The issue of Jammu and Kashmir is not related to just a territorial dispute between two neighbouring countries. Its spill-over effect has deeply impacted the lives of the people of the state in all its three regions – Jammu, Kashmir Valley and Ladakh and in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Pakistan has always tried to internationalise the Jammu and Kashmir issue by seeking intervention from the United Nations and OIC while India considers Kashmir to be an internal matter that requires no outside interference. Neighbouring countries like Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal have been calling for India and Pakistan to enter into a dialogue and settle the matter bilaterally, writes Dr Debjyoti Chanda
1947 is considered a watershed year in the history of the Indian subcontinent. With the birth of independent India, that year on the 15th of August, the process of decolonisation of the Afro- Asian region began which continued till the 1990s. However, India’s gaining independence from British colonial rule was not without pain and suffering. The country got bifurcated on religious lines and a new nation Pakistan was born. Another critical problem that arose post-independence was the forceful, illegal occupation of a portion of the northern Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir by Pakistan, which is yet to be vacated by that country. Moreover Pakistan has also been responsible for rising militancy in the state and cross-border terrorism which has been the primary irritation in the process of normalization of relations between India and Pakistan for the past 75 years.
Jammu and Kashmir, a land of unparalleled natural beauty known the world over as the ‘Paradise on Earth’ is located in an extremely important9 geostrategic portion of the globe. The erstwhile Kingdom of Jammu and Kashmir spread from Gilgit-Baltistan in the Northwest to Aksai Chin and into Tibet up to Manasarovar, in the East. The boundaries of Jammu and Kashmir extends from the borders of the plains of West Punjab to the point where the borders of Russia and China meet. This particular proximity with important neighbours and geo-positioning makes Jammu and Kashmir a playground of great power rivalry. The naivety of the then Dogra ruler of the Princely State of Jammu and Kashmir is apparent as he agreed to lease out Gilgit-Baltistan to the Britishers, the then colonial superpower. They later saw to that this area continued to remain with Pakistan after independence so that the Western Alliances can use the region to establish military outposts just in the underbelly of Russia.
The dispute over the territory between India and Pakistan has grabbed international headlines, many times over as the two neighbours fought three wars and continuous skirmishes happened all-round-the-year.
As per current estimates, India controls approximately 55% of Jammu and Kashmir land area including Jammu, the Kashmir Valley and Ladakh. On the other hand Pakistan has under its control 30% of its land area including that region referred to as ‘Azad Kashmir’ by Pakistan and ‘Pak Occupied Kashmir’ by India. Pakistan has also the Gilgit-Baltistan region in its purview. The third party in this dispute surprisingly is China which controls 15% of Jammu and Kashmir territory which includes Aksai Chin, Trans-Karakoram track and a portion of the Demchok sector. China consolidated its position on this territory which is a part of Ladakh, adjacent to Tibet, after the 1962 Indo Pak war.
Pakistan refers to Jammu and Kashmir as the ‘unfinished agenda of the Partition’. After the independence of India, unlike the other 558 Princely States who joined either India or Pakistan, Hyderabad and Jammu and Kashmir posed a problem. The Hyderabad Nizam wanted his state to join Pakistan in spite of the fact that it was situated deep inside the Indian belly in the southern part of the subcontinent. The matter was solved by India with the use of force while the Nizam fled to Pakistan. Maharaja Hari Singh the last Dogra ruler of Jammu and Kashmir however chose to stay as an independent kingdom but circumstances compelled him to accede to the Dominion of India using the Instrument of Accession as he was unable to protect his territory from armed invasion by tribal militants sent by Pakistan along with its military to forcefully occupy Jammu and Kashmir. On the 27th of October 1947, the then Governor General, Lord Mountbatten accepted the accession and thus the Princely State of Jammu and Kashmir legally became part of the Dominion of India as committed in the India Independence Act of 1947. Like many other similar documents, the Instrument of Accession, signed by Lord Mountbatten, who was then the Governor General of Burma with the additional charge of India is preserved in the National Archives of India for safe keep and necessary public scrutiny.
