The Indian Occupation of Kashmir
SPECIAL REPORT FROM THE INTERNET
Longest Occupation in History
MICHAEL KOLODNER makes a detailed study of
Indian brutality in Kashmir. From the INTERNET
DJ reprints the article
History and Geography of KashmirThe State of Jammu and Kashmir is, as its name implies, made up of more than one territorial unit. The Vale, or Valley, of Kashmir and the region of Jammu are joined with Ladakh, Poonch, Gilgit, and Baltistan to form what was, before 1947, a single governmental unit under the rule of the Dogra Dynasty. Each of these regions is distinct from the others in many aspects, and this heterogeneity is important to bear in mind during study of the Kashmir question. However, Kashmiris have a strong culture of their own as well as a distinct language. In many ways, Kashmir’s regions are more like each other than anyone is like the rest of India.Srinagar, the summer capital of the State, is located in the centre of the Vale. This is the most populous region and the most significant agricultural centre, though it constitutes only 10% of the total land area of the state. The population of the Vale of Kashmir is overwhelmingly Muslim. In 1941, Muslims accounted for over 93% of the Vale’s population. Also living in the Vale, though highly outnumbered, is a population of Kashmiri Brahmin Hindus known as the Pandits. Many leaders of the Indian independence movement came from this community, among them Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru.
The next most important region is the province of Jammu where the winter capital is located. This region is the ancestral homeland of the Dogra dynasty. Jammu is predominantly Hindu and Sikh, though there are Muslims living there also. The tiny province of Poonch, in the southwest of the state, is a Muslim region which was added to the Dogras’ possessions in the middle of the 1930s. Ladakh is sparsely populated by Tibetan Buddhists. Finally, there are the mountainous northern provinces of Baltistan and Gilgit. The Baltis are primarily Shia Muslims as are the inhabitants of Gilgit; their cultural links with Kashmir are few.
The State of Jammu and Kashmir has a distinct culture all its own. Though there are strong regional cultural differences – Poonch, for example, is culturally closer to parts of Pakistan than to the Vale of Kashmir – it has been argued that Kashmiri Hindus have more in common with Kashmiri Muslims than with Hindus in the rest of India. And it is significant that Jammu and Kashmir has a history of relative freedom from communal riots compared to the rest of India. During times of strife, such as the disappearance of a hair – believed to be of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) – from the Hazratbal Shrine, Hindu-Muslim violence could flare to dangerous levels; however, such violence has generally been low in Kashmir. In fact, riots over the missing relic were more acute in some cities outside of Kashmir than in the Vale itself.
The State of Jammu and Kashmir is extremely mountainous. In Baltistan, K2, the world’s second tallest mountain, rises out of the Karakoram range to a height of over 28,000 feet. Ladakh includes part of the Tibetan high plateau. And the Pir Panjal range separates Poonch and Jammu from the Vale. Between these enormous ranges run the valleys which are the life-blood of the state. Until air travel, they were also the only routes of travel and communication. At the time of the Partition of British India, Kashmir’s only means of contact with the outside world lay on roads that ran through territory which would become Pakistan. As well, the rivers which originate in Jammu and Kashmir are essential for Pakistani agriculture.
Under the British Indian Empire, large portions of the subcontinent were not included in the area of direct British control. These Princely States, as they came to be known, were ruled by Indian Princes, many of whom were known as Maharajas. Technically independent of the British Raj, the Maharajas had agreed (under pressure, of course) to accept the Paramountcy of the British Crown. The State of Jammu and Kashmir was ruled by the Dogras, a Hindu dynasty, who were widely considered oppressive and corrupt. Sir Hari Singh was the Maharaja in 1947. His regime was oppressive enough to warrant intervention by the British at times, though they never went so far as to annex the territory. The British took interest in Singh’s rule because they considered Jammu and Kashmir to be a geopolitically significant territory. The Gilgit areas, which the British had leased to the Dogras, were considered to be a sensitive listening post from which to keep track of Russian and Chinese ambitions in Central Asia as well as an important frontier region in the event of Russian or Chinese attack.
