An overview of the World's Longest-Running International Conflict
The leaders of India and Pakistan have been trading harsh words over Kashmir. The latest twist in this exchange is India's last week's shut-down of the internet in Indian-administered Kashmir.
I watched the announcement on TV, and a friend with whom I was taking lunch asked me what the Kashmir conflict is all about.
It is the world's longest-running international conflict over territory. It has gone on for 61 years, and it might not end in our lifetime.
Before 1947, both India and Pakistan were a part of a British colony called British India. British India occupied a vast territory that encompassed hundreds of cultures.
As independence approached, the British government discussed the fate of post-colonial India with Indian nationalists. The most prominent among them were Jawaharlal Nehru (a Hindu) and Muhammad Ali Jinnah (a Muslim). Nehru preferred a federal but united India, but Jinnah felt that the Muslim, who comprised 20% of the British India population, would not be treated fairly in a predominantly Hindu nation. As independence drew closer without any hope of agreement, Britain split India into two: Pakistan (for Muslims) and India (for Non-Muslims).
However, there were two complications.
Firstly, the Muslim/Non-Muslim divide was not geographic. All the regions of the proposed Indian state had a large Muslim population, and, similarly, all areas of the proposed Pakistani state had a large non-Muslim population.
At independence, Muslims in India were to move to Pakistan and non-Muslims in Pakistan were supposed to move to India. The result was one of the greatest displacements in human history.
Secondly, not all the regions in the proposed Indian state and the proposed Pakistani state were under the direct control of British India. Within British India, over 500 autonomous states, called princely states, were ruled by traditional rules and were not colonized directly by Britain.
The State of Jammu and Kashmir was one of them.
Independence negotiators decreed that princely states would have to choose between joining India or Pakistan, and their leaders were required to sign prescribed accession documents to indicate their preference. However, Maharaja Hari Singh, the ruler of Jammu and Kashmir princely state, detested both Nehru and Janni, and he refused to join either India or Pakistan.
By the time the Union Jack came down for the last time in British India on 15 August 1947, he had not signed accession papers. His hesitation was partly due to the religious composition of his subjects. 75% were Muslims (who wanted to be part of Pakistan), and he was part of the 25% minority Hindu (who would have preferred to be a part of India).
In October 1948, Pakistani-backed separatists attacked Jammu and Kashmir. They wanted it to become part of Pakistan. Maharaja Hari Singh asked for India's assistance to drive them out, but India demanded that he first sign accession documents to transfer Jammu and Kashmir to India. He did, but by the time Indian forces arrived, the separatists had already occupied a third of Jammu and Kashmir, and driving them out proved difficult.
The UN intervened, and it drew a boundary between the two combatants. This boundary, called the line of control, divided Jammu and Kashmir into Pakistan-administered Kashmir and the Indian-administered Kashmir.
India insists that Kashmir is part of India since Maharaja Hari Singh signed accession documents, but Pakistan claims it should be part of Pakistan since most of its population is Muslim.
In 1954, India passed a constitutional amendment that gave Indian-occupied Kashmir special status. This amendment, called Article 370, allowed it to have its constitution and make its laws on all matters except for defence, communication, and foreign affairs.
A few months ago, India reversed this amendment, and it is the cause of the current tension.