Kashmir: War in the Himalayas

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Editors: Sonia G. Benson , Nancy Matuszak , and Meghan Appel O'Meara
Date: 2001
Document Type: Topic overview
Length: 7,182 words
Content Level: (Level 5)
Lexile Measure: 1390L

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Kashmir, a mountainous area best known for the famous Himalayan Mountains, has been the site of considerable warfare during the last fifty years. The Kashmiri population is two-thirds Muslim and one-third non-Muslim. Before 1947 Kashmir was part of the larger, British-ruled India, including modern-day India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. Since the partition into predominately Muslim Pakistan and predominately Hindu India in 1947, there is virtually constant conflict over whether Kashmir should be with India or Pakistan, or independent.


  • India believes that is must protect the large number of Hindus living in Kashmir. Moreover, India is a secular democracy with many religions living within its borders. If it admits that there is not room in India for Muslims—by allowing Kashmir independence or unification with Pakistan—minority religious groups all over India may rebel.
  • Pakistan believes that the Muslims in Kashmir are being denied self-determination. Muslims from all over the world come to fight on behalf of Kashmir.


  • Kashmir contains numerous important trade routes.
  • At the time of partition, Kashmir's transportation and trade links were primarily with western Pakistan.

In May of 1998, India surprised the world by detonating a nuclear explosive device. Pakistan, India's neighbor and long-time adversary, responded with its own series of nuclear detonations. With these events, both countries joined the "nuclear club" of publicly acknowledged nuclear-capable states, and drew international attention to the decades-long hostility which has dominated their relationship since both received their independence from the British Empire in 1947. Newspapers and television journalists reminded us that India and Pakistan have fought three wars in their short history. As the century drew to a close, South Asia seemed destined to take the place of Europe as the mostly likely spot on the planet for a devastating nuclear war.

A landmark summit between the leaders of India and Pakistan in early 1999 seemed to ease tensions, and reassured the world that a nuclear conflagration may not be inevitable. For the first time, a direct bus service between Delhi, India and Lahore, Pakistan was established, allowing daily contact between the citizens of long-time enemies. But in May of 1999, tensions reached new heights when armed forces from Pakistan infiltrated a mountainous area of the disputed Indo-Pakistani border. Indian armed forces responded with an allout ground and air assault; the resulting fighting raged for eleven weeks, and left around one thousand dead. The fighting ended when Pakistan, which maintained that the infiltrators were militants fighting against Indian rule in the state of Kashmir, pulled those forces back across to its side of the line. The confrontation left both India and Pakistan—and the international community—badly shaken. During the eleven weeks of fighting, Indian and Pakistani armed forces had come into Page 152  |  Top of Article direct conflict, with Indian and Pakistani air force jets—some capable of carrying nuclear weapons—dueling each other over the skies of the disputed territory. While the nuclear crisis was averted, the international community saw the fighting as a reminder of how dangerously close to total war the two new nuclear powers might have been.

The nuclear tests of 1998 and the crisis of 1999 also brought back to international attention the key issue which continues to divide India and Pakistan: the province of Jammu and Kashmir, generally referred to as Kashmir. The portion of border that still needs to be defined between the two neighbors divides the territory in two, with each side's army facing the other across a Line of Control (LOC) that neither recognizes as a permanent border. As the only Muslim-majority territory in Hindu-dominated India, the Indian portion of Kashmir also poses serious internal threats to Indian security and politics. An internal rebellion, which India asserts is supported and encouraged by Muslim-dominated Pakistan, has claimed some twenty-five thousand lives since 1989. Militant groups of Kashmiri Muslims opposed to Hindu Indian rule frequently bring Indian and Pakistani forces into conflict near the LOC, and sometimes engage in high-profile international actions, like the hijacking of an Indian Airlines jet in December of 1999. Armed groups operating inside Kashmir demand union with their Muslim brethren in Pakistan or independence for the province. The territory thus presents a challenge for both South Asia and the world: to get India, Pakistan, and the Kashmiris to agree on a future that will insure the stability of the region and defuse the tension between two nuclear-armed neighbors.


Kashmir: Geography and People

The territory of Kashmir is located in the northwest corner of India, at the northern end of the border between India and Pakistan. It is nearly eighty-six thousand square miles in size, roughly equivalent to the state of Minnesota. Of this area, some sixteen thousand square miles in the Aksai Chin region is claimed by China in a separate dispute Page 153  |  Top of Article between India and China, and has been occupied by China since the Sino-Indian war of 1962. Of the remaining territory, approximately thirty thousand square miles are on the Pakistani side of the LOC, and constitute what Pakistan calls "Azad Kashmir", meaning Free Kashmir; India refers to this area as Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir, or POK. India controls the balance of roughly forty thousand square miles, including the Vale of Kashmir, the heart of the entire Kashmir region and the location of its traditional capital, Srinigar.

