The past few days have seen an “escalation” in cross-border tensions between India and Pakistan. Since the 14 February attack (more below), we have seen three types of responses emerge. The first is a war that is mainly being played out on social media platforms and nationalist television through a spectacular building up of jingoist fervor on both ends. Bollywood celebrities have taken to Twitter to cheer on the war in ugly ways, Bollywood producers are fighting to register “patriotic” movie titles, and demonstrations in India are calling for a civilizing of Kashmiris and Pakistanis. Pakistani news channels are responding by playing military war songs. Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter are teetering with war cries for the soldiers from both sides to teach the other a lesson. (Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s appeals for peaceful dialogue and a reconsideration of the brewing war is a unique and urgent sight in this discourse.) The second type of response is liberals in both countries “saying no to war.” People within this group are those who have always remained silent about the occupation of Kashmir, and in the name of some notion of global humanitarian peace, believe that war is not the answer, as they preemptively mourn how many soldiers on both sides will die. The third type of response constitutes an overlooked current between these right-wing and liberal responses: it is people who are asking where is Kashmir in all of this? India’s nationalist violence is a continuation of its occupation of Kashmir, and Kashmiris and Muslims more generally have come to expect the Indian right-wing and liberal-secular citizenry’s adulation of war. The relationship between Kashmir and Pakistan is central to understanding this emergence since the question of Islam has troubled the region since the partition of 1947. How are we to understand the discourse of “defensive nationalism” visible in Pakistan at this moment? There is a real need to rethink the relationship between Kashmir and Pakistan, and this is a good moment as any to be doing so. Below, I will be engaging how Pakistan maintains a relationship to Kashmir through proclaiming to be an Islamic state. However, this relationship to Islam is also strategically disavowed at times.
What started as a suicide attack on 14 February by Adil Ahmad Dar on Indian occupying forces in Kashmir, quickly made its way to national television in India. Whereas countless daily deaths and humiliations of Kashmiris go unnoticed, this incident, in which forty members of the Indian forces died along with Adil, brought the isolated war in Kashmir closer to Indian (and Pakistani) doors. Immediately after the attack Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), based in Pakistan and Azad Kashmir, claimed responsibility for the attack. However, as Mohamad Junaid writes, it is not so clear whether the attack was planned by JeM or by local Kashmiri rebels. The Indian state “retaliated” by way of a “preemptive surgical strike” (which the Pakistani state claims never really happened) against the “terrorist group” JeM, and celebrated its success in killing alleged terrorists in Azad Kashmir. The United States, United Kingdom, and France have urged the United Nations to declare JeM a terrorist organization and ban it. Pakistan’s foreign office has responded by claiming JeM does not actually enjoy any support from the Pakistani government, which has cracked down on alleged JeM headquarters. Secular liberals and secular leftists have spoken out against “terrorist violence” unanimously after this incident, as they “say no to war.” What I attempt to show is that Islam is downplayed in both right-wing and liberal discourses about Kashmir, and simultaneously undergirds the present moment’s horror and anxiety.
Kashmir’s Occupation in the Longue Durée
A growing body of critical scholarship shows how Kashmiris under Indian-occupation live in the world’s most militarized zone, experiencing countless displacements, systematic maiming, disappearances, deaths, rapes, torture, economic disenfranchisement, Islamophobic religious persecution, and political exclusion at the hands of a growing anti-Islam collusion between Israel, the United States, and India.[i] To escape this brutal repression, Kashmiris have been engaging in hijrat (protective migration) across the “Line of Control” to Pakistan-controlled Kashmir to reestablish a Muslim life in exile—an ongoing process since 1947.[ii] The Pakistani state has pledged its allegiance to Kashmir in various ways, and by way of its religious affinity with the Muslim population of Kashmir promised support in the unification of the divided parts of Kashmir. While India accuses Pakistan of “aiding terrorist violence” on its side of the border, flattening and erasing the complex dimensions of the resistance to Indian occupation, Pakistan proudly claims its advocacy for Occupied Kashmir. Kashmir has thus come to occupy a valorized position in the Pakistani national imaginary.