As a Kashmir observer, interestingly noted thus in another article —
‘Maharaja Hari Singh in Kashmir inherited a unique conundrum: he was a Hindu, but held dominion of a Muslim majority. In addition, his was the only Princely State bordering both India and the newly born Pakistan, giving rise to the possibility of accession to both nations. Further complicating the already tensed birth of two nations was Maharaj Hari Singh’s open discussion of an independent Kashmir, which only served to confuse and delay the question of the state’s accession.’
Upon accession the Government of India decided to grant Jammu and Kashmir a special autonomous status under a temporary provision ‘Article 370’ in the Indian Constitution which allowed the state to have its own Constitution and Flag. The Union Parliament however could frame laws relating to matters of defense, foreign affairs and communication.
Another very significant instrument defining the special status of Jammu and Kashmir was article 35A which was added to the Indian Constitution allowing the state of Jammu and Kashmir to define and grant special rights and privileges to the residents of the state including power to restrict settlement therein and acquire immovable property.
70 years have gone past since the complexities over Jammu and Kashmir between India and Pakistan began. Both the countries have fought 4 wars (1947, 1965, 1971, 1999) innumerable border skirmishes in the past 75 years. Except for 1971 war which happened due to the ongoing events in East Pakistan which led to the birth of independent Bangladesh, all the remaining conflicts centred around the territory of Jammu and Kashmir. While India has long ago rejected the idea of a plebiscite, reiterating its stated position that Jammu and Kashmir is an inalienable part of India. On the other hand, Pakistan Army which rules the country for all practical purposes dreams of ‘bleeding India through a thousand wounds’ thus running terror camps in POK and sending trained modules into India from across the border. It also attempts to inspire Kashmiri youth of the valley to undertake agitation and stone pelting by providing finance and other material support via the Hawala route. To counter such moves by Pakistan, India as per current estimates has deployed around 3 lakh 43 thousand army soldiers and personnel from the Central Armed Police Forces in the state. However majority are actually deployed along the Line of Control (LoC) to curb infiltration and engage in counter terrorism operations. They also provide security to important points and government installations. On the other hand, informed sources report that Pakistan has deployed around 90,000 regular soldiers and an unknown number of ‘irregulars’ who are not a part of the Pakistan army but function in a complementary role. Hence, military experts opine that Jammu and Kashmir is considered to be one of the most militarized regions of the world. With both India and Pakistan being nuclear powers escalation of the already tensed situation due to any sudden occurrence may result in a major calamity in the region.
In between the 1980-2000 period, since the time Soviet forces entered Afghanistan, and Pakistan got funds and arms from the West to contain Soviet expansion, it used the opportunity to divert some of the funds meant for the Afghan Mujahidin to train and fund militancy in Jammu and Kashmir. Apart from pushing terror modules into India from across the border, funds meant for Afghanistan were also misused to recruit local youth for militancy in the name of ‘jihad’. India, which is home to the second largest Muslim population in the world after Indonesia with a secular heritage feels Jammu and Kashmir is a mosaic of culture and religion having inherited a mixed heritage of Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism and also hosts a vibrant Sikh community in the Jammu region. Therefore, naturally and of course legally, Jammu and Kashmir should always remain a part of India.
However, the issue of Jammu and Kashmir is not related to just a territorial dispute between two neighbouring countries. Its spill-over effect has deeply impacted the lives of the people of the state in all its three regions – Jammu, Kashmir Valley and Ladakh and in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. The rising militancy in the Kashmir valley led to the flight of the Kashmiri Pundits from the region, Jammu and Ladakh always complained of step-motherly treatment by the State Government. The youth of Jammu and Kashmir for long has remained alienated from mainstream India. Because of Article 35A there has not been much investment in the manufacturing, commercial, educational, infrastructure and health sectors of the state. The natural beauty of Jammu and Kashmir, which is similar to the Swiss Alps, has the potential to be promoted as one of the most sought-after tourist destinations in India. However, this potential has not fructified and remained underutilised due to militancy in the valley. There has been unemployment and under-employment as the produces from the fruit orchards and the cottage industries, which have huge demand within India and outside, are not often marketed on time due to the unstable law-and-order situation.
