Contending Nationalisms: Kashmir and the Prospects for Peace

By Chenoy, Kamal | Harvard International Review, Fall 2006 | Go to article overview

Contending Nationalisms: Kashmir and the Prospects for Peace


Chenoy, Kamal, Harvard International Review


Since 1947 the Kashmir dispute has bedeviled relations between Pakistan and India. It has led to three separate wars, in 1947, 1965, and 1971, and a serious armed conflict in Kargil in 1999. In addition, because both countries are declared nuclear weapons states, Indo-Pak hostilities may have serious repercussions for South Asian relations in the future. Although attempts at regional cooperation--such as the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation and the South Asia Free Trade Agreement--have been made in the past, almost all of them have floundered without making any meaningful progress.

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The roots of the Kashmir conflict lie beyond the controversial accession of Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir to India; the core tension between the two countries is the confrontation between their two nationalisms. Pakistani nationalism and the "two-nation theory" are founded upon the belief that Muslims would be oppressed under Hindu-majority rule; hence the need for a Muslim state that is separate from Hindu-majority India. And since Kashmir (shorthand for Jammu and Kashmir) is a Muslim-majority state and is part of the unfinished agenda of the 1947 Partition, it should therefore belong to Pakistan. On the other hand, Indian nationalism is secular and initially opposed the idea of Pakistan. It believes that Muslims, Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Parsis, and Jews can live together under one unified nation as they have done for centuries. Kashmir is critical to Indian nationalism because ceding Kashmir would represent a defeat of Indian secularism in a Muslim-majority state. As a result, Kashmir has become hostage to these bitterly contending nationalisms.

Nationalist Struggles and Problems of Governance

India has always recognized the unique nature of Kashmir and, in 1949, incorporated it as such into the Indian Constitution. The special Article 370 granted most governing powers to the Kashmiris, except for some critical powers such as defense, foreign affairs, currency, and communications, which remained vested with the federal government. Kashmiris received their own constitution and flag, and the Kashmir Assembly was to decide which Indian laws, if any, would be permitted to apply to Kashmir. These concessions were quite remarkable for a constitution that was otherwise centralized and never once mentioned the word "federal."

The powers of the Kashmir Constitution, however, did not last long. By 1953 Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru could no longer stomach the popular Kashmiri Prime Minister Sheikh Abdullah's assertions of Kashmir's autonomy or even independence from India. Sheikh Abdullah was summarily removed and placed under house arrest. Soon afterwards, Article 370 was systematically whittled down at the behest of the central government by pliant assemblies produced by rigged elections.

The growing Kashmiri tension did not become militarized until the 1987 elections, wherein opposition Muslim United Front candidates were robbed of a significant number of seats while counting agents and candidates were beaten and thrown out of counting centers. In response, large numbers of Kashmiri youth crossed over the border to Pakistan and were trained and armed. This led to the Kashmir insurgency, which by 1989 was backed by a wave of popular support within Kashmir and Pakistan.

Though Pakistan trained and armed the young Kashmiris who had crossed over to garner support for their "freedom struggle," the provocation arose primarily from India, not Pakistan. Henceforth, Pakistani-trained militants, most of whom were non-Kashmiri, have fought against the Indian security forces in Kashmir, marking a new stage in the dispute. The violence spread, and terrorist attacks were launched against innocent civilians throughout the rest of India, causing thousands of civilian deaths. In retaliation, sectarian Hindu parties have invoked the Kashmir struggle to identify Indian Muslims with Pakistan. …

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