Kashmir: Conflict Profile
South Asia’s Longest War
The partition of India continues to leave open wounds on both its Eastern and Western borders with the struggle in Kashmir being one of its most highly publicised conflicts, involving three nuclear powers: Pakistan, India and China. The complex conflict is set to the backdrop of the valleys and mountains of the Himalayan region which contain many diverse linguistic, ethnic and religious groups.
The bloody territorial dispute of the Kashmir region has continued for more than six decades at huge cost. The Indian Government has claimed over 47,000 have died since the start of the insurgency in 1989, whilst Kashmiri separatists argue for a much higher figure. Today Kashmiris face daily life of with huge military presence and ongoing militia operations. While the violence decreased in recent years since the beginnings of a peace process in 2004, it has flared up again in the summer of 2009 and the region remains highly unstable and volatile. The deeply entrenched views each side hold; the involvement of different domestic and international groups and governments; the fragility of political, economic and social stability in all the countries concerned and the larger conflict surrounding water resources and land, limits the possibilities of reconciliation, making this one of the longest-running intractable conflicts in the world.
As of 2010, India administers 43 per cent of the region including most of Jammu, the Kashmir Valley, Ladakh and the Siachen Glacier. Pakistan controls 37 per cent of Kashmir namely Azad Kashmir and the northern areas of Gilgit and Baltistan. In addition, China occupies 20 per cent of Kashmir following the Sino-Indian War of 1962. The Shaksam Valley, which China claims, is part of Tibet and under Chinese occupation.
Indo-Pakistani War of 1947
Amidst the turmult of independence in 1947 Muslim revolutionaries from Western Kashmir and Pakistani tribesman from Dir advanced into the Bramulla area. This was due to rumours that the ruling Maharaja Hari Singh was planning to annex the Kingdom of Jammu and Kashmir to India and the advancing forces intended to liberate the area from the Dogra rule.
Officially, the Indian government could only intervene if the Maharaja relinquished power of the region at which point they could send in ‘military aid’, as India and Pakistan had signed the Standstill Agreement, which was an agreement of non-intervention. The Maharaja ultimately agreed to relinquish power and the Indian army moved in to drive out the Pakistani forces and occupied the remaining areas of Kashmir and Jammu, despite Pakistani calls for a referendum and the Muslim majority in Kashmir. The war continued until 1948 when India requested the involvement of the UN Security Council. The Council passed a resolution that imposed an immediate ceasefire and called on Pakistan to withdraw all military presence. In addition, it stated that India could retain a minimum military presence, while Pakistan would have no say in administration and “the final disposition of the State of Jammu and Kashmir will be made in accordance with the will of the people expressed through the democratic method of a free and impartial plebiscite conducted under the auspices of the United Nations.” The ceasefire was enacted on 31 December 1948, however Pakistan did not withdraw its troops from the region and a plebiscite was not conducted, leading to the beginning of increasing unrest in the region.
Sino-Indian War of 1962
The increasing unrest and escalating violence culminated in 1962 when military from China and India clashed in territorial disputes. China quickly overpowered the Indian military and occupied the area, claiming the area under administration and naming the region Aksai Chin. The border dispute between this area and other smaller areas is known as the Line of Actual Control. Current construction of a ‘fence’ around the Line of Actual Control has been disputed by both China and Pakistan, however, India claims that the ‘fence’ reduces insurgent attacks. Until the ceasefire in 2003 the Line of Control was one of the most violence-prone de facto borders in the world and saw daily shelling, mortar firing, artillery shelling, and machine gun exchanges between Indian and Pakistani troops and other militant groups.
1965 and 1971 wars
In 1965 and 1971, heavy fighting broke out again between India and Pakistan. The Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 resulted in the defeat of Pakistan and the surrender of the Pakistani military in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), which led to the signing of The Simla Agreement between India and Pakistan. By this treaty, both countries agreed to settle all issues by peaceful means and mutual discussions in the framework of the UN Charter. However, this form of track-two diplomacy was merely a ‘paper peace’ and did not reflect the situation in Kashmir that had left a bitter legacy of a deadly 20-year war.
The Simla Agreement had little bearing to events on the ground and there were increasingly organised uprisings. Opposition to the Indian administration, disputed state elections and military occupation led to some of the state’s legislative assemblies forming militant wings, which further created the catalyst for the Mujahideen insurgency, which continues to this day. The three main militant groups in Kashmir are Hizbul Mujahideen; Lashkar-e-Toyeba; and Harkat-ul-Mujahideen but all have also fractured into different, sometimes opposing factions, many of whom have different aims on how to resolve the conflict, what their objectives are and their views on the use of violence to continue their struggle. However, in recent years their membership and influence has diminished.