However, this valorization is not without its duplicities. For example, the celebrated Kashmiri rebels who return to Pakistan after fighting against the occupying Indian forces experience difficulties finding employment.[iii] Kashmiris also experienced neglect at the hands of the Pakistani state during a massive earthquake in 2005, and later had insult added to injury as Pakistan used post-earthquake relief efforts to promote a “post-conflict” tourism.[iv] And let us not forget how the Pakistani state maintains a selectively hostile relationship to Islam by engaging in War on Terror discourse to solicit funds for putting down rebellions in Balochistan and Waziristan, and so forth. Despite the contradictions, Pakistan claims to have a benevolent and necessary relationship to Kashmir for Kashmir’s own protection from India. Kashmiris, however, have historically vexed a stratified national sensorium, which conveniently remains unengaged in times of need such as natural catastrophes or periodic cross-border skirmishes.
Speaking to people in Pakistani Punjab, I learned that many are either unaware of a brewing war, or are enjoying nationalist songs or re-watching old cricket matches–reengaging an age-old nationalist nostalgia. However, following Imran Khan’s peace offering, the predominant discourse in Pakistan appears to be anti-war, even as people engage fantasies of military might. Shahzad spoke to me on the phone, describing how “Pakistanis think this is no different than a cricket match. They are not prepared for what is about to happen.” When I spoke with family in Azad Kashmir on the phone, I learned that people are waiting and praying, full of dread, most in the midst of a complete blackout. Those closest to the border are evacuating in the middle of deadly cross-border firing.
The predominant narrative from both nationalists and those saying “no to war” remains one of interstate dispute, calling for “bilateral” instead of tripartite talks that would take Kashmiri aspirations seriously. Ather Zia, assistant professor of anthropology at University of Northern Colorado, who works on the Indian occupation of Kashmir, wrote on Twitter: “Kashmir cannot be reduced to just a dispute. Kashmiris are demanding a sovereign nation even before indo-pak came into existence. while trying to say no to war, remember Kashmir needs a just peace, freedom from military occupation not just cessation of violence #freekashmir”
Signaling an important reminder for us, Zia’s words urge a recontextualization of the present moment unfolding in Kashmir as part of Kashmiri political aspirations that date as far back at the late colonial period, and definitely not as an eruption in the midst of peaceful relations between India and Pakistan.[v] Instead, whether Kashmir has ever been allowed peace needs to be brought into question. Nosheen Ali, a sociologist based in Karachi, Pakistan wrote a poem about the capture of the attacking Indian pilot, Wing Commander Abhinandan, who in a video is shown to be treated with respect and drinking chai (with personnel of the Pakistani military behind the camera). Ali writes:
you know na, escalation is a joke to the kashmiri / their whole lives have been lived in bloody escalation while we ponder who has ‘narrative control’ / wing commander abhinandan / we are exchanging fantastic tea and cricket jokes and marriage metaphors / over the dead bodies of kashmiris for a thousand years.
(Wing Commander Abhinandan is returning to India as I write this, in exchange for the dead body of a Pakistani prisoner who accidentally crossed into India, was captured at the Wagah border and beaten to death in an Indian jail.)
Responding to Fatima Bhutto’s recent article in the New York Times, another Kashmiri scholar, Hafsa Kanjwal, assistant professor of South Asian history at Lafayette College, wrote on Facebook: “in this entire tone-deaf NYT op-ed by Fatima Bhutto, the word Kashmir, supposedly the reason for war between the two countries, appears only once, as a location for an attack.” She argued that while Pakistani and Indian liberals are saying “no to war,” they have remained silent about the military occupation of Kashmir. It is simply “escalation” that is a problem, and not the constant erasure of Kashmir, for these liberal audiences.
