The Kashmir Dispute
By Tariq Ahsan, former teacher, Political Science and International Relations, Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad; currently a freelance writer in Ottawa.
Kashmir, located in a strategically sensitive region in the northwest corner of South Asia, was a possession of British colonial conquest. In 1846, the British sold the Valley of Kashmir to the Hindu ruler, Gulab Singh.
A century later, after the colonial power had left, the independent, princely state of Jammu and Kashmir was just as strategic, sharing borders with India, Pakistan, Tibet and China and being close to the Soviet Union. It consisted of Jammu, whose population was Hindu and Muslim, Ladakh, populated by Tibetan Buddhists and Muslims, and the Muslim majority areas of Baltistan, Gilgit Agency, Poonch and the Valley of Kashmir. In the State as a whole, the majority were Muslims.
The State had a despotic political system. Exploitation, poverty and religious repression were its distinctive features. It began to disintegrate rapidly, with the decline of the British empire, as there were successful popular rebellions in Gilgit and Poonch. In October 1947, an undisciplined force of Pushtun tribesmen invaded the Valley of Kashmir, from the Northwest region straddling Pakistan and Afghanistan. Indian armed forces intervened and pushed the tribesmen back. India claimed that the ruler of Kashmir, Maharaja Hari Singh, had temporarily acceded to India so its military could restore order. Indian Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru reiterated this claim and promised that the people of Kashmir would be allowed to decide whether to join India or Pakistan.
The Indian military did evict the Pushtuns, but as they fought to capture the rest of the State they encountered was now under the control of forces supported by Pakistan, the Pakistan armed forces entered the battle to resist them.
The Role of the UN
In January 1948, India made a complaint to the Security Council (under Article 35 of the UN Charter), accusing Pakistan of military interference in its internal affairs. India wanted to use the UN to have Pakistan declared an aggressor, and to have its military presence in the State removed, as a prelude to an Indian-supervised, public ratification of Kashmir's accession to India.
During the Security Council debate, Pakistan's Foreign Minister Zafrullah Khan was able to make a convincing case that the conflict in Jammu and Kashmir had complex roots and needed to be assessed in its broader historical context. He called on the UN to help determine the wishes of the people of the State on the question of accession, in a climate free from fear and suspicion. The Security Council called for a cease fire, and set up the UN Commission on India and Pakistan (UNCIP), to investigate the situation and help to arrange for a plebiscite.
The UNCIP formulated plans that envisaged the complete withdrawal of Pakistan's forces from Kashmir, the removal of most Indian forces and the arrangement of a UN-supervised plebiscite. India was upset because Pakistan had not been declared an aggressor. Pakistan was concerned about having to vacate Kashmir completely.
The UN's demilitarisation plans were not implemented and several UN mediation efforts were unsuccessful.
In 1953, India formally changed its position on plebiscite plans, on the pretext that Pakistan's membership in military security pacts, which were a part of the U.S. policy of containment of communism, had radically changed the whole framework under which the UN peace plans were formulated. By the late 1950s, further UN Security Council initiatives on Kashmir were immobilised, as the Soviet Union used its veto in India's favour.
In 1965, Pakistan and India fought a war over Kashmir, which ended in military deadlock. The Soviet Union's mediation in January 1966 led to a peace agreement known as the Tashkent Declaration, that led to the restoration of the pre-war status quo. However, this accord contained no provisions to settle the Kashmir question.
In 1972, Pakistan and India signed another pact, the Simla Agreement, which emphasised a bilateral approach conflict resolution. They also agreed that they would not seek to unilaterally alter the existing situation in Kashmir.
The Politics of Kashmir
In 1947, two Kashmiri political parties led the struggle against the oppressive regime of Hari Singh: (1) The Muslim Conference, led by Chaudhry Ghulam Abbas, was popular in Jammu and had considerable support in other parts of the State. It was sympathetic to Muslim nationalists in India associated with the Muslim League, led by Mohammad Ali Jinnah. (2) The National Conference was ideologically inclined towards secular nationalism and left-leaning elements in the Indian movement for independence. Its leader, Shiekh Mohammad Abdullah, was very popular in the Valley of Kashmir.
When India and Pakistan became independent, Kashmir's ruler, Hari Singh, pondered the future of his State. All the important politicians who opposed his oppressive rule, including Shiekh Abdullah, were in prison. After the Indian intervention, Shiekh Abdullah became the Prime Minister of Indian-administered Kashmir. His alliance with Indian Prime Minister Nehru gave a semblance of legitimacy to India's presence in Kashmir.
Shiekh Abdullah was an assertive Kashmiri nationalist who supported an egalitarian economic policy. But he was also ruthless and authoritarian in conducting his political strategy. Most of his party's members were somehow elected unopposed to the new state legislature. He made radical plans for progress in health and education, and implemented effective land reforms that were welcomed by the oppressed peasantry. He was also determined to make Kashmir a self-governing region within India.