The Indian and Pakistani portions of the territory each play a different role in their state's political system. India has attempted to incorporate its portion of Kashmir into its federal system, which resembles the United States' arrangement in which regional territories are given a measure of self-government and allowed to elect local parliaments and leaders. For Kashmir, as for other potential problem areas, India created the concept of "special status" federalism, enshrined for Kashmir in the Indian constitution under Article 370. In essence, this status was meant to guarantee Kashmir its distinctiveness as a Muslim-majority area and give it greater freedom and self-rule than other regions in the Indian political system. In practice, India has often overridden or dismissed Kashmir's regional government and imposed direct rule by the central government as a means of restoring order and combating separatist rebellion and Pakistani involvement in Kashmiri politics. Kashmir's last elected government was dismissed in 1990, and the Indian portion of the province has been under direct rule from Delhi since.

Like India, Pakistan has a federal system that devolves some power to regional governments while running national affairs from the central government in the capital of Islamabad. The Pakistani-controlled areas of Kashmir are divided into two parts: the Northern Areas, a sparsely inhabited region in the northernmost portion of the territory that is ruled directly by the Pakistani central government in Islamabad; and Azad Kashmir, a crescent-shaped region wrapped around the Indian-controlled Vale of Kashmir, whose provincial capital is in Muzaffarabad. Azad Kashmir has a provincial government similar to those in the four Pakistani provinces (Sind, Punjab, Balochistan, and the Northwest Territories), but it does not have the same status within the federal government as the four larger regions. Traditionally, within the central government there has been a Minister for Kashmiri Affairs and Northern Areas responsible for overseeing policy in those regions. Thus, Azad Kashmir holds a "special status" within Pakistan similar to Indian Kashmir's constitutional status. However, while the Indian government often feuds with local Kashmiri rulers, the Pakistani government has generally enjoyed a good relationship to the leadership in Muzaffarabad.

Physically, the territory of Kashmir is important for both India and Pakistan. One of the most mountainous regions of the world, it sits astride a number of important transportation routes through central Asia, linking India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and China, including the Karakoram pass, one of the main routes between the southern Himalayas and western China. It is the last area of undefined border between India and Pakistan, and is thus a potential security threat to both sides. The northern end of the LOC is completely undefined in the region of the Siachen Glacier, which has pushed both India and Pakistan to maintain a substantial military presence in an otherwise inhospitable region. For Pakistan, Kashmir's geography is particularly important. Both the Indus and Jhelum rivers—Pakistan's main sources of fresh water—pass through the province; in 1948, during the first Indo-Pakistani war, India cut off portions of Pakistan's water supply, devastating Pakistani agriculture. Finally, the Vale of Kashmir, in the center of the region between the Pir Panjal and Great Himalaya mountain ranges, holds tremendous potential as a tourist site; even during the current unrest, travelers from around the world come to visit every year, bringing an important income source to the region.

Beyond the region's physical importance, however, the conflict in Kashmir has always been at its heart about the people who live there. There are roughly eight million residents in the Indian portion of Kashmir, and an additional two million in Pakistani-controlled Azad Kashmir. The population in Indian Kashmir is roughly two-thirds Muslim and one-third non-Muslim; most of the latter are Hindus, although there are also Sikhs and members of other religions. In Azad Kashmir, the population is overwhelmingly Muslim. In Indian-held Kashmir, the Muslim and non-Muslim populations are largely, although not completely, separated by the Pir Panjal mountain range. The Muslims tend to be concentrated in the Vale around the traditional capital, Srinagar, while the Hindu population is concentrated south of the mountains around the city of Jammu. Most Kashmiris, regardless of religion, speak the Kashmiri language, which is one of eighteen officially recognized languages in India. Because of the tremendous diversity of languages in both India Page 154  |  Top of Article
A PAKISTANI SOLDIER GUARDS THE CHULUNG GLACIER, AN AREA MUTALLY CLAIMED BY INDIA AND PAKISTAN. (Corbis. Reproduced by permission.) A PAKISTANI SOLDIER GUARDS THE CHULUNG GLACIER, AN AREA MUTALLY CLAIMED BY INDIA AND PAKISTAN. (Corbis. Reproduced by permission.) and Pakistan, and their history of creation as modern states, language has often been less important politically than religion in determining political loyalties.

