Another nation divided

Peter Berresford Ellis looks at the origins of the recent nuclear-war-threatening confrontation between India and Pakistan and argues that unity and independence for Kashmir lies at the heart of the solution -- not least of all for the Kashmiri peoples themselves

HAROLD WILSON said that a week was a long time in politics. Therefore, the situation between Pakistan and India over the state of Jammu and Kashmir might well have moved on by the time this column is read. But whatever happens, I doubt whether it will be a move for the benefit of the Kashmiri peoples.

In the fifty-five years since the problem was created, as a side-issue of British colonial policy, there has been no resolution and even with the threat of nuclear war, which could engulf not only the region but the world, has not brought about any statement from either side showing concern for the Kashmiri people. In fact, US president George W Bush has simply called on both sides to destroy the Kashmiri independence movement or, in his terms, ‘the terrorists’.

That being so, I doubt whether the basic cause of the problem will be dealt with. The international community seems to have accepted that Pakistan and India have divided Kashmir between them. They seem unconcerned that this is contrary to the wishes of the Kashmiri people.

Kashmir is an ancient country, its king lists and history stretch back to a time even before Rome emerged into European history. It is a country the size of Ireland, with a population of six million people.

Geographically, it includes the Himalayas, bordering not only Pakistan and India but also the former USSR and China. It contains some of the world’s highest peaks including the second highest mountain -- K2.

The Kashmiri language belongs to the Dardic group of the Indo-Iranian subfamily of the Indo-European family of languages. That is an entirely separate subfamily to the one which the Hindi and Urdu languages of India and Pakistan belong.

While today the majority of the population are Muslims, Brahmin Hindus, known as Pandits, live there and there are Tibetan Buddhists and Sikhs.

Kashmir is one of the oldest places mentioned in Hindu scripture. The ruler Asoka introduced Buddhism in the 3rd century BC. But Hinduism remained the main religion until AD 1346 when the last Hindu King of Kashmir, Udayan Dev, was defeated by Shams-ud-Din and the Muslim faith introduced. Then, in 1586, Akbar the Great added Kashmir to his Moghul empire.

By the 19th century the majority of Hindus had converted to Islam, but Kashmir in 1757 was conquered by the Afghans under Ahmed Shah. The Afghans ruled Kashmir until 1819 when the Maharajah Ranjit Singh, a Sikh, added Kashmir to his growing Sikh empire.

Enter the British Raj in 1846. They defeated the Sikhs in the first of the Sikh-British wars but decided to sell Kashmir to a Docra Hindu chief, Maharajah Ghulab Singh of Jammu.

Under the Treaty of Amritsar, he paid 7.5 million rupees and Kashmir became an independent state again. In 1876, when Victoria adopted the title of Empress of India, the Maharajah, along with other Indian princes, acknowledged her as suzerain-empress.

His descendant, Maharajah Hari Singh (1925-1949) was not a progressive monarch of Kashmir and when the India’s struggle against the British Empire started, he sided with Britain.

‘The Lion of Kashmir’, Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah (1905-1982), led the struggle for a democratic constitutional government and forced the Maharajah to allow an elected legislative assembly in 1934. In 1947 the British announced they were leaving India and agreed the partition of the sub-continent into an Islamic state of Pakistan while the rest of the country became the Indian Union.

The creation of Pakistan and India bore no relation to the history of the sub-continent. There had never been one Indian state but hundreds of little countries. In India alone there are fifteen major languages, and 1,683 minor languages or ‘mother tongues’ and dialects.

Pakistan has some 69 living languages listed in use, although Urdu is dominant. Even Britain had never governed the sub-continent as one state. It was called the ‘Indian Empire’ and apart from territories controlled by British colonial officials under the viceroy, some 600 native kings and princes ruled half the land mass of the sub-continent and one quarter of the population.

Among these independent principalities was Kashmir wedged in the northernmost area of the sub-continent. The option given these principalities was to become part of India or Pakistan or remain independent.

Kashmir declared that it would remain independent. But, its strategic location was to be the downfall of this plan. The evidence suggest that viceroy Mountbatten engineered things for Kashmir to cede to India and meddled with the proceedings of the Radcliffe Commission, whose job it was to assign territories to either Pakistan or India.

Pandit Jawarharial Nehru’s family came from Kashmir, which was another important factor. His people treated the Maharajah with suspicion. He was an autocratic Hindu and he had already imprisoned Sheikh Abdullah for his democratic ideas. Sixty-five per cent of his people were Muslims. In June, 1947, an uprising took place in south-west province of Poonch, initially aimed against the Maharajah’s taxes and quickly developing into a Muslim-based secessionist movement. Pakistan seized the opportunity to supply military material to the rebels and then troops.

During September, the Maharajah asked the Sikh Maharajah of Patiala state for military help in quelling the Poonch uprising. He sent a battalion of infantry and a battery of mountain artillery. The war simply escalated. The rebels declared themselves to have formed the state of Azad (free) Kashmir on October 24.

Two days later Maharajah Hari Singh wrote to Lord Mountbatten to point out that the Pakistanis were not only sending help to the rebels but were now invading Kashmiri territory. “I have no option but to ask for help from the Indian Dominion. Naturally they cannot send the help asked for by me without my state acceding to the Dominion of India. I have accordingly decided to do so.”

