Written by Yogesh Chowdhary
The current wave of unrest in the Kashmir valley that started with the killing of popular rebel commander of the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen terrorist group, Burhan Muzaffar Wani, on the 8th of July last year might be something new for the generation born and brought up in the new millennium. But ask the older generations – the people who were first-hand witnesses of the insurgency that started in the late 1980s and continued on a wide scale for more than 15 years. They will tell you that the tensions leading up to the popular uprising have been simmering under the surface ever since partition. In the context of the events unfolding before our eyes in the crown state of India, let us look back at the motives and historical context of this problem.
1947: The Failed Raid
While India and Pakistan were readying to take charge of their destinies from the British in the August of 1947, interesting developments were taking place in the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir. The erstwhile ruler of the state, Maharaja Hari Singh, who had until now maintained equal distance from both Pakistan (to protect interests of the Hindu and Buddhist minorities) and India (to appease the Muslim majority of the state), hurriedly dismissed his prime minister, Ram Chandra Kak, who was a staunch supporter of the state’s independence from both the newly born nations. This decision of the Maharaja has been interpreted by many scholars as a softening of his stance towards India. It was this decision that prompted the then Governor General of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, to take matters into his own hands, guided more by principles and emotions than pragmatism and due consideration.
With the tacit approval of Jinnah, the Pashtun tribesmen belonging to the North West Frontier Agency (now the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) infiltrated J&K with the motive to incite the local inhabitants of the state (predominantly Muslims in the Kashmir valley) against the Maharaja’s rule. The raid began in the second week of September. By October-end, the armed raiders had invaded a thin strip of land extending from Muzaffarabad and bordering Poonch, Kupwara, and Kargil, and reached the doorsteps of the Maharaja in Srinagar. Some of the locals, who were disenfranchised with the tyranny of their ruler, joined the invaders and were aiding their progress. The Maharaja, sensing danger to his life and riches, asked his prime ministerial nominee, Mehr Chand Mahajan, to persuade the Indian Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru to send troops to push the invaders back. Nehru, in conformity with the Governor General of India, Lord Mountbatten, proposed a quid pro quo in that the Indian boots would land in the state only when the Maharaja signed the Instrument of Accession. This would merge his state with the Indian Union, which was to be further ratified by the citizens of the state by means of a state-wide plebiscite. The other demand was to release from captivity the popular Kashmiri politician, National Conference’s Sheikh Abdullah, who would then go on to become the prime minister and later the chief minister of the state. His choices limited, the Maharaja agreed and signed the treaty on October 26, 1947. As a result, the Air Force flew the Indian troops into Srinagar to first secure the Srinagar airport with the help of National Conference’s cadres, and later push the Pakistani invaders back to the periphery of the state. The fight with the tribesmen raged on for months. Finally the Pakistan Army officially entered the battlefield on the pretext that the presence of Indian troops so close to its borders in the north posed to it an existential threat. Months after their birth, India and Pakistan were at war.
The UN Intervention
An interesting development happened in the November of that year. In a conference in Lahore with Jinnah, Lord Mountbatten proposed that the accession of the provinces of J&K, Junagadh and Hyderabad (princely states which were still disputed between India and Pakistan) be decided on the basis of a free and fair plebiscite. Jinnah, fearing that the Muslims of Kashmir might not vote in favour of Pakistan due to the diktat of National Conference leaders, declined the offer. With no immediate solution on the horizon, Nehru referred the matter to the United Nations Security Council on January 1, 1948. The UNSC passed a resolution for the settlement of the dispute on 21 April, 1948 which had three major points:
- Immediate ceasefire between the two sides.
- Removal by Pakistan of all its nationals including troops and tribesmen from the territory, after which Indian troops would secure the borders of J&K.
- Withdrawal of excess Indian troops from the state, leaving only sufficient numbers necessary to conduct a free and fair plebiscite.
Pakistan, doubting the possibility of a free and fair plebiscite due to the presence of Indian soldiers on ground zero, refused to give up the territory occupied by it. As a result, the stalemate persisted and the ceasefire could only be implemented on January 1, 1949, with Pakistan occupying 35 per cent of the territory and India 65 per cent.
The Dixon Plan Rejected
It is interesting to note here that in the initial years of the dispute, it was India which pushed for a plebiscite time and again, and it was Pakistan which resisted the idea. During the early 1950s, Nehru repeatedly suggested the merger of Jammu and Ladakh into the Indian Union, allowing Pakistan to merge the territory surrounding Muzaffarabad and Gilgit-Baltistan (now known as Pakistan-occupied Kashmir) into Pakistan. He proposed to conduct a plebiscite in the Kashmir valley. This idea was originally pushed by the UN interlocutor, Sir Owen Dixon, and, hence, is popularly called the Dixon Plan. The idea was again rejected by Pakistan due to the presence of Sheikh Abdullah in the power corridors of the state.
