The situation in the disputed territory of Kashmir became even tenser Tuesday with the assassination of moderate Kashmiri nationalist leader Abdul Gani Lone. The Independent’s correspondent said, “Many people die violent deaths in Kashmir every day, largely ignored by a world that has grown sick of a dispute that got stuck in the mud of history round about 1948. But the murder … [of] Lone is terrible news for anybody who dreams that Kashmir’s suffering might one day come to an end.” An op-ed in the Hindustan Times declared, “His murder sends out the message that all-pervading violence … will dominate the social and political scene in [Kashmir] for the time being. It also signals the subservience to the gun of the state’s separatist political activity.”
The 70-year-old Lone was involved in politics for more than 30 years, serving as one of the founders of the 23-party coalition Hurriyat Conference, an umbrella group of Kashmiri separatists. Until as recently as four years ago he welcomed the participation of foreign jihadis in the fight against Indian rule of Kashmir, but in his last interview, conducted Tuesday morning, he told the Independent: “The Jihadis have their own agenda. I welcomed them when they came in 1998 because we were under very great pressure. But when they attacked … targets in India, I said, for God’s sake, leave us to our fate. This is our struggle, we should be in the driving seat.” Lone’s rejection of foreign mercenaries and his evolving belief that Hurriyat should change its policy and participate in elections this fall made him a target for hard-liners. According to the Times of India, “Caught between the government’s unrealistic expectations of him and the militants’ growing sense of betrayal, Lone grew vulnerable by the day. His was an assassination waiting to happen.”
Several papers offered motives for Lone’s murder. The Times of India declared, “Undoubtedly, the intention of the assassins is to terrify the Kashmiri people and silence all voices of sanity before the September elections.” The Indian Express agreed: “The terrorists and those patronising them from across the border know only too well that a successful election is not in their interests. If the Indian government is able to show the world that a free and fair election … can be held in the state even under the present circumstances, Pakistan’s claims will lose whatever little appeal they had among some Islamists. So it is in their interests to step up violence and create situations whereby it would be impossible for saner elements like Lone to even think of participating in the elections.” The Hindustan Times blamedjihadi groups who want to dissuade Kashmiri leaders from participating in the fall’s elections. It said Lone’s killing “has sent two messages. One, helping India bring an end to the Kashmir insurgency is a death warrant. Two, a Hurriyat politically independent of jehadis will not be tolerated.”
Even before Lone’s death, nearly 1 million troops were assembled on the Indian-Pakistani border. The Times of India reported Wednesday that New Delhi is considering recalling military personnel from leave and redeploying troops on peacekeeping duties in Gujarat—in short that the army is in “war mode.” Britain’s Daily Telegraph said Pakistan has “responded by calling up army reserves, retired officers and civil defence units and has emptied government hospital beds to prepare for casualties.”Britain, the United States, and the European Union are all sending diplomats to the subcontinent in the coming days in a bid to avert conflict. In their coverage of the Kashmir crisis, British papers the Guardian, the Telegraph, and the Times all used the words “nuclear” and “fear” or “threat” in headlines.
On the subcontinent, the papers asked why the United States has not stepped in. The Indian Express said that Washington “seems to have become pre-occupied with other issues like its nuclear deal with Russia.” It continued, “Either the West has not grasped the import of what is happening in the subcontinent, or it assumes—like Islamabad does—that New Delhi will respond with restraint, in accordance with its interests.” Pakistan’s News International similarly resented America’s “cold” response: “Unlike the brisk diplomacy spurred by September 11 disaster that saw leaders of western countries shuttling all over the world seeking alliances against terrorism, chances of war in South Asia with the possibility of nukes being used has so far only prompted half-hearted calls for restraint.” The Nation of Pakistan concluded:
Pakistan may be the US ally but India pulls more weight in Washington. With the end of the cold war, American suspicions of a non-aligned India with close ties to the Soviet Union have dissipated. India’s economic reforms have moved the country away from its quasi-socialist practices, opening a huge market of one billion potential consumers to US businesses. From the US point of view, Pakistan may be America’s wartime ally but it is India that offers the prospect of long-term friendship.