Shiekh Abdullah's radical economic policies, particularly the land reforms, were deeply resented by the large landowners. They allied with Hindu fundamentalists and launched agitation against Abdullah's government. Indian Prime Minister Nehru was also disappointed that Abdullah was not prepared to follow his "advice," but wanted to govern in an independent style. In 1953, Shiekh Abdullah was dismissed and arrested. Since then, India has relied primarily on the use of force, and on the political manipulation of corrupt and unrepresentative politicians to control the Valley of Kashmir.
Shiekh Abdullah spent most of the next twenty years in prison. However, in 1974 he was made Chief Minister of Indian Administered Kashmir. In 1977, he won the first fair elections held in Kashmir, and India's presence there again acquired some legitimacy. In 1982, his son Dr. Farouk Abdullah managed to win despite stiff opposition from the Congress. However, Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi dismissed his government in 1984. Initially, Farouk Abdullah offered feisty resistance, but in 1987, he made allied with the Congress and then won an election that was widely regarded as heavily rigged.
This election fraud was a great disappointment to thousands of young Kashmiris who yearned for participation and democratic empowerment. The independence movement in the Soviet Baltic states provided great inspiration to Kashmiris, who held massive peaceful rallies to demand Azadi (independence). In March 1989, more that half a million gathered at the office of the UN Military Observer Group in Srinagar to remind the UN that India had yet to fulfil its promise to hold a plebiscite to enable Kashmiris to decide their future.
The Indian military began using indiscriminate force to disperse these huge demonstrations. As the Azadi campaign intensified and turned violent, India imposed Governor's rule in Kashmir. There remained no popular political organisations in the Valley prepared to espouse loyalty to India. Since these were the only discourses permitted by India, it suppressed all institutions of civil society.
The violent environment created by Indian military action stifled normal social intercourse that would enable a rational discussion of political options. It also minimised contact of younger people with their peers among teachers, doctors, social workers and others who play a crucial role in the formulation of the social and political agenda in any society. In this context, fanatical political zeal began to appear among youth that had not been a part of Kashmir's political culture.
After the Indian armed forces crushed the first wave of Kashmiri armed resistance led by the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), a secular nationalist organisation, the Islamists led by Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (that later called itself Hizb-ul-Mujahideen) began to lead the armed struggle. Two other groups called Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and Al Faran also became active giving priority to an extremist Islamist agenda. They were not interested in the Kashmiri struggle for self-determination. Al Faran was later subsumed into another extremist organisation called Jaish Mohammad.
The extremist Islamist groups committed such atrocities against religious minorities, particularly the Hindu Pandits, that their entire community in Kashmiri felt compelled to leave their homes in the Valley and take refuge in India.
In 1993, the leading Kashmiri political groups formed a united front called the Hurriyet Conference. They called on India and Pakistan to engage in dialogue to bring peace and to include Kashmiris in negotiations. Although Indian law continues to ban peaceful advocacy of independence, the Indian government has permitted the Hurriyet to function, at least to some extent. The Hurriyet gives India a way to communicate with, and to influence, Kashmiri opinion makers. However, Hurriyet leaders are frequently arrested and harassed.
The Hurriyet has repeatedly offered help arrange a truce between Kashmiri insurgents and the Indian military, to mediate between India and Pakistan, and help them develop a framework for dialogue. India has so far spurned these offers.
Since 1997, Pakistan's political leadership has sought to relax tensions with India over Kashmir. Pakistan has shown a readiness to compromise and has offered what it considers to be significant concessions. Pakistan would give up demands for a plebiscite to determine the future of Jammu and Kashmir, if India (a) agrees to withdraw most of its troops from the Valley of Kashmir, and (b) offers Kashmir meaningful self-government and autonomy. This implies that with minor adjustments, the existing Line of Control between Indian and Pakistani forces, would be recognised as the international frontier.
Successive Indian governments have not developed a response to this initiative. Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee has said that he recognises that Kashmir is a problem that needs to be discussed and resolved. However, he has had to give up such efforts due to pressure from his Hindu-fundamentalist allies.
In 1999, the largest Kashmiri guerrilla group Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM) declared a unilateral truce and agreed to negotiate with India. They publicly expressed concern at the misery the conflict is inflicting on Kashmiri society. They defied their mentors in the Jamat-e-Islami of Pakistan, who condemned their initiative. The HM's initiative collapsed when India refused their demand to include Pakistan in the talks.
In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, Pakistan has outlawed the two main extremist Islamist groups, Jaish Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Tayyaba. This could strengthen the hands of secular and Islamist Kashmiris who are interested in negotiations that could enable them to achieve peace.
Source: Written for Press for Conversion! March 2002.