Kashmir: A wound that won’t heal

This is an opinion article by an external contributor. The views belong to the writer.
Kashmir: A wound that won’t heal

The 16th century Mughal emperor Humayun once said of Kashmir that, “If paradise be on earth, it is this, indeed it is this.”

The ethereally beautiful Kashmir region lies between the famous Karakorum and Himalayan mountain ranges. As with many beautiful things or places, it has been coveted and conquered by many, over the millennia, and now lies divided – and disputed - between its three, closest neighbors: India, Pakistan and China.

On the eve of the Indian subcontinent’s partition in 1947, Kashmir had been re-created under British suzerainty as another princely state, ruled by a Hindu Maharaja. As the prior two ruling regimes had been Muslim: Mughal and later Afghan, the population at the time of partition was around 77% Muslim, with Hindu, Buddhist and Sikh minorities.

As per the scheme of independence, the 565 princely states under British rule were given an option to either opt for joining India or Pakistan. For some rulers of those princely states the decision of accession to either new country was easily based upon geographical contiguity, their demographic profile and the wishes of their peoples. Kashmir, however, had the problems of internal disputes among their demographic and religious majority, as well as indecision by the indigenous population and the ruling prince, from the beginning.

Because Kashmir and adjacent Jammu both held Muslim majority populations with geographical contiguity with Pakistan, it was first believed that they would naturally side with Pakistan. Furthermore, all the pre-partition trade and communication routes had connected through Pakistan since ancient times.

Pakistan and the State of Jammu and Kashmir had also entered into a “Standstill Agreement” with each other, that allowed both to continue trade, commerce and normal movement pending final settlement of the issue of accession of Kashmir to either India or Pakistan. India however did not enter into any such agreement because the traditional linkages between it and the Muslim majority areas were tenuous.

Delays in decision-making followed by efforts of the Maharaja to pit the more powerful stakeholders against each other resulted in those Muslims siding with Pakistan to fear that their rights were being usurped.  The Muslim ex-servicemen of the British Indian Army, most of whom were World War II veterans, rose up in revolt against the Maharaja, demanding that he opt for Kashmiri independence.

Meanwhile, stories of Muslim deaths and destruction of their property soon spread through Pakistan, compelling volunteers from Pakistan’s tribal areas to join in the liberation of Kashmir from indignity and subjugation. Volunteers and rebel forces pushed the Maharaja’s forces back to the outskirts of his capital, Srinagar.  Faced with imminent collapse of his army, he fled in panic to Jammu calling on the British to quell the revolt; Lord Mountbatton agreed to help -  if the Maharaja immediately acceded his state to India.

On another front, the possibly dubious nature of the Kashmiri Instrument of Accession has been exposed adroitly by Alastair Lamb in his book, “Kashmir - A Disputed Legacy.”  According to Lamb, the Maharaja was still on the move between Srinagar and Jammu when the Instrument of Accession was “signed” and the Maharaja could not have seen the Instrument of Accession until civil order had been restored.

The airlift of the Indian army to Srinagar tilted the scales in favour of the State forces and the Muslim rebels and volunteers were forced to withdraw from the Srinagar front. The Indian government however pressed on with the attacks, commanding capture of the side of Kashmir that had once been liberated by the Kashmiris, themselves. Seeing this, the British Commander in Chief of Pakistan, Sir Douglas Gracey, sought permission from Pakistan’s Government to push back the invading Indian Army.

The Pakistani counter offensive duly supported by Kashmiri volunteers, took everyone by surprise, prompting the Indian Prime Minister, Pundit Nehru to take the issue to the UN Security Council in 1948. The UN Security Council ordered a ceasefire through Resolution 39 and then a plebiscite through Resolution 47 to ascertain the wishes of the people of Kashmir to accede either to India or Pakistan.

The Indians agreed to abide by the UN Resolutions while retaining loopholes that would enable them to later renege on their plebiscite commitments. After the ceasefire the Indian government entered into parlays with the Kashmiri leadership over the constitutional arrangements of administering the territories now under their control. The Indian political leadership, agreeing in principle to the plebiscite who hoped for independence, granted autonomy to those same areas through Article 370 of the Indian Constitution.

As per Article 370 (1954), the Kashmir State was allowed to have a separate flag, a State legislature, and a separate constitution. Foreign affairs, defense and communications would be retained by India. It was also stipulated that no change in Article 370 could be made unless approved by the Jammu and Kashmir State Constituent Assembly.

The pledge to the Kashmiri people to respect their autonomy, pending final settlement of the Kashmir question, was short-lived.  The Indian political leadership reneged a few years later on its plebiscite commitments to international community on the alleged grounds that Pakistan had not pulled back all of its troops from Kashmir.

Towards consolidating their hold on Kashmir, they cleverly inserted clause 4.d in Article 367, exchanging the term “State of Jammu and Kashmir Constituent Assembly” with “State of Jammu and Kashmir Legislature,” thereby eliminating the authority of the people’s representation to make alterations to the Article 370; including, procedures for how Kashmir could be administered. India not only violated their own, but international law, as well, with an obvious intent to retain control of change regarding autonomy.

On the 5th of August, 2019, the Hindu nationalist party BJP fulfilled a 2019 election manifesto promise by revoking Article 370, granting autonomy to Kashmir, pending final settlement of the dispute.  In defiance of UN Security Council Resolutions, an illegal annexation was affected; Kashmir’s leadership was placed under house arrest, borders closed and all communication with the outside world, shut down.  The Indian Parliament passed the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Act 2019, dividing the State into two union territories: i.e., Ladakh and Jammu, and, the State Union Territory, to be directly governed by the Indian government.

In short time, revocation of Article 35A which protected the right of Kashmiris to own property within their state’s territory was also affected, thereby permitting Indian citizens from outside the region to buy Kashmiri property at will, as a means of altering the demographic profile of Kashmir. These moves stunned Indians, themselves, and many wondered if the Modi government were recklessly trading a short-term political stunt for an inevitable surge of violence.

Indian security troops that had earlier failed to keep the Kashmiri protests in check were immediately faced, again, with street protests during which 100 Kashmiris, including women and children, were killed, many others maimed or blinded by rubber bullets and more than 1,000 detained. The Indian security’s lockdown enforced on the population a year ago, continues even today.

Kashmir’s stunning, white, mountains are often compared with the beauty of Europe’s Alps, but decades of disputes and brutalities on every side would make a more seeming comparison of Kashmir with the West Bank. From time to time, the Kashmiri youth find the strength to rise up against sudden acts of cultural or military repression, while ongoing economic oppression may pave the way for external purchases of desperate families’ ancestral farm lands, extending grievances far into the future. Concurrently, the attention of a pandemic-fatigued international community has been distracted by the Indian military’s border skirmishes with China and Pakistan.

Right now, Kashmiris need greater access to UN observers and non-governmental human rights and relief groups. Their year-long incarceration is an affront to all human rights advocacy efforts across the world.

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