The Conflict in Kashmir

By Shuja, Sharif | Contemporary Review, October 2002 | Go to article overview

The Conflict in Kashmir

Shuja, Sharif, Contemporary Review

THE Himalayan region of Jammu and Kashmir has been a flashpoint for hostility between India and Pakistan for more than half a century. The former princely state includes the Hindu-majority plains of Jammu, the mainly Muslim Kashmir Valley and the mainly Buddhist Ladakh area. About 12 million people live in Kashmir, of whom about 70 per cent are Muslims and the rest Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists.

After the subcontinent was partitioned in August 1947, the Hindu ruler of Kashmir, facing a pro-Pakistan revolt in parts of the state, acceded to secular India rather than to Islmaic Pakistan. The two nations then started their first war over Kashmir, which lasted until December 1948, and ended with a UN-mediated ceasefire. India controls 45 per cent of Kashmir, Pakistan about 35 per cent and China the rest. Indian- and Pakistan-ruled areas are separated by a ceasefire line known as the Line of Control (LOG).

In 1965, Kashmir was the arena for a second Indo-Pakistan war that ended with a UN-mediated ceasefire. The two countries again fought in Kashmir in December 1971, but that war was mainly over Bangladesh, formerly East Pakistan. India and Pakistan agreed to respect the Line of Control under the Shimla Agreement in 1972, 'without prejudice to the recognised position of either side'. This accord said 'both sides further undertake to refrain from threat or the use of force in violation of this line'.

The two countries came to the brink of a fourth war during a 10-week confrontation in 1999 (the Kargil conflict) along the Line of Control. Since 1990, the Kashmir Valley, which is under Indian control, has been the hub of a revolt by Muslim separatist militants who, India says, are trained and armed in Pakistan. Pakistan denies this accusation, saying it only offers political and diplomatic support to what it calls a legitimate struggle for self-determination by the mostly Muslim people of Kashmir. Now, the two countries are again close to war, if not nuclear conflict. At least 35,000 people have been killed in Kashmir. Separatists put the death toll at more than 80,000.

India claims the whole of Kashmir. Pakistan wants the predominantly Muslim Kashmiris to decide in a plebiscite whether to join Islamic Pakistan or secular but Hindu-majority India. The Kashmiris want to reunite Kashmir as an independent state. Being mostly Muslims does not make them Pakistanis. Their separate identity is based on place, kinship and culture as much as on religion. This idea of an independent state has been rejected by both India and Pakistan.

In India's view, Kashmiris would become loyal citizens again if only Pakistan would stop interfering. It sees the insurgency as a proxy war, which would end as soon as Pakistan stopped giving militants arms and letting them infiltrate Kashmir across the Line of Control. Most militants, India claims, are foreign zealots imported from other 'holy wars', such as that in Afghanistan. Pakistan continues to deny giving them anything other than moral and diplomatic support. It claims to have limited power to curb them.

The leaders of India and Pakistan since 1947 were desperate to acquire Kashmir to bolster their respective visions of nationhood. India's first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, who originally came from Kashmir, wanted to demonstrate that an Islamic population could coexist with the Hindu majority. Mohammad All Jinnah, Pakistan's 'Father of the Nation', insisted that Pakistan would be incomplete without the Muslim enclave. After all, the sole raison d'etre of Pakistan's creation was the idea that religion was the basis of a nation state. Moreover, Pakistan depends on rivers flowing out of Kashmir--the Jhelum, the Chenab, and the Indus--to irrigate fields and generate electricity.

In the troubled year that has followed since the events of September 11 there has been an increase of violent attacks in Kashmir. …

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