Kashmir: Between a rock and a hard place
In the third quarter of 2019, India and Pakistan were sure to start a war over the Kashmir territorial dispute. Amid the boiling pot of tension, the potential nuclear war was avoided due to the coronavirus pandemic. This ongoing territorial dispute has lasted for more than half a century, and though there have been efforts at reconciliation between the three parties (India, Pakistan, and Kashmir) through diplomatic means, this has all been short due to India removing Kashmir’s seven-decade long autonomy.
By: Undariya Rinchin & Husnain Babar
“In 2017, there were military tanks and soldiers in the streets everywhere. We were all sure that the war between Pakistan and India was going to start at any given moment. Tensions wore off and there was no news of war for a while. Then all of a sudden, India sent three fighter jets into Pakistan and bombed us. The Pakistani jets scraped the second one and shot the third one down. The locals started beating up the Indian Air Force pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman who parachuted from the sky at first, but stopped and waited until the Pakistani military came,” recalled 23 year old Pakistani, Husnain Babar.
“After three days, we (Pakistan) released him back to India. During the 1964 war, an Indian general famously said ‘We are going to have breakfast at LaHore Chaikhana (teahouse). Since then, Indians have said it our whole lives. Before we safely returned the captured commander to India after 60 hours, we did give him breakfast at a Chaikhana in LaHore (the second largest city in Pakistan).” he continued. Tensions between India and Pakistan have not rested since they split into two separate countries in 1947. There have been numerous attacks from both sides, and have no trade or diplomatic relation with each other. The two countries have been in a constant state near warfare for decades. Their biggest conflict so far is the territorial conflict over the region Kashmir.
Kashmir is a region located in South Asia located between India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and China. The landlocked region is renowned for its beauty and has been described as heaven on earth with its lush green terrain, surrounded by the Himalayas and large freshwater rivers of Sutlej and Indus coming straight from the mountain Basin. From the Mughal Empire to the British colonialists, every single visitor to South Asia took their time to stop and admire the paradise. However, in recent years, heaven on earth has begun to resemble hell with news of Indian extremism, terrorist attacks, and outcries of the locals who are tired of the decades of bloodshed.
India and Pakistan both have territorial claims over Kashmir. Following India and Pakistan gaining their independence from Britain, Kashmir had the choice to become a part of India or Pakistan. The majority of the population in Kashmir is Muslim and thus, the people chose to accede to Pakistan, but the ruler of the region at the time was Maharajah (ruler title) Hari Singh wanted Kashmir to remain independent from both. In 1846, Hari Singh’s ancestor Maharaja Gulab Singh had purchased Kashmir from the British and announced himself as the ‘independent princely ruler’ of the region and succeeded the dominion to his descendants. From there on, the Muslim majority population had been living under the Singh rule. Many historians and scholars note that the Maharajah Singhs were oppressive and cruel to their Muslim subjects and there had been great discontent and revolts against them.
Pakistan saw that they had the rightful claim over Kashmir seeing as Pakistan is the only country that was founded in the name of religion with the name Pakistan meaning the land of peace. The people were dissatisfied with the Singh rule and Pakistan worried that India may reduce the people to a minority as the Indian Government has done to many Muslim populations residing within their border. Both India and Pakistan began pressuring Hari Singh to adhere to their side, but the Maharajah was persistent on his decision to keep Kashmir independent despite being counseled by the people and the local authorities to take Kashmir’s demographic, ethnic, and religious occupations into account.
Pakistan then decided to overthrow Hari Singh and take Kashmir by force. Pakistani army regulators came into Kashmir and tribesmen also joined in to take Kashmir. For protection against the tribesmen and the Pakistani army, and perhaps to keep his rule over the region, Hari Singh offered to join India in return for protection from the Pakistani forces. India agreed and sent its armed forces into Kashmir and the first war between India and Pakistan started, and since then, the conflict has continued for nearly seven and a half decades. In 1948, India pushed back the Pakistani forces and was planning to invade the cities of Mirzapur and Muzaffarabad which are now a part of Pakistan.
India asked the United Nations to intervene, but the United Nations Security Council was of not much assistance to the conflict and passed a resolution stating that the Pakistani Government is to withdraw its armed forces and tribesmen from the region and that India and Pakistan should hold a plebiscite to solve the territorial dispute. The Indian Government constantly refused to hold the plebiscite. Neither of these took place and there was little to no nonchalance from the international community in this matter. Ultimately, there have been four wars that took place between India and Pakistan over Kashmir and in mid-1972, the Kashmir Line of Control was established two centuries after the two signed an agreement to create a ceasefire line. This is when Kashmir became divided with the Indian Administered Kashmir and the Pakistan Administered Kashmir.
