Kashmir and Palestine are two nations with too long a history but too small a geography. A history of mass-historical blunders; of occupation and oppression; of resistance and rebellion; of angst and determination; of hope and despair; of nation and nationhood; and of belief and belongings. A geography whose walls of blood and horror are viewed as an exhibit in a case by outsiders but have no windows to the outside world; an odd conjecture yet fitting for Kashmir and Palestine. What broadly connects the two nations and elucidates their otherwise fairly indifferent marginal existence is their mutual expression of “Resistance against Occupation”. With the Palestinian struggle being recognised the world over, Kashmir remains peevishly in the margins of 18 UN Security Council Resolutions like an abject letter bearing an unknown address.
Although the din of death is heard constantly in Kashmir, the people have kept supporting the Palestinian freedom struggle persuasively but persistently, primarily because both territories have been pierced by occupation. Furthermore, Kashmir is a predominantly Muslim area and most Kashmiris associate themselves with Palestine for the religious sanctity it embodies within Islam. The former Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Shaikh Amin Al-Husseini, was a staunch critic of India’s claim over Kashmir, reflecting reciprocity from Palestinians. Kashmiri poet Uzma Falak argues that Palestinians have travelled and fought in Kashmir against Indian occupation. Despite the geo-political realities, the voracious and indiscriminate bond of brotherhood and solidarity adorns the walls in Kashmir with graffiti such as “Save Gaza, free Palestine”, “Freedom: from Al-Aqsa to Kashmir”, and vice-versa. No matter how bestial the enemy is, the determination to resist confirms that Kashmiris and Palestinians have always eviscerated the occupiers because their faith in their struggle is greater than the fear institutionalised by the occupation.
The relationship between those occupiers, India and Israel, is described by analysts as a “full-blown romance” and has dominated the news and international politics much more than the territories they are occupying illegally. The overt-covert, official-unofficial overtures between the two are stirring up a hornet’s nest, with serious ramifications, particularly for the Middle East and Global South Asia. The relationship between them has a commonality in links with the US, and the axis largely bears the imprint of American interests in the region. To undermine the growing economic influence of China, the US pursues its containment policy meticulously by pushing American and Israeli economic interests in the Indian markets. Israel is the largest beneficiary of US aid and this comes with its own terms and conditions. It generally spends this aid on technology, capacity building and the development of its military-industrial complex; the fruit of this is then sold on to the Indian government through defence agreements. Pakistan, of course, is the elephant in the room, and apprehension about this nuclear power is a shared concern of all three. In every scenario, though, the US dominates the political chessboard of arms and aid in this part of the world.
The 9/11 attacks on the US mainland caused unexpected paradigmatic shifts in international politics, leading to extreme vetting of joint cooperation and revamped pledges of allegiance to new holy-unholy alliances. In an unpleasantly disparaging gesture, US-Israel-India became natural allies overnight; suddenly, being critical of, or showing resentment towards this axis meant being viewed as hostile towards secular-progressive-democratic forces in the world. The shift in diplomatic nomenclature and the orientation of attitudes between Israel and India have changed drastically in recent years.
This odd farrago between India and Israel reveals historical conformities with a dash of deep-state lobbying. In 1968, India started to engage with Israel through its newly-created intelligence agency called the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). The then director of RAW, R.N. Kao, established healthy connections with Israel’s Mossad spy agency at the behest of Prime Minister Indira Ghandi. Since independence in 1947, India had maintained frequent contacts with Arab states to meet its trade and energy requirements; with an economy that was not just stumbling but stuttering, New Delhi fostered soft power and kept its economic stakes alive with the Arab world. India continued rather cleverly to avoid diplomatic relations with Israel at an official level, but allowed the RAW-Mossad nexus to keep growing, so much so that Israeli General Moshe Dayan regularly met RAW spymasters in Nepal. The Indian government had hardly opened its markets and adopted a policy of economic liberalisation when it dropped its “damned and doomed approach” and ties with Israel were normalised; the first Israeli Embassy was opened in Delhi in 1992.
