Kashmir: A Neglected Issue

Category: World Affairs Topics: India, India-Pakistan Relations, Kashmir, Pakistan Views: 2410


The Kashmir dispute primarily involves the life and future of the people of the land. Because of its impact on relations between India and Pakistan, however, it directly affects the peace and stability of the South-Asian subcontinent. This is a region which contains a large segment of the human race. 

Two wars have been the harvest reaped from the dispute. The possibility of a third, bloodier, probably nuclear and more extensive one has by no means been eliminated. 

The dispute is not insoluble through peaceful procedures. It appears to be so only because the obduracy of one of the parties is encouraged by the apathy of the world outside. To cover its 'wrongful occupation of Kashmir', India has skillfully propagated a series of myths about the genesis and nature of the dispute. 

The United States can, and should, lead the effort to achieve a fair and lasting settlement of the dispute - fair to the people most immediately involved and fair to its own commitments to democracy and human rights. By doing so, our country can strengthen the principles of a just world order. It will also earn the gratitude of generations in Kashmir, in Pakistan and even in India itself. 

Indian army and police personnel lay out 30 April 2001 the remains of 11 mujahideen who were killed in a fierce gun battle in the southern Kashmiri district of Poonch 29 April. 

Location and size

Kashmir is situated in the extreme north of the India-Pakistan subcontinent and at the southern point of Central Asia. With an area of 86,000 square miles and a population currently estimated at around 13 million, (Census of 1990) it is surrounded by four countries: China, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, with the narrow Wakhan strip (in Afghanistan) separating it from the Tajikistan and Krygstan. Its rivers flow into Pakistan: its traditional highways led there: it is also with Pakistan that it shares the larger part of its border. In its middle is the Vale of Kashmir, famed for its scenic beauty. Compared to the existing 186 sovereign states in the world taken individually, Kashmir is larger than 91 and more populous than 117. 

Present Status 

The cease-fire line between the forces of India and Pakistan has currently divided Kashmir into two parts. One is under Indian control: this comprises 63% of the whole territory and includes the Vale; it has a population of around 7.5 million. The other with around 3 million people, includes Azad (free) Kashmir, which is under indirect Pakistani control, and the northern region of Gilgit and Baltistan, which is directly administered by Pakistan. About 1.5 million Kashmiris are refugees in Pakistan: some 400,000 live in Britain and about 250,000 are scattered around the world. The present arbitrary bifurcation of Kashmir has divided thousands of Kashmir families. 

Modern History 

A society with a settled historical continuity of its own, Kashmir has been independent over long periods of time spanning centuries. During the colonial era, however, it was one of the principalities called States which were ruled by hereditary feudal chiefs (Maharajahs or Nabobs) and granted internal autonomy by Britain as the paramount power. The Maharajah of Jammu and Kashmir (the official name given to the State) was the descendent of a freebooter who obtained the territory from the British East India Company in return for the payment of a sum of money in 1846. The resentment of the people of Kashmir at having been treated as chattel in this sale-deed remained inarticulate during the early colonial period but exploded in a freedom movement in 1931. It led to the 'Quit Kashmir' campaign against the Maharajah in 1946 and to the Azad Kashmir movement which gained momentum a year later. The first armed encounter between the Maharajah's troops and insurgent forces occurred in August 1947. 

At that time, Britain was liquidating its empire in the subcontinent. The tripartite agreement of Britain, the National Congress (representing Hindus) and the Muslim League (representing Muslims) partitioned British India into two independent countries: one compromising Hindu-majority areas which retained the name 'India' and the other including Muslim-majority areas which named itself Pakistan. As this settlement also meant the end of British paramountcy over the autonomous principalities called States, these were supposed either to merge with one of the two countries in accordance with the wishes of the people and the principle of partition (Hindu-majority States with India and Muslim-majority States with Pakistan). Kashmir was a predominantly Muslim-majority State; besides, it was far more contiguous with Pakistan than with India. It was therefore, expected to accede to Pakistan. 

But the Maharajah was Hindu and he rejected the first option and could not manage the second. 