South Asia and the Coming of Islam

The relationship between Hindus and Muslims is a very old one, dating back to 711 A.D. when Arab Muslims first made their way over Persia to the Indian subcontinent, bringing the new religion with them. Prior to this point, India was dominated primarily by Hindu rulers, or rajas, who presided over a feudal structure based largely on the Hindu caste system, which divided peoples by birth into different social classes. The Islamic invasion introduced a different value system; the Islamic faith taught that all were equal in the eyes of Allah, although early Muslim rulers often discriminated between Arabs and non-Arabs. The initial Muslim incursions brought control of the Indus valley—the regions of Sind and Punjab—under the control of the Caliph of Islam in Baghdad, in modern day Iraq. There the new rulers converted substantial portions of the population to the new faith. Muslim rule continued even as the central Islamic empire, run from Baghdad, began to loosen; in 871 Arab princes in Sind and Punjab established independent dynasties of their own, thus beginning the history of local Muslim rule in South Asia.

Over the next three hundred years, relations between Muslims and Hindus consisted mainly of warfare, as Muslim rulers in central Asia staged raids into Hindu territory to plunder the kingdoms there. The most infamous (to Hindus) of these rulers was Mahmud, who established an empire centered near what is now Kabul in Afghanistan, and who conducted some seventeen campaigns of plunder into northern India between 1000 and 1025. In 1175 Muhammed of Ghur, a central Asian leader, began a determined conquest of northern India. By 1236 his son had been established as Sultan of Delhi, representative of the caliph in Baghdad, and had extended his rule as far east as Bengal. This early empire collapsed some one hundred years later, but was replaced in the mid-1500s by a unified Mughal empire led by Muhammed Akbar. By the end of the sixteenth century, Akbar had conquered everything from Afghanistan through present-day Pakistan and northern India to the Bengal region, and brought a unified Muslim rule to much of the Indian sub-continent.

The Mughal empire generated more converts for Islam, but also ushered in a period of relative peace between the religions. Prominent Hindus were invited to take part in Akbar's administration, and some 15 percent of the administrative class were Hindus. Hindu literature and art were Page 155  |  Top of Article encouraged, and some important Hindu customs and beliefs (like the stricture against slaughtering cows) were incorporated into Mughal law. By incorporating elements of both Muslim and Hindu culture, the Muslim Mughal rulers who succeeded Akbar were able to maintain their rule over a majority Hindu population through the seventeenth century. During this period, the Taj Mahal—simultaneously a monument to Islam and one of the most enduring symbols of Indian culture—was built.

By 1700 however, the policy of tolerance by the Muslim rulers had been abandoned in favor of a strict Islamic rule. Hindu lords and peasants alike rose in rebellion against their Islamic rulers, draining the resources of empire and tearing it apart from within. The descendants of Akbar fell to fighting amongst themselves, and by the middle of the 1700s the Mughal empire was in tatters, having sown the seeds of discontent and distrust between the Muslim and Hindu communities, and giving the newly arrived British the opportunity to add India to their growing world empire.

South Asia and the Coming of the British

The first British, French, and Portuguese arrived in India as traders and merchants as early as the 1400s. The British were the first to establish a significant presence, primarily in coastal cities like Bombay and Calcutta. These first outposts were primarily private ventures, organized under the British East India Company, although with substantial support from the British government. By 1700 some twelve hundred Englishmen were living in Calcutta, working for and overseeing the factories of the Company. The British soon became involved in local politics as a means of enriching themselves further; as they did in other places around they world, they allied themselves with local rulers and used the tendency of local nobility to struggle for power amongst themselves (particularly as the Mughal empire was collapsing) to become the "power behind the throne" in large areas of India.

In their process of extending political influence, the British learned to make full use of caste and religious tensions in Indian society. Rival groups, whether within families, local nobility, or religious communities, were pitted against each other, with each needing British backing to insure victory in the local struggle for power. In the process, British East India Company representatives exacerbated existing tensions between Muslims and Hindus across India. By the time the remaining Mughal leaders united in 1764 to attempt to push the British out of their realm, their empire had been significantly weakened; the resulting British victory at Baksar on the Ganges spelled the end of the Mughal empire and the beginning of British dominance in India.

The British quickly learned that they could not rule the entire subcontinent themselves, and that any attempt to do so would lead to more uprisings against their rule. Correspondingly, they developed a system of efficient administration to work with local leaders and the existing power structure, making sure to spread the benefits of empire among Indians as well as British merchants. The result was an increasingly large empire in India, still run mostly by representatives of the British East India Company. By 1850 British holdings in India stretched from Bengal in the east to the Indus river in the west, Kashmir in the north, and all the way to the southern tip of the peninsula and across to the island of Ceylon in the south. Within this empire, some local leaders were permitted to retain titular control of their lands, so long as they acceded to British rule. But as the British extended their control over more and more of India's land and economy, conflict and rebellion were, perhaps, inevitable.

