Book Review – Kashmir in Conflict : India, Pakistan and the Unending War

After the Pulwama attack on CRPF convoy, which killed 44 soldiers, on 14th February and the following mini war between the arch foes Pakistan and India, the conflict of Kashmir is again in the focus in India as well as internationally. Reports are now coming out that during the tension Indian and Pakistani governments were on the brink of a nuclear war where they were ready to fire missiles at each other. In the on-going Loksabha election Modi and his government has made ‘nationalism’ and Kashmir conflict as their major propaganda issues.

These events have again diverted everyone’s focus on the ever burning issue of the Kashmir conflict. Indian and Pakistani nation states are embroiled in this conflict since their inception 70 years ago. This looks like a never ending war. Most of the jingoistic Indians have little idea about the history of Kashmir and this conflict. To understand the history of Kashmir and its on-going conflict I am going to review Victoria Schofield’s important book, Kashmir in Conflict, here. If Indians want to solve this conflict peacefully then knowing and understanding the history of Kashmir is necessary.

Jammu and Kashmir was the biggest Princely state of the British India. This state is made of four separate geographical areas with varied ethnic population concentration. The Kashmir valley is predominantly Muslim while Jammu is predominantly Hindu. The area of Northern Kashmir is divided into the provinces of Gilgit and Baltistan, and this is predominantly Muslim areas where different ancient tribes live. The area of Leh and Ladakh has a mixed population of Hindus, Muslims and Buddhist people. This is the area where the war of Kargil was fought, and where the Siachin glacier is situated. The area of Aksai Chin, which India claims as its own, is part of China now. Kashmir valley is today further divided into Indian Kashmir and Azad Kashmir, what Indians call the Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK).

Since ancient time Kashmir is being ruled by various people like the Kushans, Afghans, the Mughals, Sikh empire of Ranjit Singh etc. Historically the worst rule for the Kashmiri people was that of Afghan war lord Ahmed Shah Durrani (Abdali) and its golden age was during the time of the Mughal empire especially the reign of Akbar. Before the Britishers sold Kashmir to the Hindu dogra governor Gulab Singh in 1846, it was under the rule of Sikh empire of Ranjit Singh. Britishers defeated Ranjit Singh, ended the Sikh empire and sold Kashmir to Gulab Singh. Since then until the Indian independence in 1947 Kashmir was under this Hindu dogra rule of Gulab Singh and his descendents. At the time of end of British Raj in India, Gulab Singh’s great grandson Hari Singh was in power in Kashmir. To understand the on-going Kashmir conflict we need to understand the events that took place in 1947 and afterwards after the Britishers decided to leave India.

In 1947 the conflict between Jawaharlal Nehru and Mohammed Ali Jinnah led to the partition of British India into two independent nation states of India and Pakistan. During the process of handing over the rule to Indians and Pakistanis, the last viceroy of British India Lord Mountbatten gave choice to 565 independent princely states to decide to either join Indian or Pakistani nation state. Except three princely states, viz., Junagadh, Hyderabad and Jammu and Kashmir, all princely states decided to join India and they signed the instrument of accession. Indian nation state and its leader Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel were able to force Junagadh and Hyderabad to accede to India by using the military force, but the issue became complicated with Jammu and Kashmir because it was a border state adjacent to the newly formed nation state of Pakistan.

Maharaja Hari Singh of Jammu and Kashmir was not ready to join either India or Pakistan. His Hindu Kashmiri Brahmin Prime Minister was pushing him to ask for an independent state of Jammu and Kashmir, but Lord Mountbatten was against this third possibility. When this confusion and indecision of Hari Singh was going on, the tribesmen from the Gilgit-Baltistan area attacked Jammu and Kashmir to take revenge of atrocities carried out by Hindu dogra soldiers of Hari Singh on the Muslim population of Kashmir valley. Hari Singh panicked and he asked the Indian nation state to send troops to defend his state. Lord Mountbatten, who was still in charge, put a condition that Maharaja first accede to the Indian nation state and only then legally India can send its troops to help him. Under the onslaught of the tribesmen, Hari Singh had to flee Srinagar, his capital, and he went to Jammu. In Jammu under heavy duress Hari Singh signed the instrument of accession willy-nilly and sent it to Lord Mountbatten with a letter which was full of regret of his decision to accede to the Indian dominion. It reads:

I wanted the time to decide to which dominion I shall accede … whether it is not in the best interest of both the Dominions and my state to stay independent, of course with cordial relations with both.

In his letter Hari Singh also expressed a wish to set up an interim government and ask Sheikh Abdullah, the grandfather of today’s Kashmir opposition leader Omar Abdullah, to carry the responsibility in the emergency with his prime minister. Lord Mountbatten accepted Maharaja’s instrument of accession and wrote a letter dated 27th October in which he stated,

The accession should be confirmed by a reference to the people ‘consistently (sic) with their policy that, in the case of any State where the issue of accession has been the subject of dispute the question of accession should be decided in accordance with the wishes of the people of the state.

