Spearhead Analysis – 16.10.2017
By Raja Safiullah
Research Analyst, Spearhead Research
“Gar firdaus ruhe zamin ast, hamin asto, hamin asto, hamin ast”
(If there is a heaven on earth, it is here, it is here, it is here)
This is the famous couplet recited by the Mughal Emperor Jahangir, upon entering Kashmir in the 17th Century. Almost four centuries on, peace remains elusive in Kashmir – one of the most troubled regions in the world as declared by the UN Human Rights Watch and EU Special report following 70 years of tussle between the states of India and Pakistan. It requires resolution as it is a contentious issue that has the potential of developing into a conflict between the two nuclear armed states. While there is an ongoing debate over the conflicting territorial claims of Pakistan and India, who have already divided the region amongst themselves after three major wars by drawing out a Line of Control, little attention seems to have been paid to the aspirations of the Kashmiri people.
The Kashmir issue started in 1947 at the time of independence of Pakistan and India. A special proposition was laid before princely states like Jammu and Kashmir to accede to either Pakistan or India, with the final decision lying in the hands of the respective Maharajas or Rulers of the respective states. Almost a century earlier, the British ‘stooge’ Gulab Singh Dogra had consolidated power in the region by amalgamating a number of smaller princely states into the State of Jammu and Kashmir, after collaborating with the British to bring down the final mighty indigenous empire of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in 1846. Having held the region together, with British assistance, for almost a century the then Maharaja Hari Singh decided to push for Independence. The region had a clear Muslim majority whose loyalties lay with the nascent Pakistan due to religious reasons, and the region was contiguous with Western wing of Pakistan. However, the Maharaja’s hesitance to accede to Pakistan triggered a conflict on 22nd October, 1947 between the Pakistani forces and the Maharajas forces. Having lost most of the territory in the West and the Pakistani forces an arm length away from Srinagar – Kashmir’s capital, the Maharaja decided to accede to India in exchange for military support. The Indian forces were flown into Kashmir to halt the Pakistani march, and at this point United Nations was involved by India. By this time Pakistan had assumed control of one-third of the territory, and a ceasefire was called in with the promise of a plebiscite for the people of the former princely state by the UN. As the reminders of this promise fell to deaf ears over the years, the plight of Kashmiris led to another conflict between the two countries in 1965 this time arguably more serious as it escalated to a full-scale war on multiple fronts. This was followed by the more serious conflict that took place in 1999, given that only recently the two countries had acquired nuclear capability.
Ever since the initial conflict over Kashmir ended with a ceasefire in 1949, Pakistan has had it much easier in integrating the populace of the acquired territory, which accounted for almost one-third of the original territory. Especially the eastern-most part of Gilgit-Batistan that has been given the status of a province, albeit not a full one. In all fairness, India has also found it easy to assimilate the populace of the western-most part that includes Jammu and Ladakh, which unlike the rest of the former princely state had Hindu and Buddhist majorities, respectively.
It is specifically the region of Kashmir that lies in the heart of the former princely state with the Line of Control dissecting it in uneven halves between the two countries, which remains hotly contested. While Pakistani side fairs well owing to the clear Muslim majority, the Indian occupied side continues to be a thorn in India’s side. To this day, a Black Day is observed on 26th of October in the Indian held Kashmir, the day Maharaja acceded to India; while a similar fervor is observed on the 15th of August, India’s Independence Day. At times the Indian flag is set ablaze in the streets, and in its place flutters the Pakistan flag. The Indian Army, with a huge presence in the region, has been following a policy of purging people they deem as ‘miscreants’ or terrorists working with foreign agendas. The World apart from paying lip-service has largely turned a blind eye to the Indian excesses in terms of missing persons, mistreated women, protestors blinded by pellets and extra-judicial killings. State elections in the region tend to be some of the most violent times in Kashmir. With reports emerging of people boycotting the elections either by staying at their homes or by protesting out on the streets on the alleged mass rigging. From as far back as 1949, India’s central government has tried placing Pro-Indian politicians in Kashmir. Sheikh Abdullah, for one, was installed for ratifying the instrument of accession, but was later arrested for not accomplishing this task. His replacement was called in to see the process through. Extremely low turnouts coupled with protests during election time, and the consequent police brutality year round puts Kashmir in a precarious situation. The rare and limited attempts of dialogue by the likes of Mr. Vajpayee have also not done much in smoothing out the situation.