Indian Nationalism, Muslim Nationalism, and the Anti-Colonial Struggle

The first serious anti-British revolt in India had the effect of strengthening, rather than weakening, British control over the colony. In 1857 after a series of British social reform laws which offended Hindu and Muslim practices, a rebellion broke out among the ranks of "sepoys"—native Indians who were paid or pressed into service with the British Army. The rebellion was sparked by a cultural blunder on the part of the British: in introducing the new Enfield rifle to native troops, the British attempted to force sepoy troops to bite the tips off of paper ammunition cartridges which had been smeared with animal fat. To Hindus, for whom cows are sacred, and Muslims, for whom the eating of pigs is profane, this proved the final piece of evidence to convince them that their British masters were betraying them into defiling their religion, in an effort to weaken the people for conversion to Christianity. The resulting rebellion briefly wrested control of much of India from British forces. By the end of 1858, however, the rebellion had been crushed, and control of India passed from the East India Company to the British government itself. One of the British crown's first acts was to return local rule to some 570 local princes and nobles—including a Hindu maharaja Page 156  |  Top of Article
MAP OF INDIA AND PAKISTAN. (XNR Productions Inc.) MAP OF INDIA AND PAKISTAN. (XNR Productions Inc.) (a prince) in Kashmir—in exchange for their alliance with British power. The British government also tightened its grip on India and began to implement the educational and administrative systems of British rule across India.

The consolidation of British rule also brought modern education and ideas to the elite of India, and thus helped to spur the development of a pan-Indian identity and Indian nationalism. The growing sense of injustice in the wake of the Sepoy Rebellion and tightened British control led to the formation of the Indian National Congress in 1885, with representatives from across the sub-continent. From its inception, the Congress was overwhelmingly Hindu, leading disaffected Muslim leaders to seek other avenues to protest British rule. Britain exacerbated this difference by dividing the administrative province of Bengal in 1905, creating a Muslim-majority East Bengal and a Hindu-majority (but non-Bengali-speaking) West Bengal. The partition convinced both Hindus and Muslims of the destructive nature of British rule, while 'proving' to the Hindus that the British were siding with the Muslims and granting the Muslim community a new potential base of power from which to organize. A year later, the All-India Muslim League was created in Dacca, the capital of the newly created East Bengal.

With the creation of the Muslim League as an alternative to the Indian National Congress, a clear choice was created within the anti-British movement over India's future. As British rule continued after World War I, each organization became increasingly identified with its leaders: Muhammed Ali Jinnah of the Muslim League, and Mohandas Gandhi and Jawaharal Nehru of the Page 157  |  Top of Article Indian National Congress. Although the League and Congress briefly allied in 1916 in a call for Indian self-rule, cooperation collapsed in the early 1920s as violence and tensions rose between Hindus and Muslims, both of which were increasingly convinced that the other was in league with the British in maintaining foreign repression over India. By 1928 Jinnah and other Muslim elites had totally ruled out any formula for India's future which did not allow for a separate Muslim electorate; in 1930 the Muslim League began calling for a separate Muslim state, to be named Pakistan (meaning "Land of the Pure"). Nehru and Gandhi continued to press for a unified, secular India that encompassed peoples of all faiths, but as World War II approached it became increasingly clear that this was an unlikely outcome.

The arrival of World War II brought further crises to the relationship between Britain and India. The British needed Indian support, but had neither time nor resources to command it against the Indian will. Both the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League sensed that the war presented an opportunity, but they continued to argue about the future shape of the subcontinent. During the war, Britain attempted to negotiate with both groups by offering future independence in exchange for Indian support of the British war effort. While some Indians supported Britain, many did not, and the end result was that by 1945, Britain was little closer to solving its "India problem" than it had been in 1930.

The Tragedy of Partition: British De-Colonization, and the Origins of the Kashmir Crisis

With the end of World War II, it became clear that Britain had neither desire nor ability to maintain control of India for very long. The continued division between the INC and Muslim League over one-state versus two-state solutions, however, presented the British with a thorny problem: to whom would they turn over authority and control? In 1946, the British government made one final attempt to bridge the divide, bringing together leaders from both sides to suggest a unified, federal structure for India that would give Muslims, and other minorities, local and regional autonomy. The agreement collapsed, and by August 1946 waves of violence began to sweep across India, resulting in thousands of deaths.

Having failed to create an agreement on a unified India, Britain accepted the Muslim League's demand for partition and announced on July 15, 1947 that one month later "two independent Dominions" would be created and would be called India and Pakistan. The announcement set off a massive migration, as Hindus and Sikhs fled the areas to become Pakistan and Muslims fled India. Approximately ten million people fled across the new boundaries; of these, one million were killed, as Muslims killed trainloads of Hindus fleeing east and Hindus and Sikhs vented their anger on Muslims fleeing west.

