In recent weeks the eyes of the world have frequently been cast on the Indian subcontinent as the threat of war between India and Pakistan over Jammu and Kashmir (hereafter Kashmir) grows ever more likely. Although there have been three major conflicts between these two nations since their creation after World War II, none have drawn the attention that the current threat has. That attention is due first and foremost to the threat that any war between these two will go nuclear. If this occurs, we are told 25 million people could die in the first week after any such attacks. That such a holocaust can even be contemplated is a sorrowful witness to the current state of our world.
How did this situation of permanent conflict evolve in Kashmir? Like many other post-colonial battles, the situation in Kashmir is a direct legacy of British colonialism. Kashmir was a principality during the reign of the British Empire. What this meant is that the region was ruled by an Indian-born prince, or maharajah, and experienced a somewhat greater degree of autonomy than those regions of the Empire that were under direct British rule. Although these principalities were technically independent, the maharajahs were pressured to accept the paramountcy of the British Crown. Of course,, they all did, otherwise they would have been taken over by the troops of the Empire and subject to direct rule. The state of Kashmir was ruled by an oppressive and corrupt Hindu dynasty known as the Dogras. At the time of the partition (1947)-when India and Pakistan became independent and began deciding the subcontinent along mostly religious lines-Sir Hari Singh was the Maharaja. The British considered Jammu and Kashmir to be a geo-politically significant territory, especially the Gilgit areas, which were considered to be a sensitive listening post from which to keep track of Russian and Chinese ambitions in Central Asia as well as an important frontier region in the event of Russian or Chinese attack. (Recently, various US defense analysts have speculated once again on Kashmir’s strategic importance, especially in light of the US’s apparent desire to ring China with military bases.)
When it became clear that British rule in the subcontinent would be ending, there were two dominant philosophies at work. One, preferred by Jawaharlal Nehru, called for a single secular nation. The other, encouraged by Muhammad Ali Jinnah and eventually adopted by the British, called for two nations divided along communal and religious lines. It was the latter that was put in place and, despite the best hopes and efforts of Nehru and Jinnah, disintegrated into an unfathomable orgy of religious and communal violence between Muslims and Hindus. As in the other principalities, the Maharajah of Kashmir was given the choice of joining India or Pakistan, or remaining independent. Most of the other principalities took the route of joining one or the other of the larger nations, depending on the will of the majority of their peoples. Kashmir, however, had a unique position. Unlike the other princely regions, it was a predominantly Moslem region ruled by a Hindu dynasty. Because of its strategic location, any of the three options were possible.
Many Kashmiris believe that the principle British architect of the partition and Viceroy of India, Lord Mountbatten, manipulated the partition in such a way so that Kashmir would become part of India. This belief is based in part on the fact that Mountbatten granted India a portion of the Punjab known as the Gurdaspur district, despite the fact that the logic of the partition should have granted this district to Pakistan. By assigning this region to India, Mountbatten created a land bridge from India to Kashmir, thereby making it feasible for India to access this strategically important area of the old empire. Furthermore, Mountbatten and India considered the Indian leaders to be the more capable at keeping Soviet and Chinese influence out of the subcontinent and, consequently, considered it essential that Kashmir not go to Pakistan.
As Moslems fled India and Hindus fled Pakistan, often with nothing more than their lives thanks to the murderous religious riots perpetrated by extremists on both sides, the situation in Kashmir remained murky. The transfer of power from Britain to the governments of India and Pakistan was scheduled to occur in August 1947. In June of that year a tax revolt began in the Moslem region of Kashmir known as Poonch. This refusal to pay taxes to the Maharajah soon became a full-fledged secessionist movement, which was provided very limited support by the Pakistani military (still under the control of the British) in the form of small arms and ammunition smuggled to the fighters. In the early autumn of 1947, the Maharajah asked the Sikh army in a neighboring province for assistance in quelling the Poonch rebellion. India’s central government also provided what assistance it could. He simultaneously began talks with an independent Moslem leader who was critical of both India and Pakistan-Sheikh Abdullah-he was holding in one of his jails. Pakistan saw the conjunction of these events as proof that Jammu and Kashmir were going to accede to India. The leaders of the Poonch rebellion began to look for outside help. This help came in the form of the Pathan fighters, who may or may not have been the help the Poonch leaders were looking for.
These fighters were known for their brutal fighting methods. Indeed, they continue to have a reputation for brutality even today, as the West has discovered once again during the various Afghani wars in the last twenty-five years. True to their reputation, the Pathan fighters waged a campaign of looting, death and rape as they made their way towards Kashmir’s largest city, Srinagar. The Maharajah, meanwhile, asked for help from the Indian army. On October 24, 1947, the Poonch rebels proclaimed the creation of the Azad (Free) State of Kashmir. Three days later, the Maharajah acceded to India. Included in the accession agreement was a clause that called for requiring a plebiscite to determine the wishes of the people once law and order had been reestablish-ed in the region. By this time Indian troops were in Kashmir and Pakistani troops were on their way. The Indian troops were provided to the Maharajah with the provision that Sheikh Abdullah (a good friend of Nehru) be made the head of the new interim government. However, the Pakistani troops were temporarily halted due to a brief flurry of diplomacy between Nehru and Jinnah and the refusal of the British government to allow a war between the two Commonwealth armies.
