Freedom in the World 2006 - Kashmir [India]

Political Rights: 5
Civil Liberties: 5
Status: Partly Free
Population: 11,203,000
GNI/Capita: N/A
Life Expectancy: N/A
Religious Groups: Muslim, (70 percent), other [including Hindu, Sikh, and Buddhist] (30 percent)
Ethnic Groups: Kashmiri [majority], Dogra, Ladakhi, Gujjar, Bakerwal, Dard, Balti, other
Capital: n/a


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 elusive throughout 2005. However, the reciprocal ceasefire between Indian and Pakistani troops declared in November 2003 has largely been upheld, and the two national governments held several rounds of talks during the year. In April 2005, both governments agreed to establish a bus service between the two sides of Kashmir, restoring a road connection that had been closed for more than 50 years. After an earthquake devastated Kashmir in early October, the two governments eventually agreed to open five crossing points across the Line of Control (LOC), which separates the two halves of Kashmir, in order to facilitate family contacts and improve relief efforts.

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 LOC 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. 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. In October 2005, Sayeed stepped down as the chief minister under the terms of the 2002 power-sharing agreement with Congress, under which the two parties agreed to swap the post every three years. Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad, previously an urban development minister, was named as Sayeed's replacement.

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. 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. The newly elected federal government announced in November 2004 that in response to an improved security situation, it planned to reduce troop numbers in the region; in addition, it presented a four-year, $5 billion development package designed to improve infrastructure, education, and tourism.

The number of fatalities decreased slightly during the year, in a continuation of a declining trend since 2002; approximately 1,700 people were killed during 2005, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal. In a high-profile assassination, education minister Ghulam Nabi Lone was killed in October. India issued passports to a number of separatist political leaders to travel to Pakistan in order to meet with Pakistan-based Kashmiri separatists in June 2005; at the meeting, APHC spokesperson and leading moderate Mirwaiz Umar Farooq said that the time had come for Kashmiri politicians to take the lead in finding a peaceful solution. The APHC's commitment to renouncing violence was reiterated in September, when an APHC delegation met with Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh. However, the desire of Kashmiris to become more deeply involved in the negotiating process has been made more difficult by an emerging split within the APHC between hard-liners, who favor a continuation of the militancy, and moderates, who favor a political solution.

Authorities in New Delhi have also attempted to improve relations with Pakistan. In November 2003, Pakistan declared a ceasefire across the LOC, to which India reciprocated; the ceasefire has largely held since then. Since announcing the resumption of a "composite dialogue," including concerning the Kashmir dispute, in January 2004, the two governments have held several rounds of talks. Although little substantive progress has been made on finding a lasting solution to the conflict, the two sides have discussed a range of issues, as well as affirming their commitment to solving the Kashmir dispute through peaceful negotiations. A number of confidence-building measures, such as improved nuclear safeguards, reopened transport links, and an increased diplomatic presence, have gradually been implemented. India and Pakistan agreed in February 2005 to start a bus service across the LOC that would link the capitals of Indian and Pakistani Kashmir. After delays due to differences over how paperwork should be handled and despite threats from insurgent groups – militants attacked targets along the intended route twice before the bus's launch – the service started in April. This historic opening allowed Kashmiri civilians to reunite with family members, many of whom had been divided and unable to see each other for decades.

On October 8, Pakistani-administered Kashmir, along with parts of Indian-administered Kashmir, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, was hit by an earthquake whose epicenter was near the Pakistani-Kashmir capital of Muzaffarabad. Although Indian-administered Kashmir escaped the brunt of the destruction, approximately 1,300 people were killed and 150,000 were rendered homeless. After several weeks of wrangling, India and Pakistan agreed to open their border at several crossing points to facilitate family contacts and improve relief efforts (the first points were opened in early November), and India also allowed Pakistan to fly helicopters over previously restricted airspace. However, both governments were accused of allowing territorial sensitivities regarding the decades-long dispute to overshadow the need to cooperate on a massive relief effort being conducted in very difficult mountainous terrain.

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, more than 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. An International Crisis Group report 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.

Primarily because of pressure from militants, conditions for the media remain difficult, and many journalists practice some level of self-censorship. Militant groups regularly threaten and sometimes kidnap, torture, or kill journalists, while reporters are occasionally also harassed or detained by the authorities. In July, eight journalists were injured in Srinagar during a grenade attack by Islamic militants and subsequent crossfire by security forces. 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. Pressure to self-censor has also been reported at smaller media outlets that rely on state government advertising for the majority of their revenue. Despite these restrictions, however, newspapers do report on controversial issues such as alleged human rights abuses by security forces. Authorities generally do not restrict access to the state by foreign journalists, according to the U.S. State Department's 2005 human rights report, and internet access is unrestricted.

Freedom to worship and academic freedom are generally respected by Indian and local authorities. In 2003, for the first time in over a decade, the state government granted permission to separatist groups who wished to organize a procession to mark the anniversary of the prophet Muhammad's birthday; this right was once again granted in 2005. 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.

Freedoms of assembly and association are occasionally restricted. 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 the few individuals and groups that continue to do human rights work are sometimes unable to travel freely within the state or are subject to harassment both from security forces and countermilitants.

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. Until 2005, the Indian government had 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.

The judiciary was able to function more effectively in 2005, according to the U.S. State Department's human rights report, but judges, witnesses, and the families of defendants remain subject to threats and intimidation from militants. In addition, the government frequently disregards judicial orders quashing detentions, and security forces refuse to obey court orders. 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 2005 report noted that approximately 600 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, 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 has received hundreds of complaints since its inception, mostly regarding prisoner release, custodial deaths, and alleged security force harassment), it is hampered by woefully inadequate resources and infrastructure. In addition, 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, after coming to power, 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 continue 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 a ceasefire was 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, intimidation, and violent attack, including rape and murder, at the hands of both the security forces and militant groups. In recent years, women have also been targeted by Islamist 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.

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