In the chaos of partition, the state of Jammu and Kashmir posed a particular problem. As part of the partition process, Britain decreed that the leaders of the 570 nominally independent princely states would have to accede to either India or Pakistan, as geography and demographics dictated. Kashmir, by far the largest such state, stood on the boundary between the two new countries. Its population, some four million in 1947, was three-fourths Muslim, but its ruler, maharaja Hari Singh, was Hindu, as were most of the civil servants in his government. Singh's family, the traditional Hindu rulers of Jammu, had gained control of Muslim Kashmir in the 1840s from the British, who had sold it to the family in exchange for their recognition of Britain's ultimate authority. At the time of partition, Kashmir's transportation links and trade connections were largely directed to the west, to what became Pakistan. During the 1930s, the maharaja had faced a growing challenge from his population for a greater share in the government, led by Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah, who was allied more with the Indian National Congress than the Muslim League. These efforts Singh had largely rebuffed, loosening his grip on power only slightly after the end of World War II.

When the British announced the partition plan, the maharaja hesitated, fearing that he would be swept aside if he acceded—consented—to Pakistan. He initially signed a "stand-still" agreement with Pakistan, putting off the final decision and hoping to gain independence from both India and Pakistan. But in August of 1947, Muslim peasants in Kashmir revolted against their Hindu landowners. The revolt was supported by large numbers of volunteer fighters from Pakistan, shipped to the border in Pakistan's British army trucks. In October, volunteers from Pakistan swept across the border into Kashmir, seizing western Kashmiri cities and driving towards the capital of Srinigar. Four days later, maharaja Singh formally acceded the rule of Kashmir to India and appealed for military support. The British governor-general insisted that India's acceptance be conditioned on the will of the Kashmiri people, to which Nehru, India's first prime minister, agreed.

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Indian troops were quickly dispatched to Kashmir, arriving just in time to save Srinigar from falling into the hands of the Muslims. The fighting eventually stabilized along a front between Srinigar and Uri, leaving roughly a quarter of Kashmir's territory in the hands of Muslims. The Muslims declared Azad ("free") Kashmir as a new state, with its capital at Muzaffarabad, and acceded to Pakistan. The front was eventually stabilized by a United Nations-arranged cease-fire, which took effect January 1, 1949. Despite the agreement in principle on the need for a plebiscite to determine the final status of the territory, no vote was ever held across all of Kashmir, and the province remained divided. The first (though undeclared) Indo-Pakistani war ended in stalemate, leaving open the key issue that would generate hostility between the new countries for the next fifty years.

Kashmir as Spark: India & Pakistan, 1949-1989

The 1949 cease-fire froze Kashmir in a state of partition that appeared increasingly permanent, although both India and Pakistan continued to insist that a plebiscite be held. India, in control of three-quarters of the province, integrated Kashmir into its own government structure, but kept very careful control over its local politics. Although it initially supported Sheikh Abdullah Muhammed, the Indian government threw him in jail in 1953, and replaced him—through tightly controlled elections—with a new government led by Bakshi Mohammed, who ruled the state with an iron grip. Bakshi's government was both corrupt and oppressive, further alienating much of Kashmir's population, although the Indian federal government invested significant sums of money on social reforms and economic development. Despite local tensions, Kashmir remained relatively calm throughout the 1950s.

In the early 1960s, tensions between Muslims and Hindus across India resulted in rising intercommunal violence. In 1963 Indian police forcibly put down riots in the Vale of Kashmir. India released Abdullah from prison and formed a new government in Kashmir, but negotiations with Pakistan over the Kashmir issue continued to make no progress. Sensing India's weakness in Kashmir and as a result of India's loss to China in their 1962 war, Pakistan began to pressure India on the Kashmir issue, stepping up its activity along the cease-fire line. In April of 1965, Indian and Pakistani forces came to blows in the Rann of Kutch, a mostly deserted salt marsh at the southern end of their border near the Arabian Sea.Emboldened by its successes in that battle, Pakistan determined to wrest Kashmir from India by force, first by sending Pakistani-trained guerrillas across the cease-fire line into Kashmir in July and August of 1965 to support Kashmiri unrest. A war of words between India and Pakistan quickly escalated to armed force, and by the beginning of September India had sent forces into Kashmir to push back the perceived Pakistani aggression along the cease-fire line, while Pakistan's army had invaded across the border farther south, headed for Jammu. The war, which lasted for three weeks and came to encompass most of the Indo-Pakistani border, left India in control of more of Kashmir than before. In late September, both sides accepted a United Nations cease-fire, and entered into negotiations in Tashkent, in the Soviet Union. The agreement reached there, in January of 1966, essentially restored the previous cease-fire line but did nothing to resolve the larger of issue of Kashmir's future.