The promise of a plebiscite to this day remains unfulfilled. As India after involving the third-party mediator itself initially, has refused to comply with the suggested process and has insisted on a bilateral approach instead. India claims that Pakistan has fallen short of its role in the required process by not completely removing its forces from Kashmir as the UN resolution had suggested; while, Pakistan has pointed out that India has exponentially increased its military presence in the region even though the resolution required them to ‘reduce’ the forces to the ‘bare minimum’ required for maintaining law and order. UN continues to look on as a bystander and not assume the role of an enforcer; while confusion remains whether the case of Kashmir was entertained in the spirit of Chapter VI rendering arbitration only, or Chapter VII that demands enforcement. Simla Accord in 1972 has further complicated things, as Pakistan conceded to accepting the disputed border of Kashmir as Line of Control and that Kashmir related matters should be discussed bilaterally. But India’s consequent refusal to engage in dialogue over the matter coupled with violations of LOC has again set Pakistan on the path to seeking international support and invoking UN Resolutions.
The Nationalist inclinations in Kashmir are also seen as confused and divided. Staunch Kashmiri Nationalists like Dr. Shabir Choudhary, Leader of the Kashmir National Party, has voiced his opinion and tried to associate violence in Kashmir to the Pakistani state. He feels while much of the region blames India for its excesses and occupation, Pakistan’s incitement of violence goes unnoticed. He rallies a party that refuses to take sides between Pakistan and India, since their call is for a united and independent Jammu and Kashmir. While the Pakistani state labels him as an Indian agent, set out to malign Pakistan and the indigenous freedom movement of Kashmir. The Indians are also swift to label any nationalist elements within Kashmir that tend to question the Indian states’ methods as Pakistani agents. In this deafening exchange of allegations, when the bullets are spared, the actual voices of the Kashmiris are muffled or forgotten. And now appear to be rising again: this time refusing to pick a camp and emboldened by nationalistic tendencies which cannot be ignored. Once enveloped by the idea of acceding to Pakistan or India, some Kashmiris are now re-evaluating their options and starting to explore the possibility of self-determination. Perhaps tired of being used as a pawn in the ongoing tussle between the two countries, Kashmiris could be forced to pursue a third option. Sentiment and support for Pakistan remains strong.
Given the strategic importance of Kashmir to both Pakistan and India, with most of the water sources originating from the region, it seems highly unlikely either one of them will loosen their grip on the Kashmir issue. And with the Western-most parts of the former Jammu and Kashmir reasonably well integrated into Pakistan, and the Eastern-most regions into India, the real question that persists is of the ultimate destiny of Kashmir. The region remains divided and hotly contested between the two countries, with the option of giving Kashmir the status of a sovereign city-state by both the countries as one obvious answer. A sovereign city-state that is free of borders cutting right through its heart, while chalking out an understanding over the life-sustaining water resources for Pakistan and India with the Kashmiri State. An effective and immediate demilitarization of the region needs to be initiated and UN Peacekeeping Forces need to be deployed until free and fair elections can be held within the region. Such an idea can only gain credence if genuinely backed by the global and regional powers and the United Nations. A comprehensive long-term plan also needs to be drawn out to allow Kashmir to become capable of defending and sustaining itself in the complex world of international politics. For nothing echoes louder in the beautiful valley of Kashmir, than the misery inflicted by years of conflicting political agendas and the atrocities committed by Indian Security Forces.