by Muskan Mumtaz
Muskan Mumtaz is a junior at the University of Virginia.
Some say Srinagar is two thousand years old, and if you walk through the streets today, you’d agree that it looks like it’s from another time period. Medieval architecture, royal gardens and lakes all nestled between the Himalayan Mountains paint a picture of a grand, old city with heavy Buddhist and Perso-Islamic influences. Earlier this September, however, the city went underwater. The last stages of the monsoon rains raised flood levels to 25 feet  in some parts of the city and forced 200,000 people to evacuate their homes.  In total, 2.2 million people have been affected. 
In my short, romanticized description of Srinagar, I left out an important part of the story. After the British partitioned India and Pakistan in 1947, Indian-occupied Kashmir became a disputed territory. Srinagar, the flooded city, is the capital of Indian-occupied Kashmir. Since 1947, India and Pakistan have fought two wars and respectively spent millions on developing their nuclear programs in efforts to out-arm one another. More recently, in the 1990s, Pakistan funded Pakistani and native Kashmiri militants to fight for independence from Indian occupation. The Indian army retaliated by killing, raping, and torturing hundreds of thousands of innocent Kashmiris in the process.  Even today, Kashmir remains the most densely occupied region in the world, with one Indian soldier for every ten Kashmiris. 
Long story short, India acts as if Kashmir is an “integral part” of the Indian nation,  but in reality the state is perceived as a hostile, “un-Indian” territory that produces Pakistan-sympathizing terrorists. India has denied the United Nations and all other international humanitarian aid organizations from carrying out disaster relief in Kashmir. When the state of Gujarat, on the other hand, was hit by earthquakes, over 300 international organizations, including the United Nations Disaster Management Team, were welcomed to provide relief. 
It’s important that we don’t underestimate the importance of laws regulating disaster relief efforts. Elyse Mosquini, Senior Disaster Law Officer with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) states that “The images we most readily associate with disaster response are of the arrival and distribution of relief goods by all means of transportation—planes, helicopters, and convoys—all directed by so many ‘disaster cowboys.’ Less often do we think of the legal and regulatory systems within which disaster operations are conducted. [The role of lawyers and bureaucrats in] facilitating and regulating an effective response can be just as crucial to ensuring that critical relief swiftly reaches those most in need.” 
In 2008, the United Nations General Assembly passed three of the IFRC’s proposed resolutions for domestic facilitation and regulation of international disaster relief and initial recovery assistance. These three resolutions belong to a larger framework of the IDRL guidelines, which aim to remove unnecessary red tape in the form of “restrictions and delays in customs clearance for relief goods and equipment” as well as prevent “difficulties in legal registration for foreign humanitarian organizations, leading to restrictions in opening bank accounts and hiring local staff.”  Indian customs have denied relief goods collected by both members of the Kashmiri diaspora and non-Indian NGOs. Moreover, the IDRL fails to address situations in which a central government creates u legal hurdles in order to limit the development of an occupied territory.
In 2010, the Indian parliament severely limited NGO activity and the flow of foreign aid by rewriting the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act , with India claiming that NGO presence inhibits GDP growth by 2-3% each year, and that their activities must be curbed to help the domestic economy.  Al Jazeera writer Hafsa Kanjwal relates these limitations to the situation in Kashmir, arguing that “By keeping international agencies at bay, the Indian state, army and commercial enterprises have positioned themselves as the sole saviors of the Kashmiri people in their plight — thus enforcing the narrative that Kashmir needs India and cannot survive without its support.” 
Later in 2013, the Ministry of Home Affairs barred 4,000 NGOs for working “against the interests of the nation.”  This sort of stand-alone legal argument suggests that international aid to Kashmir is seen as against the interests of the Indian nation, further supporting the idea that Kashmir is not considered an “integral” part of the country. When the Pakistani-administered side of Kashmir had an earthquake in 2005, billions of dollars worth of international aid was funneled from both Western and Asian countries. Since then, the Pakistani side has experienced rapid development while the Indian occupied side remains stifled in its pre-militancy state. The intentions of the occupying government are unclear – does it want to keep Kashmir from developing like their Pakistani counterpart, or does it simply want to limit foreign aid during this time of crisis as a measure to protect GDP growth rates?
Most importantly, this situation raises the question of what the international legal community can do when its hands are tied by the domestic laws of an occupying force. The people of an occupied territory are reaching out to the United Nations and other international relief organizations – and these global actors can do nothing but stand by and watch. The U.N’s IDRL are only soft laws – simply a recommended set of guidelines. Kashmir has found itself in an unlikely but fatal situation, and it is looking to the world to pressure India to allow international relief.
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Photo credit: Flickr user McKay Savage