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Victoria Schofield

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The tangle of issues hindering a solution for Jammu-Kashmir

Global: The International Briefing, Fourth quarter 2011


The Jammu-Kashmir issue.

In the tangled web of promises and failed talks which have been the hallmark of  the dispute over the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir, there is one constant: a steadfast belief by a section of the inhabitants that the pledge given to them in 1947, when India and Pakistan achieved independence from Britain, permitting them to choose their future political affiliation has not been honoured.  Rather they believe that a decision was forced upon them. Firstly when the Maharaja, Hari Singh, acceded to India without consultation; secondly, when the plebiscite, promised by India and Pakistan, was never held. The demand for ‘azadi’ today reflects that belief.     

Sixty-four years later, the state’s contested status  has affected the lives of   millions of  people  throughout South Asia, dominating Indo-Pakistani relations  and making people, with millennia of shared culture and  landspace, deadly enemies.   Wars have been   fought across the international border in 1948-49, 1965, 1971, and, across the ‘line of control’ dividing Indian and Pakistani-administered Kashmir, in Kargil in 1999.  Both countries have  acquired nuclear weapons, although the reality of a nuclear exchange would  result in mutual self-destruction.  The Siachen Glacier in northern Kashmir, occupied by opposing armies since 1984, remains the world’s highest warzone, causing unrecorded environmental damage    and costing   millions of rupees.  Excessive military expenditure has meant that the   rising populations   of India and Pakistan have been starved of resources, with inadequate funds spent on health, education and poverty eradication. 

Differing demands

One challenging characteristic of the Jammu-Kashmir issue is that the demands of  the key protagonists differ so dramatically that  there is little   common ground as a basis for discussion.    Successive Indian governments maintain that, because of the Maharaja’s accession, the state is an integral part of India; Pakistan insists that the status quo – with the state divided along the ‘line of control’ - is unacceptable and supports a ‘freedom’ struggle in the Indian-administered part of the state. Neither position takes into account the wishes of   the inhabitants, whose aspirations also differ, depending on religious and regional preferences.

Firstly, there is the majority  Muslim population, living in the Valley; linguistically they are Kashmiris, as are also the now displaced Pandits of   Hindu faith; some   Muslims  initially wanted to join Pakistan, others did not, including   the Muslim leader of the National Conference, Sheikh Abdullah, who believed  that Kashmir’s future was best assured with India, as does the Sheikh’s son, former Chief Minister, Farooq, and grandson, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah.  As Hindus, the Valley Kashmiri Pandits   also prefer India, as does the majority Hindu population  in Jammu, the   Buddhists in Ladakh  and the smaller groupings of Gujars and Bakherwals.  Even the Shia Muslims of Kargil are unenthusiastic about joining Pakistan.

On the Pakistani side of the line of control, at   partition the Mirs and Rajahs of   Gilgit-Baltistan (formerly the Northern Areas), uniformly wanted to join Pakistan. The Balawaristan National Front  now supports independence for Gilgit-Baltistan but not for the entire state.   Those inhabiting the narrow strip of land,    ‘Azad’ [free] Jammu and Kashmir (AJK, known in India as POK, Pakistan-occupied Kashmir),  - politically called ‘Kashmiris’ but non-Kashmiri speakers  -have generally accepted allegiance to Pakistan, although some talk  of the region being reunited with the Valley as a smaller independent state.    

The road to ‘azadi’

In contrast to those Kashmiri Muslims and Hindus who accept  allegiance to  India,   a significant proportion in the Valley  remain disaffected, whilst no longer  seeing their future as part of Pakistan.  Their struggle has been both   militant (starting in earnest with the insurgency in 1989) and political. Their goal is also fractured, in terms of whether they are   fighting for independence of the entire state or just the Valley.  The difficulty of objective is compounded by the fact that, although   the Maharaja  might initially have  contemplated independence in 1947, no provision in the partition plan was made for any princely state to become independent; when  Prime Minister  Nehru and Governor-General   Jinnah agreed that a plebiscite should be held, the choice was   between  India or Pakistan.  There was to be no ‘third option’. There was also no expectation that the state would be divided,  as it effectively now is, since the proposal was for a unitary rather than a regional plebiscite to be held. This restricted choice was   endorsed by two out of the three pertinent UN resolutions. Only the UN resolution of 13 August 1948 did not specify  a choice between India and Pakistan.  

