Understanding Kashmir

Srinagar, Kashmir.

The resolution of the Kashmir issue will help eradicate religious extremism in Pakistan. Militant elements in the region will find little reason to blame the West for negative interference once the issue of Kashmir is resolved. There is rise of Taliban in Afghanistan and the rise of Muslim extremism in Pakistan. Pakistan along with Americans is presently fighting resurgent Talibans in its area bordering Afghanistan.  But the Kashmir dispute, which dates back to 1947 partition of the Indian sub-continent into India and Pakistan, continues to be the biggest hurdle in peace in the region. The lingering Kashmir dispute allows the extremist elements to incite passions among the masses and get recruits for the global Jihad.

It seems the West understands it.  The British Foreign Secretary David Miliband wrote in the Guardian after his recent visit to south Asia: “On my visit to south Asia, I am arguing that the best antidote to the terrorist threat in the long term is cooperation. Although I understand the current difficulties, resolution of the dispute over Kashmir would help deny extremists in the region one of their main calls to arms, and allow Pakistani authorities to focus more effectively on tackling the threat on their western border.” The comment, angering the Government of India that considers Kashmir as its integral part, is valid in so far as Kashmir continues to be the hot spot in South Asia and a potential source for the nuclear confrontation.

The Kashmir problem began in 1947 with the partition of the British India that led to formation of two sovereign countries India and Pakistan.

Pakistan immediately claimed the right over Muslim-dominated Jammu and Kashmir state, in accordance with the principles of the two-nation theory, which stated Muslim majority areas should become part of new dominion called Pakistan.

The first war between India and Pakistan over Kashmir started in 1947 with Pakistan gaining control over 1/3rd of Kashmir that is called Pakistan administered Kashmir. Pakistanis call it Azad (independent) Kashmir. The major portion remained under India and is called Jammu and Kashmir.  The war ended only after the UN intervention and the UN resolutions that called for withdrawal of troops from both the Kashmirs and the holding of plebiscite.

However, India refuses to hold the plebiscite, saying the bilateral agreements between India and Pakistan have made the Kashmir a bilateral issue and any third party including the UN has no role.

But still the issue of Kashmir consistently threatens peace in South Asia by straining relations between the two nuclear neighbors, India and Pakistan, and giving rise to increasing militancy and religious extremism amongst the local population. Three wars and ongoing conflict between both the countries has led extremist groups to use religion to garner support amongst Pakistanis and Muslim Kashmiris for their cause.

The anti-India armed insurgency backed by mass uprising erupted in Jammu and Kashmir or in Indian controlled Kashmir in 1989 and since then it has consumed some 100,000 people. The human rights activists say that there are some 10,000 persons who were subjected to enforced disappeared by the Indian security forces for the past 20 years.

The insurgents in early 90s sought support from the religious elements in Pakistan who support Kashmir jihad and describe it as unfinished agenda of the partition.  While as in India the Hindu organizations like RSS consider Kashmir a part of Hindu civilization and oppose its secession.

Situation changed for better with the governments of India and Pakistan starting a bus–service between the divided Kashmirs in 2005. Former President of Pakistan Parvez Musharraf advocated demilitarization of Kashmir, a proposal which had several takers in Kashmir-both separatist and mainstreams. Demilitarization was considered to be the prologue to solution of Kashmir problem which would not only bring a much needed political reprieve to the people of Kashmir but will also help in social and economic reconstruction of Kashmir. As the same discourse had picked up in the sub-continent, the November 26 terror attacks in Mumbai changed the scenario with India blaming Pakistani elements for the attacks and Pakistan denying the same.

With the Mumbai attacks, Kashmir has again proved to be the only major obstacle in normalization of relations between India and Pakistan as it serves as an inspiration to some militant quarters across the region. General perception is that if this issue is resolved, it will rule out any possibility of a nuclear confrontation between the two neighbors besides denying extremist elements a call for arms. Further, the solution of Kashmir problem will open new possibilities of reduction in burgeoning defense expenditure of India and Pakistan, which will help in poverty alleviation in the region.

If the West intervenes in Kashmir and helps in finding a lasting solution to Kashmir problem, it will be seen as a groundbreaking goodwill gesture to the Muslims of the world, which will open new possibilities of dialogue between the West and the Muslim world. It will help Muslims shed off the impression that the West is indifferent to their sufferings across the globe. The separatists or secessionists including some prominent religious leaders argue that the Western intervention is imperative as the bilateral dialogue between India and Pakistan has failed to deliver any substantial result. Despite being Muslims, Kashmiris don’t perceive the West as their enemies. The United Nations Militarily Observers Group office in Srinagar, the summer capital of Kashmir that oversees peace agreement brokered by the UN in 1947 between India and Pakistan and symbolizes the West in Kashmir is thronged by people who submit detailed memoranda seeking the UN and the US intervention in the dispute.

ZULFIKAR MAJID is a journalist covering low intensity Kashmir conflict for the last six years and can be emailed at zulfikarmajid@gmail.com