Opinion

'Kashmir Is Palestine': Why Both India and Pakistan Want to Push This Ominous Comparison

In Kashmir, Modi wants Israeli settler-style demographic change and Pakistan wants a new intifada to explode. But the Israel-Palestine conflict analogies - and their dangerous consequences - go even further

A Kashmiri protester helps a friend cover his face with a mask at a protest against Israel's occupation in Srinagar, Indian administered Kashmir, May 18, 2018
SOPA Images Limited / Alamy Stoc

When India’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) decided to revoke Articles 370 and 35-A from the Indian Constitution, scrapping the special rights given to the disputed state of Jammu & Kashmir, parallels were immediately drawn around the world but particularly in Pakistan with the Israeli occupation of the West Bank.

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The move, which undoes India’s 65-year old relationship with Jammu and Kashmir by taking away its partial autonomy and bringing it under New Delhi’s direct rule, has been interpreted by the Pakistani National Assembly – among others – as a bid by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to "create an Israel and Palestine" in South Asia. Pakistan's opposition leader declared they would not "let an [occupier state like] Israel form in the region."

In the region's media, there is plenty of talk of ethnic cleansing, settler colonialists, a violent occupation army, a jihadist insurgency, of a Kashmiri intifada.

With this annexation, Modi, along with party president and Home Minister Amit Shah, has fulfilled the manifesto of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and the vows and fanatic fantasies of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) – the neo-fascist Hindu nationalist parent organization of the Indian ruling party.

With outsiders now legally permitted to own property in Jammu and Kashmir, there are obvious fears that the BJP will seek to alter the demographics of India’s only Muslim-majority territory though the settlement of Hindus – spearheaded perhaps by Hindutvadis, zealous followers of the Hindutva ideology, along the lines of ultra-nationalistic religious Jewish settlers in the West Bank.

The BJP government has already begun working on altering the Muslim demographic dominance in the region, by separating Ladakh from Jammu and Kashmir, in turn carving out India’s first Buddhist-majority union territory. 

Rallying calls to "marry white-skinned Kashmiri women" are being given by BJP hardliners who adhere to a Hindutva school of thought whose ideologues have long advocated rape as a political tool. It is common for territorial usurpation to trigger religious fundamentalists’ penchant for violent misogyny, with women considered as "property" of the "other" that need to be "conquered."

If the events unfolding in Jammu and Kashmir smack unabashedly of the Hindu subjugation of Muslims, far more so than the "economic development" and "integration" that Modi peddled in his August 8 address justifying the move, it’s because that’s precisely the message that BJP wants to send out to its voters across the country – especially in Maharashtra, Haryana and Jharkhand, where state elections are scheduled over the next four months.

A Indian security personnel stands guard on a street during a lockdown in Srinagar on August 11, 2019, after the Indian government stripped Jammu and Kashmir of its autonomy
AFP

Even so, by upholding the Hindu-Muslim dichotomy in Kashmir, India is playing right into the home ground of Pakistan, a religio-nationalist state born in the womb of this Two-Nation Theory

Long before BJP or Hindutva ideologues come to power in New Delhi, Pakistan interpreted Indian brutalities in Kashmir as a religiously-motivated Hindu persecution of Muslims. The Muslim: non-Muslim lens is also how Pakistan has viewed Palestine since the state’s inception in 1947, which has meant Islamabad’s continuous refusal to recognize Israel, even when establishment of diplomatic ties have always been in Pakistan’s interests.

Framing these conflicts as religious wars is not only inaccurate and reductive, but clearly feeds extremism, as it removes them from the sphere of negotiations and diplomacy into an existential and apocalyptic war.

Indeed, in the case of Kashmir, Pakistan hasn’t just limited itself to an Islam-tinted lens, but has played an active role in transforming an indigenous rights movement into a radical Islamist campaign, thanks to Islamabad's construction of a jihadist corridor between Afghanistan and Kashmir in the 1980s – with support from U.S. dollars and Saudi petro-riyals.

The jihadist usurpation of a Muslim-majority nationalist movement, amidst the global rise of radical Islam, is what has long bound Kashmir and Palestine, albeit with vastly contrasting degrees of global attention. However, the parallels between the two have never looked as ominous as they do now.

Where India has moved to transmutate Kashmir – at least the section it administers – from a bilateral dispute into a unilateral usurpation of a people and their territory against their will, Pakistan has its own, somewhat sadistic, stake in the transformation of the Kashmir crisis to become analogous to the Palestinian situation.

