In the last few days, every Indian news channel has been dominated by one common theme – Uri, the Surgical Strikes and their further ramifications(I've written more on that here). This has also led a lot of people to question the cause of all this – Kashmir! In this post, I will attempt to explain the Kashmir problem, and its possible solutions.
Now, to truly understand the Kashmir problem, we need to delve a little into history. In the early 1800s, Kashmir was a Muslim dominated state under Afghan rule. Centuries of relative isolation had given Kashmir a unique culture – Kashmiriyat. Jammu fell under the rule of Ranjit Singh, a Sikh. In around 1819, the Kashmir Valley was captured by Ranjit Singh. This was followed by the capture of Ladakh and Baltistan. Ranjit Singh gave control of Jammu and Kashmir valley to Gulab Singh, a Dogra.
After the First War of Independence in 1857, the areas ruled by Gulab Singh became the Princely State of Jammu and Kashmir. Now, this princely state comprised of the areas of Jammu with a Hindu majority, Kashmir with a majority of Sunni Muslims and Ladakh with a Buddhist majority along with the relatively inaccessible areas of Baltistan and Gilgit.
At the time of independence, India was partitioned into two countries – A Muslim Pakistan and a Secular India. Every princely state was given an option – To join India, to join Pakistan or to remain Independent. The state of Jammu and Kashmir had a Muslim majority with a Hindu ruler. The NationalConference(the primary political party in the state) headed by Sheikh Abdullah voted in favour of acceding to India. However, Maharaja Hari Singh decided to remain independent. At this time, Jawaharlal Nehru first recommended a plebiscite in the state.
In late 1947, tribals from Pakistani areas of Balochistan and NWFP(North West Frontier Province), commanded by Pakistani officers and soldiers, invaded Kashmir in an attempt to capture the state for Pakistan. Maharaja Hari Singh acceded to India in October 1947. The Indian Army was air lifted to Srinagar and tasked to defend the valley. Pakistani forces were stopped kilometers away from Srinagar and pushed back towards Pakistan. The war went on till late 1948, and when India secured the upper hand militarily, Nehru went to the United Nations who mandated a ceasefire and declared the need for a plebiscite. Both countries were told to maintain a Status Quo at their current location, with Pakistan illegally controlling certain certain areas – Pakistan occupied Kashmir(PoK).
The United Nations set up the UN Commission for India andPakistan(UNCIP) in 1949, and were tasked to oversee a plebiscite. The terms of the plebiscite stated that Pakistan should withdraw from the princely state and India should maintain only the minimum necessary military to secure the border. Both countries refused to withdraw first, fearing the other would take advantage of the situation. Sadly, there was no plebiscite.
Now, the concept of a plebiscite seems simple – the people of the state vote for India, Pakistan or Independence. Sadly, this is much more complicated in Kashmir. This complication is due to the fact that the state consists of 3 artificially joined entities which not only have significant cultural differences from each other but also from India or Pakistan. Jammu, has a Hindu majority and economic and culturally similarities with Punjab. Kashmir and Baltistan, due to their relative inaccessibility have developed individual cultures. A majority of Kashmir follows Sunni Islam while Baltistan is largely Shia. Ladakh is a Buddhist dominated region having more cultural similarities with Tibet. Ladakh is also accessible only through the Zojila pass which goes through Kashmir. Of these Kashmir is the largest area by population.
Sadly, the details of the plebiscite have posed several unanswerable questions – Whether the state should be taken as a whole, as 3 separate entities or on a district to district basis? If the state is taken as a whole and decides to join Pakistan, would the interests of Buddhists in Ladakh and Hindus in Jammu be protected? If separate entities are taken, how would Ladakh be connected to the rest of the world if it votes differently from Kashmir?
While these problems were yet to be worked out, the first elections were held in the state, where the National Conference(which had previously voted to join India) won an overwhelming majority. Kashmir was granted autonomy under article 370, and India was to control only Defence, Foreign Affairs and Communications in the state.
In the mid 1950s, Kashmir was declared as an integral part of India both by the State government and the Central Government. From then onwards, India has attempted to reduce the autonomy given to the state of Jammu and Kashmir and integrate it further into the rest of the country. However, this has faced opposition from the people of Kashmir, who have been campaigning for greater autonomy and/or independence from both countries.
The situation is further complicated by China. China claims various parts of India such as Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh as its own saying these areas owe greater cultural similarity to China than to India. Two areas of Kashmir hold particular importance to the Chinese – Aksai Chin and the TransKarakoram Tract. Aksai Chin connects the Xinjiang province to Tibet, and the Trans Karakoram Tract gives China a direct land route to its long time ally Pakistan. Both of these were captured illegally by them during the 1962 war.
Since the 1960s, India and Pakistan have both claimed J&K, terming the area controlled by the other as illegal. Kashmir on the other hand, has alternated between periods of stability and discontent. The discontent has been headed by separatist leaders who feel Kashmiri interests are not well looked after in India. These separatists have been funded and supported by Pakistan, who have used this as a means to weaken Indian presence in the state.