As we have seen above, Maharaja Hari Singh never wanted to join the Indian nation state, and only under duress he agreed to accede because now his power to bargain with India was weakened. But even after this weakened position, Hari Singh included number of safeguards in the instrument of accession which tried to secure his sovereignty:

Nothing in this Instrument shall be deemed to commit me in any way to acceptance of any future constitution of India … (Clause 7)

Nothing in this Instrument affects the continuance of my sovereignty in and over this State … (Clause 8)

Thus, the Instrument of Accession, which formed the basis of Jammu and Kashmir’s future relationship with India, accorded the state a special status which was not granted to other former princely states. Legally, India’s jurisdiction only extended to external affairs, defense and communications. This clause later became formal part of the Indian constitution known as Article 370, which the present BJP prime minister Narendra Modi is, in the run up to his reelection and as yet another political gimmick, is again promising to scrap!

After this willy-nilly and conditional accession by Hari Singh, the fighting continued. In 1948, to resolve the matter,  Nehru took the matter in the United Nations. United Nations passed three  resolutions in which it asked the Indian and Pakistani governments to conduct a plebiscite and, as originally required, resolve the matter by using the will of the people. The condition for the conduct of this plebiscite was that the Pakistani government ask the tribesmen to withdraw from Azad Kashmir and the Indian government simultaneously reduce and remove its military forces from Jammu and Kashmir valley region. Subsequent events tell us that the Indian nation state never carried out this plebiscite and so in the eyes of Kashmiris this accession was never valid.

In the years following these events, the Congress party, and Nehru personally, with lots of intrigue and maneuvering removed Sheikh Abdullah from their way, who was harboring thoughts of an independent sovereign Kashmir, and put their own puppet Bakshi Gulam Muhammad as a chief minister. Bakshi carried out all final formalities of accession of Kashmir to the Indian dominion. In 1954 the Kashmir Constituent Assembly ratified the accession of Jammu and Kashmir to the Indian nation state. On 26th January 1957  the state of Jammu and Kashmir approved its own constitution. With all these maneuverings, the original promise of Indian nation state of conducting a plebiscite in Kashmir was forgotten and kept aside forever. It was forgotten and kept aside by the Indian nation state, but the Pakistani officials and the people of Kashmir valley were never happy with this status quo.

Pakistan and India fought 1965 war over Kashmir again, and later in 1971 the Congress party prime minister Indira Gandhi interfered in Pakistan’s internal dispute with East Pakistan and separated it making it an independent nation of Bangladesh. In 1972 the leaders of Pakistan and India, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Indira Gandhi respectively, met in Shimla and signed an agreement which made the ‘Line of Control (LoC)’ kind of international permanent border dividing Kashmir into Indian Kashmir and Azad Kashmir.  This Shimla agreement would’ve ended the Kashmir conflict but subsequent heavy handed actions of various Indian governments and its military and the rise to power of Hindu nationalist fundamentalist BJP party, they are known for their belligerence against Kashmiris, alienated Kashmiri people and they felt betrayed. Their hope that they can live peacefully with the Indian nation state was shattered, and this renewed their demand for Azad (independent) Kashmir again. These circumstances started the Kashmir insurgency in 1989, which is still going on and has again picked up pace under the BJP government of Narendra Modi.

Knowledge of this history tells us that the one way in which the Kashmir conflict can be resolved peacefully is to conduct the originally promised plebiscite and let the Kashmiri people decide their own fate. That will be a true ‘democratic’ way of resolving this never ending conflict, which has destroyed so many lives in these many years. Events of past tells us that the politicians in India and Pakistan will never want this war to end because Kashmir conflict is a ‘bread and butter’ issue for these career politicians. If the Kashmir conflict will end peacefully then the state officials of both Indian and Pakistani nation states will have nothing much to rabble rouse their respective population to win votes and elections. They will lose one big tool for deflecting their respective peoples’ attention from other important issues like unemployment, poverty, inflation etc. We are already seeing this factor in work in India today during the on-going election of Loksabha 2019. Because the state officials of both states are unlikely to end this conflict, the responsibility of ending this conflict rests on the shoulders of the people of India and Pakistan. Unfortunately people of both these nation states are bamboozled by their politicians. They are ignorant of the history of Kashmir conflict and so they are not pressurizing their respective governments to resolve this conflict peacefully. This is the reason why citizens of both these nation states must make themselves aware of the history of this conflict first. A good beginning in this direction would be Victoria Schofield’s book.

If people are going to remain ignorant then one day the Kashmir conflict will result in the downfall of both Indian and Pakistani nation states. Both states are now nuclear armed nations and any future war between them over Kashmir will devastate both nation states. The future of both India and Pakistan thus is now in the hands of its people. We will see what people decide.

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