Kashmir – An area of conflict in South Asia that hasn’t seen peace, freedom and security for a very long while. After several hundred years of imperial rule, part of Kashmir became a part of the Secular, Democratic, Republic of India while the other part became a part of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. A minute section of Kashmir is also occupied by China.
The History of the state is the key to understanding the basis of the Indo-Pak conflict and also offers the means for a peaceful resolution of the issue. The last ruler of Kashmir was Maharaja Hari Singh, a man who was despised predominantly by the Muslim population of Kashmir for his autocratic and anti-Islamic regime. It is Hari Singh who handed Kashmir over to the Government of India through a document of Accession which many claim he had no right to write in the first place by virtue of his lack of control over the Islamic rebel groups in his own kingdom.
This is where the feud between India and Pakistan began; over who had a claim over the territory of Kashmir. Pakistan chose to separate itself from India as a nation built for the Muslims because they felt marginalized in India. They claim Kashmir due to its Muslim majorities and India claimed Kashmir by virtue of the accession document signed by the Maharaja.
The real reasons are the strategic importance of the region in terms of Defense and Trade along with its abundant natural resources like water supply and the potential for agriculture. These reasons, along with a strong tendency towards power-play, are apparently sufficient for both countries to wage large scale conventional wars (1947, 1965 and 1971).
There are blatant human rights violations in the area coupled with a severe lack of development and employment opportunities that lead inevitably to large sections of the Kashmiri population living in conditions of fear, anger and squalor. They have not yet been given the right to exercise their will in this matter. This has led to the growth of various militant organizations in the region that oppose the oppression of the Indian Government. These “freedom fighters” are labeled terrorists by the Indian government justifying their military pressure over the entire civilian population in the area.
In 1947, when the Kashmir issue was first referred to the United Nations, India did not want to be at an equal footing with Pakistan while Pakistan was openly hostile towards the Indian Government. On 31st December 1947, Nehru wrote to the UN Secretary-General:
“To remove the misconception that the Indian Government is using the prevailing situation in Jammu and Kashmir to reap political profits, the Government of Indian wants to make it very clear that as soon as the raiders are driven out and normalcy is restored, the people of the state will freely decide their fate and that decision will be taken according to the universally accepted democratic means of Plebiscite or Referendum.”
More than 50 years have gone by and the Kashmiris are still not acquainted with “normalcy”. They still have not had the (long overdue) plebiscite.
India’s stand was that, Kashmir was formally a part of India according to a legal agreement with the Maharaja to this effect and that any claim to any part of Kashmir by Pakistan is illegitimate.
Pakistan was of the opposite view where it felt that the Maharaja was driven out of his country by the people of Kashmir and that he had no authority to hand over the state which wasn’t under his control anyway. This nullifies any agreement made between the Government of India and the Maharaja.
The road ahead
The most pragmatic solution to this dispute comes from an unlikely source… Pakistan’s Military Dictator, General Pervez Musharraf. He proposed a four-point formula that addresses the key problems to this feud:
1. Demilitarization of the disputed area.
This would be done by both sides; India and Pakistan in tandem with a UN sponsored cease fire leaving room for organizing a plebiscite in the area.
2. Self Government.
Self-Government by the Kashmiris implies that both India and Pakistan will need to bring the Kashmiri interests to the table and add them to what has become a bilateral argument involving only Indian and Pakistani interests. Let the Kashmiris decide what they want.
3. Softening of existing borders.
The primary reason for the existence of hostilities amongst India and Pakistan is Kashmir. Once the region is divided according to the plebiscite, there will be no reason to have gargantuan armed forces regiments posted in the area leaving room for more productive interactions like trade and development. This can be achieved through creating, in phases, a permeable border amongst India and Pakistan.
4. International supervision and guarantee from the UN and major regional powers.
International supervision is necessary to ensure that both sides are operating in the interests of the people caught in the crossfire. The border drawn after the plebiscite and division of Kashmir will need to be recognized by the international community.
The plan is quite straight forward. However, implementing this plan is another challenge altogether with the primary obstacle being India’s unwillingness to give up territory. The Government of India will have to be convinced about its priorities. Territory comes after people. The people of Kashmir are suffering and are being driven into desperation. This could pose a serious law and order situation in India through the coming years with an increase in the already high levels of “terrorist” infiltrations across the country. The Indian public also needs to be made aware of the situation that prevails in Kashmir today. The Government has skillfully kept this away from them through manipulation of the mainstream media. Demanding accountability and productive action from the Government of India should be the first step preceding international pressure through sanctions and power play.
This is an urgent situation that requires immediate remedial action before it exacerbates into uncontrollable dimensions.
 Jawaharlal Nehru, as quoted in Korbel, Danger in Kashmir, p. 98.