Kashmir has been the main reason for disputes between Pakistan and India. Starting from the time when India and Pakistan gained independence from the British, the two countries have fought 3 wars over the region and came face to face several times due to isolated acts of violence, such as the recent Pulwama attack. Amid all these tensions, the Kashmiri people suffer the most. Most Kashmiris argue that the conflict is mainly a territorial conflict for both India and Pakistan and they simply don’t care about the people of Kashmir.
Observing the history of the region, Kashmir was a peaceful state, located in the Himalayan Mountains, rich in resources and had a diverse population. The region was home to Hindus and Buddhists in the 9thcentury but by the end of the 14th century, Islam rose as the major religion of the area. Under Akbar Zain-Al-Abidin, Kashmir prospered due to Akbar’s policies. Muslim rule ended in the region when the Sikhs from Punjab captured the area from the Afghan Durrani Empire. Later, during the Anglo-Sikh war, the East Indian Company recaptured most of the territory from Sikhs. The EIC, then made some decisions, without any regard for the Kashmiri population, and they sold the land to a Hindu Dogra, Raja Gulab Singh, after he accepted the condition of loyalty to the British crown. He ruled over the Muslim population with cruelty. Muslims had to pay more taxes and they were not given equal rights. In 1931, 22 Kashmiris were brutally killed at a protest against the trial of an anti-maharaja activist, that day is still commemorated today as the martyrs day. Hence, started the Kashmiri independence movement, even before the partition of India and Pakistan.
After the partition, the Muslim majority Kashmir wanted to side with Pakistan, but the State was ruled by a Hindu monarch, Maharaja Hari Singh. Fearing that the Muslim majority people would start revolting, the Maharaja started disarming the Muslim soldiers in the State’s army. The Muslims fearing that the Maharaja was taking such steps because he wanted to side with India, the Muslims in the Valley revolted against the Maharaja, starting from massive protests in Srinagar. Amid the tensions and revolts, almost 200,000 people died. Hearing reports of cruelties and deaths of Muslims in Kashmir, the tribesmen from the tribal areas of Pakistan joined the fight against the maharaja. Together with the locals, they captured the Gilgit Baltistan territory from the Maharaja. Fearing the rebels would take over his State, Maharaja Hari Singh requested India for military support. Indians agreed to defend the State from the rebels on condition of the signing of accession by the Maharaja, officially declaring Kashmir’s siding with India, but both sides agreed that there would be a vote after the fighting stops. Several regiments from the Indian military started to pour into Kashmir. This situation led to the first Indo-Pak war in 1948. The war ended after the UN drew a Line of Control in Kashmir which divided the territory in Indian Administered Kashmir and Pakistan Administered Kashmir. After that, a vote was to be organized, but that never happened. To this day, there is no hope for the independence of the people of Kashmir. In 1957, India officially claimed Kashmir as an autonomous region, absorbing it in the State Assembly.
In 1965, the Pakistani military launched operation Gibraltar, disguising themselves as rebel fighters, the military infiltrated deep into Kashmir. Responding to this, India opened up three major fronts in mainland Pakistan, namely the Sialkot offensive, the Lahore offensive and the offensive in the Thar desert region of Sindh. Pakistan and India, knowing that they could not sustain the war, asked the US for arbitration. The US arbitrated a truce and both armies were ordered to go back to their pre-conflict positions. In the 1980s, another major armed resistance started in the valley of Kashmir, thousands of fighters roomed the streets of Srinagar, starting a rebellion against the Indian authorities. Pakistan saw an opportunity in this and started to support the movement by supplying radical Islamic and pro-Pakistani militants and weapons. This gave rise to a completely new kind of uprising in the region, ‘radical Islamic fighters’. Over the years, these groups such as Jaish-e-Muhammad, and Lashkar-e-Taiba started to dominate the fight against the Indian State. The Indian State cracked down brutally on the rebels and to this day, the Indian authorities have killed more than 80,000 people in the valley. Now, the Kashmir region is the most militarized region in the world, with more than 700,000 troops still stationed in the region. According to a Kashmiri Journalist Mirza Waheed, the Indian military uses rape as a weapon of war and has violated thousands of women in the region. Waheedfurther added that to this day, the Indian military has forcibly abducted thousands of people, raising the number of disappearances in the valley to almost 8000 people. According to Amnesty International, Indian government policies gives legal immunity to the Indian military in the area.
