Kashmir

By Ninian, Alex | Contemporary Review, Summer 2007 | Go to article overview

Kashmir


Ninian, Alex, Contemporary Review


THE part of the world now known as Jammu and Kashmir is a legendarily beautiful mountainous region of some seven million people located where the borders of India, Pakistan and China meet. It is dominated by the Himalayan mountains which rise to 28,000 feet. The area has a history going back thousands of years and has had, in its time, many conflicts. But the region, known mostly by the abbreviated name of Kashmir, is now characterized by the conflict which has been going on for the last sixty years between India and Pakistan over its sovereignty. As recently as 12 June three Indian soldiers and three separatist militants were killed in a fierce battle near the Pakistan border.

In 1947 when the British were leaving India the decision was made to partition old India into the new Pakistan and India for largely religious reasons, with boundaries largely determined by the religious affiliations of the majority groups--that is to say mainly Hindu India and mainly Muslim Pakistan. One of the knottiest problems was the state of Jammu and Kashmir. It had a majority Muslim population overall, but the Jammu region within it had a Hindu majority and the Ladakh region had a Buddhist majority. It was also argued by some that the population would prefer a secular constitution like that of India. In the event the Maharajah of Jammu and Kashmir opted for it to join India but with the retiring British Governor General of India, Lord Mountbatten, recommending that there should be an early plebiscite of the local population to determine the popular view on their preferred allegiance. The proposal for a plebiscite was agreed by the new governments of India and Pakistan and endorsed by the United Nations Security Council. Almost immediately after partition, over 1947-8, there was war between India and Pakistan in the area and no plebiscite to resolve the issue has ever been held, and the region has continued to be the subject of dispute, claim and counter-claim.

India has fought three wars with Pakistan in 1947, 1965, and 1999 and one with China in 1962 over Kashmir. As a result of the conflicts Pakistan and China have gained territory claimed by India, although India has held on to the most populated areas. The line which divides the area held by Pakistan and that held by India is designated the Line of Control and has over the years become the de facto border between India and Pakistan. The armed forces of India and Pakistan maintain a frequently violated truce along the Line of Control dividing the region. India still claims the entire erstwhile Dogra Kingdom of Jammu and Kashmir, and has control of approximately half the region including most of Jammu, Ladakh, and Siachen Glacier. India's claim is contested by Pakistan which controls the remainder of Kashmir. The Kashmiri region under Chinese control is known as Aksai Chin. In addition, China also controls the Trans-Karakoram Tract, also known as Shaksam Valley, which was ceded to it by Pakistan in 1963.

The most recent open war took place in the spring of 1999 when Pakistani troops were found in occupation of 400 square kilometres at Kargil in the mountains of Indian-controlled Kashmir. India reacted violently, mobilizing sufficient military strength to reclaim the ground. What was at first sight a simple military move and counter-move, may have had further reaching effects on Pakistani strategy.

The period from 1947 to 1999 may, at the risk of oversimplification, be summarized as India claiming the whole of Kashmir and deploying regular military forces to back up its claim; while Pakistan's political platform was to seek the popular plebiscite agreed by both governments and the UN. It also claimed that India had perpetrated widespread human rights abuses to maintain its control. Militarily, in addition to the deployment of regular Pakistani forces, it had supported the insurgency within Kashmir and there are also accusations that militant Islamic forces, including elements of al-Qaeda and the Taliban, have used terrorism in an effort to drive India out of the region and establish Islamic rule. …

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