Photo: PTI
Photo: PTI

Where Kashmir unites India and Pakistan

Both India and Pakistan have for decades sidestepped through diplomatic minefields when it comes to Kashmir

In the structured madness that is Jammu & Kashmir (and its insane and equally tortured cousin: Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir for India, aka Azad Kashmir for Pakistan), history is also a frequent casualty alongside people. So let’s journey back for a while even as we seek to journey ahead.

In India we often hear of Pakistan’s project of official hatred and envy of India, and its geopolitical project in Kashmir that has over the decades skewed our map. Pakistan even had the chutzpah to share a slice of India’s claimed territory with China, and help birth a strategic highway between two of India’s most vexing non-friends through these lands.

The concern isn’t new.

As far back as August 1951, Zakir Husain, India’s future president, along with a group of prominent Muslim intellectuals scripted a memorandum to Frank Porter Graham, a former US senator appointed United Nations’ mediator for the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan.

“Pakistan claims Kashmir, first, on the ground of the majority of the state’s people being Muslims and, secondly, on the ground of the state being essential to its economy and defence," pleaded this most prescient of missives. “To achieve its objective it has been threatening to launch ‘Jehad’ against Kashmir in India ...

“Pakistan’s policy in general and her attitude towards Kashmir in particular thus tend to create conditions in this country which in the long run can only bring to us Muslims widespread suffering and destruction. Its policy prevents us from settling down, from being honourable citizens of a state, free from suspicion of our fellow-countrymen and adapting ourselves to changing conditions to promote the interests and welfare of India. Its sabre-rattling interferes with its own economy and ours..."

This has remained the cynical blueprint through more than six decades, four wars, numerous insurrections, and the play of exporting terrorism in Kashmir as a matter of state policy from 1989, the time Benazir Bhutto was prime minister of Pakistan. If India has erred massively in the Kashmir it controls, with decades-long heavy-handedness ranging from overturning popular mandates and jailing leaders—a practice encouraged by prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru—to massively hammering away at civilians using the army and paramilitaries, so has Pakistan. The most recent example was in July, when popular protests erupted after provincial elections in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir were conducted, unsurprisingly won yet again by the country’s leading political entity: this time it was Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, the party of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Tens of thousands of army and paramilitary troopers already present and sent in, were in attendance to oversee polls and control protests.

Both countries have for decades sidestepped through diplomatic minefields. Pakistan has circumvented the 1948 UN Security Council Resolution that called for a withdrawal of Pakistani nationals and tribesmen from its 1947 incursion into Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan. The resolution announced that “pending a final solution, the territory evacuated by the Pakistani troops will be administered by local authorities under the surveillance of the (UN) Commission".

Effectively, puppet governments have always run Azad Kashmir, and, mirroring moves by India’s Parliament to claim all of Kashmir, a series of resolutions passed by Pakistan’s national assembly ensures Kashmir is cemented to Pakistan’s aspirations. Pakistan even has a federal minister for Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit-Baltistan—the former “Northern Areas" that India too claims.

For its part India too has steadfastly prevented a referendum in Kashmir, “in accordance with the will of the people", as the UN resolution directed both India and Pakistan. India has also bypassed a time-bomb of a caveat employed by India’s governor-general at the time, Lord Mountbatten, in response to the ruler of Kashmir, Hari Singh’s plea for help from India to keep Pakistan at bay. In his letter of 27 October, 1947, Mountbatten wrote: “... in the case of any state where the issue of accession has been the subject of dispute, the question of accession should be decided in accordance with the wishes of the people of the state, it is my Government’s wish that, as soon as law and order have been restored in Kashmir and its soil cleared of the invader, the question of the state’s accession should be settled by a reference to the people."

None of it has come to pass. Status quo is really a geopolitical quid pro quo employed by Pakistan and India.

Next week: more recent history, and attempts to patch together peace and contain the can of worms that is Kashmir.

Sudeep Chakravarti’s books include Clear.Hold.Build: Hard Lessons of Business and Human Rights in India, Red Sun: Travels in Naxalite Country and Highway 39: Journeys through a Fractured Land. This column, which focuses on conflict situations and the convergence of businesses and human rights in India and South Asia, runs on Fridays.

Respond to this column at rootcause@livemint.com

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