The tangle of issues hindering a solution for Jammu-Kashmir

Victoria Schofield

In the tangled web of promises and failed talks that have been the hallmark of the dispute over the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir, there is one constant: a steadfast belief by a section of the inhabitants that the 1947 pledge – made when India and Pakistan achieved independence from Britain – permitting them to choose their future political affiliation, has not been honoured. Rather, they believe that a decision was forced upon them – first, when the Maharajah, Hari Singh, acceded to India without consultation, and again, when the plebiscite, promised by India and Pakistan, was never held. The demand for azadi (freedom) today reflects that belief. 

Sixty-four years later, the state’s contested status has affected the lives of millions, dominating Indo-Pakistani relations and making people, with millennia of shared culture and territory, deadly enemies. Wars have been fought across the international border in 1948-49, 1965, 1971 and, across the ‘line of control’ dividing Indian and Pakistani-administered Kashmir, in Kargil in 1999. 

Both countries have acquired nuclear weapons, although the reality of a nuclear exchange would result in mutual self-destruction. The Siachen Glacier in northern Kashmir, occupied by opposing armies since 1984, remains the world’s highest war zone, causing unrecorded environmental damage and costing millions of rupees. Excessive military expenditure has meant that the rising populations of India and Pakistan have been starved of resources, with inadequate funds spent on health, education and poverty eradication. 

One challenging characteristic of the Jammu-Kashmir issue is that the demands of the key protagonists differ so dramatically that there is little common ground as a basis for discussion. Successive Indian governments maintain that because of the Maharajah’s accession, the territory is an integral part of India; Pakistan insists that the status quo – with the state divided along the ‘line of control’ – is unacceptable and supports a ‘freedom’ struggle on the Indian-administered side. Neither position takes into account the wishes of the inhabitants, whose aspirations also differ, depending on religious and regional preferences. 

Firstly, there is the majority Muslim population, living in the Valley; linguistically they are Kashmiris (as are also the now displaced Pandits of Hindu faith). Some Muslims initially wanted to join Pakistan, others did not, including the Muslim leader of the National Conference, Sheikh Abdullah, who believed that Kashmir’s future was best assured with India, as does the Sheikh’s son, former Chief Minister, Farooq, and grandson, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah. As Hindus, the Valley Kashmiri Pandits also prefer India, as do the majority Hindu population in Jammu, the Buddhists in Ladakh, and the smaller groupings of Gujars and Bakherwals. Even the Shia Muslims of Kargil are unenthusiastic about joining Pakistan. 

On the Pakistani side of the line of control, at partition, the Mirs and Rajahs of Gilgit-Baltistan (formerly the Northern Areas) uniformly wanted to join Pakistan. The Balawaristan National Front now supports independence for Gilgit-Baltistan but not for the entire state. Those inhabiting the narrow strip of land, Azad (‘free’) Jammu and Kashmir (AJK, known in India as Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, or POK), who are politically referred to as Kashmiris despite being non-Kashmiri speakers, have generally accepted allegiance to Pakistan. Some, however, talk of the region being reunited with the Valley as a smaller independent state. 

In contrast to those Kashmiri Muslims and Hindus who accept allegiance to India, a significant proportion in the Valley remain disaffected, no longer seeing their future as part of Pakistan. Their struggle has been both militant (starting in earnest with the insurgency in 1989) and political. Their goal is also fractured, in terms of whether they are fighting for independence of the entire state or just the Valley. The difficulty is compounded by the fact that although the Maharajah might initially have contemplated independence in 1947, no provision in the partition plan was made for any princely state to become independent; when Prime Minister Nehru and Governor-General Jinnah agreed that a plebiscite should be held, the choice was between India or Pakistan. There was to be no ‘third option’. There was also no expectation that the state would be divided, as it effectively is now, since the proposal was for a unitary rather than a regional plebiscite to be held. 

As the Jammu-Kashmir issue has remained unresolved, the independence movement has gained momentum. “If Kosovo, why not Kashmir?” has been a potent rallying cry since the UN recognised Kosovo’s declaration of independence in 2008. The referendum held in East Timor in 1999 also re- fuelled the demand for a referendum to be held in Kashmir, reflecting the Kashmiri belief that they have been denied their ‘right of self-determination.’

Not surprisingly, whereas the movement to join Pakistan was fully supported by Pakistan, both overtly diplomatically and covertly militarily, the independence, or azadi, movement does not have adherents in Pakistan any more than in India. The creation of an independent state of Jammu and Kashmir would result in both countries losing territory regarded as vital for their strategic interests. Gilgit-Baltistan provides Pakistan with access to China along the Karakoram Highway; while Ladakh and its access along an already contested frontier with China is essential to India. Apart from loss of prestige, Pakistan would fight to retain its control of AJK because of the Mangla Dam, storing water crucial for its survival. In the same way, India is fighting to retain control of the Kashmir Valley, not only for historic reasons, but because possession of Kashmir would give it control over the Indus River tributaries. 

As many of the key players have realised, the way forward has to be through genuine negotiation. The world – and the Mumbai bombing of 2008 proved it – has become too dangerous for a dialogue of the deaf. It will not help the inhabitants of Jammu-Kashmir, traumatised during 20 years of conflict, to indulge in meaningless rhetoric. 

To achieve closure, what has to be determined is how to satisfy those Kashmiris, mainly located in the Valley, heartland of the resistance, who are still demanding their ‘inalienable’ right of self-determination. How can their wishes be met, bearing in mind regional and political diversity? Could just the Valley be independent? Or would guaranteed autonomy, with contact retained to the vital markets of India and access to Pakistan, meet the demand for azadi

Mirwaiz Umar Farooq of the Awami Action Committee thinks not, saying: “We totally reject autonomy [within India] as a solution. Autonomy is nothing new. Kashmiris had autonomy till 1953. We had our own president, prime minister, constitution and supreme court. Unfortunately, that was eroded by the government of India.” In other words, trust has been broken. Attitudes have also hardened. What one generation might have accepted, the next might not. 

Since India decided long ago what the end game was (the status quo), there has been little latitude to discuss alternative scenarios. Although former President Musharraf of Pakistan embarked on a ‘peace process’, which moved away from Pakistan’s traditional demand for a plebiscite to be held, his insistence that formalising the line of control into an international frontier was not an option still conflicted with Indian insistence that it was the only option. 

In 2011, as even Indian commentators are coming to realise, the problem of Kashmir lies within. As the barometer of violence in the state rises and falls, Indian leaders must surely question the depth of Kashmiri alienation and ask themselves why successive generations have become disaffected. Since the demand to join Pakistan has been superseded by the demand for azadi, Pakistan’s role must now be that of a benevolent neighbour, trying to influence India to improve its human rights record in the Valley by demilitarising a heavily fortified region, while recognising that Pakistan itself is unlikely to make any territorial gains. In the next round of Indo Pakistani talks, they might start with a mutual admission that there is no question of the whole state becoming either part of India or part of Pakistan, as envisaged in 1947.

About the author:

Victoria Schofield is author of Kashmir in Conflict: India, Pakistan and the Unending War (2010)


Post a comment

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Amnesty International