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Analysis: Crisis in Kashmir

Council on Foreign Relations

September 11, 2008
Author: Jayshree Bajoria

Since June, Indian-administered Kashmir has been roiled by large pro-independence protests triggered by a government decision to transfer land in the Muslim-majority state to a Hindu shrine. The ensuing violence, a rise in communal tensions between Hindus and Muslims, and the heavy-handed response of the Indian government have prompted questions about the future stability of the region.

The territory of Kashmir, currently divided between India and Pakistan by the Line of Control (LOC), has been hotly contested ever since the countries' partition in August 1947 (China also controls a small portion of Kashmir). Indian-administered Kashmir has been a hotbed of insurgency since 1989 and the LOC itself is disputed; India wants it to be recognized as an international border, Pakistan refuses. But a peace process in 2004 approached the issue in a radically different way by advancing the idea of making borders irrelevant (Hindu) through increasing trade, and facilitating greater people-to-people contact across the LOC. In the 2005 book Making Peace with Partition, Radha Kumar wrote: "A soft border will actually help India and Pakistan to stabilize Kashmir."

But the latest tensions shattered this illusion of normalcy. The Indian government's response to pro-independence protests elicited much criticism from experts. Ten thousand more troops were deployed in an already highly militarized region, curfews were imposed, and several protesters were killed (AP) by the security forces. Swaminathan S. Anklesaria Aiyar, a research fellow at the CATO Institute, argues in the Times of India that "ruling over those who resent it so strongly for so long is quasi-colonialism, regardless of our intentions." Aiyar, along with several other experts, recommends holding a referendum, as outlined in UN resolutions, so that Kashmiris can decide if they want to stay with India, join Pakistan, or form an independent state.

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