However, analysts see this problem as a water problem between India and Pakistan. Pakistan’s major river, the Indus River comes in Pakistan through the Indian Administered Kashmir. After the Indus Water Treaty, India has access to 20% of the water, while Pakistan has control over the rest. However, India started several dam construction projects and now controls almost 29% of the Indus River water. With a rapidly growing population of both countries, water is becoming more essential than ever.
In 2014, Indian authorities conducted elections in the region, which resulted in India’s Bhartia Janata Party (BJP) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) of Kashmir forming an alliance to rule in Kashmir. However, the elections are considered as rigged by most of the population of the region and this led to the majority of the population of Kashmir considering the Kashmiri government as a mere puppet of Delhi and a major lack of trust for the political class developed in the region, which still exists today.
India and Pakistan, came close to war again, right after the Pulwama suicide attack on February 14, 2019, which killed 40 Indian soldiers. The Pakistan based jihadist group Jaish-e-Muhammad claimed responsibility for the attack. Twelve days after the suicide attack, the Indian Air Force carried out airstrikes inBalakot region of Pakistan, claiming to kill over 300 militants. Pakistan in retaliation to this carried out airstrikes in the Indian Administered Kashmir, targeting Indian military installations and downed at least one IndianMig-21 Bison in the Pakistan Administered Kashmir region.
In the most recent development, the Indian government has revoked Article 370, which gave an autonomous status to Jammu and Kashmir. It prevented any law regarding Kashmir, from being passed unless the law had been debated upon in Kashmir’s assembly and prevented non-Kashmiris from buying land in Kashmir. The Indian State has imposed a curfew in the region and blocked internet services. The Indian authorities have cracked down even on the pro-Indian political leadership of Kashmir, such as Farooq Abdullah and have even jailed his son and have put Abdullah on house arrest. The Hurriyat leadership has also been jailed and a complete lockdown of the valley is currently in effect. The Indian administration, after dissolving the Article 370, has divided Kashmir into 2 union territories, Namely the Kashmir and Ladhak region. The UN has called for both sides to resolve the dispute through negotiations, keeping in view the UN resolutions. The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also pointed out the 1972 SimlaAgreement which says that a peaceful solution of the Kashmir issue has to be found following the UN charter. The Secretary-General has also pointed out Indian’s crackdown in the valley and has said that there are fears of Human Rights violations in the valley. Pakistan has sought the intervention of the UN and UNSC in this matter. America and Russia on the other hand, have sided with India on this issue and have called the matter an internal issue of the Indian State. However, China has sided with Pakistan and has even agreed to take up the case in the UNSC.
The dissolution of Article 370 is a major step against the Kashmiri people, however, for the first time, the issue of Kashmir has been raised at such a high level internationally and a major portion of people are siding with Kashmir. Moreover, for the first time, the pro-Kashmiri stance is being heard from inside the Indian parliament and a major portion of the Indian population views this as a violation of the human rights of Kashmiris. Amnesty International has called the steps taken by the Indian government to be against the human rights of Kashmiris.
PM Imran Khan has warned the world to be prepared for the worst in case this situation heats up any further. The Pakistani parliament has condemned this step and has termed it as an act of aggression by India. Pakistan Military’s media wing, the ISPR has said that they are with the Kashmiristill they gain independence from India. So far, this situation has the full potential to turn into a full-blown Indo-Pak conflict.
Whatever the situation, the Kashmiri people are suffering the most. According to a majority of the Kashmiri population, they want either independence or want to side with Pakistan. An Indian journalist wrote that he is finding it hard to find even a single Kashmiri who wants to side with India after the revoking of Article 370. The solution to this problem lies only with the Kashmiri people, who at the end of the day are the major stakeholders of Kashmir.