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Asia

Is Kashmir really an international issue?

India and Pakistan clashed over Kashmir at the UN earlier this week. But is the UN the right platform to take up the issue? New Delhi doesn't think so, and some Kashmiris think they are the ones who should be consulted.

In his speech at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on Wednesday, September 21, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif mostly talked about the Kashmir conflict. He stressed that Islamabad wanted peace with New Delhi, but that it wouldn't be possible without resolving the Kashmir dispute. He called for an international investigation into the alleged atrocities and human rights violations perpetrated by security forces in India-administered Kashmir.

"These Indian brutalities are well documented," Sharif said in his speech.

Sharif also mentioned the Kashmiri separatist leader Burhan Wani, who was killed by Indian troops on July 8. The situation in the Indian part of Kashmir has been volatile since Wani's killing. Protests against Indian rule in Kashmir and clashes between separatists and soldiers have claimed over 70 lives. Life in the capital Srinagar and parts of the valley has been paralyzed by these protests and a curfew imposed by the state government.

Since 1989, Muslim insurgents have been fighting Indian forces in the Indian-administered part of Kashmir - a region of 12 million people, about 70 percent of whom are Muslim. India and Pakistan have fought two of their three wars since independence in 1947 over Kashmir, which they both claim in full but rule in part.

A Kashmiri Muslim protester prepares to throw back a tear gas canister at Indian security personnel as another takes cover behind an electric pole during a protest after Eid al-Adha prayers in Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2016 (AP Photo/Dar Yasin)

Protests against Indian rule in Kashmir and clashes between separatists and soldiers have claimed over 70 lives

What is domestic and what is international?

"Burhan Wani, the young leader murdered by Indian forces, has emerged as the symbol of the latest Kashmiri intifada, a popular and peaceful freedom movement lead by Kashmiris, young and old, men and women, armed only with an undying faith and the legitimacy of their cause and the hunger for freedom in their hearts," Sharif said.

But some experts say that if Sharif's argument about an indigenous anti-India movement in Kashmir is correct, then it makes the entire conflict a domestic affair for New Delhi. Of course, the international community should take notice of the rights violations Kashmir, but why does Pakistan want the UN to intervene?

It is true that the UN passed a resolution on Kashmir in 1948, calling on both Pakistan and India to demilitarize their parts of the valley and hold a plebiscite. But that was a long time ago. A number of experts say that the 1948 resolution is not applicable in the present circumstances, which in turn means that the international community has accepted the conflict as India's internal issue - just like the armed insurgency in the Indian state of Assam or a Baloch rebel movement in Pakistan's western Balochistan province.

However, Islamabad differentiates between the separatist movements in Balochistan and in Kashmir.

"Islamabad has always termed Jammu and Kashmir as an unfinished business leftover from India's partition in 1947 even though the princely state acceded to India on October 26, 1947 when its ruler, Maharaja Hari Singh, signed the Instrument of Accession with the Union of India," Varad Sharma, an Indian expert on Kashmir, told DW.

But Baloch separatists also believe that the sovereignty of Balochistan was also an unresolved issue from the partition of India. "Balochistan was never a part of Pakistan," Naobat Mari, a young Baloch activist, told DW. "First, our land was invaded by the British, who divided it into three parts. After the partition of India in 1947, the eastern part of Balochistan remained an independent state, which was later forcibly annexed by Pakistan," he added.

'Foreign' militancy

Experts also say that despite Islamabad's claims that its support to Kashmiri separatists has been merely diplomatic, the allegations that Pakistan is supporting armed militants in the valley weakens the Pakistani case in the UN.

On September 18, suspected militants killed at least 17 Indian soldiers and wounded 30 in India-administered Kashmir. Heavily armed militants launched an early morning raid on the Indian army's 12th brigade infantry base housing hundreds of soldiers in Uri, west of the region's main city of Srinagar, the Indian military said. All four gunmen were killed by Indian troops.

The Indian army said the rebels had infiltrated the Indian part of Kashmir from Pakistan. Lt. General Ranbir Singh, the army's director general of military operations, said the initial investigations suggested that the militants belonged to Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad group, which has been active in Kashmir for over a decade.

In response to the Pakistani premier's UN Speech, Eenam Gambhir, India's First Secretary in the Permanent Mission of India to the UN, accused Pakistan of sponsoring terrorism.

India sees Pakistan as "a terrorist state," she said at UNGA, accusing Islamabad of diverting international aid towards training, financing and supporting terror groups as 'militant proxies' against neighboring countries, the Hindustan Times newspaper reported.

"The worst violation of human rights is terrorism," she said. "When practised as an instrument of state policy, it is a war crime. What my country and our other neighbors are facing today is Pakistan's long-standing policy of sponsoring terrorism, the consequences of which have spread well beyond our region," she alleged.

Indian paramilitary soldiers patrol a road dotted with bricks and stones during a protest in Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2016 (AP Photo/Dar Yasin)

On September 18, suspected militants killed at least 17 Indian soldiers and wounded 30 in India-administered Kashmir

India accuses Pakistan of training and arming the rebels in the portion it controls and sending them to the Indian side, a claim its neighbor denies.

"Pakistan uses terror as a strategic policy despite facing several terror attacks itself and losing thousands of its people. The jihadist infrastructure continues to operate from Pakistani soil. History tells us that the militants who operate in Kashmir are, mostly, either local Kashmiri Muslims or Pakistanis," Sharma added.

Despite the expert's claims of Pakistani interference, anti-India sentiment is strong throughout India's portion of Kashmir. Many resent the deployment of hundreds of thousands of Indian troops, and openly voice support for rebels who have been fighting since the 1990s to demand independence or a union with neighboring Pakistan.

'Let the Kashmiris decide!'

Some analysts argue that had Pakistan allowed an indigenous movement to take root in Kashmir, the issue would have more international resonance. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, they say, can now easily conceal the human rights violations in Kashmir and intensify crackdowns on protesters in the name of fighting terrorism.

Indian activists have already raised concerns about this practice.

Some Indian civil society members believe New Delhi cannot exonerate itself from the responsibility by accusing Islamabad of creating unrest in the valley. A number of rights organizations demand that the Modi government reduce the number of troops in Kashmir.

"The Indian state survives in Kashmir only by using the might of its army, and the force of its guns. The people are no longer scared of the bullet," Sumati Panikkar, a left-wing activist in New Delhi, told DW.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses the nation from the Red Fort in New Delhi, India, 15 August 2016 (Photo: picture-alliance/dpa/EPA/H. Tyagi)

Indian PM Modi has intensified crackdown on protesters, justifying it in the name of fighting terrorism

Those in favor of an independent Kashmir want Pakistan and India to step aside and let the Kashmiri people decide their future.

"We demand a solution of the Kashmir conflict based on freely expressed wishes of the people. It is high time India and Pakistan announce the timetable for withdrawal of their forces from the portions they control and hold an internationally-supervised referendum," Toqeer Gilani, the president of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, told DW.

But most Kashmir observers don't see it happening in the near future. They say that while the Indian strategy to deal strictly with militants and separatists in Kashmir has partly worked out, sooner or later New Delhi will have to find a political solution to the crisis. Secession, they say, does not stand a chance.