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The Kashmir Conundrum: the Background

Why was Kashmir in the headlines again recently? What are the causes of the problem? What can be done to resolve it?

Why was Kashmir in the headlines again recently? What are the causes of the problem? What can be done to resolve it?

Kashmir is back in the news – again.

On 14 February, Kashmiri militant Adil Ahmad Dar allegedly drove a car laden with explosives into vehicles carrying Indian security personnel.

Forty-four Indian personnel were killed in the most significant attack on the country’s troops for decades.

Pakistan-based outfit Jaish-e-Mohammed claimed responsibility for the attack and, with elections pending in India, retaliation was swift.

Indian planes crossed the line of control to carry out attacks in Pakistani territory.  Pakistan then responded by shooting down an Indian fighter jet.

Before the world could blink, historical tensions had escalated once more. Given that both states are nuclear powers, the situation became tense.

The eventual release of an Indian fighter pilot by Pakistan appeared to calm the situation. In more recent days, India’s prime minister Narendra Modi has also responded with peace overtures aimed at Pakistan’s leader, Imran Khan, suggesting the crisis has abated.

But for how long?


Kashmir has been the principal cause of at least two, possibly three, wars between India and Pakistan since 1948 – and Britain played a considerable role in creating the conflicts.

The Kashmir problem emerged from Britain’s botched partition of British India in August 1947 – a profoundly controversial and hurried affair which resulted in the deaths of up to one million people.

British India’s partition involved the division of directly controlled British states into either Hindu or Muslim majority states, with the former becoming a part of India and the latter Pakistan.

As a princely state, Kashmir was not directly under British control – so in theory was entitled to self-rule. Yet most princely states ending up joining one of the two new countries.

Given Kashmir’s population was 80-85% Muslim, there was an assumption that it would join Pakistan. Its Hindu Maharajah, Hari Singh, however, had other ideas.

In October 1947, after an apparent invasion led by Afridi tribesmen (assumed to be backed by Pakistan), Maharajah Hari Singh sought help from India.  At this point, Britain’s Lord Mountbatten – operating in his capacity as governor-general of the newly formed India – insisted that Kashmir accede to India before any military assistance could be provided. The Maharajah duly agreed.

Lord Mountbatten’s decision was widely criticised – including by fellow members of the Indian cabinet, members of the United Nations and even Winston Churchill.

Britain’s war time prime minister believed Kashmir ‘clearly belonged to Pakistan.’

India’s intervention led to the first post-partition dispute. The newly formed UN finally intervened to help end the war and called for a referendum to decide the fate of Kashmir. Such a referendum has never taken place.

The UN-backed ceasefire also saw Kashmir divided into two, with India taking approximately 65% of the territory.

A second war occurred in 1965, when Pakistan allegedly tried to take the region by force. They were unsuccessful, and the ‘Tashkent Agreement’ reinforced an effective stalemate.

In 1971 a further conflict occurred between the two countries, this time over Bangladesh. The ‘Simla agreement’ that followed formalised the line of control.

Image result for line of control kashmir map

A disputed election in 1987 in Indian administered Kashmir triggered a pro-Independence insurgency. By the 1990s, violence perpetrated by both sides became commonplace.

In 1998, both Pakistan and India tested nuclear weapons – and 1999 saw another conflict between the two: described by the then Indian premier Atal Bihari Vajpayee as a ‘war-like situation’. Reportedly, Pakistani soldiers disguised as militants crossed the line of control and entered Kargil. After a brief conflict, they were driven back by Indian troops.

Human Rights Abuses

The early 2000s were marked by periodic violence and, by 2008, major protests against Indian rule intensified. The situation has apparently deteriorated since the election of the sectarian Narendra Modi as India’s prime minister.

Modi’s administration views Kashmir as a security problem and is heavy-handed in its approach. Violence intensified once again in 2016 when popular Kashmiri rebel commander Burhan Wani was killed by Indian troops.

In 2018 the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) issued a report on human rights abuses in Kashmir. It noted that over 50,000 people had been killed in conflicts since 1989. While the report criticised both India and Pakistan, it concluded that abuses were worse inside Indian administered Kashmir.

Future of Kashmir

Kashmiri writer Mirza Waheed told The Byline Times that India conducts itself like an occupying military power. Kashmiris see Indian forces as an alien aggressor and not as ‘security forces’.

Meanwhile, Pakistan has managed ‘Azad Kashmir’ with token autonomy. Real power remains with the Pakistani state and army. Intermittently, they oppress Kashmiris who do not want Kashmir to be part of Pakistan. For Mirza Waheed, unless the dispute is resolved India and Pakistan will always be on the “brink of war”.

He feels it is not a dispute that can be resolved by ‘carving up land for possession’ and argues that ‘until Kashmiris have primacy, as it’s their future which is at stake, India and Pakistan will continue to be enemies.’    

LSE academic Tahir Abbas – himself of Kashmiri heritage – believes continuation of the dispute may in part be down to strategic water channels that flow through Kashmir. He said that any solution must involve Kashmiri self-determination because the ‘only people who suffer are the Kashmiris’.

For Michael Kugelman of the Wilson Centre, there is now a vast difference in how Pakistan and India view the issue. Kugelman said that ‘New Delhi sees it as an issue that has already been resolved’ – a stance certainly not shared by Pakistan.

Umar Karim, a University of Birmingham researcher, believes neither side will push for talks any time soon. One possible solution, he said, could be to make the Kashmir valley part of the region self-governing.

One thing is for sure, until there is a lasting solution; Kashmir will continue to be the principal source of tension, and periodic violence, between India and Pakistan.

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