News Analysis of the Kashmir Conflict:
Learn from History, or Suffer the Consequences
The pain of partition continues as Kashmir bleeds.
The animosity between the two south Asian neighbors India and Pakistan has its roots in religion and history. This hostility has recently escalated into a dangerous arms race, making the sub-continent a nuclear flash point. There is increasing international concern that the continuing hostility between the two countries could spark a major conflagration in the region and beyond.
The arguments that provide both countries with excuses for colossal military build-ups and preparing weapons of mass destruction are the end result of the blunders of British colonials when they dismantled their empire and departed from south Asia some 50 years ago. Their shortsighted decisions at that time have caused endless strife in this part of world, including three full-scale wars between India and Pakistan and insurgency movements in the Indian territories of Kashmir, Assam, Nagaland, Mizoram, Tripora and Punjab.
In 1971 Pakistan lost much of its area to present-day Bangladesh after Bengali nationalists resented the central authority of IslamabadPakistan's capitaland opted for independence. The pain of partition continues. Billions of dollars are being wasted by both poor countries on weapons and the military. In this part of world, the human belly is empty, but every south Asian is envious of the metallic cannon.
Background of Conflict:
European colonists came to South Asia in the guise of merchants some 400 years ago. French, Portuguese, Dutch and British vied for the control of South Asia, through both military and merchant power. At that time, south Asia was divided into various princely states.
The only authority that had significant influence over most parts of south Asia were the Muslim rulers of the Mughal dynasty, with their capital in Delhi. The British East India Company started conquering South Asia from Bengal in the 17th century and kept marching through south Asia until the 19th century. At the end of the day, this spree of conquests turned into a vast Indian empire encompassing many different nations, ethnic groups, cultures and faiths.
This colossal empire included Assam and Bengal in the east, which were culturally and ethnically more like Southeast Asia than their other compatriots in the empire. In the south were Tamils, who were/are totally different in terms of language, ethnicity and culture than other parts of India. In the northeast were Pashtuns and Balochs, who still insist on being part of central Asia ethnically and culturally, rather than being considered south Asians.
The British Empire was more or less reminiscent of Europe under the central authority of the Roman Empire during the reign of Caesar.
In the last days of this colossal empire, people were divided on communal political lines. The Indian national congress, a non-communal political party with a Hindu majority and the leadership of Gandhi, demanded the freedom of India as a single political entity on a non-communal basis. Muslim political leadership, under the direction of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, demanded the division of the subcontinent into two halves on communal grounds, insisting that Muslims qualified as one nation.
To me, both the demands went wide of the mark. British India was neither home to one Indian nation as the Indian congress insisted, nor home to separate Muslim and Hindu nations, as the Muslim leadership believed.
On the contrary, South Asiaor the sub-continent, as it is more often calledwas and remains home to various nations. Muslims had the patronization of British colonists, who abhorred the patriotic and secular leadership of the Hindu-dominated Indian National congress.
Under the partition plan of June 3, 1947, the semi-autonomous princely states of British India, who were being ruled independently by Rajas, were allowed to decide on their own what to do. In August of 1947 British India was divided into two halvesa Muslim Pakistan and a Hindu India.
With the partitioning came massive rioting and population flows as Muslims and Hindus found themselves on the wrong side of the newly-drawn border between Muslim Pakistan and Hindu India. Hindus from Pakistan migrated to India and Muslims from India to Pakistan.
Around half a million people died in the violence and rioting that followed the partitioning. Bengal was divided into two halves. One half went to Pakistan as a province, but later became the independent state of Bangladesh in 1971. The other half remained as part of India. Punjab still remains to be divided between India and Pakistan.
Kashmir, a 60% Muslim majority princely state under a Hindu ruler, chose to remain neutral and independent at the time.
Beginning of No End:
In 1948, Pakistan, in an attempt to get hold of Kashmir, sent a force of unruly tribal lashkar, or militia, to annex it by force. This compelled the Hindu ruler, Maharaja Hari Singhwho wanted to stay independent otherwiseto send an S.O.S. to Pakistan's rival, India. India came to his rescue, and in return he signed an Instrument of Accession document with India in October, 1948.
Since then, the territory has been the flashpoint for two of the three India-Pakistan wars: the first, in 1947-8, resulted in the division of Kashmir into two halvesone going to Pakistan and the other to India. The second war was in 1965, when a Pakistan-inspired Muslim insurgency movement resulted in all-out war. Then, in 1999, India fought a brief but bitter conflict with Pakistani-backed forces that had infiltrated Indian-controlled territory in the Kargil area of Indian Kashmir.
