Contrary to popular misunderstanding, Kashmir is not a territorial dispute between India and Pakistan but about the right of the Kashmiris to determine their own future. This has been recognized under International law and enshrined in several United Nations Security Council resolutions.
There is widespread misperception among many people, especially in the West, about the nature of the Kashmir dispute. It is generally assumed that Kashmir is a territorial dispute between India and Pakistan. Wikipedia, the layman’s encyclopedia, for instance, says, “The Kashmir conflict is a territorial dispute between the Government of India, Kashmiri insurgent groups and the Government of Pakistan over control of the Kashmir region.” True, Wikipedia is not the most authoritative source of information but the fact that it carries such assertions gives clues to the widespread misinformation about a very tragic situation involving the future of 12 million Kashmiris.
While the two countries, India and Pakistan, are intimately involved —India, as occupying power and Pakistan as the aggrieved party — at its core, the Kashmir dispute is about the fundamental right of the people of Jammu and Kashmir to self-determination. This has been denied to them despite repeated promises by Indian rulers from the late-1940s to mid-1950s when the dispute first arose, as well as several Security Council resolutions calling for a plebiscite (referendum) in Jammu and Kashmir to determine the wishes of the people.
India and Pakistan have fought three wars and many skirmishes over Kashmir but the net result has been a stalemate. Without doubt there is serious danger that the ongoing tension between India and Pakistan could easily get out of hand and engulf the entire region as well as the world at large in a nuclear conflagration with catastrophic consequences for humanity. There have been several instances when the two rival powers came close to an outbreak of war. This could easily have escalated into a nuclear exchange.
What is the current situation and how did the Kashmir dispute arise? India controls about 43% of Kashmir including most of Jammu, the Kashmir Valley and Ladakh. India also occupies a major portion of the Siachen Glacier where a tense standoff at the frozen tip of the world has continued since 1984. Pakistan has about 37% of Kashmir under its control that goes by the name of Azad (Free) Kashmir and the northern areas of Gilgit Baltistan.
Under a border adjustment agreement between Pakistan and China in 1963, Pakistan ceded a part of the northern areas to China in order to create harmonious relations. Pakistan-China relations have been strong and Beijing is considered one of the staunchest time-tested allies of Pakistan for decades.
The genesis of the Kashmir dispute can be traced directly to the partition of British colonial India into the dominion states of India and Pakistan in 1947. When it became clear that the two communities — Hindus and Muslims — could not get along and there was constant eruption of fighting between them resulting in mass killings, leaders of the two communities decided to go their separate ways. India’s Hindus were represented by the Congress Party while Muslim representation was in the hands of the Muslim League.
The partition plan as agreed to between the two leading political parties and the British colonial administration was that Hindu majority areas would constitute India while Muslim majority areas would form parts of Pakistan. In most areas, this was straight forward. Hindus and Muslims were so far apart in their religious, cultural and dietary requirements as well as mode of worship that there was nothing common between the two. Often, Hindus and Muslims living in the same neighborhood had little interaction.
The partition plan had to deal with two thorny issues. First, what would happen to Muslims living in Hindu majority areas and vice versa; and two, what would be the fate of the 562 princely states that enjoyed a measure of autonomy under British colonialism as part of a deliberate policy to divide, conquer and rule? Partition made it inevitable for Muslims and Hindus to migrate in large numbers to move into areas where their respective communities were a majority.
For the princely states, the British proposed and both the Indian Congress and the Muslim League accepted that they were free to join either of the newly emerging states provided the following points were taken into consideration. First, the wishes of the majority of a particular state’s population must be respected. Second, geographic contiguity must be considered as well as historical and cultural links and background of each state.
Since the overwhelming majority of princely states were little more than the size of a city or village, their fate was sealed by their geographic location. Princely states surrounded by Hindu majority areas could hardly have become part of Pakistan. Similarly, states surrounded by Muslim majority areas could not become part of India. There were, however, three states whose fate created some problems: Hyderabad, Junagarh and Jammu and Kashmir.
True to its colonial nature, Britain had appointed Hindu rulers on Muslim majority states and Muslim rulers where the majority was Hindu. In Hyderabad and Junagarh, the rulers were Muslims but their population was predominantly Hindu. In Jammu and Kashmir, it was the exact opposite. Hyderabad in particular was historically known as a strong base of Muslim culture and learning. The nizam (ruler) of Hyderabad wanted to join Pakistan but Indian Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru dispatched the army and occupied the state arguing that since the majority is Hindu, it must form part of India. Nehru did the same in Junagarh. In the case of Kashmir, the people had automatically assumed that the state would become part of Pakistan by virtue of its overwhelming Muslim majority. The Hindu maharaja (ruler) hesitated to make the announcement to join Pakistan. It was clear that he wanted to join India but feared his overwhelmingly Muslim majority population (Kashmir’s population is 90% Muslim while in Jammu it was around 55% Muslim).
The people staged an uprising when the maharaja hesitated. The people rightly feared the ruler’s ill intentions. They were not going to allow him to take an overwhelmingly Muslim state into Hindu India. Fearing for his life, the maharaja fled Srinagar, the state capital, and the people of Kashmir aided by tribesmen from nearby areas of northern Pakistan started to take control of the state.