The Transfer of Power and the Creation of the Kashmir Conflict
When the decision was made that British rule in India would come to an end, there were two dominant competing political philosophies struggling for independence on the subcontinent. Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s philosophy of Two Nations divided on communal lines competed with the secular ideology of Jawaharlal Nehru. The British, in the end, chose to partition the subcontinent into two states according to the demographics of each province. All areas which were predominantly Muslim in population would join to form Pakistan while the non-Muslim areas would become India. In the Princely States, the Maharajas were given the choice to accede to the state of their choice or, in theory, to remain independent when Paramountcy lapsed with the British departure. For most Princely States, it was a foregone conclusion that they would join Pakistan or India, whichever their population dictated. Otherwise, they would have been surrounded by territory of the opposite state. In Jammu and Kashmir, however, this choice was not simple or straightforward: the Maharaja was a Hindu who ruled over a predominantly Muslim population. Because of Kashmir’s strategic location, it was feasible to join either state or even to become independent.
According to Alastair Lamb, it seems likely that Lord Mountbatten, the British Viceroy, engineered Partition in such a way that Jammu and Kashmir would go to India. At the very least, it seems evident that he tampered with the process sufficiently to leave that option wide open. By allocating the Gurdaspur district of the Punjab to India, even though it ought to have gone to Pakistan by the logic of Partition, the possibility of Jammu and Kashmir joining India was left open. Had Gurdaspur gone to Pakistan, there would have been no land-route connecting India to Kashmir. The evidence seems to suggest that Mountbatten meddled with the proceedings of the Radcliffe Commission, whose job it was to assign territories to either Pakistan or India. At best, his intention was to give Maharaja Sir Hari Singh a real choice of which Dominion to join. More likely is the assertion that he intended India rather than Pakistan to be the guardian of the Northern Frontier because he had more trust in India’s secular leadership.
Of course, Indian leaders saw themselves as the only capable guardians of the Frontier in the first place. Picturing themselves as a major South Asian power, and labouring under the assumption that Pakistan would crumble under its own internal contradictions within a few years and be rejoined with India, Nehru and the other leaders believed it was only right that Kashmir should accede to the Indian Union lest China or the Soviet Union be given a chance to snatch it and meddle in South Asian politics.
According to the logic of Partition and relevant precedent, however, Jammu and Kashmir ought to have gone to Pakistan. No Princely State, when all was said and done, remained independent, though a few tried. If we take it for granted, then, that Kashmir could not have become an independent state, it still seems that Pakistan has the better claim to the territory. The population of the state was overwhelmingly Muslim, economic, geographic, and cultural ties seemed to point towards union with Pakistan. A relevant precedent in this issue is the case of the accession of Junagadh to India. The Muslim Maharaja of Junagadh, believing that he might retain some power by joining Pakistan, opted to accede to Pakistan even though his population was overwhelmingly Hindu. India, in order to prevent the loss of this territory, imposed a plebiscite on the state by sending in the army. The population voted to accede to India. Thus, it seems that, for Jammu and Kashmir, the accession of the Maharaja is not final; it must be ratified by a plebiscite in cases where the Maharaja wishes to accede to the opposite Dominion than his population figures would imply. Pakistan has never accepted the validity of the Junagadh outcome, though it seems likely that they would have traded their claim to Junagadh in exchange for Jammu and Kashmir at the time of Partition.
Problems at Partition
During the uncertain times which surrounded Partition in 1947, a revolt against the rule of the Maharaja broke out in the town of Poonch. Starting in June 1947, two months before the Transfer of Power, a no-tax campaign began which evolved rapidly into a secessionist movement. As the Poonch troubles continued, Pakistan was faced with three options to deal with the Muslim uprising: to ignore what was going on and leave the Poonch Muslims to their fate, to assist the Hindu Maharaja in suppressing the rebellion, or to permit (be it overtly or covertly, officially or unofficially) some degree of material assistance to reach the rebels from or over Pakistani territory.
It seems that the course of action they eventually chose was very mild. The Pakistani leaders gave minuscule amounts of military material to the rebels (mainly because they had little to spare that would not attract the attention of the British officers still commanding the Pakistani Army). At the same time, they tried to persuade Maharaja Sir Hari Singh that it would be beneficial to accede to Pakistan. To this end, Pakistan imposed mild economic sanctions on Jammu and Kashmir. Singh did not take kindly to this, and on October 18, 1947 he threatened to ask India for military assistance to overcome the sanctions. From here, relations between the Maharaja and the state of Pakistan began to decline.
