Kashmir: The Intractable Conflict

By Evans, George | Contemporary Review, October 1995 | Go to article overview

Kashmir: The Intractable Conflict


Evans, George, Contemporary Review


It took the kidnapping of five western tourists and the brutal cold-blooded murder of one of them to focus the world's attention on the state of anarchy verging on civil war which now holds Kashmir, India's only Muslim-majority state firmly in its grip. In the past six years more than 15,000 Kashmiris and at least 1,000 members of the Indian security forces have died there through terrorism and counter-terrorism.

Kashmir, deeply scarred by nearly half a century of violent conflict remains one of the longest running and most intractable problems challenging the authority of the United Nations. A bitter legacy of Britain's post-war decolonisation, it has twice led to full-scale shooting wars between India and Pakistan. Its causes and history have been endlessly rehearsed in every world forum of any consequence for more than forty years but talking has changed nothing. Today both armies, in a high state of readiness, still confront each other across the ceasefire line or line of control as it is now called. There are artillery duels and exchanges of small arms fire aimed at sealing the border but men and weapons still filter across it under cover of darkness to reinforce the separatists in their fight against Indian rule. Both India and Pakistan have incurred strong and, for the most part, well-justified criticism for their role in Kashmir, India for gross abuse of human rights and Pakistan for encouraging violence by actively supporting the Kashmiri militants.

The former kingdom of Jammu and Kashmir in which Hindus make up just under a third of the seven million population, has been trampled over throughout history by the Moguls, Afghans and Sikhs. It was under Muslim rule from the 14th century until 1846 when the neighbouring Dogra kingdom of Jammu took it over and ruled it until the British withdrawal from India when it had to choose between joining India or Pakistan.

Despite its large Muslim majority, the Hindu ruler, Maharajah Hari Singh, hesitated before making up his mind but, alarmed by the threat of a tribal invasion, finally wrote to the Viceroy, Lord Mountbatten, acceding to India. It seemed to many a perverse choice even though tribesmen from Pakistan's turbulent Northwest Frontier had crossed the border to join local Muslims in the race to capture its principal city, Srinagar. The Indian army halted the invasion but the creasefire left Pakistan in possession of a third of the state which it had occupied and named Azad (Free) Kashmir with Muzaffarabad as its capital.

Both countries accepted a United Nations resolution calling for a plebiscite to decide the state's future. It has still not been held and almost certainly never will. India which now opposes it, formally abolished the monarchy in the 1950s, introduced a new constitution and declared all of Kashmir to be an integral part of the Indian Union. The United Nations does not recognise it as such or the governments which both countries have put in place in their respective territories.

More than ninety per cent of Jammu and Kashmir which covers 86,000 square miles is mountainous, a land of singular beauty, dominated by snow-capped peaks but with few natural resources apart from its tourist appeal. Today the ski slopes are deserted by the tourists, like the houseboats lying idle on the famous lakes. Murder, extortion and intimidation have not only crippled the economy but have created a climate of fear which has driven many Hindu families to abandon their homes and flee in the face of threats by Islamic extremists. Despite the continuing political agitation which followed the ceasefire, Kashmir remained relatively free of sustained violence up to 1988. Trade and tourism prospered. The Soviet leader Khrushchev in his barnstorming tour of Asia in 1955 looked in and, to Pakistan's chagrin, voiced his support for India. In Delhi, Mr. Nehru with barely-concealed impatience, explained in answer to my question at a press conference why a plebiscite had become irrelevant. …

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