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Kashmir: what lies behind the fighting?

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KASHMIR IS at the centre of the conflict between India and Pakistan. Its total population is 12 million. Roughly nine million are in Indian- administered Jammu and Kashmir, and three million are in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir.
Issue 1781

KASHMIR IS at the centre of the conflict between India and Pakistan. Its total population is 12 million. Roughly nine million are in Indian- administered Jammu and Kashmir, and three million are in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir.

It has been divided for more than 50 years. Kashmir matters intensely to both the Indian and Pakistani ruling classes. It is also strategically important. Kashmir is in the far northern tip of the Indian subcontinent, on the border of not only India and Pakistan, but also China and Afghanistan.

As many as 70,000 people have been killed in the violence in Kashmir since 1990. In 1947, at the time of the end of colonialism, there was a serious secular movement which fought for independence for Kashmir from both Pakistan and India. Some in Kashmir still hold to that goal.

But the main forces in Kashmir today are tied to the regional powers, India and Pakistan. Pakistan’s rulers have exploited Kashmiri opposition to very real oppression by the Indian state. Clashes and tension between the two nuclear-armed regional powers have grown during the last decade, with outrages on both sides. The first murders, kidnappings and bombings by Pakistan-backed guerrillas began in Kashmir in 1989.

Later that year the daughter of the home affairs minister in the federal government in Delhi was taken hostage and then released in exchange for five guerrillas. Large crowds welcomed the released men on the streets of Srinagar. Indian police fired on the crowds, killing five people. Early in 1990 India reappointed Jagmohan as governor.

He had first been sent into Kashmir in 1984 by Indira Gandhi after he had made his name in Delhi. There he sent in bulldozers to destroy Muslim slum areas as part of a ‘beautification’ of the city. Jagmohan was an admirer of the Israeli polices towards Palestinians, and he sought to create a Kashmir utterly dominated by Hindus. His fanatical approach led to further guerrilla attacks.

Hundreds of young men suspected of being guerrillas were taken from their homes, tortured and sometimes killed. Unprovoked firings on demonstrators cost hundreds of lives. Around 400,000 Indian soldiers were brought into Kashmir. All civil liberties were swept away and, as one account says, ‘you could be picked up anywhere, interrogated or killed, and nobody would ever know what had happened.’

According to Amnesty International, ‘The brutality of torture in Jammu and Kashmir defies belief. It has left people mutilated and disabled for life.’ Hindus did not gain from this horror. More than 100,000 of them fled the area in fear of what had been detonated.

By the time Jagmohan was replaced after six months as governor almost the entire Muslim population was in revolt. For a brief period there was sense among some people of fighting for liberation in Kashmir. But it quickly faded away. The pro-Pakistan guerrillas also alienated themselves from much of the local population. Their atrocities included the murder of 16 Hindus who were taken off a bus in Kishtwar in August 1993 and shot.

As Victoria Schofield writes in her authoritative book Kashmir in Conflict: ‘Since 1989 the Kashmiris have lived in fear of the gun, whether it is that of the militants or the Indian security forces. Their sons-as militants, suspected militants or sympathisers-have been arrested, tortured, killed or just disappeared. For the majority of people the ill-effects of living under siege are tremendous. Children have frequently been unable to go to school, and the standard of education has declined. Medical facilities are insufficient and the hospitals are unhygienic.’

In 1995, after six years of heightened conflict, there were 20 times the number of psychiatric cases as there were in 1989. Only a rich elite, Hindu and Muslim, has gained. Expert Pankaj Mishra writes:

‘The Muslim middle class in the valley still largely consists of people connected to the government as elected or non-elected officials, and during the insurgency it has not stopped carving out private profits from public works. If anything the violence and instability, the constant destruction and rebuilding, has offered more opportunities of raiding the state exchequer. Jammu, the Hindu majority city in Indian-controlled Kashmir, is full of newly built mansions of senior ministers and bureaucrats. In remote villages in the valley-corruption finding its own level everywhere-the massive new houses of local petty officials stand apart from the enclosing shabbiness.’

During the last five years a series of conflicts have brought India and Pakistan to the brink of war. Ordinary people have not benefited at all from the conflict in Kashmir. They will not gain from any war now. They are offered a false choice between a regime which came to power through a military coup in Pakistan and a Hindu fundamentalist Indian government. In that situation the only way forward is friendship and unity between Hindus and Muslims, people of India and Pakistan.

Any support for either ruling class or their puppets will be disastrous for all the people of the region.

The seeds of division

IN 1947 British India was partitioned into two states, India and Pakistan. The imperialist lobby in London, headed by Winston Churchill, demanded concessions for their corrupt and wealthy local allies, the 534 heads of the princely states.

These controlled around a third of the British Raj. As a result they were allowed to decide for themselves which of the new countries to join. Almost all decided to become part of India. But rulers in Hyderabad and Junagadh opted for Pakistan.

The new Indian prime minister, Jawarharlal Nehru, sent troops to occupy these states and bring them into India. The third contested state was Kashmir, ruled by Maharajah Hari Singh. He was the Hindu ruler of a predominantly Muslim state. It was situated next to territory that had become part of Pakistan.

He tried to avoid a decision on which state to join, despite intense pressure from Nehru. Three months after independence, the Pakistani state sent ethnic Pashtun troops to occupy Kashmir. This was used by the Indian government as a reason to send Indian troops to seize Srinagar, the capital of Kashmir, and persuade the Maharajah into signing a treaty which made Kashmir part of India.

Kashmir was granted autonomy under the Indian constitution but the ruler was imprisoned twice, for a total of 18 years, between 1953 and 1975. He won Kashmir’s only free election in 1977, but his son was dismissed as chief minister in 1984 by Indira Gandhi, who imposed central government rule. Troops from both sides fought to a standstill, and the United Nations was called in to lay down a ceasefire line.

This is still the basis for today’s ‘line of control’, the effective border which separates Pakistan-held Kashmir and Indian-held Kashmir. Neither Pakistan nor India accepts that it is a permanent division. Every Indian leader has feared that if Kashmir breaks away then it could set off other movements for secession from the Indian state. Just as much is at stake for the rulers of Pakistan.

Since East Pakistan split to create Bangladesh in 1971, Pakistan now controls only about a third of all Muslims in the territory of former British India. There are as many Muslims in India as there are in Pakistan.

So the rulers of Pakistan, who claim to stand for Muslims (even though they have routinely persecuted certain sections of Muslims), need to push for Kashmir. In addition, the mountainous passes are strategically important to both sides.

The key events

1846: Maharajah of Kashmir buys control of the area from colonial British rulers.

August 1947: British colonialism forced out of Indian subcontinent. Partition of India and Pakistan leads to bloody fighting. Around one million die.

October 1947: Pakistani groups invade Kashmir, triggering war between India and Pakistan. ‘Non-violent’ Gandhi agrees to the use of troops. Kashmir is divided, although the bulk of it goes to India.

October 1962: War between India and China. India is defeated. China has occupied part of Kashmir ever since.

September 1965: Pakistani troops invade Kashmir. India counter-attacks in Pakistani Punjab.

December 1971: Third war between India and Pakistan results in the secession of East Pakistan, which becomes Bangladesh.

May 1974: India tests its first nuclear bomb.

July 1989: Insurgency against Indian rule breaks out in Kashmir.

May 1998: India tests five nuclear devices. Pakistan tests six.

June 1999: Renewed tension brings India and Pakistan to the brink of full-scale war again.

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