By revoking autonomy from Kashmir, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is taking a page straight out of the Israeli playbook.
By Abdulla Moaswes
The last few weeks have seen a sharp escalation in tensions in the Indian-occupied Jammu and Kashmir, ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi revoked the territory’s long-standing autonomy, putting it on lockdown and plunging the region into chaos.
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India has ordered all tourists and religious pilgrims to evacuate the territory, while sending in tens of thousands of armed soldiers and shutting down virtually all telecommunication networks. These soldiers join an occupying force estimated to number within the hundreds of thousands in what is already considered the most militarized place on earth.
India’s oppression of Kashmiris, however, cannot be seen in a vacuum. Over the past decades, the country’s growing ties with Israel have created a situation in which the the oppression of Kashmir is linked to Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.
The Indian occupation of Kashmir and the establishment of Israel in 1948, which resulted in the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, began only months apart from one another. In July 1949, two years after India and Pakistan declared independence from British rule, the two countries signed an agreement to establish a ceasefire line, dividing the Kashmir region between them. Indian rule in the territory has led to decades of unrest.
Although the Indian presence in Kashmir never amounted to settler colonialism like in the Palestinian case, where a large proportion of the existing population of the region was expelled and replaced by a settler population, India has maintained a heavy military presence in the area and has acted as a police state vis-à-vis Kashmiri civilians and politicians.
Kashmiri solidarity with the Palestinians can be traced as far back as the 1950s and 60s, when the Kashmir liberation movement sought to align itself with other anti-imperialist struggles abroad. It was also during this period when India first established relations with Israel. Although then Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru publicly championed the Palestinian cause, he permitted the opening of an Israeli consulate in Mumbai in 1953. The consulate gathered information on India’s Evacuee Property Laws, which served as a model for Israel’s Absentee Property Law, a legal instrument that allowed the state to expropriate land belonging to Palestinian refugees.
The late stages of the Cold War saw a dramatic improvement in Indian-Israeli relations. In 1992, under the premiership of Narasimha Rao, a member of the Indian National Congress, India and Israel established normal relations, with India opening an embassy in Tel Aviv in January. Two main factors explain this development, both of which are related to the outbreak of the First Intifada against Israel’s occupation as well as armed insurrection in Kashmir against Indian rule in the late 1980s.
The first reason stems from the decline of the Soviet Union, which forced India to search for a new supplier of arms and military technology. Israel, whose flagging economy at the time necessitated entering new markets, represented an ideal partner. The relationship was further strengthened when the U.S. imposed sanctions on arms sales to India after the latter conducted nuclear tests in 1998. Those sanctions resulted in India becoming Israel’s largest client for arms and military technology, a legacy that persists until today.
The second reason is based on the convergence of the logic that Israel and India employed in suppressing popular resistance in the occupied territories and armed insurrection in Kashmir, respectively, highlighting issues of security, counterterrorism and the threat of Islamic extremism. In 1992, then Indian Defense Minister Sharad Pawar admitted to Indian-Israeli cooperation on issues of counterterrorism, including exchanging information on so-called terrorist groups, national doctrines, and operational experience – in other words, strategies, methods, and tactics of occupation and domination. This lead to a shift in India’s position on Palestine, which began mirroring Israel’s insistence that Kashmir was primarily a matter of Indian domestic concern.
Between Zionism and Hindu nationalism
Relations between India and Israel grew even closer with the rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party in the 1990s. The BJP, which today is led by Modi, adheres to the political ideology known as Hindutva, or Hindu Nationalism. The history of Hindu nationalists’ affinity with Zionism is well documented by professor Sumantra Bose of the London School of Economics, who traces it back to the 1920s when Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, the father of Hindutva, supported the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine. The BJP and other Hindu Nationalists have since become obsessed with replicating the Zionist project in turning a constitutionally secular India into a Hindu ethnocratic state.
Many of the BJP’s aspirations and policy proposals for Kashmir are imitations of extant Israeli practices in Palestine. Key among these is the desire to build Israeli-style Hindu-only settlements in Kashmir as a way of instigating demographic change. For example, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a non-state volunteer Hindu paramilitary volunteer group to which the BJP are affiliated, have long desired the repeal of the state subject laws that have maintained the demographic make-up of Kashmir.
These changes are clearly inspired by the Israeli settlement model, as expressed by BJP lawmaker Ravinder Raina, who, in 2015, stated that the government of India will use its army to protect Hindu-only settlements in Jammu and Kashmir. This type of securitization and protection would entail an expansion of the security apparatus that already restricts the flow of life for most Kashmiris, using them as a pretext to justify a new level of domination and intrusiveness.
