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Kashmir - Background

A United Nations resolution, adopted after the 1948 war between India and Pakistan over disputed Kashmir, allows the people of Kashmir to join either India or Pakistan. The United Nations had urged both countries to hold a plebiscite in Kashmir allowing people choose which country they wanted to join with, but the plebiscite was never held.

The Kashmir dispute embodies Indo-Pakistani antagonism. The positions are clear-cut: India insists on maintaining the status quo, while Pakistan refuses to accept Indian jurisdiction and control. New Delhi regards Kashmir as an integral part of India while Islamabad insists that the dispute should be settled according to the terms of the resolution. Both countries reject total independence for Kashmir.

Initially, one could have described this dispute as a battle between Indian insistence on a secular approach and Pakistani guardianship of Muslim rights. However, Hindu-Muslim religious rivalry and the debates surrounding the original partition of India have ceased to be the focal point of this dispute. Over time, the ability of competing politicians in both countries to exploit this issue for political gain has eclipsed the secular-religious debate.

The concept of partition is anathema to Indians. Kashmir's symbolism to India is as critical a consideration as any security significance associated with this fragment of ice and rock threaded by a beautiful valley. India is unwilling to lose even one additional hectare of this land. New Delhi is also concerned that Kashmiri autonomy would set a precedent for breakaway movements in other Indian states (e.g., Punjab or Assam). To Pakistan, Kashmir is symbolic of its national ethos and commitment to protect Muslim interests against Indian encroachment. It believes that the creation of a separate, strongly sectarian nation is incomplete without contiguous Kashmir. Kashmir, in brief, symbolizes the enmity that Hindus and Muslims harbor for one another. Ironically, the fact that India and Pakistan are de facto nuclear powers may help to dampen the fire underlying this issue because a fourth Indo-Pakistani war could entail a nuclear exchange.

The most likely scenario for conflict between India and Pakistan would stem from the continuing unrest in Kashmir. It is difficult to imagine how India and Pakistan could settle this dispute in a mutually satisfactory manner. India's position is clear and transcends political debate. Any arrangement that cedes portions of the state of Jammu and Kashmir (the only majority Muslim state in India) to Pakistan is not acceptable. Pakistan, on the other hand, insists on the right to protect Muslims living in Kashmir; consequently, its support for Kashmiri militants continues.

In 1952 the elected and overwhelmingly Muslim Constituent Assembly of Jammu and Kashmir, led by the popular Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah, voted in favor of confirming accession to India. Thereafter, India regarded this vote as an adequate expression of popular will and demurred on holding a plebiscite. After 1953 Jammu and Kashmir was identified as standing for the secular, pluralistic, and democratic principles of the Indian polity. Nehru refused to discuss the subject bilaterally until 1963, when India, under pressure from the United States and Britain, engaged in six rounds of secret talks with Pakistan on "Kashmir and other related issues." These negotiations failed, as did the 1964 attempt at mediation made by Abdullah, who recently had been released from a long detention by the Indian government because of his objections to Indian control. Pakistan has continueed its quest for J&K, the only Muslim majority state in India.

Since 1990, the Kashmir insurgency, concentrated in the Muslim-majority state of Jammu and Kashmir, has gained momentum. By the mid-1990s, it was not only the most serious flashpoint in the region but also among the most likely accelerants for a nuclear crisis anywhere on the globe. Thus, an internally driven crisis evolved into a regional security threat that also provides a political rallying point, particularly among nationalist groups who favor a more overt program of nuclear weapons acquisition.

Although the origins of the crisis are quintessentially indigenous, there is widespread agreement among both Indian and foreign observers that the Inter-Services Intelligence Agency of Pakistan had actively aided and abetted some of the insurgent groups, most notably, the radical Islamic Hezb-ul-Mujahideen. It was the ISI's practice to use and discard militant organizations in Kashmir. The Pak army first used Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) to start terrorist activities in Kashmir and then dropped it in favor of pro-Pakistan fundamentalist groups. Then many of these groups were discarded and more and more Pakistani and Afghan terrorists inducted.

