One of the salient features of 2016, not just in the South Asian region but in the entire world, was how the Kashmiri freedom struggle sparked up again, and caught international attention. The flashpoint for this was the killing of Burhan Muzaffar Wani, himself a sort of posterboy for the Kashmiri liberation struggle. The first sign that something extraordinary was afoot came from the reaction of the Kashmiri people to his killing.

Wani was killed in July, at the age of 26, when he was a commander in the Hizbul Mujahideen, which he had joined only two years before, and his funeral prayer was attended by 200,000 people, a massive gathering anywhere, let alone in a remote village, Tral, in Kashmir.

India, as expected, blamed Pakistan for backing Wani. Despite this, the Valley exploded in a paroxysm of grief. Wani had been a presence on the social media, and his death unleashed a wave of demonstrations, in all 10 districts of Held Kashmir, after July 8. Curfew was clamped down, and not lifted until August 31. No less than 85 civilians have been killed, and over 13,000 injured, with the police and the paramilitary using pellet guns, tear gas shells, rubber bullets, as well as assault rifles. The killing started on July 9, when 11 protesters were killed. 20 had been killed by the next day.

Apart from the deaths, the pellet injuries have been most frightful, with many of the injured either losing or in danger of losing their sight as weapons seem to have been aimed at their faces. This has perhaps been a more horrific atrocity than actually killing people, and seems to have caused a wave of revulsion among the international community. In July alone, at the SHMS Hospital in Srinagar only, there had been 137 eye surgeries performed, and 182 patients received.

However, before this developed, the international community found itself facing the prospect of an Indo-Pak war. This was because the Indian government raised the spectre of a surgical strike, and thus the possibility of conflict. Instead of acting to meet the demands of the protesters, India claimed that they were instigated by Pakistan. It then claimed on September 29 to have carried out a ‘surgical strike’ against militants’ training camps in Azad Jammu and Kashmir, after which the Pakistani military seemingly went ballistic proving that there had been no such strikes. Much effort went towards showing that Indian claims did not meet the definition of a surgical strike. Even the Indian opposition joined, leaving only the Indian government and the Indian Army still upholding the claim. It appears that there was pressure on the Indian Army to ‘do something’ in the face of the new uprising, and it engaged in firing across the Line of Control, calling this a ‘surgical strike’. So far, there have been over 300 violations of the ceasefire over the LoC. India has claimed that Pakistan has committed all of them, and vice versa. As a result, the 2003 ceasefire accord completely broke down, and Pakistan and India stood on the brink of nuclear conflict.

Ceasefire violations in 2014 and 2015 had brought the two countries to that position, but this was accompanied by a qualitative change in the Kashmir situation. The world watched as India and Pakistan came close to a conflict which would lead to fighting in Kashmir, but which would be nuclearized only in Indian or Pakistani territory. While so far India and Pakistan are planning counterforce targets for nuclear weapons, not counter value targets, and thus neither see a nuclear scenario in the Kashmir theatre. It might be another matter if India carries out even part of its dam-building programme in Held Kashmir, but that is long in the future. However, a nuclear conflict would have grave consequences for the rest of the world, and thus the Kashmir issue assumes a multilateral importance beyond its effect on multilateral ties.

This ensured that Pakistani Prime Minister was listened to carefully when he addressed the United Nations on September 22. The two countries had not entirely scaled back or climbed down from their positions, and the danger of war was not over. Mian Nawaz not only stressed the centrality of the Kashmir issue to peace, but also called for a UN enquiry into extrajudicial killings in Kashmir, and mentioned Burhan Muzaffar Wani in this context. However, the threat of war had retreated far enough for this to be ignored by the world community.

The return of the Kashmir issue to centrality is because of the readiness of the Kashmiri people to sacrifice themselves to win the right to self-determination. It is because the protests have continued, despite attempts by the Indian occupation forces to suppress them by brutal atrocities, that the USA appears ready to once again to attempt an intervention, if US Vice-President-elect Mike Pence is to be believed. His confident assertion that President-elect Donald Trump would be able to solve the Kashmir issue, is an acknowledgement that there is indeed an issue.

Ever since 1947, there have been almost constant ebullitions of the Kashmiri people, who have been single-minded in struggling for self-determination. First they resisted the Dogra Maharaja, and then the Indian regime. India has been in occupation since 1947, but has failed to convince the Kashmiri people that they remain in India. There have been previous uprisings, which have been brutally crushed. The 1989 uprising was expected to change things, but it did not. Rubaiya Sayeed was kidnapped by the freedom fighters, and as the daughter of the then Home Minister Mufti Sayeed, it was a dramatic occurrence. Her sister Mehbooba is now Chief Minister of Kashmir, and has to handle this uprising.

Though previous precedents have not been encouraging, 2016 may well be different. However, only time will tell whether the future historian of the Kashmiri people marks it as merely the anniversary of another uprising, or of the uprising that started the process that finally brought freedom to the Kashmiri people.