Nuclear Weapons and Geopolitics - The enemy of my enemy is my friend
In actuality, the Kashmir territorial dispute far exceeds the interests of only India and Pakistan. In addition to the Kashmir conflict, India and Pakistan have both had hostile relations with their other neighboring nations. Pakistan fought the Bangladesh Liberation War, where East Pakistan (currently Bangladesh) separated into its own country. India on the other hand had complicated relations with China and lost a Himilayan border war in 1964. India had begun developing nuclear weapons in 1956 and tested its first nuclear device in May 1974. Needless to say, neither India nor Pakistan signed the International Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. As a result, the possibility of a nuclear war is very much still on the fence.
Pakistan became a nuclear power in 1998. However, the road to Pakistan becoming a Nuclear Power was much more complicated than it was for India. Pakistan was constantly denied access to nuclear technology by the international community seeing as it was a fairly new country. Through the efforts of widely controversial Pakistani patriotic scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan who is celebrated as the Father of Pakistan’s Nuclear Bomb, and a Pakistani pirate who brought uranium into the country, the Land of Peace had officially become a nuclear state. According to Husnain Babar, the pirate is celebrated as a hero in Pakistan for stealing and bringing uranium when no other country would sell it to them.
In addition to being known as the Father of Pakistan’s Nuclear Bomb, Abdil Qadeer Khan is also well known for his involvement in black market nuclear technology and had supplied nuclear technology to Iran, North Korea, and Libya among other countries.
One may wonder why India still makes full territorial claims over Kashmir despite the population wanting to be a part of Pakistan for decades. There is much turmoil in the Indian Administered Kashmir with an armed revolt by the Kashmir people against the Indian rule. This has led to the loss of tens of thousands of lives. India blames the revolts on Pakistan, claiming that Pakistan is stirring this. Despite this, the reason why India so desperately wants to keep Kashmir is a variety of geopolitical reasons.
Primarily, with control over Kashmir, India has access to Central Asia, and can geographically isolate Pakistan from China, its biggest regional rival. Ultimately, the region is the bridge that connects Central Asia to South Asia being the only direct route. In recent years, India has shown much interest in Central Asia’s mineral and energy resources. Additionally, Kashmir has many natural resource deposits such as uranium, gold, oil, and natural gas, and through keeping Kashmir, India can show the world its dominance over the region.
As for Pakistan, the region is significant not only because of the majority Muslim population, but also the majority of the freshwater supply of Pakistan comes from Kashmir, at the base of the Himalayas. Furthermore, Pakistan has reopened the ancient Silk Road in 1965, and it passes over Kashmir. China is reopening the Silk Road through the Belt Road Initiative, a massive Chinese railroad project that spans across all of Asia, Europe, and Africa. China is also a military ally to Pakistan and has received complete control over a Pakistani modern military air force base named Gilgit. China has gone to strengthen the military base and there were reports of mega infrastructure projects in 2020.
Rather than a territorial claim, China wants Pakistan to have control over Kashmir, and with access to the region through Pakistan, China can assert geopolitical aggression toward India, its biggest competitor in the region. With this alongside China’s control over the air force base, China is at an optimum point to invade India from a point where it is not protected by the Himalayas as much.
Kashmir in Global Politics - Irrelevant or a prime location?
International media often paint Pakistan as the terrorists who attacked an Indian territory through brutal means. It was initially speculated that the western world may take a key interest in Kashmir. If the landlocked region were to remain independent, then its trade and development could have been heavily dependent on western support. Unlike other territorial disputes such as the case with Crimea, the Korean Peninsula, and the South China Sea, there has been little international intervention. Perhaps the US refrained from getting involved because they deemed Kashmir’s location irrelevant or perhaps building a new military base would have been too costly in the landlocked region.
During the Cold War, India sided with the Soviet Union, and Pakistan allied with the US. Pakistan was also a great deal of assistance to the US in the combat against the Soviets in Afghanistan. As a return of favor in a way, after decades of avoiding Kashmir, the US broke its silence by taking a stance in favor of Pakistan. Many scholars note how the US was rather tolerant of Pakistan’s cross-border terrorism at the time. However as tensions from the cold war died down, the US condemned terrorism from Pakistan and urged the state to limit terrorist activity in Kashmir. Much pressure was applied on the Pakistan Government from the international community through soft power means to stop extremist groups from wreaking havoc on Kashmir. In recent years, it has become evident that Pakistan does not have as much control over terrorist organizations as they have in the past. Pakistan has also supported the US war on terror. There is a popular theory in India that the US might begin intervention in a way that is in support of India to apply pressure on rising China.