Faced with the insurgency of his people, which had been joined by a few hundred civilian volunteers from Pakistan, he fled the capital Srinagar, on 25 October 1947 and arranged that India send its army to help him crush the rebellion. India, coveting the territory, set one condition on its armed intervention. The condition was that the Maharajah must sign an Instrument of Accession to India. He agreed but India did not wait for his signature to fly its troops into the State. 

Thus a war-lord in 1846 had acquired Kashmir and his fief through a sale-deed, so his descendent in 1947 transferred Kashmir as a property to India. Though hundred and one years apart, the two acts were identically colonialist in nature, provoking the same popular outrage. One difference, however, was that the first took place in the colonial era and required no legitimacy; the second occurred in the post-colonial age after coming into force of the United Nations Charter. 

A seriously injured man is being carried away by volunteers after a powerful car bomb blast when off in a crowded business district of Kashmir's summer capital Srinagar 31 October. At least two people died and 18 others were injured when the bomb when off in a newly built parking lot.

Accession Provisional 

Though long planned and swiftly executed, the annexation of Kashmir could not be a simple affair for India. First, there was the incongruity of the act which clearly violated the principle of partition. Secondly, while accepting the instrument of accession from the Maharajah, India did not wish to jeopardize its chances of annexing two other principalities or States (Hyderabad and Junagadh) which, in contrast with Kashmir, had Hindu majorities but Muslim rulers. It had a stake, therefore, in ostensibly preserving the principle that in case of conflict between the ruler's and the people's wishes, the latter must prevail. Under these compulsions, India had to attach a condition to the transaction with the Maharajah: the accession was made subject to "reference to the people." On India's own showing, therefore, the accession had a provisional character; one official representative of India at the United Nations termed it "tentative." 

Kashmir Question at the United Nations 

Between October and December of 1947, the Azad Kashmir forces successfully resisted India's armed intervention and liberated one-third of the State. 

Realizing it could not quell the resistance, India brought the issue to the United Nations in January 1948. As the rebel forces had been undoubtedly joined by volunteers from Pakistan, India charged Pakistan with having sent "armed raiders" into the State and urged that the 

United Nations call upon Pakistan to withdraw them. This was coupled with the assurance that, once the "raiders" were withdrawn, India would enable a plebiscite being held under impartial auspices to decide Kashmir's future status. In reply, Pakistan charged India with having maneuvered the Maharajah's accession through "fraud and violence" and with collusion with a "discredited" ruler in the repression of his people. Pakistan's counter complaint was also coupled with the proposal of a plebiscite under the supervision and control of the United Nations to settle the dispute. 

The Security Council discussed the question exhaustively from January to April 1948. It came to the conclusion that it would be impossible to determine responsibility for the fighting and futile to blame either side. 

Since both parties desired that the question of accession should be decided through an impartial plebiscite, the Council developed proposals based on the common ground between them. These were embodied in the resolution of 21 April 1948 envisaging a cease-fire, the withdrawal of all outside forces from the State and a plebiscite under the control of an administrator who would be nominated by the Secretary General. For negotiating the details of the plan, the Council appointed a five-member Commission (including the United States) which proceeded to the Subcontinent in July. 

The International Agreement 

The United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan (UNCIP) worked out the concrete terms of settlement in close and continuous consultations with both sides. These were crystallized in two resolutions adopted on 13 August 1948 and 5 January 1949. As both governments formally signified their acceptance of the Commission's proposals, these constituted an international agreement as binding as a treaty. A cease-fire was immediately enforced. The Commission then started negotiations to draw up a plan for the withdrawal of Indian and Pakistani armies from the State in a manner and sequence that would not cause disadvantage to either side or imperil the freedom of the plebiscite. Meanwhile, a distinguished American, Admiral Chester Nimitz, was designated as Plebiscite Administrator. 

Cause of stalemate 

Progress towards a solution was, however, blocked by India's refusal to accept that the withdrawal of forces on the two sides should be balanced and synchronized. When President Truman (of US) and Prime Minister Attlee (of Britain) appealed that the points at issue be submitted to arbitration by the Plebiscite Administrator designate and India turned down the appeal, the Commission terminated its mediatory mission. From 1950-1957, a succession of Presidents of the Security Council or United Nations representatives - General MacNaughton (Canada), Owen Dixon (Australia), Frank Graham (United States) and Gunnar Jarring (Sweden) made intense efforts to secure India's agreement to stage-by-stage demilitarization of the State so that a free plebiscite could be held. They all failed, as did the informal mediators like the Prime Ministers of the Commonwealth countries. 

