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Vol. 80/No. 40      October 24, 2016

(feature article)

India, Pakistan rulers clash as protests shake Kashmir

Cross-border fire between the armies of India and Pakistan erupted in late September in the territory of Kashmir, which the two regimes have partitioned since 1947. The sharpening conflict between the nuclear-armed powers takes place amid a three-month wave of strikes and protests by workers and students in Indian-occupied Kashmir.

The daily exchange of gunfire and shelling flared following an Indian army announcement that it had crossed into Pakistan-occupied Kashmir Sept. 29 in a “surgical strike” on Pakistan-backed Kashmiri separatist fighters there. Islamabad denied the raid had happened, saying instead its troops had been shelled. New Delhi said it was responding to a Sept. 18 attack on an Indian army base in Kashmir in which 19 soldiers were killed.

Protests exploded in Kashmir July 8 when Indian forces killed 22-year-old Burhan Wani, a leader of Hizbul Mujahideen, a group opposing Indian rule. Some 50,000 turned out for his funeral. Actions have continued over the following months, shutting schools, offices, markets and transport.

New Delhi responded by imposing a curfew, cutting phone and internet services, silencing newspapers and attacking demonstrators. Almost 100 Kashmiris have been killed and more than 12,000 injured, many of them wounded or blinded by birdshot pellets. Thousands have been arrested, but the actions continue. High school students boycotted exams and demonstrated Oct. 6, many covering one eye to show solidarity with those blinded in the protests.

There are some 600,000 Indian soldiers and paramilitary cops in the territory of nearly 14 million, with a decades-long record of repression and abuse.

The occupation and division of Kashmir has its origin in the partition of India in 1947 by the departing British colonial power. In face of a rising, united working-class struggle against colonial rule, London moved to cede nominal independence. It maneuvered with bourgeois and landlord forces to divide the colony into a majority-Muslim Pakistan and a majority-Hindu India. The goal was to divide working people and their struggles, thwart steps towards a unified nation state, and help maintain the influence of the British capitalist rulers.

Whole regions, such as Bengal and Punjab, were split in two as new borders were drawn. Some 15 million people were uprooted and over 1 million killed as the rival ruling-class factions incited religious hostility to grab more territory.

In the state of Kashmir the local monarch initially declined to join either Pakistan or India. The new government in Pakistan invaded and its Indian counterpart retaliated. A United Nations-brokered cease-fire in 1948 placed two-thirds of Kashmir under Indian rule and the remainder under Pakistan. It also called for a referendum on self-determination, but this was never carried out.

Since a second war in 1965, the cease-fire line in Kashmir has been an ongoing source of military tension between the two regimes, with both continuing to lay claim to the whole territory.

Since the late 1980s there has been broad, ongoing opposition among the population of Indian-occupied Kashmir to rule by New Delhi and repression by its army and cops.

Growth of China

The latest border clash between the rulers of India and Pakistan takes place as the rival powers adjust to the growing economic and political weight of China in the region.

For decades Washington armed and backed Islamabad, but has recently sought closer ties with New Delhi in face of rising competition from Beijing. The U.S. and Indian governments signed a military logistics agreement Aug. 29. While trade between China and India has mushroomed in recent years, the balance favors China four to one.

Beijing, a longtime ally of Islamabad, is investing $46 billion to build roads, railways and pipelines linking China to a port in the Pakistani city of Gwadar on the Arabian Sea. The transport corridor, which will greatly increase China’s reach to its west, passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and concludes in the province of Balochistan.

The Indian government is sponsoring a rival project to expand the port of Chabahar, Iran, and create an alternative sea-land route connecting India, Iran and Afghanistan, bypassing Pakistan.

In recent statements, widely viewed as a warning to Beijing, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi condemned Pakistan for “committing atrocities” to suppress independence demands in Balochistan. Pro-independence groups there oppose the transport corridor and port project.  
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