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Kashmir activists draw inspiration from German reunification

November 3, 2019

Calls for a free Kashmir are becoming louder on both sides of the divided region. Can the German reunification model be applied to the India- and Pakistan-ruled Kashmirs? And what can Kashmiris learn from it?

Indian soldiers patrol on the international border between India and Pakistan in Kashmir
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/J. Singh

On August 5, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi abrogated Jammu & Kashmir's semi-autonomous status and imposed a curfew in the volatile parts of the region. The move was slammed by Pakistan, which urged the United Nations to force India to reverse its Kashmir actions.

India and Pakistan each rule part of the disputed Himalayan territory but claim it in full. Both oppose the demand for an independent, undivided Kashmir ruled by the Kashmiri people.

Since New Delhi's decision to scrap Kashmir's special status, a "free Kashmir" movement has resurfaced on both sides of the Line of Control (LoC), which divides the India- and Pakistan-controlled Kashmir regions. Kashmiris have been demanding a sovereign state for decades, but their voices have mostly been ignored by both India and Pakistan.

Lately, there have been increasing reports about large demonstrations in Pakistan-administered Kashmir — officially called Azad Kashmir in Pakistan. Last month, clashes broke out between protesters and police in Muzaffarabad, the region's capital. The police were trying to disperse a protest rally organized by the People National Alliance (PNA), a group that seeks an independent Kashmir.

Protests in Pakistan-administered Kashmir
Calls for independence are getting louder in Pakistani KashmirImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo/R. Mughal

Inspirational factor

Kashmiri activists that seek independence from both India and Pakistan told DW they are hugely inspired by the movement that brought down the Berlin Wall and rejoined East and West Germany to form one German state.

Germany was officially reunited on October 3, 1990, under the guidance of then-Chancellor Helmut Kohl, after more than four decades of Cold War division. The historic event came less than a year after the Berlin Wall fell on November 9, 1989.

"We believe that the fall of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent reunification of Germany are an inspiration not only to us but to all freedom movements in the world. Like the pre-reunification Germany, Jammu and Kashmir has also been split into two territories, and a wall (LoC) was erected to divide the same people," Toqeer Gilani, the president of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, told DW. He added that "if Germany can be reunited, so can Kashmir."

"The post-World War II Germany was also forcefully divided by global powers. It was propagated that the division was necessary due to the 'ideological differences' between East and West Germany. We also experienced this in Kashmir," Gilani said.

Read more: European lawmakers in Kashmir amid tensions

Some experts say that although the German and Kashmiri dynamics are not totally similar, the "independent Kashmir" movement can still take inspiration from the German reunification success.

"As we approach the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, we should rejoice that people can overcome adversity and divisions. The people of Kashmir will take inspiration from what happened in Germany 30 years ago. A group of people has been kept apart by force," Shaffaq Mohammed, a British-Kashmiri MEP (Member of European Parliament), told DW.

Ali Raza Syed, the chairman of the Kashmir Council, a Brussels-based non-governmental organization, says that just as in pre-reunification Germany, families are divided in India- and Pakistan-controlled Kashmirs. "They have the same culture, the same language. I think the German reunification inspirations can be applied to Kashmir," Syed told DW.

"You can threaten people, you can torture them, but you cannot govern a country out of fear," Mohammed said, referring both to the India-imposed lockdown in Kashmir and the oppression in the former German Democratic Republic, or GDR.

"If Kashmiris want to be independent of both India and Pakistan, it is their right," the Liberal Democrat MEP added.

Read more: Germans happier in a reunified country, 30 years on

Different scenarios

However, Talat Bhat, the director of the Stockholm-based Nordic Kashmir Organization, which lobbies for an independent, secular and united Kashmir, believes the German reunification model has limited relevance to Kashmir, as the situation involves a different set of aspirations.

"The unification marches are taking place only in Pakistani-ruled Kashmir; there is no such momentum in the India-controlled region, mainly due to the fact that India has arrested prominent Kashmiri politicians and activists since August 5," Bhat told DW.  

While many people in India-controlled Kashmir seek independence from New Delhi, they don't want to become part of Pakistan, either. Similarly, pro-independence groups in Pakistan-ruled Kashmir don't want to be integrated into India.

Siegfried O. Wolf, director of research at the Brussels-based South Asia Democratic Forum (SADF), says that the German reunification model was based on the complete integration of one independent state into another one — meaning that East Germany was integrated into West Germany's governance structure and political, social and economic system.

"This is very different from what some Kashmiris are aiming at. In other words, the German reunification model would be applicable to Kashmir if the Pakistan-administered Kashmir wanted to be merged not only with the Indian part of Kashmir but also the Indian state," Wolf explained.

Read more: Families fear for their relatives in India-administered Kashmir

The expert told DW that for these and many other reasons, the German experience of reunification can hardly serve as a model for Kashmir.

"The German model was largely pushed by the pro-democracy movement in the former East Germany. Then West German society expressed solidarity with the activists on the other side of the Wall. An additional crucial factor was the support for reunification from major powers like the US and Russia. I don't see such a scenario for Kashmir," Wolf told DW.

The international community considers the Kashmir issue as a bilateral conflict between India and Pakistan. No big power in the world backs the idea of a free Kashmir.

But Syed from the Kashmir Council is of the view that despite differences, Kashmiris can learn a great deal from the German reunification process. "Three decades ago, it was unimaginable that Germany could be reunited. Kashmiris believe that if it could happen in Germany, it can also happen in their territory."

"Since August 5, Kashmiris on both sides of the LoC are more united than ever," he added.

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