Sometime during September and early October, 1947, Maharaja Sir Hari Singh asked the Sikh Maharaja of Patiala state for help quelling the Poonch rebellion. He received assistance in the form of a battalion of infantry and a battery of mountain artillery supplied by the Sikh ruler from his State Armed Forces. Furthermore, the government of India took active steps, short of military reinforcement, to protect the Maharaja’s position in power and prepare for a possible military intervention. When the Maharaja began to open discussions with Sheikh Abdullah, a prominent Muslim leader jailed by the Maharaja’s regime, who was outspoken in his criticism of both the Maharaja and Pakistan, it became obvious that Jammu and Kashmir was about to accede to India. It is likely that at this point some Pakistani leaders began to genuinely worry about their own state’s safety in relation to Jammu and Kashmir. If Indian troops were sent to Poonch to quell the uprising, it was likely that the war could spill over the Jhelum river into Pakistani Punjab. Some leaders feared that India might use that occasion to destroy by force the Two Nation theory which they hated so much.
Events at this point become difficult to trace exactly because 50 years of acrimonious debate and propaganda have clouded the truth. According to Alastair Lamb, whose research is the most complete, it seems that the resistance commanders in Poonch had toyed with the idea of getting assistance from Pathan tribes in the North-West Frontier. Pathans had a reputation for being vicious fighters but not very disciplined, even in their home region. When they were on the warpath in remote fields, they had a reputation for brutality. More experienced Pakistani soldiers and politicians who were aware of what was brewing were seriously alarmed.
But the Pathans had mobilized for battle and little could stop them from joining it. There seems to have been some acquiescence by Pakistani officials in the North-West Frontier Province, who let the Pathans cross the border, though it is not known how high up this was decided.
The main tribal forces probably arrived in Poonch during the first week of October, though some may have trickled in before. Contrary to the claims of some pro-Indian writers, it seems unlikely that Pakistan was involved in sending the Pathans to Kashmir in order to capture the territory without using the Pakistani army. The Pathans had the opportunity to take Srinagar before Indian help arrived, but looting and lack of reliable transport held them up. By the time they arrived in Srinagar, the rebels’ public image had been further tarnished by their actions and the city’s defences were reinforced. The Maharaja had requested aid from India in fear of the brutal Pathans. On 24 October, the Poonch rebels formally declared themselves to be the state of Azad (Free) Kashmir.
Faced with the prospect of a successful revolution, Maharaja Sir Hari Singh acceded to India on 27 October, 1947. Included in the Instrument of Accession was a special clause requiring a plebiscite to determine the wishes of the people once law and order had been reestablished. There is some question as to the chronology of the accession and of Indian intervention, including the fact that the Patiala brigade, officially troops of the Indian Union after that state’s accession, was in Jammu and Kashmir prior to the accession of Jammu and Kashmir. These questions of timing and the need for a plebiscite lead to significant doubts about India’s claim to the absolute legality of the Maharaja’s accession in 1947.
Meanwhile, Pakistan, seeing that Indian troops were moving to crush the independent Muslim Azad Kashmir, ordered its army to Kashmir too. The order was rejected, however, by the British commander of the Pakistani Army, General Gracey, who refused to sanction an inter-Dominion war. Talks between the leaders of India and Pakistan aimed at resolving the conflict proved fruitless. Neither side was willing to compromise. Nehru demanded that the Pathan tribesmen be withdrawn before a plebiscite on accession was held.
Meanwhile Jinnah insisted that he had no control over the tribesmen, but that he could threaten them with war by both Dominions if they did not leave. This was not good enough for Nehru, who did not believe Jinnah’s protestations of innocence. Jinnah insisted that Indian troops must be withdrawn before a plebiscite could have any meaning, but Nehru insisted that, since the Maharaja’s accession was legal and permanent, the Indians had a right to be in Jammu and Kashmir.
During this diplomacy, the Gilgit region threw off the Maharaja’s rule and declared itself a part of Pakistan. By May 1948, Indian forces began to press back the rebels and push towards the Poonch-West Punjab border. Seeing the Indian troops moving towards sovereign Pakistan, General Gracey allowed Pakistani regulars to officially assist the Azad Kashmir government, though at no stage during the first Kashmir war were Indian regulars out-numbered by Pakistani regulars. With the entry of Pakistani troops into the area, the first Indo-Pakistani war over Kashmir officially began.