Building from this current of those calling for an end to both the Indian occupation of Kashmir and the brewing war, we can begin to rethink Pakistan’s relationship to Kashmir.
Shaista, hailing from Rawalakot, spoke of cross-border firing on the phone. She said in a matter-of-fact tone, “The Pakistani military must help Kashmiris close to the border evacuate. But you know na how it goes? Mothers are glued to prayer rugs, sons are preparing to be dragged into battle.”
And yet, we must remember this battle needs to be differentiated from, and resituated within, the on-going resistance Kashmiris have been engaged in (at the very least) since the time of Partition on the subcontinent in 1947. It is here we must turn to how Islam is simultaneously being spectacularized and erased within the current moment.
Kashmir, Islam, and the Disappearing "Civilian"
We have witnessed the production of militarized consumers and citizen-subjects in Pakistan and India, shaped through the “military-industrial-media-entertainment network.”[vi] These consumers are now experiencing a “war at a distance,” living through but not in war. Such a distanced wartime effect is precisely the function of war that preemptively prefigures and creates its own enemy and then necessitates a promised war on said enemy.[vii] Preemptive warfare, especially since September 11, has been the hallmark of US and Israeli strategies for the creation of populations “primed” on the primacy of a “potential” risk, through a continuous loop of threat and fear.[viii] India is now capitalizing on this justification for war based on a threat that has a potential for emerging, and which can never be proven to not occur. This is what has justified the militarization of Kashmir and has now made possible a preemptive war-preparedness. This collusion between India, the United States, and Israel should not surprise us. India has already been able to strengthen its occupation by playing host to Israeli IDF soldiers in a shared “anti-terror” war and by soliciting funds from the United States for “crushing terrorism.” In response to Kashmiri protestors’ stoning of Indian armed forces, a strategy that has drawn parallels to the Palestinian intifada, India’s recent Israeli-inspired strategy of “non-lethal” maiming has produced the world’s first mass blinding.
Now again, we are seeing India collapse its long-standing occupation in Kashmir under the popular imperial rubric of Islamist terror, a deadly strategy from which Kashmiris have already been suffering. And even in critical responses to India’s warmongering, we see an anti-Islam convergence. If it was simply death that produced concern, why have we not seen an outpouring of support for Kashmiris in the recent decades? Talal Asad argues that the aftermath of suicide attacks produces a particular type of modern horror that remains absent in times of brutal war and occupation. This is an example of how liberal sensibilities are offended not simply by death but by a limitless pursuit of an uncoerced interiority that can withstand the force of the institutional discipline of the law.[ix] He continues that the outpouring of horror and condemnation at times like these, and investigation into the motives of those who commit suicide by such means, is a display of how liberalism disapproves not of violence, but of the violent exercise of freedom outside the frame of the law. This is why governments can enact genocides but the violence of the wretched is terrorism. That Adil was part of a generation that grew up at a time of a mass movement for freedom in Kashmir, witnessing the brutality and humiliation produced by the Indian occupation, remains of little note as we hear a convergence of secular interests decrying both Islamic forms of organizing resistance and allegedly pathological formations of Islamic terrorism.
So, what do we lose by Pakistan (and those more generally saying no to war), conceding to anti-Islam rhetoric?
Kashmiris are not unaware of their strategic use to Pakistan. While Pakistan “sympathizes” with the Kashmir cause for liberation, and we are often told that Kashmiris and Pakistanis are brothers, Cabeiri Robinson, in her work with freedom fighters in Azad Kashmir, has shown us that this alleged support from Pakistan ebbs and flows and those fighting know how to strategically use this. One freedom fighter I was in conversation with told me: “Sometimes they ban us; sometimes they take us off the list. It is whatever the United States wants at different times.” While the purported ideological support remains, different freedom fighters and organizations get banned and unbanned depending on the particular flavor of anti-Islam discourse in the air.