As the Jammu-Kashmir issue has remained unresolved, the independence movement has gained   momentum. ‘If not Kosovo, why not Kashmir?’ has been a potent rallying cry, since  the United Nations recognized Kosovo’s declaration of independence   in 2008.  The referendum held in East Timor in 1999 also re- fuelled the demand for a referendum to be held in Kashmir,  reflecting their belief that  Kashmiris have  been denied their ‘right of self-determination.’    

Not surprisingly, whereas the movement to join Pakistan was fully supported by Pakistan,  both overtly diplomatically and covertly militarily, the independence  or ‘azadi’ movement does not have adherents in   Pakistan any more than in India. The creation of an independent state of Jammu and Kashmir would result in both countries losing territory,   vital for their strategic interests: Gilgit Baltistan  provides  Pakistan with access    to China along the Karakoram Highway; Ladakh and its access   along an already contested frontier with  China is essential to India.  The ‘azadi’ movement, muted in AJK, would not be supported by Pakistan. Apart from  loss of prestige, Pakistan would fight to retain its control  of AJK because of   the Mangla Dam, storing water crucial for Pakistan’s survival.  In the same way, India   is fighting to retain control of the Kashmir Valley, not only for historic  reasons, but because possession of Kashmir reinforces its status as an upper riparian state, controlling   the flow of   the Indus River tributaries.  

The end game

As many of the key players have realized, the way forward has to be through genuine negotiation.  The world – and Mumbai 2008 proved it – has become too dangerous for a dialogue of the deaf. It will not help the inhabitants of Jammu-Kashmir, traumatized during twenty years of conflict,   to indulge in meaningless rhetoric.  

To achieve closure, what has to be determined is  how to satisfy those Kashmiris, mainly located in the Valley, heartland of the resistance, who are still demanding their ‘inalienable’ right of self-determination. How can their wishes be met, bearing in mind regional and political diversity and the right of others to express their views?  Could just the Valley be independent? Or would guaranteed autonomy, with contact retained to the vital markets of India and  access to  Pakistan, meet the demand for azadi, provided the Indian Army was withdrawn, repressive laws   repealed,   and freedom of movement  and expression assured?    Mirwaiz  Umar Farooq thinks not: ‘We totally reject autonomy as a solution. Autonomy is nothing new. Kashmiris had autonomy till 1953. We had our own president, prime minister, constitution and supreme court. Unfortunately, that was eroded by the government of India.’ In other words, trust has been broken.  Attitudes have  also hardened.  What one generation might have accepted, the next might not. 

Since India  decided long ago what the end game was ( the status quo), there has been little latitude to discuss   alternative scenarios. Although  former President Musharraf embarked on a ‘peace process’,  which moved away from Pakistan’s traditional demand for a plebiscite to be held,    his insistence that formalizing the line of control into an international frontier was not an option still conflicted with  Indian insistence that it was the only option.   
In 2011, as even Indian commentators realise,  the problem of Kashmir   lies within.   As the barometer or violence in the state rises and falls,   Indian leaders must surely  question the depth of Kashmiri alienation and ask themselves why successive generations  have  become disaffected.  Since the demand to join Pakistan has been superseded by the demand for ‘azadi’, Pakistan’s role  must now be that of a benevolent neighbour, trying to influence India to improve its human rights record in the Valley by  demilitarizing a heavily fortified region, whilst recognizing that Pakistan itself is unlikely to make any territorial gains.      In the next round of Indo-Pakistani talks, following those held between Pakistan’s new Foreign Minister Hina Khar   and S.M. Krishna of India,  they might start  with a mutual admission that there is no question of all of the state becoming either part of India or part of Pakistan, as envisaged in 1947.

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