Kashmir at the End of the War
When the UN imposed a cease-fire on 1 January 1949, the territory of the State of Jammu and Kashmir was divided roughly in half by the line known as the LoC (Line of Control) or LoAC (Line of Actual Control). Pakistan controlled the northern areas of Gilgit and Baltistan as well as Azad Kashmir, and a tiny portion of the Vale. India held Jammu, Ladakh, and the populous Vale, as well as a small portion of Poonch. We should note, at this point, that the northernmost section of the ceasefire line was never explicitly defined.
The negotiators did not extend the line because there had been no fighting in Kashmir’s northernmost reaches, but merely mentioned that the line should continue [from map coordinate NJ 9842] thence north to the glaciers.
The Karakoram mountain area, including the Siachen and Baltoro glaciers, is not only uninhabited, it is hazardous; this is why no fighting occurred there in 1948. Still, since 1984, India and Pakistan have engaged in an ongoing turf war over this area with soldiers at heights exceeding 17,200 ft. On the mountains and glaciers, more soldiers have died from the weather, terrain, and altitude than from fighting. This is part of the legacy of the conflict over Kashmir.
Since the end of the war in 1949, no attempts at mediation have succeeded in bringing the two sides together. In fact, the p/sitions taken by Nehru and Jinnah in 1947 are essentially the same positions each country puts forth today. There has never been a plebiscite to determine the wishes of the Kashmiris regarding accession. India has claimed that legislative elections were sufficient to serve as a plebiscite proving that Kashmiris wish to remain in India. This might be true except for some important considerations of the details in Kashmir. First, only one set of elections held in Jammu and Kashmir was even arguably fair: the elections of 1977. Other than the elections of 1977, there has been widespread election rigging and intimidation of voters. Even the 1977 election, it is argued by some, was accompanied by brutality and intimidation. One of the principle methods of insuring victory for Sheikh Abdullah’s National Conference was the careful screening of which candidates were even allowed on the ballot. Few opposition parties made it. Thus, elections did not provide an opportunity for the Kashmiri populace to express its opinions; there were not enough options on the ballot between which to choose.
Second, participation in the Indian political system did not necessarily imply acceptance of it. Rather, it indicated that candidates understood the reality of the situation in Jammu and Kashmir and had a willingness to follow the rules in order to gain power. Sheikh Abdullah, for example, seemed, in many ways, to have been a puppet of New Delhi. But he always remained a thorn in their side by asserting that Kashmir deserved either independence or autonomy. Thus, even though Sheikh Abdullah accommodated himself extensively to Indian rule in Kashmir and was willing to contest (not to mention rig) elections, he never gave up the belief that Kashmiris retained the right to self-determination and had yet to express their preference in a suitable manner.
Political History, 1949 – 1971
While Nehru originally considered the accession of Kashmir to be provisional, pending a plebiscite, he was eventually converted to the view that the Maharaja’s accession was absolute. This does indicate, however, that in the early days of the dispute the Indian government unsure about the exact legal position of the State of Jammu and Kashmir. At the same time, the government of the State of Jammu and Kashmir was also legally undefined. The Maharaja, in October 1947, had created an emergency government headed by Sheikh Abdullah because this was what Nehru demanded in exchange for military assistance. (Nehru believed that his personal friend, Sheikh Abdullah, was firmly committed to union with India. Abdullah’s supposed position was touted as the expression of the Kashmiri peoples’ will.) Thus, what political power was not in the hands of the Indian Army was held by a government which rested its legitimacy on the Maharaja’s will announced by proclamation.
This was to remain the real constitutional basis for National Conference rule for more than a decade (and, ironically enough, for many years after the Sheikh Abdullah regime had deposed the Maharaja and overthrown his Dogra Dynasty.)
The Indian government, meanwhile, accepted the Sheikh Abdullah government as legitimate. His regime, however, was far from democratic. Under Sheikh Abdullah, the State High Court was effectively shut down, senior appointments were doled out to his clients, trade concessions were sold for personal profit, and potential rivals to the Sheikh’s leadership were allowed to rot in jail. Sheikh Abdullah was also, to Nehru’s dismay, not quite a puppet of India. Though he said many different things at different times to different people, it was clear that his programme included one-party government in Jammu and Kashmir, autonomy, if not independence for the South Asian Switzerland, and secularism only in the form of Kashmiri nationalism.
