Kashmir Q & A: Flashpoint in the Heavens -- by Suhasini Haidar Back   Home  

Q: Why is Kashmir a disputed territory?
A: The dispute over Kashmir is as old as the partition of India into India and Pakistan in 1947. The division was made by the then British rulers who gave the two countries independence.

They separated the sub-continent into an Islamic state (Pakistan) and a predominantly Hindu state (India).

At the time, the wishes of the rulers of all the princely states that made up India and Pakistan were taken into account. Kashmir was an oddity, a predominantly Muslim state with a Hindu ruler (Raja Hari Singh).

Hari Singh acceded to India, and Pakistan claimed that was against the wishes of his people. The dispute then turned towards the military, with India sending in its army to repulse what they called "Pakistani invaders" in the Kashmir valley.

Since then, India and Pakistan have fought three wars in the region and a series of military engagements. The most recent battle was over the Kargil sector in 1998.

Over this time, a vast number in the Kashmir valley have grown disillusioned with the Indian government, for what they call "broken promises".

Chief amongst them are local elections they claimed were "rigged by the Indian government" so as to install pro-Indian politicians in Jammu and Kashmir.

Another was a promise of autonomy for Kashmir made to their most popular political figure, Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah three decades ago.

Abdullah supported India's claim to Kashmir on condition of autonomy for the valley. His dream was never fulfilled.

His son, Farooq Abdullah, is now the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, and has tried to revive Kashmir's demand for autonomy through legislation, with little success.

He is part of the ruling coalition led by the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and often blames Pakistan for the violence in his state, criticizing them for their support for militant action in Kashmir.

Q: Why is Kashmir divided?
A: Since 1948 the border between India and Pakistan in Jammu and Kashmir has constantly shifted, with both sides claiming various territories in military exchanges along that border.

This is why the line that divides Indian-administered Kashmir and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir is known as the "Line of Control".

It has never been agreed to as the official border by the two countries.

While India lays claim to the entire region of Kashmir including the parts under physical control of Pakistan and even China, Pakistan fights for what they call "the rights of the Kashmiri people to decide their own future".

Pakistan says it will only relinquish those parts of Kashmir that it holds when India gives up the Kashmir valley.

Q: Who are the Kashmir militants?
A: Although India and Pakistan have fought constantly on Kashmir's borders, the actual interior of the Kashmir valley was relatively peaceful until 1988.

It was then that the movement for freedom in the valley turned demonstrative, with dozens of anti-India protests and several bomb blasts.

Experts feel the real impetus to violence came in 1989, when a group of armed local separatists (The Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front or JKLF) kidnapped the daughter of the Indian Home (security) minister, demanding the release of some of their colleagues in jail.

Much to their surprise, the Indian government actually gave in to their demands, thus giving the insurgency in Kashmir an unlooked-for boost.

Since then, India has accused Pakistan of training and arming militant groups for acts of terrorism in Kashmir. Pakistan denies that claim, saying that it only extends moral support to the "struggle" of the Kashmiri people.

More than 30,000 men, women and children have died in the past decade of violence in Kashmir. India deploys more than 500,000 security personnel in the valley to combat the insurgency.

They are often accused of human rights violations in that effort, a charge they almost always deny.

Since the insurgency began thousands of Hindus have fled the Valley, fearing ethnic cleansing by militant groups there. Over the years, the insurgency has received help from pan-Islamic groups, especially trained recruits from Afghanistan, who claim to be fighting a "jihad" or holy war against India in Kashmir.

Many of the original militant groups, like the JKLF have now given up violence and are part of the separatist political leadership, the Hurriyat Conference.

Q: How likely are India and Pakistan to go to war again over Kashmir?
A: Although the possibility of war can never be completely ruled out, both countries are extremely aware of the consequences of letting any flare-up along the border escalate out of control, both countries are nuclear powers.

However, there probably will be continuing incidences of cross-border fire, and airspace intrusions, such as the incident recently when the Indian army claimed that two Pakistani military planes crossed the Line of Control into the Chhamb sector of Jammu and Kashmir and were fired upon by Indian ground troops.

Q: Why is control of Kashmir so important to both sides?
A: India has always held that Kashmir is "an integral part of India", and would not like to give away any part of territory held by it. It also considers itself a secular nation, partisan to no religion.

Kashmir is the only Indian region to have a majority population of Muslims, something that bolsters India's claim to secularism.

For precisely that reason, Pakistan, an Islamic state would like Kashmir to be a part of it, so as to confirm the two nation theory of its founding President Mohammad Ali Jinnah, which said that the Hindus would stay in India and the Muslims in Pakistan. Kashmir, according to him "was part of the unfinished business of the partition in India in 1947".

Q: Could the conflict end?
A: According to proponents of peace in India and Pakistan, the conflict could end only by a compromise between both countries where each side would have to move from its present stance.

However, experts also point out that Kashmir is not just a territorial issue, but also a political one involving the wishes of the Kashmiri people, and suggest that the area of the Kashmir valley, where the violence is the greatest, must be given greater autonomy from the Indian state.

Q: Are India and Pakistan likely to back down over Kashmir?
A: That is not likely in the immediate present, but could only follow with better bilateral relations between the two neighbors.

This article was published in asia.cnn.com website under 'SPECIALS' category.