by Idrisa Pandit
In 1957, U.S. Admiral Chester Nimitz, appointed as a United Nations envoy to mediate the Kashmir conflict between India and Pakistan, described the conflict in the following terms: “In our rapidly shrinking world there are few people left unaffected by disturbances in other areas, even though such upheavals are remote or far removed. Certainly a dispute that involves one-fifth of the world’s population, and that can erupt into a world war, bears careful watching.”
The world has shrunk a great deal further since 1957, the number of people living in the subcontinent has dramatically increased, and there is greater interdependence of nations. Therefore, one would expect the Kashmir conflict to be a key focus of modern international politics. Instead, it has been allotted a back burner position, leaving the populace of Kashmir ignored in the midst of untold suffering. Even when millions march nonviolently on the streets of Kashmir and many die as a result, there is barely a mention in the Western media, let alone talk of any “Kashmir Spring.”
Historically, Kashmir was a stop on the Silk Route and was known as a paradise on earth. Stretching over 225,000 square kilometres, with the Karakoram Himalayan range and important waterways such as the Indus River crisscrossing the region, Kashmir has a rich culture and is a home for people of various ethnic and religious groups, speaking several different languages. The 1947 partition of the subcontinent left Kashmir a disputed territory divided into three parts – Azad Kashmir (“Free Kashmir”), under Pakistani control; the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir (which includes Ladakh); and areas under Chinese control (Aksai Chin and the Shaksam Valley).
In the intervening years, Kashmir has earned its fame as one of the world’s longest standing conflict zones. India and Pakistan have fought three wars over Kashmir (1947, 1965 and 1999), and Kashmir now houses the largest military presence in the world. Both India and Pakistan possess nuclear arsenals and, along with Israel, have not signed the nuclear nonproliferation treaty. The danger of a nuclear war in the subcontinent over Kashmir almost became a reality in 2001 and 2002 as both countries prepared for a fourth war. It is predicted that one more war between India and Pakistan bears the prospect of use of nuclear weapons, leading to unimaginable death and destruction.1
Nevertheless, even among the major players in world politics, there appears to be at best halfhearted interest in resolving the Kashmir dispute. In the post-9/11 Islamophobic hysteria, India has succeeded in colouring the indigenous movement for self-determination as a terrorist movement. The emerging role of India as the superpower of South Asia and a lucrative consumer of weaponry2 has further contributed to the world’s silence on the issue of Kashmir.
Political scientist Kamal Chenoy of Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi views Kashmir as hostage to the “bitterly contending nationalisms” of India and Pakistan, the two nations caught in a struggle to win the hearts and minds of Kashmiri people.3 On the one hand, Pakistan uses the Islamic faith of the majority community as its claim to the territory, citing rules of division of the Princely States in 1947. On the other hand, India fears damage to its secular ideals if it lets go of Kashmir, a Muslim majority territory. Over time, both countries have continuously attempted to reduce the issue of Kashmir to a bilateral issue, disregarding the most important contender – the Kashmiri people.
Muslim majority, Hindu Maharaja
The people of Kashmir have been occupied and manipulated for centuries by outsiders who have exploited their land and the people. The current crisis has its roots in the Treaty of Amritsar of 1846 under which the British created the Princely State of Jammu and Kashmir, installing Maharaja Gulab Singh, a Hindu Dogra ruler, who had attained great influence in the reign of Ranjit Singh, the Sikh ruler of Punjab. The Maharaja was installed to serve British interests in a region strategically located at the crossroads of Russia, Afghanistan, China, Tibet and India.5