The tribesmen and the terrorists are largely composed of Afghani refugees that reside within Pakistan. When Pakistan helped the US in their fight with the Soviets, NATO also provided the Pakistani Armed Forces with much US military equipment and armored vehicles. A large number of these pieces of equipment have been stolen by the tribesmen over time. The tribes' people of Pakistan also supply their illegally acquired military equipment and vehicles on the black market. Husnain Babar claims “It is common for them to have a rocket launcher, but not have enough money to eat food. It is a well known fact that if you give them the equivalent of five USD, give them a gun and tell them to shoot everyone they see, they will do it.”
Terrorism in Kashmir
It is not possible to analyze nor discuss the multifaceted issue in Kashmir without taking into account the extremism and terrorist activities that have wreaked havoc on Kashmir since the time of the Singh rule. What started as a territorial dispute has evolved to become an issue of national pride, religious extremism, and a series of socio-political issues. Terrorism has truly added a new face to the multiple invisible front warfares. Rather than the Pakistani army, the terrorist groups have done much of the damage in the region. Extremism from such groups alongside the cruel human rights abuses by the Indian Government, it is not India nor Pakistan that suffered the most, it is the people living in Kashmir.
The terrorist activities that have taken place are devastatingly planned out and conducted in such a way where all non-Muslims in the Kashmir Valley have been targeted. Though Pakistan denies it, on multiple accounts it has been proven that the Pakistani government supported and funded a complex net of terrorist groups that have caused the bloodshed of thousands of Indian, Pakistani, and Kashmirian lives. The Government of Pakistan may not have much to do with the terrorist organizations anymore, but surely they have planted the seed. Pakistan’s intention for such action rather than fighting more full-front wars with India was to decrease the Hindu and Singh population living in the area. As long as the population remains Muslim majority in India Administered Kashmir, Pakistan has its full territorial claim over the region.
At the time, Pakistan preferred funding the tribesmen and terrorists due to the large scale of the Indian army. Many public schools in the region have been purposefully destroyed by the terrorists and they have built Islamic schools in its stead. The Kashmiris have to either send their children to radical Islamist schools or have them be uneducated. Hindus and Singhs have migrated to other provinces as a result of the destruction of schools, which is the cherry on top of the cake amongst numerous reasons why they wouldn’t want to keep living in Kashmir. The children studying at such schools would then grow up with immense hatred for India. The Indian Government has blamed Pakistan for stirring unrest amongst the people of Kashmir, but Pakistan denies the Government’s involvement in these activities.
It is not an exaggeration to say that India has humiliated itself and displayed a great deal of weakness to the terrorists. The leadership of India from the late ’80s had been internationally criticized for their incompetence. The Central Government of India nearly crumbled when the daughter of the Home Minister of India was kidnapped by a terrorist group in the 1990s. In exchange for her safety, five military hostages were exchanged. This is one of the examples of how India’s lack of ability to deal with the terrorists propelled Indian Administered Kashmir to be further haunted by terrorism.
Terrorists are also responsible for silencing the organizations existing within Kashmir that wanted their independence. Due to the constant violence from the fight between the terrorists and the Indian Armed Forces, there is little to no infrastructure in Kashmir as well. Given its optimal geopolitical location and breathtaking features, if this dispute was solved decades ago, who is to tell whether Kashmir could have developed into a top global city.
A guilty India - Autonomy revoked
The Jammu and Kashmir region has one soldier per every Kashmirian. There are thousands of unmarked Kashmirian graves at the hands of Indian abuse. There were only two conditions to Kashmir acceding to India; protection against Pakistani tribesmen, and autonomy of the region. However, it appears as though India was not the lesser of two evils for the Kashmiris. On August 5, 2019, India removed Kashmir’s autonomy by forceful means. Before the abrupt decision by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Kashmir was placed under strict lockdown, and mobility in the area was heavily stocked. For weeks, India had cut the internet and phone network of the valley and even though 19 months have nearly passed, it still has not been fully restored.