Islamabad says Kashmir should have become part of Pakistan in 1947 because Muslims are in the majority in Kashmir. India has the claim of the voluntary accession of Kashmir by its ruler. Pakistan also argues that Kashmiris should be allowed to vote in a referendum on their future, following numerous UN resolutions on the issue. Delhi, however, doesn't want international debate on the issue, arguing that the Simla Agreement of 1972, which was signed by the leadership of both countries, provides for a resolution through bilateral talks. To India, any UN resolutions on Kashmir are dead documents now.
In my language, Sindhi, there is a proverb: when the bulls fight, it is only the grass that is trampled. To me, the Kashmiri people are the only losers in the game of fighting between two big neighbors.
Pakistan has no genuine concern for Kashmir or its people. Pakistan keeps exploiting this issue, in the guise of religion, to reach its own geo-strategic ends. Looking at history, we see that Pakistan was, and is, a product of the fear of a Hindu majority domination in south Asia.
This mindset has its roots in the fact that Muslims ruled over India for thousands of years. Today, Muslims of the subcontinent do not want to live with the reality that Hindus are in the majority. Though Muslims got their own separate country with the blessing of British imperialists, today its leaders fear that with the normalization of relations they may be overwhelmed by Hindu-majority India, which is economically and culturally much stronger than Pakistan.
Another thing to look at is the institutional interests of Pakistan's powerful military. Kashmir is the raison d'etre for a colossal military build-up and a huge military budget in Pakistan. As long as the Kashmir issue is present, gullible people in Pakistan will be harangued into compromising their democratic rights and taxes in favor of the so-called savior of the nation, the men in khakis. For many decades, these military men have been ruling Pakistan as their private fiefdom both directly and indirectly. Directly, through three periods of martial law and direct military rule from 1958 to 1968, 1968 to 1971 and 1977 to 1988. A fourth period of military rule has been in progress since October 1999, but this time the military has chosen not to impose martial law. Instead, indirect military rule has come through civilian rulers that are allowed to rule the country only as puppet rulers.
The Kashmiri people have been fighting for the past 40 years for the right to self determination. In the beginning they fought for self-rule under secular nationalist leadership, but during the past decade the streak of Muslim extremism in Kashmir has received the "blessing" of Pakistan. In so doing, Pakistan has done a great disservice to Kashmir, creating a so-called third option in the Kashmiri movement. The first option is to remain with India, and the second is to go along with Pakistan rather than joining Pakistan as another province under military dominance.
Today, this otherwise secular struggle has become synonymous with Al-Qaida‚brand mindless Muslim fanaticism across the globe. The Kashmiri people have lost all sympathies in the face of the propaganda war against Muslim fundamentalism. These Pakistan-based Muslim radical groups have been treating Kashmiri Hindus at par with Indian forces, thus causing a divide among the people of Kashmir along communal lines. Now this case has been reduced to a communal demand rather than a nationalistic one, as it was originally. Indian brutal rule has acted as a double-edged sword. Kashmiris are disillusioned with Pakistan, yet don't want to remain part of the repressive Indian rule.
Relations between the two countries have deteriorated following a December 13th suicide attack against the Indian parliament that left 14 dead, including five terrorists who tried to enter the Parliament building in a car, posing as official dignitaries.
India blamed Pakistan-based Muslim extremist groups Lashkare-Toiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad for being behind the attack and accused Pakistani military intelligence of masterminding it. In the ensuing events, Pakistan, under intense international pressure, has openly denounced its own product of Jihad in Kashmir, as it did with the Taliban. Despite Pakistan's soft posture, tension on the borders remains.
India brazenly keeps calling Kashmir an integral part of itself. Pakistan reciprocates this rhetoric by calling Kashmir its jugular vein. Neither statement is true. The Kashmiri people should be able to choose which way they want to gowith secular India, co-faith Pakistan or independent of both. The case of Kashmir is more or less identical to the case of Quebec in Canada, newly liberated East Timor in Indonesia, Western Sahara in Morocco and Kosovo in Serbia. Setting aside the follies of its so-called biggest sympathizer, Pakistan, the international community should look at this case with the backdrop of history and the reality that Kashmir qualifies for the right to self determination.
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This story was published on March 2, 2002.