Kashmir a pawn in rivals' wargame -- by Christopher Thomas Back   Home  
INDIA and Pakistan approach the fiftieth anniversary of partition next month still embattled over Kashmir in a contrived conflict without economic, territorial, religious or military purpose. Kashmir is a dangerous and pointless battleground, engaging as it does two politically unstable nuclear powers.

Delhi has hinted at peace terms, being ready to accept the 1947 ceasefire line as an international border and drop its old, meaningless territorial claim over Pakistan's "Azad" (free) Kashmir. This is the most realistic and important peace overture in 50 years.

Islamabad rejects Delhi's overtures for three reasons, none publicly expressed: the guerrilla war to "liberate" Kashmiri Muslims in India goes down well domestically; the conflict costs India millions of pounds a year, and it avenges India's military support for the secession of the former East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, in 1971.

Kashmiri Muslims no longer support secessionist war. They hate the militants, have no love of Pakistan, and would probably settle, if grudgingly, for peace within India if the near-total autonomy the region had before 1953 were to be restored. What began as a nationalist uprising in 1989 petered out a few years ago; it continues as a fake rebellion, perpetuated by outsiders.

Even more contrived is the conflict at 20,000ft on the uninhabitable Siachen Glacier in the Himalayas ­ the ultimate banality and one that summarises the state of relations.

Delhi has offered to withdraw its troops; Islamabad refuses to reciprocate. Pakistan partly defines itself by its belligerent relationship with India, and the whole point of Pakistan, its reason for existence, might come into question if there were cross-border harmony.

Muslims in Indian Kashmir have no desire to join Pakistan, which they resent for hijacking a nationalist rebellion and turning it into a religious crusade. They ideally would like what the dithering Maharajah of Kashmir tried to achieve 50 years ago: independence.

Sir Hari Singh was the Hindu ruler of a state the size of the United Kingdom, with four million people, threequarters of them Muslims. He was a cantankerous man who died in an apartment block in 1961 after squandering his last years indulging a lifelong fondness for drink, tobacco and horses.

He had been in exile for 12 years, after being driven from Kashmir by Sheikh Abdullah, his old nemesis.

Neither Pakistan nor India would tolerate Kashmiri independence. Pakistan grabbed a third of the realm before Sir Hari signed the Instrument of Accession with India, giving Delhi legal justification for sending in troops and confining the Pakistani invaders to the western third of the state. It is a matter of fierce dispute whether Sir Hari meant the accession to be temporary.

In November 1947, Jawaharlal Nehru, independent India's first Prime Minister, said on All India Radio: "We have declared that the fate of Kashmir is ultimately to be decided by the people. We are prepared when peace and law and order have been established to have a referendum held under international auspices like the United Nations."

That pledge was never honoured, which was only the first of many betrayals. Most elections in Kashmir have been rigged, the people have been brutalised by security forces and, increasingly, terrorised by Pakistani-backed gunmen. Fifty years after coming under the Indian flag, without ever being asked their opinion in the matter, the people of Kashmir face a future perhaps as traumatic as the recent past.
This article, I read in www.kashmir.co.uk site.