India and Pakistan returned to war six years later, this time over Bengali-speaking east Pakistan, which after years of domination by the less-populous, Urdu-speaking west had decided it wanted its independence. After massive refugee migrations into eastern India, the Indian army intervened in November 1971, and less than four weeks later the independent state of Bangladesh was created. During the fighting, Indian troops engaged Pakistani forces in the west as well, including in Kashmir. But India's forces had no intention of making significant new gains in the west, and Pakistan was too weak to take new territory from India. At the subsequent peace conference in Simla in 1972, India and Pakistan agreed to some minor adjustments to the cease-fire line in Kashmir, recognized it as the "Line of Control," and agreed to forgo the use of force in any attempt to resolve the question in the future. The Kashmir issue returned to the background of Indo-Pakistani relations, as a constant—but low-level—threat to their relationship.

Kashmir as its Own Actor: 1989-Present

Tensions remained in Kashmir following the 1972 Simla agreement, but the issue received little attention for another ten years. In the 1980s India began a series of political maneuverings in the province in an attempt to find a stable and legitimate government that could bring peace and stability to the province. These political changes were the result of the death of Sheikh Abdullah in 1983. His son, Farooq Abdullah, was elected in that year to head a government for the state under the National Conference party. The Indian government Page 159  |  Top of Article initially backed Farooq, then brought down his government a year later in favor of a rival movement, only to switch its support back to Farooq in 1986, enabling him to win state elections in 1987. These political games served to discredit Farooq in the eyes of many Kashmiris, who rallied behind the rival Muslim United Front party. Farooq's victory in the 1987 elections was widely perceived as the result of Indian election rigging, which further alienated the Muslim population.

These tensions exploded into outright violence in late 1989 and early 1990. In December of 1989, a previously ineffective guerrilla force that named itself the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) took the daughter of a high government official hostage. She was released after the JKLF's primary demand—the release of five of their jailed leaders—was met. Kashmiris took to the streets in celebration, and were met with police gunfire, which left several Kashmiris dead. These deaths only served to further enflame the population, which launched massive protests across the state. India, sensing that Farooq had lost control, dismissed the provincial government and declared direct President's Rule over Kashmir.

Insurgency movements broke out across Kashmir, killing hundreds in 1990 and, over the decade of the 1990s, thousands. The rebellion was complicated by charges on both sides of massive and brutal human rights abuses, and by persistent accusations by India that Pakistan was fomenting the rebellion by infiltrating military personnel across the border. These charges led to a brief crisis in Indo-Pakistani relations in 1990, when moves by both sides suggested the possibility of a nuclear war; but both subsequently backed away from confrontation with each other, although their involvement in Kashmir continued. Increased repression by Indian security forces brought heightened struggle by Kashmiris and sympathetic Muslims who came from other parts of Central Asia to aid their Islamic brethren. While the JKLF initially enjoyed both local popular sentiment and some measure of international support, by the mid-1990s the insurgency had fragmented into over one hundred different guerrilla and paramilitary groups. Some of these were able to come together and cooperate under the banner of the All-Party Hurriyat Conference, although such cooperation has been limited by continued disagreements among groups.

In general, these insurgency groups have tended to be of two types: those that proposed independence for Kashmir, led by the JKLF, which were generally more secular in orientation, and those that proposed immediate union with Pakistan, such at the Jamaat-i-Islami, which tended to be more Islamic in ideology. Although it has been difficult to tell (foreign access to the region has been limited since the imposition of direct rule by India), the former, more secular groups appear to be primarily Kashmiri, while the Islamic groups appear to have received substantial support (including fighting personnel) from Muslims elsewhere in Central Asia. Much of this support has come through Pakistan, although the Pakistani government has consistently denied any involvement. Many of the arms and fighters came from Afghanistan, where the conclusion of the war with the Soviet Union in 1988 and continued civil war within the country have generated substantial supplies of both weapons and fighters willing to risk their lives for Islamic causes.

Even as the insurgency movement fragmented through the 1990s, Indian security forces continued to be unsuccessful in restoring order to the Kashmir region. Over the decade, fighting ebbed and flowed around the state, focusing most frequently on Srinigar but also occurring throughout the Vale and in Jammu. In 1996 India restored local rule by holding elections, which were again won by Farooq's National Conference but boycotted by the All-Party Hurriyat. By decade's end, over twenty-five thousand people had been killed in the fighting, with no obvious end in sight.


