ON MAY 11, 1995, THE BITTER CONflict raging throughout the Kashmir Valley claimed new victims. The shrine of Sheik Nooruddin Wali and the town surrounding it, Charar-i-Sharief, were burned to the ground. The five hundre-year-old shrine of Kashmir's patron saint was the most holy place in the Valley, and its destruction was unusually severe--even for the already savage struggle between Pakistani-backed Muslim militants and Indian government troops. Each side blamed the other for the loss. The popular protests that erupted across the Valley in response to the devastation of Charar-i-Sharief once again demonstrated India's lack of popularity and credibility inside Kashmir. The protests, combined with the strength of the militants, forced the federal government to postpone a planned local election. Strengthened by widespread Kashmiri anger towards India, the militants have stalemated the numerically superior Indian army, as this Hindu-Muslim conflict, now in its sixth year, shows no signs of abating.
The Road to Rebellion
The current war over the Valley is only the latest installment of a larger conflict begun in 1947 with the British partition of the Indian sub-continent. British India at the time included a number of nominally independent princely states whose rulers were given the choice of accession to either Pakistan or India. Kashmir then, as now, presented a problem. On the border between Pakistan and India, Kashmir was a tinderbox, a largely Muslim state ruled by a Hindu leader and characterized by a strong sense of independence. Before the issue of accession could be resolved, Muslim tribesmen from Pakistan invaded Kashmir in an attempt to seize it, forcing the Kashmiri ruler to turn to the Indian government for support. In the war that followed, Indian forces repulsed the Pakistanis, leaving them with approximately one third of the state's territory.
The partition of Kashmir between India and Pakistan failed to resolve the situation, for the Indian portion of Kashmir still retained a restive Muslim majority. The Kashmir Valley, the largest of the three regions of Indian Kashmir with just over half the total population, is overwhelmingly Muslim (94 percent as of 1981) and serves as the focus of the rebellion. The other two districts are Jammu, which is almost as populous as the Valley and mainly Hindu, and Ladakh, which is sparsely populated and mostly Buddhist. The patchwork of ethnicities and religions which comprised Kashmir after the war almost guaranteed that the region would not stay quiet, though the intense conflict that exists now is a fairly recent occurrence.
Although the first militant group traces its roots back to the 1960's, the true starting point of the struggle was the failed elections in 1987, which many Muslims in the Valley believed were rigged by the Indian government. Prodded by their increasing mistrust of the government, Kashmiris began to turn in large numbers to the militant groups. A series of Indian miscalculations (abetted by Pakistani provocateurs) turned the situation into a powder-keg, and the imposition of direct rule from New Delhi in 1990 lit the fuse. For a time, the intensity of the rebellion raised fears of a fourth war between India and Pakistan. Instead, the current conflict over Kashmir has evolved into a bloody and deadlocked internal war.
The Current Confusion
The prevailing standoff is testimony to the strength and determination of the insurgents, as India has inundated the Valley with soldiers and paramilitary central police. However, the Indian government has met with little success in dispersing the militants. By the summer of 1995, estimates of the total number of Indian troops in Kashmir ranged from 300,000 to 500,000. While many of those troops guard the border with Pakistan, the number devoted to crushing the rebellion is still extraordinary, given that the total population of the Kashmir valley according to the 1981 census was only 3. …