In the spring of 1948 and after the diplomacy failed to resolve anything, Pakistani troops moved into Kashmir and began assisting the Poonch rebels. The first Indo-Pakistani war had begun. It ended on January 1, 1949 when the United Nations imposed a ceasefire and created the Line of Control (LOC), which is where close to 1 million Indian and Pakistani troops are currently positioned waiting on the orders from their respective governments that could plunge the entire region into the bloodiest of the conflicts over the state of Kashmir to date.
Since 1949, neither Pakistan or India have given an inch. Their basic positions regarding Kashmir remain the same. There has never been a plebiscite of the Kashmiri people to determine their national wishes, nor has there been what could be truly considered fair elections for the state government that exists there under Indian rule. Indeed, most of the elections have been so controlled that the ruling party has screened the candidates before allowing them to run. The interim government of 1948-49 was replaced by a permanent one under the aegis of India with Sheikh Abdullah at its head and India has continued to rule as if the accession of Kashmir is a done deal. Indeed, in 1964, it altered its constitution ending the so-called special status Jammu and Kashmir enjoyed, making the state a regular part of India. Furthermore, in 1953 it engineered the election of Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed over Sheikh Abdullah, who despite his cooperation with India, still hoped for Kashmiri independence. (He had been imprisoned for treason in 1953 because India feared he would make Kashmir independent) Unfortunately for India, neither Pakistan or most of the Kashmiri people concur with their viewpoint.
In addition to ending Kashmir’s special status, in 1964 Sheikh Abdullah was jailed once again. This, along with the mysterious disappearance and return of a lock of the Prophet Muhammad’s hair from a religious shrine in Kashmir, was the pretext Pakistan needed to invade. Another war between Pakistan and India occurred in the summer of 1965. Military action, including bombing raids and infantry battles took place inside India and Pakistan. The war ended with the Tashkent Ceasefire Declaration of January 10, 1966, with nothing resolved, leaving the way open for more wars. Another war occurred in 1971, after the outlawing of the Plebiscite Front-a Kashmiri independence organization fronted by Sheikh Abdullah. This war resulted in the creation of the state of Bangladesh out of what had been East Pakistan. It also resulted in the signing of the Simla Agreement. This agreement forbade either India or Pakistan from unilaterally changing the demarcation of the LOC and to respect the other’s territorial integrity.
Meanwhile, in 1975 India made a deal with Sheikh Abdullah whereby he would be returned to power if he recognized India’s accession of Kashmir. He refused, preferring to enter himself into the elections, which he won handily. He immediately began to consolidate his power, suspending civil and press freedoms and instituting preventive detention polices. In 1981, he passed his mantle on to his son Farooq, whose reign lasted less than three years, when a coup threw him out and put into place an Indian puppet government under G.M. Shah. This government was unable to rule as independence and Pakistani-inspired violence continued to rise. On March 7, 1986, India imposed direct rule. By 1990, over 400,000 Indian troops were in the state enforcing that rule. Now, close to 750, 000 are in the state, with most of them at the LOC, trading gunfire with their Pakistani opposites on the other side of the line.
If there is a solution to the Kashmiri problem, it lies in independence. Indeed, the repeated election of Sheikh Abdullah on a nominally pro-independence platform prove this, despite his dictatorial rule of his final years. The largest of the organizations fighting Indian occupation-the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF)-has been insistent since its founding in 1964 that accession to Pakistan would only be trading one form of oppression for another. The JKLF is also resolute in its commitment to a secular state, finding the Islamic fundamentalism of some of the other independence organizations to be contrary to Kashmiri traditions. It is some of these other organ-izations which Pakistan supports, especially Hizb-ul Mujahidin, the armed wing of the outlawed Jamaat-i-Islami political party. In general, the Kashmiri population supports the end of the military occupation by India and some form of autonomy, if not complete independence.
What can the people of the world do? First and foremost, we must demand a pledge from both India and Pakistan that they will not use nuclear weapons now or ever. Secondly, we must insist via the UN General Assembly that troops from both countries pull back from full alert and diminish their numbers along the LOC and other border areas. Thirdly, talks between the Kashmiris, Indians, and Pakistanis designed to establish a plebiscite that will determine the national future of Kashmir should begin immediately. Fourth, it is imperative that all U.S. and other foreign troops leave the region, including those forces in Afghanistan. Fifth, talks to abolish all nuclear weapons from the face of the earth must begin immediately. Sixth, the U.S. and all other nations involved in arms sales to Pakistan and India must end those sales.
Ron Jacobs can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org