations for weeks, with a violent enforcement of strikes and even protest suicides.

In Jammu, protesters insist that the Indian government only tries to appease Muslim sentiments in the valley, ignoring the claims of the minority Hindus. In 1990, tens of thousands of Hindus living in the Kashmir valley had to flee their ancestral homes because of threats and attacks. Many remain displaced now. In the Kashmir valley, fury against the government stems from the failure to punish troops that commit human rights violations. Protected by immunity laws that require government permissions to file charges, they seldom face a criminal prosecution.

The Indian government has long presented the Muslim-majority state in Jammu and Kashmir as a symbol of India’s identity as a secular state. That claim has been seriously challenged by the violence related to the Amarnath Yatra controversy. For some time, the influx of tourists, the drop in violence, and good turnouts in local elections had allowed officials to mistakenly believe that the Kashmir issue had been more or less resolved. But the Amarnath Yatra became a catalyst for the assertion of Muslim or Hindu identity and religious hatred, not just in Jammu and Kashmir, but in the rest of India.

When violence first erupted in 1990, hundreds were killed in indiscriminate firing on demonstrations. Indian security forces chose to quell the rebellion with unrestrained force, detaining people at will and torturing them in custody - leading to “disappearances” and custodial deaths. For almost two decades, Kashmiris have been caught between the troops and militants, each claiming to be fighting on behalf of Kashmiris. The lack of justice for these and subsequent abuses remains a deep wound in the state.

This time, India must order its troops to exercise restraint and encourage all parties and groups leading the protests to end their dispute peacefully. But for lasting peace, much more has to be done. The displaced need proper rehabilitation; an independent investigation must be launched to determine the fate of the “disappeared”; laws that provide immunity to troops who commit human rights violations have to be repealed; torture and arbitrary detentions must end.

Indian politicians have long had two favorite phrases for the troubled state: “winning hearts and minds” and the “healing touch.” The recent protests clearly demonstrate that the first effort has failed. If India’s leaders were introspective, they would wonder how much that has to do with the failure of the second.

Meenakshi Ganguly is senior researcher on South Asia for Human Rights Watch.

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Ankara bombs: Turkey is being torn apart by bad leaders and bad neighbours

This is the worst terror attack in Turkey’s history. In just a few months, hundreds of civilians, Turkish security personnel and PKK members have been killed.

It had already been a deadly summer of political instability in Turkey. And now this. Another massacre – this time at the hand of twin bomb attacks on a peace rally in Ankara, which have killed at least 97 people.

It is the worst terror attack in Turkey’s history. In just a few months, hundreds of civilians, Turkish security personnel and PKK members have been killed. Barely a single day passes in Turkey without some incident of lethal political violence.

Freedom from fear is the very basic principle of human security, which should be protected by any state that wants a true sense of legitimacy over its population and territory. In Turkey, that freedom is under enormous pressure from all sorts of internal and external forces.

Stirred up

There are plenty of competing explanations for the political violence engulfing the country, but none can seriously overlook the impact of Turkey’s bad political leadership.

The terrible, violent summer reflects nothing so much as an elite’s greed for power and willingness to treat civilians as dispensable. This has become particularly apparent since Turkey’s inconclusive June 7 election, and the way various political parties and leaders did all they could to prevent the formation of a viable coalition government.

Ultimately, the power game is simple enough. At the elections hastily called for November, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AKP party needs to garner only a few per cent more than it did in June to win the majority it needs for Erdogan to bolster his powers and make himself the country’s executive president.

To that end, pro-government media has been in overdrive throughout the summer, deliberately fuelling an environment of division, paranoia and mistrust in hopes of winning votes out of pure fear.

All the while, southeast Turkey has endured dreadful violence. Some towns – Cizre, for instance, which was under seige for days – have suddenly found themselves on the front line of renewed fighting between the security forces and the PKK.

The demise of the peace process is not just a failure of diplomacy – it signals that the armed conflict is still hugely politically and financially lucrative to Turkey’s political and military leaders. And the violence they’re profiting from is rapidly corroding social life and human security across the country.

The war next door

But the political instability caused by Turkey’s leaders has been greatly exacerbated by its neighbours, especially the continuing civil war in Syria and its deadly ramifications – an influx of jihadist fighters, a massive refugee crisis, and spiralling military interventions.

Since the end of the Cold War, global security has never been so seriously threatened as it is by today’s situation in Syria, which is now host to a head-to-head clash between the interests of Russia, the Assad regime and Iran on the one hand and the US, the EU, their Arab allies, and NATO on the other.

All sides claim to be fighting against the Islamic State and other Islamist extremists, but it’s clear that what’s really at stake is a lot more than just the fate of the jihadists or the political future of Syria. Already there’s an ominous spat underway over Russian planes' incursion into Turkish airspace; NATO has already raised the prospect of sending troops to Turkey as a defensive gesture.

And while it was always inevitable that the Syrian disaster would affect its northern neighbour to some degree, Turkey’s continuing internal political instability is proving something of an Achilles heel. By deliberately forcing their country into a period of chaotic and violent turmoil, Turkey’s leaders have made it more susceptible than ever to the Syrian conflict and the mighty geopolitical currents swirling around it.

And yet they press on with their cynical political ploys – seemingly unmoved by the cost to their people, and unaware that they could just be becoming pawns in a much bigger game.

The Conversation

Alpaslan Ozerdem is a Chair in Peace-Building and Co-Director of the Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations at Coventry University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.