Further, speaking from Azad Kashmir, Shabir pointed out the danger of the discourse of the Indian state during its attack in Azad Kashmir. The Indian state claims that it did not violate Pakistani sovereignty since the attack targeted militants and not civilians. Shabir asked: “who is militant and who is civilian here?” The division between civilian and militant does not exist so neatly in a place where people are struggling to hold on to their lives and homes.[x]
In “The Erosion of the Civilian,” Harriet Cornell writes that over the past seventy years the category of the civilian has been endowed with increasing value, and on the other hand, the category of the civilian cannot be taken for granted. Pointing to Pentagon papers on drones strikes, Cornell writes that we already know that those men who are considered to be of “military age” are a new legal figure who are fair game as more killable (non)civilians. Further, the civilian category is further dividuated as we already know if we look at the targeting of hospitals–a privileged site of the injured civilian–in times of war (as seen in Afghanistan and Kashmir). Are we surprised? Since the human has always been a selective ontological category that has marked exclusion based on racialized criteria, and since now the human has been replaced by the civilian in times of anti-Islam war, are we under any illusions about when someone is allowed to be civilian and when that category becomes moot?
I attempt to point out the hypocrisy of international law because, as generations of anti-occupation activists and scholars have been telling us, for too long conversations about Kashmir have been the domain of the state, the map, and of the global humanitarian engine–archives which have been disciplined to see in a certain evidentiary manner. Such an understanding of space and suffering is a function of the limits and possibilities of forms of sensory perception. Within such universal humanitarian drives, the boundaries of the visible, the accountable, the admissible are selectively “sense-able.”
In site-specific performances of sovereignty, such as those we see in Kashmir, political violence is made possible by a fact-setting regime enabled through the archival violence of what is able to be “seen into.”[xi] Aims to document and show empirical “realities on the ground,” along with other discursive and legal modes (enabled through concepts of democracy and human rights) we have available for making something appear or disappear fail us when the global sensorium is differentially attuned to suffering. In Kashmir, we can see how truth-claiming mimics or is war; a war which fuses peace/justice and war/violence, since the mechanisms used to determine what counts as peace, violence, justice, and so on are already mediated through the dominant regime of truth.[xii] Talal Asad writes “The Global War on Terror is perhaps best described as the relentless diffusion of cruelty because cruelty is at home both in war and in peace, and because, like war, it is defined and justified by law.” An appeal to human rights in Kashmir therefore is a fated to be failed political strategy before it is even undertaken.
Thinking about how differentiated recognitions of war (and occupation) are produced, we can begin to see how it is that Kashmir’s occupation has remained (legally) occluded internationally and how a moment such as now emerges as an eruption onto the scene of “peaceful” India Pakistan relationship for liberal human-rights oriented sensibilities. If the brutality of war-as-peacetime in Kashmir is being separated from the war-as-violence, it is because in the global mechanisms of the War on Terror, cruelty is at home both in peace-times and in times of war. Kashmir bears witness to this. The cruelty that allows a Kashmiri to be strapped to an Indian forces’ jeep and paraded through the streets for sadistic pleasure and that never makes the news is the same type of humanitarian kindness that begins to call for a humane treatment of the Indian fighter pilot in Pakistan’s custody. The type of legality that suffuses war with justice is the same type of liberal imperial vocabulary that labels Kashmiri resistance as terrorist. The type of fear that allows the Indian state to “nonlethally” blind “civilian” Kashmiris is the same type of fear that would pull the rug from out under Kashmiri feet at a time of fleeting global scrutiny.
What we see, then, are the limits of international law that fail Kashmiris as never-possible civilians. What Pakistan is failing to grasp is that by giving in to the discourse on terror is a deadly moral defeat that betrays any promises of support made to Kashmiris in times of “peace.” What we are seeing in our times of war and death, faced by this uncanny genocidal power of the imperial anti-Islam war machine, is India fixing Pakistan in its inevitable global destiny as a failed terrorist state. In this scenario, Kashmir (always) becomes the human shield Pakistan uses to save itself from this fate. The Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s peace offerings and centering of Kashmiris is an unprecedented and welcome sight in this moment; however, his claims about terrorism and “not from our soil” rhetoric is dangerously close to reinforcing the global "War on Terror" logic. The least the Pakistani state owes to those who have been its human shields in a purported interstate war is to not cede the ground of civilian versus militant.
