Interrogating the “Postconflict” in Indian-Occupied Kashmir

From the Series: The Politics of “Postconflict”: On the Ground in South Asia

Photo by Sara Shneiderman.

On November 26, 2003, the Indian state accepted Pakistan’s offer of a ceasefire along the Line of Control, the de facto border separating Indian- and Pakistani-controlled Kashmir. In a statement, Pakistan’s prime minister called for the “resolution of all differences . . . including the issue of Jammu and Kashmir.” While grandiose in scope, the ceasefire was accompanied by only piecemeal efforts of increased people-to-people contact across the border. Rather than bring peace, the agreement—which has since been broken many times—only reified the sense that Kashmir was nothing more than a border dispute between the two states. In 2008, Kashmiri activists organized a protest march to the road connecting Srinagar and Muzzafarabad, the capitals of the two Kashmirs. Although the protest ended in tragedy, it articulated a future vision of a united and free Kashmir.

The Indian state views the armed insurgency that began in 1988 as Pakistan-sponsored terrorism designed to destabilize a secular, Indian democracy.1 This perspective glosses over the historical roots of the azadi (self-determination or independence) movement within Kashmir and also fails to consider how the occupation of Kashmir is, and has been, foundational to Indian democracy. Meanwhile, pro-azadi and pro-Indian political parties jostle for political power and popular support.2 At stake in these divergent political positions, whose diversity I cannot do justice to here, are distinct visions for the future and different promises of what the post- of postconflict might hold for Kashmir.

For Kashmiris, the ceasefire has not changed the nature or intensity of military occupation. If anything, it has made clear the Indian state’s willingness to indefinitely perpetrate conditions of what Jeffrey Sluka (2009) has called “not-war-not-peace” without renouncing its claims of upholding democracy. As Kamala Visweswaran (2013, 15) has recently written, in addition to controlling land or territory, occupation “also seeks to violently remake the culture of a subjugated people by changing its internal fabric or patterning.” A view from South Asia thus offers an opportunity to test the analytical limits of postconflict. For those living under long-term occupations like Kashmir, the implied spatial and temporal separation of a time in conflict from a time after conflict does not resonate. It does not account for how violence inhabits bodies and life itself. Kashmiris speak of occupation as habitus: walk quickly and with your head down. Remain alert at all times; call your mother if you are going to be late in the evening, no matter your age. When I raised the question of postconflict with Kashmiri friends, they resisted it. I understand this resistance as a political act: how can we think of postconflict when we are still living under occupation?

We can also challenge the post- of postconflict for implying a future divorced from the present. While the Indian state treats Kashmir as a conflict-ridden region and refuses to demilitarize its six hundred thousand troops despite consistently putting the total number of armed insurgents at less than two hundred, it simultaneously pursues projects of postconflict reconstruction. Since 1998, the state has devised humanitarian projects designed to win hearts and minds. As the former Chief of Army Staff General J. J. Singh memorably stated, such peace-building strategies are “the iron fist in a velvet glove.” The alignment of humanitarianism and military intervention shows how conflict conditions and an imagined postconflict future can exist simultaneously.

While robust public debate on Kashmir’s future is not currently possible, there exist visions of alternate futures within the concept of azadi or freedom. The writer of an op-ed in a Kashmiri newspaper asked: “Is it freedom from India alone that we seek? Or does freedom also mean an end to inequality, injustice, hunger and poverty?” Similarly, during the Q&A session at a film screening I attended this past summer, an audience member pointed out that while the “Maoist struggle was thoroughly materialistic, our struggle in Kashmir is not materialistic . . . it exceeds this world.” This statement challenged notions of a territorially based sovereignty. As other Kashmiri intellectuals have pointed out, a real conversation on postconflict Kashmir requires a rethinking of sovereignty itself, as well as a radical revision of the violence and possibilities of the nation-states of India, Pakistan, and Kashmir, respectively.

As the young Kashmiri poet Uzma Falak writes in her poem, “The Seamstress”:

Who would have dreamt of colored shrouds in war?

Sewn by pale but promising hands

and autumnal eyes which blinked only to

wait, witness, and dream

As Kashmiris wait and bear witness to the occupation, the challenge is for those “promising hands” to keep stitching new freedoms and possibilities.


1. Some who live in the state of Jammu and Kashmir express solidarity with India, primarily Buddhists in Ladakh and Hindu populations in Jammu. In the last few decades, there has been a steady influx of Hindus into the Jammu region (Visweswaran 2013, 13). The last census, taken in 2001, estimated that Muslims constituted 68 percent of the state’s population.

2. Support for pro-Indian political parties has largely been shaped around patron–client relationships, whereas pro-azadi parties face continued repression by the Indian state. I thank Wajahat Ahmad for this point.


Sluka, Jeffrey A. 2009. “In the Shadow of the Gun: ‘Not-War-Not-Peace’ and the Future of Conflict in Northern Ireland.” Critique of Anthropology 29, no. 3: 279–99.

Visweswaran, Kamala. 2013. “Introduction: Geographies of Everyday Occupation.” In Everyday Occupations: Experiencing Militarism in South Asia and the Middle East, edited by Kamal Visweswaran, 1–28. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.