When the Indian Constitution was finally drafted in January 1950, it contained special provisions relating to Jammu and Kashmir. While Article I declared the state an integral part of the Indian Union, Article 370 conferred upon it special status unlike any other state in the Union. The powers of the Indian Union Parliament in Jammu and Kashmir were limited to defence, external affairs, and communications. The framers of the constitution felt that, if they did not grant the minimal autonomy of Article 370, Sheikh Abdullah might declare that Kashmir wished to join Pakistan.
In 1951, elections were held for a Jammu and Kashmir Constituent Assembly in order to legitimate Sheikh Abdullah’s regime and draft a constitution for the State.
In theory its members had been freely elected by secret ballot in a manner hitherto unknown in the state; but somehow Sheikh Abdullah’s National Conference Party and those sympathetic to it won all the seats for which they were candidates… Under 5% of the potential electorate [universal adult suffrage] actually voted… No less than seventy-three delegates were returned unopposed; and the whole process was boycotted by the only other tolerably organized party in the State, the Praja Parishad (associated with Jana Sangh in India) which represented the Hindus of Jammu (with a measure of Sikh support), after the nominations for all twenty-seven of its candidates had been rejected.
That was the type of regime that Sheikh Abdullah ran. The Constituent Assembly set about drafting a constitution which would insure that Jammu and Kashmir retained a large measure of autonomy and kept open the option of independence.
As mentioned above, the elections to the Constituent Assembly were touted by India as substitutes for a plebiscite. In response to this whitewashing, the Plebiscite Front was founded by Mirza Afzal Beg to call publicly for a United Nations supervised vote. Nehru ignored the call and did not react when leaders of the Plebiscite Front were detained by Sheikh Abdullah’s government.
In August 1953, Sheikh Abdullah was ousted and arrested for treason with the approval of New Delhi, where Indian leaders were afraid he was considering Kashmiri independence as a solution to the Indo-Pakistani conflict. Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed, the new Prime Minister of the State, proceeded to declare that Jammu and Kashmir was a permanent part of the Indian Union. Sheikh Abdullah quickly came to agree with Mirza Afzal Beg that a plebiscite was essential to move towards justice and democracy in Jammu and Kashmir; and he began to express this opinion. Having been released from his prior detention, Sheikh Abdullah was arrested, in 1958, under the Preventative Detention Act and charged, along with Mirza Afzal Beg and others, with conspiracy.
The elections of 1957 and 1962 were carefully managed and opposition groups were unable to participate effectively. They were also, of course, held under the watchful eye of the Indian Army. Had these steps not been taken, Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed would have lost. His level of support did not even approach that of Sheikh Abdullah. In December 1963, it was discovered that the holy hair of Mohammed (PBUH) had disappeared from the Hazratbal shrine. The hair reappeared later under mysterious circumstances.
The episode demonstrated to all who wished to see that the inhabitants of the Vale of Kashmir, generally docile and for many years evidently prepared to submit to whatever government the Indians and the National Conference might provide for them, could become extremely violent when their religion was perceived to be under attack. In other words, despite years of Sheikh Abdullah and his associates apparently preaching secularism, the Islamic religion remained the most powerful stimulus for political activity in the Vale of Kashmir.
Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed’s government was discredited during the incident because most ordinary Kashmiris believed the incident had been engineered by New Delhi to cement their hold on Jammu and Kashmir.
By the end of October 1964, the government of India, having given up on talks with Pakistan, moved to integrate Kashmir into the Indian Union by in effect abrogating Article 370 of the Indian Constitution. Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed did not oppose these moves because he relied on New Delhi to stay in power. Kashmiri citizens and Pakistan, however, did not take kindly to the erosion of Jammu and Kashmir’s autonomy.
Eventually, Pakistan’s dissatisfaction combined with some border incidents led to the second Indo-Pakistani war over Kashmir in 1965. During disturbances in Kashmir, calling for the release of Sheikh Abdullah from yet another period of imprisonment, Pakistan invaded, hoping to take advantage of the chaos. This war spilled over into attacks on the territories-proper of each side and proved to the world that India and Pakistan were truly enemies. The ceasefire and the Tashkent Declaration of 10 January 1966 brought the two sides back to their original positions prior to the crises. The war was, more or less, a wasteful mistake.
