The Kashmir Imbroglio

The World and I, May 2002 | Go to article overview

The Kashmir Imbroglio


The Special Report in Current Issues this month deals with the contentious relationship between India and Pakistan. The central focus of the issues between them is Kashmir. And Kashmir is merely one example of a much broader international problem: that of maintaining the integrity of the territorial state, although this latter issue is complicated by Muslim fundamentalism in the case of Kashmir.

When the Indian subcontinent gained its independence from Great Britain in the aftermath of World War II, the British decided to break it up into two states, one largely Hindu and the other largely Muslim, although each state would contain large minorities of the other ethnicity. This led to considerable brutal ethnic cleansing in these early years.

Some of the Indian substates were ruled by local monarchs who could choose which of the two successor states they would join. Kashmir was largely Muslim but was ruled by a Hindu, who chose accession to India. A war followed that left the bulk of Kashmir in India. Since then Kashmir has been a bone of contention between India and Pakistan. Terrorism has intermittently been sponsored by Pakistan and brutal repression of the indigenous population by India. There can be little doubt that in a fair election the majority would opt for independence or accession to Pakistan, while the minority likely would resist either course.

Why could there not be a further division of Kashmir? Conceivably this might be acceptable to Pakistan, but it would be resisted bitterly by India for perfectly good reasons. India is a nation with many minorities that chafe under central rule. Indian acceptance of such a compromise, apart from nationalistic sentiments, would be seen as threatening the dissolution of India. But Pakistan also has a problem. It has already lost Bangladesh, and there are more Pashtuns in Pakistan than in Afghanistan, where they are 40 percent of the population.

A similar problem confronts Russia in Chechnya. The great bulk of the population likely would vote for independence in a free election. However, if Russia acceded to this, not only would it be threatened by a further breakup of the Russian Federation but the independent Muslim states of the former Soviet Union would come under additional pressure from Muslim extremists.

The former Yugoslavia faced similar problems. Indeed, Russia and the West opposed the breakup of Bosnia, where the accession of Serb and Croatian minorities to Serbia and Croatia would otherwise make considerable sense, precisely because they wanted to dampen such devolutionary tendencies.

The world is filled with similar problems. Turkey, Iran, and Iraq have a Kurdish problem. Iraq also has a Shiite problem. A continued Mexican influx into California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas may, unless we are very wise, someday create a major problem for the United States, particularly if we continue with the idea of more than one legal language.

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