Article 370 of the Indian Constitution to Jammu and Kashmir established the region’s special autonomy and was the only means of defense the Kashmiri had from India. It included the prohibition of non-Kashmiri residents from purchasing land in the autonomous region. Kashmir could also choose its flag, have its constitution and the Indian Government was to have no say over Kashmir’s foreign affairs, communications, and finance. The intervention of the Indian Parliament was to not be present in any areas other than defense.
The revoking of Article 370 has caused mass protests by thousands of Kashmiris and the regional leaders have expressed their distaste as they were never consulted in the decision. PM Modi, whose entire electoral campaign was the anti-Pakistani sentiment, and the revocation of article 370. Initially, Modi was heavily criticized by the public for his extremist opinions and was losing the polls. However, when a Pakistani airstrike on Indian police hit, Modi rode the wave of Anti-Pakistan in rural India to his position in the prime minister's seat.
Following the shocking decision, Modi attempted to justify and do damage control by stating that Article 370 creates a psychological barrier between India and Kashmir. He continued saying it has done more harm than good and that the article is creating a divide that is getting in the way of Kashmir fully integrating with India. Despite India’s efforts at justification, it is clear to the international community that the decision was made to assert full Indian dominion over a majority Muslim state that refuses to be a part of India. Modi’s intentions arose further suspicion seeing as he was also the chief minister of Gujarat during a massacre of over a thousand Muslims in the state alongside several anti-Muslim sentiments.
Kashmiri journalist Iftikhar Gilani said “The argument that Article 370 constitutes a psychological barrier between the governing elite in Delhi and the Kashmiri youths is a false one. The real problem lies in Kashmir’s history of rigged elections and foisting unpopular Chief Ministers on the people”. Indian media have attempted to make it appear as though Kashmir was favorable to this transition and used supposedly rigged local electoral results as “proof”. Kashmir once again was in the international eye when two former chief ministers of Jammu and Kashmir were placed under house arrest. Mehboota Mufti, the former chief minister, said “Today marks the darkest day in Indian democracy”, and that the move makes India an occupational force in Jammu and Kashmir.
The Pakistani Government has made proposals in the past of dividing up the region. In addition to ignoring the Pakistani former President’s proposal, India constantly refused to hold the plebiscite that the United Nations Security Council recommended. With the revocation of Article 370, India may be strategizing to immigrate more Hindu and Singh populations to Kashmir to weaken Pakistan’s territorial claim.
Freedom - The Kashmiri Rebels
The real victims of all the brutality are the Kashmiris. It is no secret that India treats Kashmiri as a threat to India’s secularity. Many international human rights organizations have been banned from India including Amnesty International. An Amnesty International report says that “Security forces continued to enjoy virtual impunity for human rights abuses as a result of provisions contained in special security laws, including POTA, as well as the Protection of Human Rights Act.” Abuse of Kashmiris by India included rape by Indian security forces, mass killings, torture, and enforced disappearances.
If India had treated the Kashmiris by showing humanitarian aid and support amid the terrorism attacks, then integration of Kashmir that PM Modi so gloriously speaks of would have been possible. India blames Pakistan for the unrest among Kashmir but refuses to accept and admit how they have targeted the Kashmiri people. The people are tired of all the violence from terrorism and India. A series of actions have been taken by the Indian Government to silence the Kashmiris following the eradication of its autonomy including kidnappings and killings of those opposing the transition.
A law was passed to jail the parents of the stone pelters. Kashmir is living in conditions that are a gross violation of human rights and the international community can no longer ignore their suffering. The territorial conflict is not only a matter between Pakistan and India. Where there is bad governance, the people suffer. Kashmir has not seen a single peaceful day since the day the terrorists and the Indian Armed Forces have entered Kashmir. MC Kash, a Kashmiri rapper has written the following lyrics for his song Why We Rebels.
“I’m the rebel of the streets that been eulogized in blood
dramatized in politics duly hated with no love
demonized in the news with their fabricated tales
while sodomized young kids are still screaming in their jails
lost and never found in this Facade of peace
reflected in thoughts, that Dajjal now breathes
he speaks to his puppets and silhouettes now tremble
’cause the brave men are dead and all cowards resemble
Satan’s evil empire is reaching out to hold thee
since money can buy out your political theory
and your unborn child, is raised as a traitor
livin’ on blood money and he doubts his Creator
misled by his greed till his soul starts to blacken
and he sees his own face in the signs of Armageddon
and this earth will shake ’cause of the crimes he did
his bones will break holdin’ the coffin of his Kid
They gave us blood and hate Then wondered why we all are Rebels
In the Land of Saints each man raised is called a Rebel” - MC Kash, Why We Rebels