The Kargil War of 1999
In mid-1999 insurgents and Pakistani soldiers from Pakistani Kashmir infiltrated into Jammu and Kashmir. The insurgents took advantage of the severe winter conditions and occupied vacant mountain peaks of the Kargil range. By blocking the highway, they wanted to cut off the only link between the Kashmir Valley and Ladakh. This resulted in a high-scale conflict between the Indian Army and the Pakistan Army. International fears that the conflict could turn nuclear led to the involvement of the United States pressurising Pakistan to retreat.
The major points of two of the main stakeholders India and Pakistan can be summarised as follows:
- India claims that as the Maharaja Hari Singh signed the Instrument of Accession in October 1947, handing control of the Kingdom of Jammu and Kashmir over to India, the region is theirs, having been validated by the Indian Independence Act and the departing British Empire.
- India claims that the UN Resolution 1172 in 1948 accepted India’s stand regarding all outstanding issues between India and Pakistan.
- India claims that Pakistan has not removed its military forces, which India views as one of the first steps in implementing a resolution.
- India accused Pakistan of funding military groups in the region to create instability, and accuses Pakistan of waging a proxy war.
- India accuses Pakistan of spreading anti-India sentiment among the people of Kashmir, through the media, to alter Kashmiri opinion.
- According to India, most regions of Pakistani Kashmir, especially northern areas, continue to suffer from lack of political recognition, economic development and basic fundamental rights.
- Pakistan claims that according to the two-nation theory Kashmir should have been with Pakistan, because it has a Muslim majority.
- Pakistan argues that India has shown disregard to the resolutions of the UN Security Council, and the United Nations Commission in India and Pakistan, by failing to hold a plebiscite.
- Pakistan rejects Indian claims to Kashmir, centring around the Instrument of Accession. Pakistan insists that the Maharaja did not have the support of most Kasmiris. Pakistan also claims that the Maharaja handed over control of Jammu and Kashmir under duress, thus invalidating the legitimacy of the claims.
- Pakistan claims that India violated the Standstill Agreement and that Indian troops were already in Kashmir before the Instrument of Accession was signed.
- Pakistan claims that between 1990-1999 the Indian Armed Forces, its paramilitary groups, and counter-insurgent militias have been responsible for the deaths 4,501 of Kashmiri civilians. Also from 1990 to 1999, there are records of 4,242 women between the ages of 7-70 that have been raped.Similar allegations were also made by some human rights organizations.
- Pakistan claims that the Kashmiri uprising demonstrates that the people of Kashmir no longer wish to remain part of India. Pakistan suggests that this means that either Kashmir wants to be with Pakistan or independent.
The Peace Process
One of the first peace initiatives in July 2000 laid a tentative framework for reconciliation. The largest militia group, the Hizb’ul–Mujahideen, declared a unilateral ceasefire against the Indian forces after covert negotiations between the different stakeholders. However, the demands from the militia group, which included India declaring Kashmir a disputed territory and that tripartite negotiation should begin immediately, were not met and the ceasefire collapsed. In 2003 another ceasefire was declared along the Line of Control which resulted in five-stage talks between the Indian and Pakistani governments, commencing in 2004. Some progress was made, leading to increased trade and movement between the borders. However, the talks have were suspended for two years due to the 2008 Mumbai attacks and this has led to a recent upsurge in violence and strikes, with 2010 seeing the highest levels of violence in years with many young Muslim Kashmiris involved in action against the police and Indian Army. There continues to be violent reprisal attacks from the Indian Army, and many human rights condemnations as cited by many human rights organisations.
However, since February 2010 high-level talks have resumed, with the foreign ministers of India and Pakistan meeting in July in Islamabad in an effort to resume the dialogue that was in progress before the Mumbai attacks.
Although the violence continues, the 2008 election saw a substantial vote for the moderate parties, which is perhaps representative of the desire for a more stable region and the general population’s exhaustion with the conflict and the want for peace. Furthermore, the increase in trade and movement of people between the regions, along with the cumulative impact of civil society movements, have played an important role in suppressing any re-emergence of a large-scale armed struggle. The region may be moving forward into a ripeness for reconciliation, but many in Kashmir and the international community call for the right of Kashmiris to determine their own future and call for a referendum on independence.
Last updated: July 2011