While the cycle of suppression and insurgency continued throughout the 1990s, by 1998 the issue had largely disappeared from international headlines, as new tensions in Iraq and the Balkans came to the fore of western attention. In 1999, however, Kashmir once again became an area of concern as renewed tensions between Indian and Pakistani military forces flared along the Line of Control. The year began on a hopeful note, as Indian prime minister Vajpayee and Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif met in Lahore for the first time, pledging to intensify their efforts to find a political solution to the ongoing Kashmir crisis. The February meeting also produced a cease-fire agreement for the LOC, across which Pakistani and Indian troops engaged in periodic shelling. This cease-fire ended three months later, however, when a substantial number of Muslim militants, and possibly some Pakistani troops, infiltrated across the LOC near the town of Kargil Page 160  |  Top of Article and took control of strategic peaks and highlands. India retaliated with substantial force, and the ensuing battle quickly escalated to involve the regular army and air force of both sides. The fighting lasted for eleven weeks, during which all negotiations were broken off, and roughly one thousand people were killed. Coming almost exactly one year after India and Pakistan's nuclear weapons tests, the Kargil fighting quickly took on the aura of an international crisis; as the fighting escalated, concerns about a nuclear exchange grew. The crisis abated in July, when Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif agreed to withdraw the militants—which he continued to maintain did not include Pakistani regular forces—after meeting with U.S. President Clinton in Washington. Although it avoided a wider war, the outcome was widely seen as a victory for India.

The crisis and its outcome had significant political implications in both India and Pakistan. After the fighting subsided, Kashmir returned to its previous status quo—continued sporadic violence and occasional cross-border shelling. India attempted to press its apparent advantage by restoring a semblance of normal politics to Kashmir, holding local elections in September. The elections were boycotted by nearly all Kashmiri groups, and resulted in both low turnouts (less than one percent in some districts, and perhaps fifteen percent overall) and violence. The apparent defeat at Kargil did little to lessen Kashmiri militant activity, which continued throughout 1999 and into 2000. Nor did it bring a halt to the periodic back-and-forth artillery battles by Indian and Pakistani forces. Within the Indian portion of Kashmir and along the LOC, the Kargil crisis solved nothing, but raised tensions by reminding the world how close nuclear-armed Pakistan and India are to conflict.

The Pakistani retreat from Kargil did significantly alter the balance of power within Pakistan, however. Prime Minister Sharif's apparent surrender—deeply unpopular with people across Pakistan, as well as the Pakistani military—added fuel to an already-growing opposition movement against Sharif's government. Opposition rallies and government crackdowns created unrest, which threatened to destabilize Pakistani politics entirely. In October, Sharif attempted to fire his military Chief of Staff, General Pervez Musharraf, who was believed to have masterminded the initial Kargil operation. In response, the Pakistani army organized a bloodless coup and ousted Sharif from power. Since then, Musharraf and a military-appointed government have led Pakistan. They have pledged to continue pressing the Kashmir issue with India and the international community. This, combined with continued violence within Kashmir and fighting along the LOC, largely halted further political progress with India through mid-2000. President Clinton's visit to both India and Pakistan in March 2000 failed to break the logjam; Pakistan continued to call for international mediation, but India refused it, and Clinton took the position that he could not interject American mediation where it was not wanted by both sides.

As of the middle of 2000, the Kashmir situation appeared to have returned to the impasse that has dominated the region for the past ten years. Although they shocked the world, the 1998 nuclear tests by both India and Pakistan did little to change the overall situation. India first tested a "nuclear explosive device" in the early 1970s, and Pakistan has openly claimed to have nuclear capability since the early 1990s, a claim most outside analysts agreed with. The military reality is that an all-out war between India and Pakistan would clearly devastate both, while India retains enough conventional military superiority to deny Pakistan any significant territorial gains in Kashmir. The 1990s also demonstrated that India lacks the capability to permanently suppress either Kashmiri militancy, or external infiltration by Islamic groups bent on wresting control of the province away from India. Finally, the political positions of the various sides have not changed at all in the last ten years. India refuses to discuss the issue outside of bilateral talks with Pakistan, and refuses to consider giving up control of Kashmir; Pakistan continues to insist on the opposite of India's position; and a range of groups in Kashmir continue to advocate either independence or union with Pakistan.