The Maharajah also released Sheikh Abdullah from prison and appointed him prime minister ‘during the emergency’.

On October 27 Lord Mountbatten responded with delight “in response to Your Highness’ appeal for military aid, action has been taken today to send troops of the Indian Army to Kashmir, to help your own forces to defend your territory and to protect the lives, property and honour of your people”. There is a curiosity here in that the commander-in-chief of the Pakistan army at the period was an English officer -- Lt Gen Sir Douglas David Gracey. The word ‘collusion’ must spring to mind. Kashmir became a bloody battlefield until 1 January, 1949, when a cease-fire was declared which created the first ‘line of control’ effectively partitioning Kashmir.

Pakistan now controlled the northern areas of Gilgit and Baltistan as well as the former ‘Azad Kashmir’ and a portion of the Kashmir Vale. But India held most of the Vale as well as Jammu and Ladakh occupying the biggest land territory.

By this time, the Maharaja had been ousted and his son, eighteen-year-old Koram Singh had been appointed Yvaraj, or regent, by Nehru himself.

The regency only lasted until the Indian constitution was finally drafted in January, 1950. ‘Jammu and Kashmir’ became part of the Dominion of India. However, Article 370 conferred a special status on the territory implying recognition of it assertion to be independent.

In 1951 elections were held for a Jammu and Kashmir constituent assembly to legitimise Sheikh Abdullah’s regime, which was pro-Indian. This was so managed that only 5 per cent of the potential electorate were allowed to vote, nominations for the independent and democratic parties were rejected and so 73 pro-union-with -India delegates were elected unopposed.

In August, 1953, Sheikh Abdullah was arrested for treason for now considering Kashmiri independence as a solution to the occupation and partition. Sheikh Abdullah urged a plebiscite should be held to move Kashmir towards justice and democracy. Such a plebiscite had been suggested by the United Nations in 1948 and not welcomed by either Pakistan or India. Abdullah, with short periods, was to remain in prison until 1966.

In October, 1964, India’s move to abrogated Article 370 and to fully integrate Kashmir into India led to the formation of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF). In 1965 the second Indo-Pakistan war broke out which lead to another cease-fire on 10 January, 1966.

The elections in East Pakistan leading to the formation of Bangladesh and its war of independence, supported by India, naturally brought Kashmir into the war between Pakistan and India again. However, a new cease-fire was finally agreed at the Simla on 2 July, 1972. It was apparent to the outside public that the problem was not a territorial dispute between Pakistan and India but a dispute over Kashmir’s right to self-determination.

In 1975 Indira Gandhi made a deal with Sheikh Abdullah hoping that, after his years in prison, he would integrate Kashmir into the Indian Union. The plan backfired and when Abdullah won the 1977 election by a landslide but tried to set himself up as a Kashmiri dictator with one party rule. In 1981, he handed power to his son, Dr Farooq Abdullah. Farooq was displaced by a coup in 1983, the year after his father died.

On 7 March, 1986, the Kashmir legislative assembly was abolished and direct rule from New Delhi imposed. By 1989 a full-scale guerrilla war for Kashmiri independence had started. By 1990 some 400,000 Indian Army troops and paramilitary forces were in Indian-occupied Kashmir.

Today, there are about a dozen Kashmiri guerrilla armies. The oldest, founded in 1964, was JKLF, which is secular and nationalist, rejecting Islamic fundamentalism as inimical to Kashmiri tradition. There is also the Islamic fundamentalist Hizb-ul Mujahidin to which the Pakistan Government is said to give support. But most Kashmiri independence groups receive little support from Pakistan, which is against Kashmiri independence anyway.

Kashmiri opinion is, and always has, been in favour of independence. So the crackdown on both sides has seen repeated atrocities on a massive scale. In 1993 the All-Party Hurriyat Conference, a coalition of all the Kashmiri guerrilla groups, was formed and, at this time, seems to be holding together in spite of the ideological differences of the groups.

What keeps them together is not only the ideal of Kashmiri independence but also the conduct of the Indian Army.

While the Kashmiri guerrillas are certainly no angels, since 1990, under direct Presidential rule from New Delhi, the behaviour of the Indian soldiers and paramilitary troops has been systematically brutal.

‘Operation Tiger’, the code name for the war on Kashmiri independence groups, allows detention of suspects for six months without trial, secret trials, a tacit sanction of death during interrogation, a presumption of guilt, a shoot to kill policy, arson, beatings, rape, torture and mass murder against a civilian population.

Yet it is the Kashmiri’s who are depicted as ‘terrorists’ to the international community. The solution to the problem, like most man-made political problems is simple. Pakistan and India have to withdraw to the pre-1947 borders and allow an independent Kashmir to rise again; a Kashmir with its integrity guaranteed by the international community.

But humankind has not sufficiently developed its humanitarian attitudes to the point where the urge to empire has become abhorrent in any form. Empires come and go -- but, sadly, the lesson is -- they still come.

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This document was last modified by David Granville on 2002-12-29 15:03:44.
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Copyright © 2002 Peter Berresford Ellis