Why the NYT is really wrong about Kashmir


An Indian police officer fires a tear gas shell towards demonstrators, during a protest against the recent killings in Kashmir, in Srinagar May 8, 2018 PHOTO/Danish Ismail/Reuters

A recent editorial by the New York Times demonstrates little understanding of what is actually going on in Kashmir.

On May 18, the New York Times published an editorial entitled “A long shot in Kashmir”. The editorial completely misrepresents the nature of the Kashmir issue and reinforces the false notion of it being a “territorial dispute” between India and Pakistan.

In addition, it raises the bogey of “Islamism” to further undermine genuine mass aspirations for self-determination and freedom from India among Kashmiris. As scholars of Kashmir, we believe it is important to provide correctives to these misconceptions.

One of the primary misfortunes of the Kashmiri people has been that their struggle for self-determination continues to be framed simply as an interstate conflict, with much more importance given to Indian and Pakistani nationalist narratives on Kashmir than Kashmiri viewpoints.

For the issue to be resolved, the international community, and the media, need to move beyond these statist perspectives and foreground Kashmiri perspectives and agency. Kashmiris are not only the main victims of the conflict in the region but remain the key drivers of the long-standing self-determination movement.

As recent scholarship on Kashmir has showcased, we need to move beyond the framing of the conflict as only beginning in 1947. Despite popular perceptions in the West and elsewhere, the region was far from internally politically passive while India and Pakistan fought three wars to control it.

Instead, we need to look into Kashmiri political aspirations in the late colonial period. In 1931, Kashmiris launched their first mass agitation against the Dogras, a Hindu monarchy that ruled over the Muslim-majority region. While this historic movement became embroiled in the politics of British India’s partition in 1947, as the region was split between India and Pakistan, the Kashmiri aspiration to determine their own future not only continued but intensified.

Indeed, focusing primarily on India and Pakistan, the New York Times editorial makes no reference to why Kashmiris are protesting and why they have continued to demand their political rights.

Simplistic references to “Islamist insurgency”, and its sponsorship by Pakistan, play easily into Indian conspiracy theories that dehumanise Kashmiris and deny them any political agency and ability to rule themselves. These theories do not explain the existence of a decades-old Kashmiri self-determination movement before the 1990s, nor do they cover the entire gamut of Kashmiri opinions on the matter.

Furthermore, while Pakistan remains a party to the dispute, its role since 9/11, and especially since 2008, has been minimal. The large crowds demanding freedom in Kashmir are not instigated by Pakistan; this is an indigenous resurgence.

The editorial does not highlight the intense repression and political surveillance that Kashmiris are subject to on a daily basis. The “Islamist insurgency” is only one facet of the Kashmiri response to the occupation and is itself a result of Indian repression and curbing of dissent.

Indeed, presenting Kashmir’s historical struggle for self-determination as an “Islamist insurgency” helps India present itself as a victim of terrorism rather than as a perpetrator of state violence.

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