Given these realities, the possibility of a resolution in the near future appears unlikely. In the long run, the three theoretical possibilities are union of some or all of the Indian-held province with Pakistan; independence for Indian-held Kashmir, either in part or in whole, which Pakistani-controlled Azad Kashmir might join; or normalization of politics in Indian-controlled Kashmir as a permanent part of India. The first and second possibilities would require the Indian government to voluntarily relinquish control, probably to some form of vote or plebiscite to determine the wishes of the population of Kashmir. Events in 1999 in Indonesia and East Timor, in which Indonesia did exactly that, led the All-Party Hurriyat Conference to hold up the East Page 161  |  Top of Article
IN A REGION WROUGHT WITH CONFLICT, THERE HAVE BEEN OCCASIONAL SPELLS OF PEACE, LIKE THAT BROUGHT ON BY THIS SIGNING OF A 1971 TRUCE BETWEEN INDIAN AND PAKISTANI OFFICIALS. (Corbis. Reproduced by permission.) IN A REGION WROUGHT WITH CONFLICT, THERE HAVE BEEN OCCASIONAL SPELLS OF PEACE, LIKE THAT BROUGHT ON BY THIS SIGNING OF A 1971 TRUCE BETWEEN INDIAN AND PAKISTANI OFFICIALS. (Corbis. Reproduced by permission.) Timor case as a model which would allow a plebiscite, originally promised in 1947, to determine the province's final status. The analogy between India and Indonesia is not a perfect one, however; Indonesia was going through a transition between authoritarian rule and democracy in 1999, while India has been a democracy since its independence. Moreover, India was founded on the notion that Muslims and Hindus can live peaceably together in South Asia; to relinquish its one Muslim-majority province, some say, would be to repudiate the entire exercise and call India's fundamental identity into question. Hence, it appears that voluntary Indian withdrawal of their claim to Kashmir is unlikely in the absence of radical political changes there.

The third possibility, however, is also problematic. Kashmir is unlike East Timor in another way: the Kashmiris receive substantial support from the outside world for their struggle, while the East Timorese fought more or less alone for nearly three decades. India has proved inept at convincing the Muslims of Kashmir that they should give their political allegiance to the Indian government. Given the scale of violence over the last decade—most of the over twenty-five thousand killed in Kashmir have been civilians—they appear unlikely to do so in the near future. A relatively porous border along the LOC, and a ready supply of weapons and willing Islamic fighters, guarantee that Kashmiri groups will be able to continue their campaign against Indian rule for the foreseeable future. If India wishes to retain its control, which appears likely, she will have to be prepared to pay a significant price over time.

Ultimately, progress on Kashmir will come only when one of the main players—Pakistan, India, or the indigenous Kashmiris—change their minds about the conflict. Of these three, Pakistan is least important. Even if a new Pakistani government were to decide to stop supporting Kashmiri independence, they would likely not be able to stop continued infiltration by private armed groups across the LOC. Pakistan possesses some ability to change the balance of power between different Kashmiri groups, either in favor of those who want union with Pakistan or towards those who advocate Kashmiri independence, but they cannot, on their own, resolve the conflict, even by surrendering.

Progress, then, depends on the continued contest of wills between India and the Kashmiris themselves. Either could decide—although not without significant cost—to accede to the wishes of the other. Each side perceives that to do so would put its very survival at stake. This situation Page 162  |  Top of Article will change only when one side redefines its identity in such a way as to allow the other to "win" without it committing suicide. Thus, India could redefine itself away from the religious vs. secular debates of the 1940s, and accept the notion that this particular group of Muslims does not want to belong to India any longer. Likewise, the people of Kashmir could come to redefine their identity, not to repudiate Islam, but to see it as fitting within a broader India where they felt welcomed and at home. Both of these are distant, remote possibilities, and neither is guaranteed to ever happen. In the meantime, we can expect Kashmir to continue much as it has been for the past decade: plagued by violence, instability, and tension between two South Asian nuclear powers.


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R. William Ayers

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711 Arab Muslims come to India, bringing Islam to a predominately Hindu region. Eventually, the region is ruled by the Caliph of Islam, located in Baghdad in modern day Iraq.

1400 The British establish a trading company, the British East India Company, which won the rule of India, working through local leaders.

1857 The Sepoy Rebellion.

1885 The Indian National Congress is formed.

1886 The All-India Muslim League is founded.

1947 India and Pakistan are partitioned and received their independence from the British Empire. Fighting breaks out over the province of Jammu and Kashmir; it is eventually divided into Indian-held Kashmir and Pakistani-held Azad ("free") Kashmir.

1949 A cease-fire is called between the sides.

1962 India loses the Sino-Indian War, over territory disputed by China and India.

1963 Riots in the Vale of Kashmir (India-held Kashmir).

1965 India and Pakistan fight in the Rann of Kutch.

1971 Bangladesh is created following another India-Pakistani war.

1972 The Simla agreement.

1989 The Jannu and Kashmir Liberation Front kidnap the daughter of an official in exchange for the release of prisoners.

1990 An estimated one hundred guerrilla and paramilitary groups in Kashmir carry out actions during the 1990s. Some join together in the All-Party Hurriyat Conference.

1998 India detonates a nuclear device and Pakistan responds in kind.

1999 A summit raises hopes of reduced tensions, but Pakistani troops infiltrate part of the disputed territory, resulting in an eleven-week ground war.

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|CX3410600024