Aside from the parallels in policy objectives, the discourse used by supporters of the current regime in India resemble old Israeli refrains. Both Israel and India claim to be exceptional democracies, despite their treatment of large swaths of populations under their control. Additionally, both Zionists and Hindu Nationalists argue that the existence of many Muslim countries in the world necessitates a Jewish and Hindu state, respectively. This perpetuates the lie that Palestinians and Indian Muslims can supposedly live elsewhere, yet choose to live in Palestine and India only to antagonize Jews and Hindus.
Meanwhile, the variety of tactics used by India to control the civilian population of Kashmir strongly resembles those used by Israel in Palestine. These include, “arbitrary arrests, extra-judicial killings, enforced disappearances, curfews, collective punishment, administrative detention, torture, rape and sexual abuse, the suppression of freedom of speech and assembly, house demolitions, and so forth.”
Decades of solidarity
The bond of solidarity that exists between Palestinians and Kashmiris runs deep, and can be traced as far back as the 1960s, when protests erupted in Kashmir over Israel’s behavior around Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa Mosque, resulting in deaths and curfews. Since then, Kashmiri solidarity with the Palestinian cause can be loosely understood as having gone through three, relatively overlapping stages.
The first of these stages, which began during the 1960s, saw the Kashmiri Plebiscite Front first cast India as an “imperialist state” that rejected the Kashmiri right to self-determination. In doing this, the Kashmiri liberation movement aligned itself with similar global causes, including the Vietnamese struggle against the United States, the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, and the Palestinian struggle against Israel. Kashmiri scholar Mohamad Junaid writes that Palestine “became an evocative metaphor among Kashmiris to describe their own condition, reflecting an incipient fear of ethnic cleansing, land dispossession, and an ever-tightening architecture of the occupation.”
The second stage, which began during the 1980s, saw the basis of solidarity take on a more religious character. This period coincided with the Afghan Jihad against the Soviet Union, which indirectly led to the rise of armed Islamist resistance groups such as Hamas in Palestine and Hizb-ul-Mujahideen in Kashmir. Rather than the discourse of solidarity being based largely in the language of anti-imperalism and nationalism, it became characterized by concepts of jihad and Islamic solidarity. This trend was further strengthened during the 1990s with the rise of the BJP, which led to an increase in communal tensions and insecurity surrounding Muslim life in India.
The third and current stage of Kashmiri-Palestinian solidarity comes as a response to the growing ties between India and Israel. It has no longer become accurate for Palestinians and Kashmiris to view Israel and India as simply analogous oppressors — many now view them as partners in occupation. As has been demonstrated by the transnational Palestinian response to the recent events, solidarity with Kashmir has taken on an increasingly more practical importance.
An instrument of surrender
The revocation of Articles 35A and 370 paves the way for Indian presence in Kashmir to further mirror Zionist presence in historic Palestine, since this allows the Indian state to rule Kashmir directly without the need for Kashmir’s state legislature, which was also recently abolished. Furthermore, it facilitates the execution of plans to alter the demographic make-up of Kashmir by allowing Indians from across the country to purchase property and settle there under the protection of the Indian military presence, just as the demographic make-up of the West Bank continues to be altered with the construction of Jewish-only settlements.
The Kashmiri state legislature and its main politicians, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti, have long acted as middlemen who manage the natives on behalf of the occupying power, facilitating the occupation in much the same way as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas does in the West Bank. Just as Edward Said once referred to the Oslo Accords as “an instrument of Palestinian surrender,” many Kashmiris regard the 1975 Indira-Sheikh Accord as a betrayal of past liberation movements. The Accord allowed previously popular Kashmiri leader Sheikh Abdullah to become the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir in exchange for forfeiting the longstanding Kashmiri demand for self-determination.
With the unprecedented change of Jammu and Kashmir’s legal status from a special status state to a union territory without a legislative assembly, India’s colonial domination over the contested region will only become more overtly coercive in representing Indian interests. This is a crucial development to be observed closely by Palestinians who live in areas where the Israeli occupation is currently facilitated by the Palestinian Authority.
As things move forward, it is increasingly clear that the colonial processes in Kashmir and Palestine will become further interdependent on one another. What Israel does in Palestine is likely to happen in Kashmir, and what India does in Kashmir is likely to happen in Palestine. In aiming to dismantle Israeli apartheid and settler colonialism, it is essential to observe its global consequences, for it is highly likely that these interdependent processes will require a multilateral confrontation.
Abdulla Moaswes is a Palestinian lecturer in media studies and the social sciences. He is a graduate of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) and the University of Exeter and his research focuses on transregional linkages between the Middle East and South Asia. Follow him on Twitter @KarakMufti.