Home / Opinion / Online Views /  Christopher Snedden | Kashmir people instigated dispute

New Delhi: Australian scholar-historian Christopher Snedden says his new book, Kashmir: The Unwritten History, discloses little-known facts about the India-Pakistan conflict over the Himalayan region. Snedden said in an interview that the Kashmir dispute was instigated by the people of the region, well before the Pakhtoon invasion of Kashmir in October 1947 blamed by India on Pakistan. Edited excerpts:

What are the new elements that you bring out?

There are several new elements. In the first part of the book, it is talking about Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), the princely state, the Poonch uprising, the inter-religious violence that started in Jammu province roughly around the time that affected all communities, particularly Muslims in eastern Jammu, the creation of the provisional government of “Azad Kashmir"—all these happened before Maharaja (Hari Singh’s) accession to India, and the fourth thing is providing substantial amount of information about Azad Kashmir.

None of them has been terribly well documented. Most books on the Kashmir dispute talk about the Kashmir dispute or about the uprising in the (Kashmir) valley in 1989. This book focuses on an area about which very little has been written. (Azad Kashmir is the name used by Pakistan for the part of the Himalayan region it controls. India calls it Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.)

Why did you feel the need for this book now when Kashmir is off the international radar?

It is as a result of my research. I was doing my PhD in Melbourne, Australia, and looking at ways I could add to knowledge and I was going to focus on the Kashmir valley, but when I looked at the research, there was a real gap (of information) about Azad Kashmir, so I thought I would write about how the people themselves instigated the Kashmir dispute through the Poonch uprising and the inter-religious violence before Pakhtoons arrived.

The Indian and the Pakistani versions say all the violence started when the Pakhtoons arrived. I am saying that is incorrect, that the people of Jammu and Kashmir instigated the dispute. In terms of the timing, it’s just worked out like this. The book came out after I finished my research. It could only come out when I finished it.

You have spoken about how Kashmir was undeliverable to India and Pakistan in its entirety. So this was a dispute waiting to happen.

It was a dispute waiting to happen after Maharaja Hari Singh did not accede to India or Pakistan by 15 August. But arguably if he had acceded, there would have been a dispute later. If he had said he would join India, there would have been a lot of Muslims in Jammu and Kashmir who would have left or fought, upset that their area did not join Pakistan. To some extent, the same in the other place. It’s hard to say; in 1947, the Muslims were a divided community.

You see a lot of disenchantment in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir vis-à-vis Pakistan?

It’s changed over time in Azad Kashmir. When I first went there in 1996, most people were pro-Pakistan. But now the younger generation, they are saying we don’t want to be with Pakistan. This is partly to do with the JKLF (Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front), which is from Mirpur. A lot of Kashmiris in Britain are from that part. Gilgit and Baltistan—there is disenchantment there because the Pakistan government has allowed a lot of Sunnis to move in and got rid of the “state subject" status, which means anybody can buy land there. In the (Kashmir) valley, I first visited there in 1996 and they were distinctly disenchanted with India, but they have since then come back partly because of the power of the Indian economy and partly because Pakistan only supported pro-Pakistan militant groups, and Kashmiris who aren’t stupid said, “They only want our land and are not interested in our welfare."

Do you see either India or Pakistan giving up the areas they control? Will national sentiment allow a people’s dialogue? Especially since both sides have invested very heavily in terms of resources, people and lives.

If both lose something, they might be prepared to..., but it is very difficult and that is part of the issue of convincing India and Pakistan to move in any way on their positions—they have invested a lot of money, time and emotion, and that is the great challenge I think.

But equally, on the other hand, the people haven’t been consulted; they instigated the dispute and they should be consulted. The people (of India and Pakistan) may understand because they are people themselves and they have been affected indirectly by this dispute, national development funds and ideas have gone into developing armies focused on this particular region rather than being focused on the nation. This is the real problem.

(Former Pakistan president) General (Pervez) Musharraf and (Indian) Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had serious discussions and apparently got very close to an agreement. But I would have thought part of the problem with that agreement was that they had not even prepared their people for a solution and clearly the thing about Kashmir is that it is so easy to derail the whole process.

The BJP (main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party) can say one day that the (ruling) Congress has sold us out or vice versa. In Pakistan, similarly, if the (ruling) PPP (Pakistan People’s Party) does something, the (opposition) Muslim League can say “you have sold us out". And then there is trouble and turmoil and chaos. I talk about compelling constituencies, so I think both nations need to develop these compelling constituencies who say to the governments—“Resolve the issue".

As a historian, where do you think this dispute is headed?

I think we will have more of the same for a while. I don’t see great momentum on either side at the moment and apart from that there are elections coming up on both sides. I don’t see anything happening for the next 24 months. There is another wild card—and that is the people of Kashmir. There was an article that quoted a militant leader as saying that there will be an upheaval in Kashmir in the next four months.

India and Pakistan are moving slowly, slowly to a better relationship. For two nations that have so much in common, it’s not a very good relationship. There is only one land crossing and that makes it very difficult for the average Pakistani to meet the average Indian, and that’s also part of the solution. There is an enormous trust deficit between the two. If you can solve the Siachen glacier (dispute), then I think you can solve the rest. There is such distrust particularly on the side of the Indian army... The trust has to be there, which is why I say it will take some time. You can point to examples on both sides of mistrustful deeds.

Hasn’t insurgency complicated the equation?

Enormously, and it has shown that Kashmiris, who were non-martial people, are distinctly upset with a heap of things including the way they have been treated by India. The insurgency has also shown that by 1993 they don’t particularly like Pakistan as well. But now there are a lot people in the valley who don’t want to join Pakistan or India, they want independence. That is a complicating factor. I am not suggesting independence is the answer. If India and Pakistan solve the Kashmir issue, there is no guarantee that relations will improve. There are many other issues—the composite (peace) dialogue had eight issues in it, one of which is Sir Creek (maritime boundary dispute).

The Line of Control that divides the region—is this status quo workable?

It could be workable, I don’t know, because this is how the countries have operated since 1947. I am not sure it is the best solution because the best way out of the valley is through the Jhelum valley road that goes to Muzzaffarabad and Murree and across to Rawalpindi and connects to the railway network. A major port for Kashmir was also Karachi. But in my conclusion, I am saying that India and Pakistan haven’t been able to resolve the dispute. It was recognized pretty early on that the people must be involved. The (1972 India-Pakistan) Shimla Accord does say that they could devolve this issue to another group. I am suggesting that in this case they should devolve it to the third party, who are actually the first party, because they instigated the dispute, and secondly because the dispute is over their lands and they should allow the people of Jammu and Kashmir to get together and talk, and determine what they want.

And keep India and Pakistan involved so that it is all honest, transparent and above board, and see what comes out of that. And if they want independence, that is fine, they should be allowed to lobby for independence. I think the only thing India and Pakistan agree about is that they can’t be independent.

Would joint administration by India and Pakistan be a solution?

That is a possibility as well, but then I would say the best way to deal with that is to ask the people of Jammu and Kashmir—would you like to be jointly administered? And if everybody says—yes—that would be fantastic. That would be a real win-win. But that will require great movement from the Indian side because the problem area is the Kashmir valley. And a shift over the trust deficit. East Timor was given a vote and they chose independence. Indonesia agreed to both—the vote and independence. Both cases are slightly different, but it is an example. Sudan and South Sudan is another. It does happen.

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