Kashmir: A 50-Year Controversy - Hindu and Muslim Hatreds May Run Too Deep to Be Resolved by Governments in Either New Delhi or Islamabad

By Tkacik Jr., John H. | The World and I, May 2002 | Go to article overview

Kashmir: A 50-Year Controversy - Hindu and Muslim Hatreds May Run Too Deep to Be Resolved by Governments in Either New Delhi or Islamabad


Tkacik Jr., John H., The World and I


The December crisis between India and Pakistan, precipitated by the terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament (see sidebar, p. ???), was not sparked by simple terrorism but by the half-century fight over Kashmir that remains a festering sore in South Asia.

In his January 12 televised speech, President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan admitted for the first time that force cannot resolve the Kashmir question and invited India's prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, for talks. But he could not abandon Pakistan's moral and diplomatic support for the "freedom struggle" in Kashmir and called on the international community to help put an end to "state terrorism" in Kashmir, "in accordance with the wishes of the Kashmiri people."

A look at the history of the Kashmir dispute can help answer these questions: Is it now time for the international community to wade into the Kashmir dispute? Is the risk of war, perhaps even a nuclear exchange, so great that the United States cannot afford to remain aloof? Could international involvement make the matter worse? Or will it remain a quagmire ready to engulf all outsiders in a local war of ethnic hatreds?

History of a crisis

For nearly two centuries, Central Asia has been a chessboard. In 1819, Kashmir, Muslim since the reign of the Moguls, was invaded by Indian Sikhs led by British advisors. In 1847 the British sold the entire realm of Kashmir--land and people--to a Hindu maharajah, Gulab Sikh, for seven and a half million gold rupees (about 75 million dollars).

Queen Victoria retained sovereignty, but the maharajah took rule over its Muslim tribesmen in the high Karakoram, over 100,000 square miles of towering peaks and glacier fields between the Indian plain and the frontier deserts of western China and the Tibetan plateau.

Until August 1947, the autocratic rule of the Hindu maharajah of Jammu and Kashmir was tempered by the oversight of the British viceroy in Calcutta (and later Delhi) in the same way that the British ruled the other 564 feudal monarchies of the vast Indian subcontinent, whose domains comprised two-fifths of India and a population of 99 million.

But after World War II, an exhausted Great Britain no longer had the political will or the financial resources to continue as an imperial power in a world where imperialism had become a dirty word. With the election of a Labour Party government in London in May 1945, Britain finally agreed to an independent India, and wartime hero Lord Louis Mountbatten was named the "last viceroy" to supervise the transition to independence.

Just as the core of the Kashmir dispute is the ancient cleavage between Muslim and Hindu, the independence of India also hinged on the Muslim- Hindu divide. Hindus had resisted the British during the war, while the Muslims supported the empire.

When the time for independence came, Muslim leader Mohammed Ali Jinnah, citing his people's loyalty to the king, demanded a separate state for his people. This, of course, meant that the vast colonial territory of India had to be divided among two hostile populations. At first, Mountbatten tried to push the task onto the United Nations, but it declined. Mountbatten then recruited Sir Cyril Radcliffe as the author of one of cartographic history's greatest debacles. Radcliffe, director of the Ministry of Information in London, was neither a geographer nor an expert on India. Independence Day was to be August 14, 1947, and Radcliffe was given only 36 days to complete his work. Redrawing the map of India was a procrustean task that was completed hastily and haphazardly. It resulted in the amputation of India's two frontiers, East and West Pakistan, along a vague delineation of areas of Muslim majority. The feudal monarchies were given a choice of joining India or Pakistan.

Kashmir--a state between two nations

Shortly after independence, the monarchies had largely made their decisions; most joined India. …

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