Impact of the Cold War A development that hardened India's stance was Pakistan's joining military pacts sponsored by the United States. From 1955, India took the position that, in view of this alliance, it could no longer countenance the withdrawal of its forces from Kashmir. To repeated pleas that the withdrawal was not meant to be unilateral in any case but would be coordinated with that by Pakistan, its response remained immovably negative. India found a ready supporter for this position in the Soviet Union which, after 1958, blocked every attempt by the Security Council to unfreeze the situation and implement the peace plan originally accepted by both parties. This caused the paralysis of the Security Council on Kashmir - a condition which lasted from 1958 to this day. 

Not even two full-scale wars between India and Pakistan in 1965 and 1971 served to shake this imbroglio. 

The situation in Kashmir 

India's rule in Kashmir has thus been left undisturbed by the international community, even though its validity has never been accepted. 

At no stage, however, have the people of Kashmir shown themselves to be reconciled to it. There have been several uprisings, notably in 1953 and 1964, and even the relatively calmer interludes have witnessed continuous peaceful protest met with unrelenting force. Kashmir's record of opposition to its annexation by the Indian Union, can by no standard be reckoned as less genuinely demonstrated than that of countries of Eastern Europe under the dominance of the Soviet Union. But while the popular revolt in the countries of Eastern Europe was observed and reported by the international media, that in Kashmir has remained largely hidden from the world's view.  Some of the facts of the situation are: 

- India maintains a large and highly visible military presence in Kashmir; the troops stationed there exceed 700,000; including para-military forces, the Central Reserve Police and the Border Security Force, all of whom are thugs in uniform and equipped with state-of-the-art torture machines. 

- There are 16 Indian secret service agencies operating ubiquitously to spy on the 7.5 million citizens. 

- The number of those killed exceed 65, 000 and the number of those maimed, tortured, illegally imprisoned or condemned to starvation by being robbed of their living by the Indian authorities runs into the tens of thousands. 

- It has subverted Kashmir's traditional autonomy by bringing its judiciary and administrative services at the higher level under the total control of the Government in Delhi. 

- Over the 52 years, India has so managed Kashmir's economy as to make it dependent on Indian subsidies and supplies of basic necessities like food; except in a southern pocket adjacent to India, not even a beginning has been made towards industrialization; the object of turning Kashmir into a deficit area is to impose severe economic penalty on its release from Indian rule. 

- Compared to Azad (free) Kashmir, which has a 56% literacy rate and per capita income of $450, Indian administered Kashmir has a literacy level of 26% and per capita income of $260, even though it is the latter which contains the traditionally more settled and developed parts of the State 

- To make the Kashmir dispute as un-amendable to a rational solution as it can, India has taken advantage of the un-demarcated frontier with China in the north-east and militarily asserted claims which are challenged by China.

The current mass uprising

Kashmir could not remain untouched by the tide of freedom which rolled across the world in the late 1980's, sweeping away the Soviet military invasion of Afghanistan and Iraqi occupation of Kuwait, South Africa's 70-year old rule over Namibia and unpopular establishments in Eastern Europe. Inspired by it and also encouraged by the emergence from limbo of the United Nations as a central peace-making agency, the people of Kashmir intensified their struggle against India. Their uprising entered into its current phase in July 1988. The scale of popular backing for it can be judged from the established fact that, on few occasions in 1990, virtually the entire population of Srinagar came out on the streets in an unparalleled demonstration of protest against the oppressive status quo.

The further fact that they presented petitions at the office of the United Nations Military Observers Group shows the essentially peaceful nature of the aims of the uprising and its trust in justice under international law. India has tried to portray the uprising as the work of terrorists or fanatics.

'Terrorists' do not compose an entire population, including women and children; fanatics do not look to the United Nations to achieve pacific, rational settlement.

How India has responded to the uprising and is still reacting to it is clear from the following:

- From January 1990 to March 2001, the latest date up to which estimates area available - there have been several massacres the death-toll exceeding 70,000. The victims of Indian army atrocities include the aged, women and children. In many cases, Indian troops went on rampage in Srinagar and other villages; as they raided houses without warning, they raped over 6,000 women, including a young bride on her wedding day.