Kasmir's demographics illustrate the complexity of the issue. The territory can be divided into three regions -- Jammu, the Kashmir Valley, and Ladakh -- each of which is dominated by a different ethnic group. Jammu is inhabited mainly by a Hindu majority, the Kashmir Valley is settled by a Muslim majority, and a Buddhist majority resides in Ladakh. While there is an identifiable Kashmiri ethnicity, the three groups are ethnically distinct, complicating any notion of "Kashmiri nationalism." The implications of these divisions have to be acknowledged whenever the call arises for an independent Kashmir, determined by plebiscite and with its future tied to neither India nor Pakistan.

The Kashmir crisis compelled both governments to expend enormous sums to support the deployment of forces in this region. The costs to both India and Pakistan of the Siachen Glacier deployment alone were estimated at more than $1 million a day, amounting to more than $5 billion since the sporadic fighting on the glacier began in 1984.

As of 1997 more than 350,000 Indian soldiers were deployed throughout Kashmir, a portion of them occupying the Indian side of the Siachen Glacier in the far northeastern region of Kashmir in the eastern Karakoram Mountains. Their Pakistani counterparts were dug in seven miles away on the Baltoro Glacier. At nearly 18,000 feet above sea level, howitzer shells are lobbed back and forth, out of sight and hearing of the rest of the world. Popular interest in this decades-old stalemate seems as thin as the atmosphere, yet scores of deaths a week (most resulting from harsh conditions) are attributed to the continuing conflict.

The counterinsurgency strategy that the Indian government adopted in Jammu and Kashmir was developed in the context of dealing with guerrilla movements in India's northeast in the late 1970s. This strategy involves denying the guerrillas any sanctuaries, sealing the porous Indo-Pakistani border, and using both army and paramilitary forces to conduct house-to-house "cordon-and-search" operations. Whether this strategy will lead eventually to the collapse of the insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir remains an open question; violence has continued to accelerate since 1993, with mounting casualties on both sides and the destruction of an ancient mosque and shrine in 1995.

Jammu and Kashmir was a target of externally sponsored religion-based terrorism. The aim is to divide people on the basis of sectarian affiliation and undermine the secular fabric and territorial integrity of India. Kashmiri militant groups have committed serious abuses, including the deliberate targeting of Kashmir Hindus by fundamentalists, terrorist groups and foreign mercenaries. The persecution by Muslim extremists of the Hindu minority and the systematic religion-based extremism of terrorist elements has resulted in the exodus of 250,000 members of the Hindu and other minorities from the Kashmir Valley to other parts of India. Fundamentalists and terrorists have also targeted and assassinated Muslim intellectuals and liberal Muslim leaders in Jammu and Kashmir. As a consequence, as many as 50,000 Muslims have also been compelled to flee the Valley to seek safety in other parts of India.

In addition to political killings and kidnapings of politicians and civilians, terrorists engaged in extortion and carried out acts of random terror that killed hundreds of Kashmiris. Terrorist acts by Kashmiri groups have also taken place outside Jammu and Kashmir. Many of the terrorists are not Indian citizens, but are of Afghan, Pakistani and other nationalities. Militants in Jammu and Kashmir continue to use kidnapings to sow terror, seek the release of detained comrades, and extort funds.

In Jammu and Kashmir, the judicial system barely functions due to threats by militants against judges, witnesses, and their family members, because of judicial tolerance of the Government's heavy-handed antimilitant actions, and the frequent refusal by security forces to obey court orders. In April 2003 India and Pakistan began a series of steps to ease border tensions that had pushed them to the brink of another war over the mountain territory of Kashmir. In the following months, India and Pakistan restored full diplomatic relations and resumed road, rail and air links. The two rival nations observed a cease-fire in divided Kashmir. Pakistan and India observed a ceasefire along the working boundary, Line of Control and the Line of Actual Contact in Siachin Sector from the midnight November 25-26, 2003.

In January 2004 the prime ministers of India and Pakistan have held a much-hoped-for bilateral meeting on the sidelines of a regional summit. Officials described the half-hour surprise meeting between Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Pakistan's Zafarulaah Jamali as a courtesy call. The prime ministers exchanged views on recent steps their countries have taken to improve usually tense relations.

Violence declined in the region since peace talks began in 2004, and both sides have vowed to persevere with efforts to solve their dispute over the Himalayan territory. Despite relaxation of tension between India and Pakistan, both countries seem unmoved over their stand on the disputed issue of Kashmir.




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