In 1971, the Indian government used the alleged existence and activities of a group of terrorists called Al Fatah in order to justify an attack on the Plebiscite Front and Sheikh Abdullah. By trumping up charges that the Plebiscite Front had aided Al Fatah, New Delhi was able to declare the Front an unlawful association and ban it from entering the 1971 elections. Also in 1971, the Fourteen Days War, which would end with the independence of Bangladesh (formerly East Pakistan), broke out. The Simla Agreement of 2 July, 1972, which ended the war, involved a commitment by both sides to respect the territorial integrity of the other and, in Jammu and Kashmir, to respect the LoC of December 1971 and not try to alter it unilaterally. (This provision would eventually lead to the glacier war, mentioned above, which began in 1984 and continues until today. Because the LoC was undefined at the far north, unilateral change there was not exactly illegal.) After the Simla Agreement, the problem of Jammu and Kashmir ceased to be a territorial dispute between Pakistan and India; it became merely a dispute over the Kashmiris’ right to self-determination.
Kashmir in Turmoil – 1971 – the Present
In 1975, Indira Gandhi made a deal with Sheikh Abdullah to return him to power in exchange, she hoped, for his cooperation in permanently integrating Jammu and Kashmir into the Union (with the reservations inherent in Article 370). The plan backfired, however, when Abdullah held elections in 1977 and won by a landslide. Following the election, Sheikh Abdullah began a policy of exceptionally dictatorial measures. He instituted press censorship, gave the police powers of detention for up to two years without appeal, ordered his Cabinet members to swear an oath of loyalty to him personally, and generally moved towards one-party rule in the State. In 1981, Sheikh Abdullah passed on the mantle of leadership to his son Dr. Farooq Abdullah.
Farooq Abdullah’s time in office did not last long. After winning the 1983 elections amidst widespread violence and hints of rigging, he was ousted by a carefully planned coup which effectively brought the end of Article 370’s implementation. On 31 July, 1984, Malhotra Jagmohan, the Governor of Jammu and Kashmir, swore in a true puppet government under G.M. Shah. By 1986, however, the Shah administration had shown its inability to curb the rising violence in the State. Jagmohan announced the imposition of direct Governor’s rule and suspension of the Legislative Assembly on 7 March, 1986. In September, direct rule from New Delhi was imposed. Rajiv Gandhi attempted to salvage a semblance of democracy in Jammu and Kashmir by convincing Farooq Abdullah to run in the 1987 elections. Farooq Abdullah has admitted that the 1987 elections were as unfair as any others held in the history of the state. By January 1990 the violence was still rising. Jagmohan again declared Governor’s rule in the face of continuing violence and the outbreak of real revolt in the Vale. Since then, chaos and terror have reigned in Kashmir. 400,000 Indian Army troops and paramilitary forces now occupy the State fighting guerilla groups which demand independence or accession to Pakistan.
The number of militant groups in Jammu and Kashmir has climbed to over a dozen under the Indian crackdown. The oldest and largest of the groups is the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), which was founded in 1964. The JKLF is the most secular and nationalist of the Kashmiri groups. Besides rejecting fundamentalist Islam as inimical to Kashmiri tradition, they call for independence because they fear that accession to Pakistan would mean trading one oppression for another. The young and radical wing of the JKLF has broken off into the Student Liberation Front. Also strong in the state, having gained training and experience in the Afghanistan jihad, are a number of Islamist or fundamentalist groups, most of which call for union with Pakistan. The largest Islamic group, and the most militant in its Islam, is the Hizb-ul Mujahidin, the armed wing of the outlawed Jamaat-i-Islami political party. Indian leaders believe that the majority of the Pakistani assistance to militants is directed towards the Hizb-ul Mujahidin. Militant leaders, however, claim that they receive little help from Pakistan. Besides these main groups, there are dozens of smaller groups which can survive on help from villagers. Kashmiri opinion is strongly in favour of the struggle for independence.
While insurgent groups have not been blameless,-they have kidnapped tourists and bombed public buildings-the Indian army has engaged in repeated atrocities on a massive scale in the process of its crackdown. The level of military misdeeds is so high that we can only conclude that it is government policy to terrorize the Kashmiris into accepting Indian rule. As a result, the possible paths towards peace in Kashmir seem, at this juncture, to point only in the direction of secession from India. It is for this reason that the All-Party Hurriyat Conference, a coalition of all the guerilla groups which was formed in 1993, manages to hold together. The groups have deep ideological differences, but they all can agree on secession from India.