Historically, Kashmir has never been part of India. Its culture is Central Asian and its links at the time — roads, telephone, telegraph, etc. — were all with Pakistan. Even geography made Kashmir part of Pakistan. Towering mountains acting as a huge barrier separated Kashmir from India. In short, there was absolutely nothing in common between the two.
This is where British mischief played its sinister role, as it had done in many other places such as Palestine and Cyprus. Working in league with the Hindu rulers of India, Lord Mountbatten, who was then governor general of India (Pakistan had refused to accept him as governor general given his hostile attitude toward Pakistan), offered military help to the maharaja on the condition that he sign the instrument of accession. The maharaja signed a conditional instrument and India sent its troops into the state. A stalemate ensued with the people and tribesmen occupying some parts of Kashmir (that became Azad Kashmir) and the Indian occupation army taking control of the rest.
Nehru was aware that his military aggression was illegal and it would be impossible to pacify the people through military might alone. He publicly announced, “We have declared that the fate of Kashmir is ultimately to be decided by the people. That pledge we have given… not only to the people of Kashmir but to the world. We will not and cannot back out of it. We are prepared when peace and order have been established to have a referendum held under the auspices of the UN.” When fighting intensified in Kashmir and the people’s uprising was about to capture Srinagar, India took the matter to the United Nations Security Council asking it to intervene. A UN commission was established tasked with finding a solution to the dispute. Both India and Pakistan agreed in advance to hold a referendum there and these were enshrined in a series of Security Council resolutions starting in January 1948 but reaffirmed many times until 1957.
Nehru repeated his “pledge” on numerous occasions after his first declaration promising to hold a referendum in Kashmir but once India tightened its military grip, he started to backtrack. More than 65 years later, India continues to occupy the state by deploying more than 700,000 heavily armed troops, making Kashmir the most militarized region in the world.
India has tried to back out of its pledge to the Kashmiris, to Pakistan and the world, to hold a referendum by advancing the argument that elections to the local assembly have been held and people have had an opportunity to elect their own representatives. This is flawed argument. Electing members to a local assembly to deal with local issues is different from holding a referendum to decide the state’s future. Besides, even such state elections have been massively rigged as happened in 1987 triggering an uprising in mid-1988 that has continued to rage to this day.
More than 100,000 Kashmiris have been killed and thousands have disappeared since. Even Kashmiri women and girls have not been spared. According to human rights organizations, more than 10,000 Kashmiri women have suffered this indignity. One such report was released on December 6, 2012 by the International People’s Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Indian-Administered Kashmir (IPTK) and the Association of Parents of Disappeared Person (APDP) in Srinagar, capital of Indian occupied Kashmir.
Titled “Alleged Perpetrators — Stories of Impunity in Jammu and Kashmir” (www.kashmirprocess.org), the report examined 214 cases of human rights violations and for the first time, the role of 500 alleged perpetrators in these crimes. Among the authors of the report are such well-known human rights activists as Gautam Navlakha, Kartik Murukutla, Pervez Imroz and Khurram Pervez, some members having served as judges in India.
The IPTK/APDP report confirms that crimes are not only committed but that there is no attempt by the authorities to adhere to the rule of law. “The defining feature of human rights violations here [Kashmir] is that in the name of countering militant violence the Indian State authorizes armed forces to carry out every kind of operation, often without adherence to laws and norms. In a majority of cases crimes are not noted or investigated at all.” The researchers admit that their analysis of cases is incomplete because they do not have access to all the information but they insist their findings shed light on a shameful aspect of Indian state practices.
Despite lack of full information, they emphasize, “Even the rudimentary statistics contained in it [the report] reveal an appalling picture. Out of 214 cases a list emerges of 500 individual perpetrators, which include 235 army personnel, 123 paramilitary personnel, 111 Jammu and Kashmir Police personnel and 31 Government backed militants/associates. The designations of some of these alleged perpetrators points to a deep institutional involvement of the Indian State in the crimes.”
The report then breaks down the perpetrators by rank. This is where it surpassed previous efforts by drawing a more composite picture of Indian state crimes against the Kashmiris. “Among the alleged perpetrators are two Major Generals and three Brigadiers of the Indian Army, besides nine Colonels, three Lieutenant Colonels, 78 Majors and 25 Captains. Add to this, 37 senior officials of the federal Paramilitary forces, a recently retired Director General of the Jammu and Kashmir Police, as well as a serving Inspector General.” When such senior officers are involved in crimes, it is not surprising that lower rank personnel will run amok. That is precisely what has happened in Kashmir. While cold statistics cannot convey the depth of suffering, they do provide a glimpse into the scale of atrocities taking place in Kashmir.
As the Kashmiris continue to suffer decades of oppression, they ask why their plight is not worthy of the same international attention as that accorded to the people of East Timor (that gained independent from Indonesia through a 1999 referendum) and South Sudan that became independent in 2011? Why should the Kashmiris be deprived of this basic right?
Further, the forces of two nuclear-armed rivals — India and Pakistan — stand eyeball to eyeball at what is referred to as the Line of Control in Kashmir. Any conflict could easily escalate into full-scale nuclear war. The result would be catastrophic for the entire world. Is Indian state terrorism for which the world is prepared to risk a nuclear exchange?