Moreover, due to militancy in the valley, unlike the rest of India, political institutions continue to remain fragile in the state. Many a number of elected representatives and political leaders in recent times have fallen to the bullets of the militants. With the common man of Jammu and Kashmir suffering, the elite Mufti and Sheikh political families continue to maintain a cozy life with or without power. Due to the unending turmoil in the state the central government in Delhi has been often forced to impose Governor’s rule in the state as matters went beyond control.
The coming to power in 2014 of the Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in India has, however, led to far-reaching changes in policy vis-à-vis Jammu and Kashmir in recent times. The party manifesto had stated prior to elections that it shall pay due attention to the Jammu and Kashmir situation and work to better the condition therein.
On the 5th of August 2019 Article 370 of the Indian Constitution was abrogated stripping Jammu and Kashmir of its semi-autonomous status which had granted the state some exclusive rights, its own Constitution and Flag. Jammu and Kashmir as per the new arrangement seized to be a State of the Union and has now been divided into two federally controlled Union Territories – Jammu Kashmir and Ladakh. The exclusive land rights also seized to exist allowing Indian citizens from elsewhere right to property and domicile.
Surprisingly after these changes, except from the pampered Sheikhs and Muftis, there has been little overt dissent except a sense of disquiet among the Kashmiris. The abrogation of Article 370, sources say, will give direct control of the union government over the territory leading to improvement in the security situation which will attract investment in the state. The government is also executing a major delimitation exercise in the state in a credible, transparent and fair manner. In the past two years, the government has also successfully cracked down on Hawala route of money transfer to the state. Home grown militancy is on the wane and violence in the Indian administered Kashmir has also come down to a great extent.
‘The Government of India to encourage investment in the beleaguered region arranged recently a Gulf Investment Summit in which 36 companies participated. New railway lines and bridges are being built. Central Universities and AIIMS are being set up to provide enhanced facilities to the people. The Government of India is taking every positive step to develop an atmosphere of trust in the region and uplift the alienated mind-set of the common Kashmiri. The administration is taking strong action upon receiving any complaint of excesses by security forces or any human rights abuse.’ With the reduction to the terror threats the number of troops stationed in the state shall definitely be reduced in the near future. The improved security situation can be gauged from the fact that more than six lakh tourists visited the valley.
Pakistan has always tried to internationalise the Jammu and Kashmir issue by seeking intervention from the United Nations and OIC. It has also asked powers like China, USA and UK to intervene in the matter. Pakistan has also raised the issue in multilateral forums like SAARC. India, on the other hand, considers Kashmir to be an internal matter that requires no outside interference. India is not even ready to discuss the matter bilaterally with Pakistan stating that the matter can be easily solved if Pakistan vacates the territory it did illegally occupy. Neighbouring countries like Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal have urged India and Pakistan to enter into a dialogue and settle the matter bilaterally. Excesses by security forces in the region have been a matter of concern and neighbouring countries have urged both countries to reduce troops in the territory. The new Foreign Minister of Pakistan Bilawal Bhutto has raised the issue immediately upon assuming office, a matter which has not been taken kindly by India. Keeping in mind the complex nature of Pakistani politics and the fragile nature of its present government, it is unlikely that India will enter into a dialogue with that country in the near future.
Pakistan currently is in a state of financial and political turmoil and is getting no support from the Muslim ummah except pious words in OIC summits. Hence, it is, may be, presumed that Pakistan being preoccupied with internal issues at the moment will slow pace of its divisive agenda in the valley especially because it is still in the FAFT grey list for terror financing. India after the Doklam episode of the year 2020 in which it gave a befitting reply to the Chinese remains prepared and ever vigilant along the India-China border, thwarting all attempts by its powerful northern neighbour into any kind of adventurism. As much water continues to flow down the Indus River, the tryst with destiny for Kashmir and people continues thereafter.