The Indian State in Kashmir
We now come to the crucial point with which this chapter is concerned: India’s underlying reasons for occupying Jammu and Kashmir, its reasons for staying in the face of continued revolt, and the behaviour of the Indian state towards Kashmir. First, it must be noted that there is no clear data on Kashmiri opinions regarding India at the time of Partition. Today, after years of brutal Indian attempts to quell the uprising which began in 1989, it is possible to say, with some degree of certainty, the people are still very resolute and determined in one conviction: that Indian rule over them is illegitimate and unacceptable. Most Kashmiri [Muslims], however, want a sovereign state; they do not want to join Pakistan. During the early years of the conflict it was much more difficult to predict the opinions of the Kashmiris. For one thing, they were a largely uneducated rural people. Indian leaders, and other observers, assumed that they would blindly follow a few major figures, of whom Sheikh Abdullah was the strongest. Because of this assumption, the British and Indians were able to convince themselves that the state’s Muslim inhabitants would choose accession to India, despite the geographic, economic, cultural, and Islamic draw of Pakistan, if Sheikh Abdullah told them to do so. No one ever asked the people themselves. In point of fact, as the historical description above implies, the opinions of individual people were unimportant as far as state leaders in the conflict were concerned. The Kashmir dispute, in other words, started life as a contest over rights to a territory, not the struggle to establish the wishes of a people (emphasis in original).
So why this conflict over territory in the first place? Pakistan’s interest in Kashmir is obvious: the population is majority Muslim. M.A. Jinnah and the leadership of Pakistan believed that Muslims could never be full citizens in Hindu majority India. Thus, by the very logic which created Pakistan, Kashmir should have been an integral part of the Islamic country. When questions arose as to whether this would occur, it became the duty of Pakistan’s leaders to defend the rights of Kashmiris. To have allowed the Maharaja to accede to India unopposed would have been the ultimate betrayal of the cause for which Jinnah and the Muslim League had fought. The choice Kashmiris might make in a plebiscite was, basically, unimportant to Pakistani leaders. They believed, regardless of any false consciousness of Kashmiris, that accession to India would eventually lead to oppression.
I have identified four main reasons for the Indian involvement in Kashmir. Perhaps the most important, and the most insidious, is that, in the words of historian Paul Brass. At the top of [Indian leaders’] goals, the sine qua non for everything else was an abiding faith in and determination to preserve the national unity and integrity of the country against all potential internal and external threats to it. The very fact that this first priority, the centre of the dreams of the Congress nationalists, had to be sacrificed at Independence itself, with the partition of the country, reinforced the determination of the leaders never to make such a sacrifice again.
Thus, the very existence of Pakistan was, for Indian leaders, an affront to their struggle. To allow any more territory to fall to Pakistan than was absolutely necessary would be a betrayal of the ideals of the independence struggle. Accordingly, it was the policy of Nehru and the other Indian leaders to use force, if necessary, to crush any secessionist movement which showed signs of strength and not to make any concessions to regional, cultural, religious, or ethnic autonomy. They believed that to act otherwise would invite the rapid disintegration of the Indian Union and a resultant bloodbath. Allowing Kashmir, therefore, to join Pakistan after the Maharaja had signed the Instrument of Accession, would have been, in Nehru’s eyes, to begin the destruction of India. In fact, when the Indian constitution was drafted, the inclusion of Article 370 was a major embarrassment for New Delhi. Successive governments tried hard to eat away at Kashmir’s autonomy as it was enshrined in the constitution.
Nehru also had something to prove ideologically in Kashmir. By ruling over a state with a population 80% Muslim, India would be able to prove to the world that it was a secular nation-and disprove the Muslim League’s theory that there are two nations on the subcontinent that can not live together in peace. It turns out that India has, in fact, taken steps towards proving the Muslim League right instead. Perhaps if real democracy had been brought to Jammu and Kashmir early in the conflict, the Muslims might have been persuaded that they had a place within India. Instead, New Delhi supported Sheikh Abdullah’s autocratic practices, as well as acting autocratically itself. It is little wonder, therefore, that Kashmiris have been disillusioned by the Indian state.