- A practice maintained by the Indian troops is that of dumping in government warehouses the bodies of those killed and handing them over to the near of kin at night with strict orders to arrange burials in the dark. But the practice is not consistently observed. In one instance, Indian soldiers killed 25 Kashmiri freedom fighters and tried to destroy the evidence by throwing the bodies into the river. The people, however, recovered 15 bodies.

- Since the start of the current uprising, over 10,000 Kashmiris, mostly young men and women, have been imprisoned by the Indian forces.

- From among them, about 3,00 have been kept in torture cells. Those regarded not worthy of the labor and expense of extreme torture are subjected to other kinds of treatment. A favorite exercise of the Indian authorities is to strip young men and women of their clothing and to photograph them naked in order to blackmail their families and extort information about the organization of the uprising.

- Dawn to dusk curfews, with shoot-at-sight orders, have been imposed on entire cities and towns frequently; the suffering and hardship resulting from the people's inability to obtain the necessaries of daily life and medical help is easily imaginable. This inhuman policy of virtually turning the homes of people into prisons and banning the freedom of physical movement for the whole population was maintained through a 24-hour curfew lasting as long as 17 days from 3 to 20 April 1990. Countless deaths of the sick and the infirm have been the result.

- Those injured by the Indian Army firing are removed to hospitals in Jammu where, under the pretext of lack of medicines, their limbs have been amputated.

- India has intensified its scorched earth policy by setting afire more than 28,000 homes and shops in 35 localities in the valley. According to eyewitness accounts, the Indian forces that set the homes afire prevented fire-fighters and other relief personnel from reaching the affected areas.

- To give the uprising the color of violent religious strife, the Indian authorities have engineered the evacuation from the vale of Kashmir of a major proportion of the Hindu community by creating a scare and then providing transport and financial aid for their flight to Jammu or Delhi. Parallel to this scheme is the importation into the State of armed gangs of extreme right-wing and Hindu fundamentalist organizations, the Shiv Shena and RSS. The stage has been set for raping and mass slaughter for which the India will be quick to put the blame on the 'Muslim fanatics and militants.'

- Some of the actions of the Indian authorities were sketchily reported by the world media in January 1990. India then clamped strict censorship on the news and barred the entry of all electronic media into the area; as many as 30 foreign journalists were expelled from the State. Later, the policy was somewhat relaxed to mollify world opinion. The technique adopted by India is not to deny occurrences completely, but to minimize the deaths resulting from them. Up to the end of December 2000, the Indian version put the recent death toll at 45,000.

Much inhumanity, continuous violation of basic rights, frequent massacres, constant fear, hunger and misery - these are the gifts India is bringing to Kashmir. For the populous South Asian sub-continent, the Kashmir situation entails recurrent possibility of disaster and war. The United States must understand that it is implausible to believe that India and Pakistan will either cap or renounce their respective nuclear genies after they have escaped the South Asian bottle unless the chief source of antagonism - Kashmir - is resolved. Towards that end, the United States must assume the position as a leader and take an active role in finding a lasting settlement on Kashmir.

Since bilateral India-Pakistan talks can never resolve the Kashmir conflict, that formula has proven utterly bankrupt for more than 50 years, and nothing has changed but the faces, therefore the Governments of India and Pakistan should be persuaded to include the Kashmiri leadership - the All Parties Hurriyet Conference that represents the broader spectrum of the opinion of the people of Kashmir - with the peace process. As Northern Ireland required the participation of Sinn Fein in negotiations to succeed, Kashmir is no different. President Bush should appoint a special envoy on Kashmir - a person of an international standing, like President Carter, President George H. Bush or President Mandela.

The United States holds unique powers of moral suasion, economic, and other assistance in facilitating enlightened solutions to acute divisions, whether in Northern Ireland, the Middle East, East Timor, Kosovo, or Kashmir.

Only the exertion of the necessary moral pressure by the United States will lead the parties to that way.


Dr. Ghulam Nabi Fai is executive director of the Kashmiri American Council.

  Category: World Affairs
  Topics: India, India-Pakistan Relations, Kashmir, Pakistan
Views: 2410

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