To end, I leave us with Ather Zia’s haunting poem, titled “unending war, endless green,” which calls into question the Orientalist fantasies that allow us to dream of Kashmir as a greenscape that simultaneously becomes mere background in a purported “interstate” war, reminding us the war has always been a war on Kashmir: “when two mad elephants fight / it’s the grass that gets trampled / and all Kashmir is verdant / only grass / only grass / only grass.”
[i] Dorabji Tara and Susan Rahman, “Makers of Memory: Women in Occupied Palestine and Kashmir” in Jaggerylit; Japleen Pasricha, [Interview with Essar Batool] “Dear Indian feminists. Kashmir is Occupied. Period;” Mona Bhan, Counterinsurgency, Democracy, and the Politics of Identity in India: From Warfare to Welfare? (Routledge: 2013); Haley Duschinski and Bruce Hoffman, “Everyday Violence, Institutional Denial and Struggles for Justice in Kashmir,” Race & Class 52, no. 4 (2011), 44-70; Saiba Verma, “Interrogating the “Post-conflict” in Indian- Occupied Kashmir,” Cultural Anthropology (2014); Ather Zia, “Enforced Disappearances in Kashmir: The Case of Fateh Jaan” in Of Occupation and Resistance – Writings from Kashmir – an Anthology, edited by Fahad Shah (Westland Publishers, 2013); Zia Ather, “Women Searching for the Disappeared in Kashmir,” SAMAR Magazine; Shefali Chandra, “’India Will Change You Forever’: Hinduism, Islam and Whiteness in the American Empire,” Signs Journal of Women in Culture and Society 40, no. 2 (2015), 487-512.
[ii] Cabeiri deBergh Robinson, Body of Victim, Vody of Warrior: Refugee Families and the Making of Kashmiri Jihadists (University of California Press, 2013).
[iii] Kiran Nazish, “Faces of the waning war in Kashmir: Former Kashmiri fighters face difficult challenges as they try to start new lives in Pakistani refugee camps,” Aljazeera, 1 November 2012.
[iv] Cabeiri Robinson, "The Dangerous Allure of Tourism Promotion as a Post-conflict Policy in Disputed Azad Jammu and Kashmir," Hot Spots, Cultural Anthropology website, 24 March 2014.
[v] Ather Zia, “Kashmir’s Desire for Independence is Old.”
[vi] Caren Kaplan,"Precision targets: GPS and the militarization of US consumer identity," American Quarterly 58, no. 3 (2006), 693-714. Also see James Der Derian, Virtuous War: Mapping the Military-Industrial-Media-Entertainment Network (Boulder, Colorado: Westview, 2001); Tim Lenoir, "Programming Theatres of War: Gamemakers as Soldiers," in Bombs and Bandwidth: The Emerging Relationship Between Information Technology and Security, edited by Robert Latham (New York: New Press, 2003), 175-98; Jennifer Terry, "Killer Entertainments," Vectors: Journal of Culture and Technology in a Dynamic Vernacular 3, no. 1 (2007) on remote intimacy.
[vii] Mary A Favret, War at A Distance: Romanticism and the Making of Modern Wartime, (Princeton University Press, 2009) 9, 11.
[viii] Brian Massumi, Ontopower: War, Powers, and the State of Perception (Duke University Press, 2015).
[ix] Talal Asad, On Suicide Bombing (Columbia University Press, 2007).
[x] Cabeiri deBergh Robinson, Body of Victim, Body of Warrior.
[xi] Allen Feldman, Archives of the Insensible, 18.
[xii] Feldman, 241.