The image of Kashmir is one of blood, sweat, and bombs. And the other is that of a paradise, replete with lovely rivers, resplendent in the sunlight. Memories of this region are stretched. For people who share a diverse geographical contour, that is India, there is an unusual resonance of thought and action when Kashmir is invoked. Strangely, that resonance is absent in other issues mooted within federal territories. Kashmir has seeped into the DNA of India, and is inseparable, at any cost. Talks of acceding Kashmir hit a iron wall, at the outset. Surprisingly, public opinions and views on the Kashmir issue seem to be nonchalantly naive, and thus an understanding of the Kashmir conflict is wanting. This article seeks to elucidate the reader on Kashmir that was – to the Kashmir that is.
The Kashmir of British India
Kashmir in the 14th and 15th centuries – well before the British set foot there – was reveling in the cultural integration of Hinduism and Islam. The concomitant culture that arose was that of the mystic Sufism, which then traveled out of India thereafter. Hinduism and Islam continued their journey, and the Kashmiris had a keen understanding of both the religions, and did not bear communal affectations. Kashmir then passed under the Sikh rule for a brief period, until they were defeated by the British in the Anglo – Sikh war of 1845. The British comprehended the implausibility of the long supply line that had to be maintained for Kashmir and sold the territory of Kashmir to Gulab Singh, a Hindu Dogra ruler for a measly amount of 75 lakhs. (Kashmir did not include the northern areas at that time. However, soon after, this was also captured). The area of Kashmir now spanned Muzaffarabad in the west (present NWFP), Pamir Knot in the north, and Aksai Chin in the east. Maharaja Ranjit Singh came to power in 1925 after the death of his grandfather.
The pre – partition era
Maharaja Ranjit Singh was a Dogra ruler, in the extended line of the Dogra kings who had ruledKashmir. It can also be seen that in the other parts ofIndia there was an increasing apprehension for British rule. Leaders such as Gandhi, Nehru, Patel had emerged from the masses and seemed fit to lead India to Independence. India, in spite of its unison against the British hold, had an underlying inferno: the communal divide of Hindus and Muslims. The communal schism was in the seminal stage, and some leaders, albeit for political reasons, saw a vested silver lining. The politics of vote had begun to take shape, much, much before the borders of Indiawere drawn.
Jinnah was a Muslim, and was a member of the Indian National Congress, which also had Nehru and Gandhi in its ranks. Jinnah sought to attract the Muslim population whilst the rest of Indiachugged in the Hindu tracks. He was able to win the masses and press for the British to leave Indian soil. However, his other plans would soon come to the fore.
Up on the northern frontiers of British India, Kashmir had a predominantly Muslim population, and was under rule by a Hindu ruler. This Hindu ruler, in contrast to his ancestral lineage, sought discriminatory measures against the Muslims. This fomented resentment and anger among the Muslims. This was eventually addressed by a young leader, Sheikh Abdullah, a Muslim of Kashmiri Pundit descent, who galvanized the masses to form the National Muslim Conference. This conference served as a platform to address the issues of the Muslims, and also arose as a pain in the neck for the Hindu ruler, Maharaja Gulab Singh. Abdullah’s siding with Nehru also created an air of suspicion for the Hindu ruler, who saw political ambitions in his Muslim counterpart.
The pre – independence and the Mountbatten plan
We now fast-forward to the pre – independence setup. The whole of erstwhile India was posed with the Mountbatten plan, which aimed at dividing the nation into 2 on the basis of communal lines (two – nation theory, Jinnah). The princely states-565 in number-that littered the landscape of erstwhile India would be free to decide which side to toe. This thus set in motion of chain of events that decided the composition of the two soon-to-be nations, India and Pakistan. Some states were wooed byIndia and some by Pakistan, and 3 states sought more time, owing to their distribution of population: Hindu majority under Muslim rule, or Muslim majority under Hindu rule. The 3 states that fell under such parameters included Junagadh in present day Gujarat, Hyderabad, and Jammu & Kashmir.
Hyderabad and Junagadh were taken by police force. It also seemed pertinent that Hyderabadshould remain within the lines of India. The one state that was still in decision making limbo wasKashmir. As discussed there existed hostilities, albeit mentally, between the Maharaja of Kashmir and Sheikh Abdullah. The Maharaja had Sheikh Abdullah arrested in pre – independence times. The Maharaja, although undecided about Kashmir, sought more time, and entered into a standstill agreement with Pakistan, whilst requesting them to maintain communication and other supplies. The Union of India and Pakistan were entering into Treaty of Accession with states that fell into their territory. In other words, the Treaty was a legal contract that accorded powers to the governments of the countries on the acceded state. This was to play a major role in the Kashmir Conflict.
Pakistan, along with East Pakistan (ridiculous), obtained independence on the 14th of August 1947. India followed suit the following day, the 15th of August 1947. The only disputed matter that remained was Kashmir. Since the Maharaja was skeptical about the Indian National Congress, he remained still. The people of Kashmir were also divided in their opinion, but a majority of them abhorred any schisms on communal lines.
Pakistan was growing impatient, and in a bid to wrest Kashmir away, set up some tribal troops (Kabayalees) who were to take over the capital of Kashmir, Srinagar, and then declare Kashmir independent, thus securing Kashmir to Pakistan once and for all. The story of the pillage caused by the invading tribes is one of destruction, and gore, and pitiful. The tribes were also backed by members of the Pakistani army, who were disguised as tribes themselves. This is a popular and regular tactic that Pakistanuses even today.
The Maharaja of Kashmir was bemused as equally anxious aboutPakistan’s invasion. His royal guards a certainly unfit outfit against an invading army of this size. He subsequently requested for Indian troops to counter teh invaders. The Indian government sensed a rare window of opportunity, pressed for Sheikh Abdullah’s release from gaol and the Maharaja’s signature to the Treaty of Accession. With few alternatives, the Maharaja then signed the Treaty of Accession that conferred the entirety of the territory of erstwhile Jammu & Kashmir to the Union of India. Note: The erstwhile J & K refers to the Kashmir, Jammu, and Ladakh as discussed earlier.
Once the Treaty was put to paper, the Indian army carried an aerial survey. Troops were then airlifted and dropped into Kashmir to fight the invaders, who were stationed 30 miles offSrinagar. Meanwhile, Sheikh Abdullah focused the Muslim support against Pakistan. In the hostilities that followed, the Indian army, in spite of its lack of experience successfully held off the invaders.
The birth of the UN in 1945 witnessed Nehru kow – towing to the same. In a liberalist stance, he requested the UN to intervene and settle the war on Kashmir, much against the wishes of Sardar Vallabhai Patel. Nehru went to the UN when India was in a position of strength, and more time could have warded off Pakistan from Kashmir territory. In a spate of myopic vision, the UN mandated a ceasefire when Pakistan held close to 35% ofKashmir territory, and it was dubiously accepted by Nehru. This was a nail on the coffin for the Indian forces who had successfully defended the integrity of the new nation of India. Thus Pakistan now came to hold the Northern areas that had Gilgit, Hunza, etc. and the western parts of Muzaffarabad, Uri, Punch.
The Kashmir conflict still persists today as much as it existed then. Kashmir serves as a strategic location, and the control of the remaining 35% of the Kashmir (Azad Kashmir) helps Pakistanmaintain a regular momentum of infiltration activities and covert strikes. Nehru’s stance reflected a shocking acquiescence of Indian integrity. This is the Kashmir conflict. India and Pakistan have traded 3 wars over Kashmir.