1951-1955: India’s Kashmir Dilemma – To Assimilate or not to Assimilate
With the stalemate continuing, elections were held in India-controlled J&K in August-September 1951 in order to elect a constituent assembly to draft a constitution for the state. These elections are believed to be massively rigged as all the 75 seats up for grabs were won by the National Conference. Sheikh Abdullah, who was elected the temporary prime minister until the constitution was ready, bargained hard with Nehru and succeeded in including article 370 into the Indian constitution, which grants special status to J&K. Under this article, the state was given massive autonomy to the tune that excluding defence, foreign relations and communications, everything else was put into the state list. Moreover, a clause was inserted according to which the laws framed by the Parliament could only be implemented in the state after due legislation by the state assembly. Many scholars believe that this was the time that Abdullah’s anti-India proclivities began to show. The following year, he was dismissed by Sadr-i-Riyasat (President) Karan Singh (son of Maharaja Hari Singh). He was replaced by Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed who got the accession of the state into India formally ratified by the constituent assembly in 1954. The posts of prime minister and president were dissolved and replaced with the designations of chief minister and governor respectively. Nehru, worried by the growing US-Pakistan defence relations (Pakistan was formally included into SEATO and CENTO in 1954 and 1955 respectively) supported the ratification and withdrew the plebiscite offer from the table. India, after then, never again supported the idea of a plebiscite.
1988-2003: The Insurgency That Changed Kashmir Forever
Flash forward to 1987, when elections to the state assembly are held in J&K. Just like all the other elections prior to this one, massive rigging takes place leading to the victory of pro-India National Conference under the leadership of Sheikh Abdullah’s eldest son, Farooq Abdullah. The opposition leaders and people, however, wouldn’t have it. They rose up to mutiny against the Centre with several prominent opposition faces such as Yasin Malik and Javed Ahmed Mir picking up arms. By 1989, the Soviet Union has retreated from Afghanistan and the Jehadis trained by Pakistan with the US and Saudi Arabian funds are available to the whims of the Pakistan army. Sensing opportunity in the tense environment, Pakistan begins to divert these trained mujahideens across the LoC into Indian Kashmir. Insurgency begins in the valley with popular support of the masses. New terrorist groups like Hizb-ul-Mujahideen and Jaish-e-Muhammad sprout up with bases in PoK. Kashmiri Pandits are selectively targeted, leading to their mass exodus from the state. The entire decade of 1990s sees Kashmir in the grips of terror, with anti-India demonstrations a daily routine. Army is called in by Governor Jagmohan and the Narsimha Rao government of Congress gets the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act promulgated through Parliament, giving sweeping powers to the army. The army cracks down on anti-state outfits. Human rights organizations believe as many as one lakh Kashmiris died in that tumultuous decade. Pakistan, content with the headlines the dispute is making in international dailies, continues infiltrating terrorists into J&K. The world powers, unfamiliar with the menace of terrorism until then, remain muted on Pakistan’s violent eccentricities.
However, all this changes after 9/11. America, along with its NATO allies, declares war on terror. The West is no longer apathetic towards the Indian stance on cross-border terrorism. Pakistan is pressured to stop its support to the terror outfits in the state. A major victory is won by India in January 2004 when the government of Atal Behari Vajpayee signed an agreement with the Musharraf government of Pakistan, calling on the latter to not allow its territory to be used against India. The insurgency drops to levels lowest in decades, but the resentment of Kashmiris against the Indian government continues.
Pakistan, at its level, has tried time and again to harm Indian interests in Kashmir. The terrorist attack on the Uri military base of the Indian army on September 18, 2016 by four heavily armed terrorists trained and sponsored by Pakistan is one of the most recent and glaring example. It can be justly concluded from such attacks that Pakistan would try every single measure – moral or immoral – available in it’s kitty to remain relevant to what it calls ‘the world’s oldest dispute.’
The Issue Lingers on…
Since then there have been occasional flares of protests in Kashmir against India, be it after the 2010 Machil fake encounter or the hanging of Afzal Guru in February 2013, but the series of protests that have gripped the state for the last one year have been the strongest since the unacknowledged truce of 2003. There is resentment in the valley against India and there is resentment against the Kashmiris in the Indian mainland. The Centre has hardened its stance of not talking to the separatist elements until violence stops and the Kashmiris have started taking to the streets to aid the escape of militants. The Kashmir question which reared its head 70 years ago still remains unanswered and is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future.