India has strategic and economic interests in the State which it certainly takes into account. Kashmir’s beauty draws tourists and is source of income. Until the region became unsafe in 1989, Kashmir was a major attraction for foreign visitors. In fact, as the recent kidnappings have shown, tourists are still drawn to Kashmir despite the danger. More important than tourism is the strategic placement of the region. As I have mentioned above, India saw itself as the major regional power in South Asia and thus felt that it was only right for them to be the guardians of the Northern Frontier. However, with the invention of new technologies, including expanded air travel, and modern international politics, Kashmir’s strategic value is significantly lessened. Furthermore, India considers it a point of honour to oppose Pakistan’s meddling in Kashmir. Originally, however, there is no doubt that the interest in Kashmir was strongly influenced by strategic considerations.
Today, India justifies its occupation of Kashmir based on a purported but unverified Ôconsensus’ in India that ÔKashmir is an integral part of India’. This begs the question. Kashmiris still have the right to self-determination, even if this purported consensus exists in the rest of India. In order to veto this right, it would seem that there had to be some overwhelmingly compelling reason why the consensus of all non-Kashmiri Indians was so sacrosanct. India has yet to produce one. The strategic argument is gone, there is not much economic might in Kashmir to speak of, and the legal argument, based on the Maharaja’s accession, is questionable at best.
But we must remember that in the international political context, these types of argument are not uncommon. What makes the Indian control of Kashmir a military occupation, and unjustifiable even in comparison with other international absurdities, are India’s actions over the last half-century. In their attempt to maintain control over Jammu and Kashmir, the Indian government has been anti-democratic, arbitrary, and frequently brutal.
From the moment they gained control of Kashmir, the Indian policy was to avoid, if not punish, all talk of a plebiscite. By installing Sheikh Abdullah, Nehru believed that he could convince the world that Kashmiri public opinion really favoured union with India. In truth, Abdullah was a popular but not an elected leader. In a sense, he was little different from the Maharaja (except that he was Muslim). As mentioned above, this touting the legislative elections as a substitute for a plebiscite was disingenuous. Installing Sheikh Abdullah and continuing to back him was, itself, autocratic of India. Even when it was obvious that Sheikh Abdullah’s rule was autocratic, brutal, feudalistic, and based on fraudulent elections, India continued to support him. Nehru had no intention of giving the Kashmiri people real democracy or real power: that might have led to autonomy.
Pakistan might have been able to force India into holding a plebiscite had it dropped its opposition to holding the election under the Indian Army and with Sheikh Abdullah in power. But Jinnah was not flexible on this point. Still, India never had any intention of asking the Kashmiris’ opinions. This was obviously anti-democratic of India, and it almost certainly hurt India’s image among Kashmiris. Had India allowed democratic structures to grow in the state, it is possible that Kashmiris would have accepted New Delhi’s rule after a few years. By acting anti-democratically, India only threw fuel on the fire of Kashmiri demands.
India was also not above using underhanded, often unconstitutional, tricks in order to maintain control over Kashmir. Though they were not mentioned in the historical summary above, most of the changes of government in Jammu and Kashmir were engineered by India when it felt threatened in Kashmir. Planned party splits, such as the one which brought G. M. Shah to power in 1984, were a favoured weapon of the Indian government, though it was not averse to the simple device of dismissing the legislature and imposing direct rule, as in 1986 and 1990. Such moves, even though the common Kashmiri may not understand what happened, tend to erode faith in government, regardless of who runs it. Because it was India that always seemed to come out in control, Kashmiris assumed that the changes were planned by New Delhi.
The final issue in the Indian occupation of Kashmir is the one that shows the true leap from control to occupation. Regardless of the argument one could make about the situation between 1947 and 1989, there is no other description possible for the status of Kashmir since 1990 than occupied. The behaviour of Indian soldiers and paramilitary troops in Kashmir has been systematically brutal. Armed with the power to detain suspects for 6 months without trial, to ban subversive groups, and to hold secret trials in which there is a presumption of guilt, the Indian Army has a free hand and they use it. Operation Tiger, the Army’s code-name for its war on Kashmiri militants, tacitly sanctions deaths during interrogation… It is a catch and kill policy. In the course of the ten years of sustained uprising, the Indian government has contravened nearly every Human Rights code and has sanctioned actions from censorship, arson, and beatings, to rape, mass murder, and tortures of all kinds.