Can Kashmir exist as an independent state?
Cashmere: Indian? Pakistani? Independently?
A hooded man climbed onto a minibus. He spreads the Pakistani flag, the crowd around him shouts slogans against India and for the freedom of Kashmir. Today is August 16th, ten people were killed yesterday in brutal clashes between insurgents and security forces in the summer capital of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. The crowd behind the man with the flag is a funeral party; four civilian victims are burying them.
For over a month there has been a state of emergency in the Indian part of the idyllic mountain region of Kashmir. Shops, schools and universities remain closed, private mobile phone providers have to shut down their networks regularly, and soldiers with automatic weapons are standing on every street corner. The reason: On July 8, the 22-year-old Burhan Wani was shot dead by security forces of the Indian government. He was the leader of the Islamist rebel group Hizbul Mujahideen ("Party of the Holy Warriors"). What followed was the worst unrest in Kashmir since 2010: everywhere in the Indian part of the region, protesters took to the streets to demand either the independence of Kashmir or an annexation of the entire region to Pakistan. The Indian authorities react harshly: they shoot the protesters with cluster munitions and impose a curfew. Since then almost 60 people have been killed and more than 6,000 injured.
In 1947 "British India" was divided into two new, independent countries: the predominantly Muslim present-day Pakistan and the predominantly Hindu present-day India. Most of the region's smaller independent principalities had no realistic alternative but to join either country. Kashmir was one of the largest princely states, so there was hope here to remain independent. Because of this hope, the Maharajah of Kashmir postponed the decision whether his principality would join India or Pakistan.
When armed fighters from Pakistan invaded Kashmir, the Maharajah turned to India for help. The country stepped in militarily, but made it a condition that Kashmir should become part of India. The subsequent first Kashmir war between India and Pakistan in 1947-48 ultimately led to the division of Kashmir into what is now the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir and the northern regions of Pakistan. Another part of the region was occupied by China. But to this day, both India and Pakistan claim the other part of Kashmir. The conflict remained unsolved after the second Kashmir War (1965) and another armed conflict (1999).
To this day, India and Pakistan are not separated by a border in Kashmir, but by a "control line" where there are repeated skirmishes between soldiers - often with fatalities. Today there are more soldiers stationed in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir than anywhere else in the world: According to estimates, there could be more than half a million.
For the largely Muslim population of Kashmir, rebels like Burhan Wani are considered freedom fighters and martyrs, the Indian state sees the insurgents as terrorists and takes tough action. For example, the Indian military police use "pellet guns", a weapon with cluster munitions that is otherwise used to hunt animals. The little balls dig into the flesh, eyes and airways. Some young Kashmiris have already gone blind as a result, an Indian doctor said in an interview with him at the end of July mirror.
However, the Islamist group Hizbul Mujahideen is also classified as a terrorist group by the EU and the USA. According to the German press agency, many Kashmiri residents say that "Saber rattles and the extremists, it all comes from the capital or the headquarters of the military".
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