Following the 1971 war(where Pakistan were comprehensively defeated), India and Pakistan signed the Shimla agreement where the status quo was given more legitimacy and the areas controlled by the individual countries was declared the Line of Control(LoC). Since then, India has used this agreement as a foundation to achieve further peace, insisting on solving the issue bilaterally.
In the 1980s, Afghanistan was controlled by the SovietUnion. This was opposed by the Americans who funded the Taliban and other Afghani militants, through Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI. After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989, Pakistan and the ISI used these militants as a weapon against India in Kashmir. This started among the darkest periods for Kashmir.
The elections of 1987 were disputed, and Pakistan used this as an opportunity to flood the Kashmir valley with militants whom they claimed were part of an indigenous uprising. They also supported fundamentalist and separatist leaders in the state. Mosques in the valley issued directives that non Muslims would have to convert to Islam or be killed. This led to large scale attacks onKashmiri pundits, forcing their exodus from Kashmir. There were also a large number of attacks against government institutions and mass protests.
The Indian Government reacted by sending in the CRPF and other police forces. When they failed, the Army was brought in and the Armed Forces Special Powers Act(AFSPA) was passed. The AFSPA gives the military powers to destroy terrorist camps, enter any suspected terrorist hideout and arrest people without a warrant. Further, the army enjoys legal immunity for the same. The 1990s were characterized by violence from both sides, with Pakistan providing arms and training to the militants. Many Kashmiri youth crossed into Pakistan, where they trained and then returned to the valley. Logistics for this were handled by the Pakistani army. There were also Human Rights Violations from both sides and this period led to a collapse in industry in the state which in turn led to more unemployment and more militancy. The Army, being inexperienced and untrained in a Counter-Insurgency role, was often guilty of using more force than necessary, escalating tensions in the region.
In 1999, Pakistan used this insurgency to start the Kargil War. They sent soldiers of the Pakistani Army to occupy areas of Kargil and Dras in the winter. These soldiers were dressed as Kashmiri militia, although they carried Pakistani army weapons and Identity cards. The Indian Army defeated these intruders and pushed them back into PoK by July 1999.
Following the war, the Indian Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee issued a change in Indian Policy towards Kashmir promising “insaniyat, jamhooriyat, Kashmiriyat” – Dealing with the militants in a humane manner while guaranteeing Kashmir its individual identity. The last 15 years have seen attempts by India to de-escalate tensions in the valley. Despite the border in Kashmir being highly porous due to terrain, the Indian Army has effectively reduced cross-border militancy to a fraction of what it was in the 1990s. There have also been attempts to win back the trust of the Kashmiri people with the “Sadbhavana” mission, where the Army has engaged in building of schools or providing medical aid in remote villages. Indian efforts in the recent years seem to be successful with large voter turnouts in recent elections, despite separatist calls for boycott.
As can be seen, the Kashmir problem has no easy solution. Both India and Pakistan claim the state as an integral part of their own countries. The areas of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh have different expectations and while Jammu and Ladakh are largely quiet, Kashmir still remains restive. Pakistan Occupied Kashmir is largely undeveloped and largely ignored in all discussions on Kashmir. Pakistan cannot give up on its claim to the state because it would lead to a massive loss of morale in the country, which could fragment an already dis-united nation. India cannot give up its claim, because it would lead to a massive loss of face for the government followed by a lifetime in political wilderness for everyone involved. The people of Kashmir continue their demands for autonomy out of fear their Kashmiri identity and culture will be compromised.
PERSONAL OPINION – The Kashmir problem has been a major drain on national resources for the last 60 years. Money which should have been spent on increasing infrastructure in the state has to be spent on repairing roads and buildings destroyed by militants. The number of people who have been killed in the valley, both civilians and soldiers, is appalling. It is high time we come up with a more mature and less egoistic approach to the problem. In my opinion, the following steps need to be taken:
- Accepting the Line of Control between India and Pakistan as the International Border. There is no possible way PoK can become a part of India without Pakistan collapsing into itself. If 60 years and 3 wars haven’t led to a plebiscite, it is not going to be possible to negotiate terms for one now.
- An independent Kashmir is unlikely to survive as a country in the long run. With industry and communication largely dependent on India, it is difficult for an independent, land-locked state to survive economically. Also, no Indian government is going to survive such an action politically.
- Efforts must be made to bring separatist tendencies in the state into the main stream. This has been attempted in recent years and has met with limited success with the Hurriyat participating in the elections. Article 370, granting special status to Kashmir must be maintained for now to show the people of Kashmir our commitment to their individuality and well being. However, in the long term, there should be efforts to better integrate the state with the rest of the country through increasing communication and educational influences.
- The army must continue the Sadbhavana missions and attempt to win back the trust lost by the security forces in the 1980s and 1990s. Counter insurgency needs to be transferred to the J&K Police. While AFSPA needs to be revoked, this should be done district by district and only after the militant threat in the area has been sufficiently curbed.
- Industry in the region needs to be developed. Employment is the only effective counter to militancy and the Tourism industry needs to be focused on.
The loss of life in Kashmir is truly depressing and it is imperative we come up with a solution to this at the earliest.