The post-Cold War realities reduced the dilemmas and political complexities in both countries and contacts between them unfolded in real time, vindicating the pivotal role played by shadow diplomacy in the establishment of formal ties. Initially, India ruled out any defence and security deals with Israel, such as the purchase of “remotely piloted vehicles” (RPVs) in 1994 by the defence research and development organisation (DRDO), but in his book “Indo-Russian relations: problems, prospects and Russia today”, author V.D. Chopra states explicitly that “all the first fifty meetings [between the Indians and Israelis] were about defence cooperation and the subject matter was deliberately kept secret by India”. In the defence, security and intelligence sectors, the strategic cooperation between the two reigned supreme. Israel defence company Soltam supplied India with its Green Pine radar system that monitors and intercepts ballistic missiles as well as its night vision systems, which played a major role in the Kargil War with Pakistan in 1999.
In a bid to build up its military capabilities, India has purchased defence-related equipment and services from Israel worth more than $10 billion and has become the largest importer of Israeli arms. It has purchased more drones from Israel than anyone else in the past decade, and uses them in Kashmir. Declining a US offer of Javelin missiles, India instead closed a $525 million deal with Rafael Advanced Defence Systems to buy Spike anti-tank guided missiles. Israel has also provided upgraded cyber security systems to India, which are on full display in Kashmir and its north-east states.
With populist politics on the rise in major democratic nations, democracy itself seems to be on its knees and reveals an inherent weakness when the values it claims to uphold are so often abandoned in practice. While showcasing a democratic outlook, India and Israel have no compunction about simultaneously criminalising legitimate dissent in the territories they occupy. Amnesty international and Human Rights Watch reports confirm that, “In Kashmir, India unleashes its military might and stifles the dissent by taking recourse to draconian laws like the AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act) and PSA (Public Safety Act).” In Palestine, meanwhile, Israel invokes its brutal “military order 101”. Both India and Israel quickly jumped on the global war on terror bandwagon and seized the moment to link resistance in the occupied territories with “terrorism” and “Islamic fundamentalism”; in the meantime, both are unabashed about their own war crimes and human rights violations.
All at once, India is one thing and many things. It recognises and supports the Palestinian cause but summarily remains complicit in illegal Israeli settlements and abstains from UNHRC votes to avoid conducting an enquiry into Israel’s human rights violations, for which the Israeli Ambassador in New Delhi, Daniel Cameron, thanked India for not getting involved in some international Israel bashing. The Economist report on “Netanyahu pivots to Asia” concedes that Indian diplomats once asked their Israeli counterparts, “Why should Israel care about votes in the UN when India is buying $7 billion of Israeli arms?” In international forums, India accepts that Kashmir is a dispute with Pakistan, to be settled mutually by taking the pro-freedom Kashmiri leadership into its confidence. However, with false pride and nationalistic snobbery, New Delhi evades the Kashmir issue in every bilateral forum with Pakistan by referring to it as a domestic issue and a simple matter of law and order. To Indian citizens, Kashmir is projected as an integral part of the state and then brushed under the carpet as a matter of national security. Other than rose-tinted, romanticised adventures, Kashmir usually remains off the negotiation table.
Ever since the BJP came into power in India as a right-wing nationalist party with proven fascist tendencies, the political climate and social fabric has received a series of blows. The party has institutionalised force by making fear pervasive, resulting in an unprecedented surge in Islamophobic incidents across the country. The BJP’s politics depends on a majoritarian-Hindutva narrative, and uses Islamophobia as a tool for political subjugation. The anti-Muslim, anti-minority and anti-intellectual prejudice permeates political life extensively, from the counter terrorism policy pursued by the state to the tacit approval it has given to cow-vigilantes who have committed some harrowing crimes in the past three years. In style and character, the power structure and subsequent consolidation trend is quite similar to that followed by Israel against the Palestinians. This utter disregard for human brotherhood, dignity, equality, liberty and freedom reveals how both countries are making a mockery of open government and how the global advocates of democracy maintain a criminal silence to protect their own economic and national interests.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.