Pakistan has long sought to hyphenate Kashmir and Palestine in the international arena, more so as a potential vehicle for its narrative on its claim to Kashmir than any solidarity anchored in real action with Palestine.

As a corollary of that Kashmir-Palestine hyphenation campaign, Pakistan has always drawn parallels between Israel and India, long before the revocation of Articles 370 and 35-A was on the table.

Indeed, after India’s move on Kashmir, the Pakistani media was quick to pin the blame on Israel.

"Zionist-Hindu" conspiracy theories have long dominated Islamist-influenced blame games for all ills in the country, but more recently, even erstwhile rationalists have touted the likelihood of a concerted Israel-India collaboration against Pakistan. Earlier this year, there was unanimous consensus, even in the mainstream media, that "Israel had led India’s airstrikes on Pakistan." 

This time around the local press is brimming with stories on how India is targeting Kashmiri civilians on "Israel’s advice", and how the "evil axis" of the U.S., India and Israel has fueled state-led aggression - if not potential genocide - in Kashmir.

Prime Minister Imran Khan took that parallel into unsavory territory Sunday, when he decided to evoke comparisons between India’s BJP regime and Nazi Germany.

"The curfew, crackdown & impending genocide of Kashmiris in IOK [Indian Occupied Kashmir] is unfolding exactly acc to RSS ideology inspired by Nazi ideology. Attempt is to change demography of Kashmir through ethnic cleansing. Question is: Will the world watch & appease as they did Hitler at Munich?"

He continued in a subsequent tweet: "…it will lead to suppression of Muslims in India & eventually lead to targeting of Pakistan. The Hindu Supremacists version of Hitler's Lebensraum."

By pushing the idea of a Hindu genocide of Muslims, analogous to Hitler's against the Jews, Khan is mimicking Palestinian Islamists and sections of the global left who accuse Israel of having transformed from the victims of the Nazis to Nazi-type perpetrators themselves, orchestrating Holocaust-type crimes. 

What Khan clearly doesn’t realize is that by implying that the Kashmiris are fighting a genocidal ideology that can’t be appeased, he’s simultaneously damning Pakistan’s own continued inaction over what he himself touts as an existential conflict – over a territory Islamabad still claims as its own. 

While Khan is a master of grand exponential talk that necessitates u-turns when it meets reality, on Kashmir he is echoing those who propelled him to the prime minister's residence – the military establishment, which has a monopoly over foreign and security policies and has long justified its own perks by exploiting the Kashmir crisis. 

The jihadists - who have been both integral and proxy arms of the security policy of the Pakistan Army - have now been shackled through the International Monetary Fund and the Financial Action Task Force. Any terror misadventure originating in Pakistan could lead to massive fiscal ramifications for a state so economically depleted that its military resources were stretched to their limits over a couple of days of aerial dogfights with India in February.

Therefore, with its original India-bound terror groups rendered inutile, Pakistan is actually hoping for a new intifada to explode in Kashmir. That would keep the dispute alive and authentic without Islamabad having to take a lead role.

Kashmiri men wait before Eid-al-Adha prayers during restrictions after the scrapping of the special constitutional status for Kashmir by the Indian government, in Srinagar, August 12, 2019
\ DANISH SIDDIQUI/ REUTERS

It would also offer suitable cover and legitimacy for Pakistan to "mainstream" the smaller part of Kashmir already under its control, an effective annexation-regularization process of its own that Beijing has long requested (so as to legalize its $62 billion economic corridor, which currently passes through that disputed territory.)

Where the BJP aims to make Kashmir embody a Hindutva triumph over Muslims in a bid to consolidate its growing power over India, the Army across the border hopes for sufficient turmoil in the region to justify Pakistan’s perpetual security state character, just as terror groups like al-Qaida and ISIS shift from Middle East to South Asia eyeing new and fertile grounds for jihad

Pity the people of Kashmir, sandwiched between these two radical ideologies, for whom they are a handy cause for passionate rhetoric, usefully instrumentalized for government policy, but not "deserving" even of the quasi-autonomy they were often promised but never really enjoyed. On those issues, at least, many Palestinians are likely to see clear analogies.

Kunwar Khuldune Shahid is a Pakistan-based journalist and a correspondent at The Diplomat. His work has been published in The GuardianThe IndependentForeign PolicyCourrier InternationalNew StatesmanThe Telegraph MIT Review, and Arab News among other publications. Twitter: @khuldune