The Crisis in
Why the squabble
Kashmir, or the
state of Jammu and Kashmir to give it its full title, has
been a flashpoint between India and Pakistan since Partition
in 1947, when British India was divided into two states, one
of which Pakistan was created to provide a home
for Indias Muslim population. More than 60% of Kashmirs
12 million people are Muslim, but the Hindu prince who ruled
Kashmir at the time nonetheless ceded it to India. It is now
the only Muslim majority state in India.
Why did Kashmir
have a Hindu ruler?
Kashmir had been
under Muslim rule for three centuries when it was annexed
in 1789 by the Sikh chieftain Ranjit Singh. Then, in the mid-19th
century, after the Sikhs had lost two wars to the British,
they offered up Kashmir in lieu of war reparations. The British
promptly sold the state for seven and a half million rupees
to the Hindu Raja of neighbouring Ladakh and Jammu. Srinagar,
the states capital, became a summer resort for Britons
wishing to escape the heat of the plains and indulge in a
little hunting and fishing.
What did the
maharaja do at the time of Independence?
The princes of
the princely states 600 princedoms covering about a
third of the subcontinent were in theory allowed to
choose which country to join. In practice, most simply signed
up with the country to which they were geographically closest.
But Kashmir adjoined both Pakistan and India, and in August
1947 its playboy Maharaja, Hari Singh, was still undecided.
He seemed to prefer the idea of Kashmir standing alone as
a neutral Switzerland of Asia. In the weeks after
Partition, Muslim farm workers aided by Pathans from
Pakistans North-West Frontier Province and supported
by sections of the Pakistani government rose up against
their Hindu landlords. This ragtag army advanced towards Srinagar,
murdering, raping and looting wherever they went. The Maharaja
fled and the new Indian government led by Jawarhalal Nehru,
himself a Kashmiri Hindu by descent, sent troops into Kashmir
to put down the revolt, prompting Hari Singh to sign the instrument
of accession which handed Kashmir to India.
Most of the state
came under Indian control, although the remote north-western
third around Gilgit known as Free Kashmir became part of Pakistan.
In January 1949 a UN-brokered ceasefire came into effect establishing
what became known s the line of control and the
presence of international peacekeepers who have been there
ever since. The two countries went to war over Kashmir in
1965-66, and clashed again in the 1971 war which resulted
in the creation of Bangladesh out of what was once East Pakistan.
In 1972 India and Pakistan consented, under the Simla Agreement,
to negotiate over Kashmirs future, but no progress has
been made since then, Hari Singh, meanwhile, died in exile
in Delhi in 1961 after squandering his last years indulging
a fondness for drink, tobacco and horses.
ever been asked what they want?
No. One of the
UNs key conditions in 1949 was that a referendum should
be held in the state, and Nehru was quick to declare that
Kashmirs fate would be decided by its people
but no referendum has taken place.
How have the
As a result, dozens
of militant Muslim groups have sprung up, some wanting independence,
others to join Pakistan. The latter were encouraged by Pakistan,
which set up training camps and gave the militants some of
the huge weapons surplus left over from the Afghan war against
the Soviets. Ever since then, both armies have been shelling
each other relentlessly across the line of control and Kashmir
itself has been racked by violence perpetrated by separatists
and by the 600,000-strong Indian security forces. Around 20,000
people have lost their lives. What began as a nationalist
uprising has effectively become a terrorist struggle in which
outsiders mainly Pakistani and Afghans have
become heavily involved.
Would most Kashmiris
favour joining Pakistan?
Most pundits believe
that the majority of Kashmiri Muslims have no desire to join
Pakistan, which they resent for turning a nationalist rebellion
into a religious crusade. Instead they would probably settle
for peace within India if the near-total autonomy that existed
in the immediate post-independence years were to be restored.
Why is a settlement
Because for both
countries Kashmir has become a touchstone of national virility.
It would be political suicide for Pakistans General
Musharraf to be seen to go soft on the issue, since it is
the one subject that unites his country. Politicians in Delhi,
on the other hand are terrified that the loss of Kashmir would
fuel semi-dormant secessionist movements across the country.
Does the West
really need to worry about Kashmir?
It is no coincidence
that the Kashmir issue has blown up again now that the Americans
are getting the better of the war in Afghanistan. Kashmir
is not separate from the war against terrorism, its
part of it a place where Muslim extremist groups, many
of them sympathetic to al-Qaeda and many with their
numbers probably swelled by Taliban remnants, see a chance
to make mayhem. If the West is serious about waging war against
terrorism, it cannot afford to ignore Kashmir.
The Week 12.1.02
24 May 2002
Mr Ronen Sen
Indian High Commissioner
High Commission of India
Dear Your Excellency
I am writing to
express our deep sympathy with Indias suffering at the
hands of Pakistani terrorism concerning Kashmir.
Kashmir is an integral part of India and does not belong exclusively
to the people who happen to be living in it, even if there
is a Moslem majority in that province. There are more Moslems
in India than there are in Pakistan and it is unthinkable
that wherever they may happen to be in the majority, they
can ask to secede from Mother India. The Late Mahatma Gandhi
failed to keep India intact and this is the result.
terrorism against India and then asks to negotiate regarding
Kashmir. Diplomacy cannot be the servant of terrorism. Your
suffering is similar to Israels problem and to the problems
of other peace-loving countries.
With best wishes
for a speedy and favourable outcome of your dilemma.
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