In August 1947, two nations gained independence from British rule. One was a new nation that had been forged through compromise and reluctance: Pakistan. The other, India, had endured a long and turbulent history, and was struggling to come to terms with its sudden rupture from colonial control.
Both gained independence under controversial circumstances. Neither had wanted to give an inch, and the violence that came to define partition would tarnish the memories of freedom for generations to come. There remains one issue from that time that continues to hamper any chance of peace between the two countries: Jammu and Kashmir.
Located in the northernmost region of India – although its ownership is disputed by Pakistan – the state of Jammu and Kashmir is home to a Muslim majority. Its ruler, however, decided to join India in 1948; a decision that has resulted in three wars and countless deaths. How both countries handle the Kashmiri issue defines many political debates, however the issue has changed its colours since Narendra Modi became Prime Minister of India in 2014.
When it comes to Kashmir, India has largely been the dominant force due to its military and diplomatic infrastructure in the region, supposedly to counter any threat from extremists. It has also used ‘soft diplomacy’ to try and ensure that the people of Kashmir feel that they have a voice in the running of their state.
Traditionally, in times of peace the centre would delegate responsibility to the local legislature and allow it to dictate policy within the region, and to handle any concerns that might arise from the populace. When troubles flared, only then would the centre get involved.
For a time, military occupation worked, and Kashmir was able to limp along. As India grew more prosperous, there was hope that Kashmir would also grow prosperous, and the appeal of separatism and Pakistan would lessen.
However, since the end of the Kargil War in 1999, Kashmir has simmered with tension. There is a feeling within the region that they are missing out on something. Many Kashmiris do not think that they are being fairly represented by the local assembly, or in the national legislature.
Indeed, they feel that the soldiers stationed in the region are there to oppress them and prevent them exercising their constitutional rights. As the tension in Kashmir has grown, the local government has lost its mettle and authority. Increasingly, the central government has had to come to the fore to make decisions, keeping order in the state with the help of the Indian military.
This has had disastrous consequences. Since a young man was killed in early 2016, there has been a state of perpetual panic in Kashmir. Protestors have been attacked with ammunition, blinded and even killed. Dialogue has not been opened, and the issue is increasingly spilling over into other parts of India.
Since his election in 2014, Modi has pursued a Hindu Nationalist course throughout India, and this has continued into Kashmir. With the state of chaos that has been present in the state since 2016, Modi has given the military more leeway to approach the situation as they see fit. This has often resulted in brutal suppression of protests, which sells well to Modi’s core base.
Modi has also cut off diplomatic ties with Pakistan, and has often used the troubles in the region to suggest Pakistan has ‘malicious intentions’ toward India. These accusations, whether true or not, has allowed Modi to increase suppression within Kashmir for the ‘safety’ of the region and implement policies through the state government that reflect his wider agenda for the nation.
Whilst such moves might play well amongst his core base, it has had consequences for India. Any voices that criticise the government’s approach to Kashmir are branded ‘anti-national’ or working against India’s interests, they are harassed by members of the Hinduvata-an organisation which wishes to impose strict Hinduism on all of India – and they are often left reeling from the consequences of such protests.
Pakistan’s approach to handling Kashmir has altered slightly in its tone, depending on whether it is the military or the politicians who are in control. Since 1948, when the first Indo-Pakistan war broke out, Pakistan has consistently demanded that Kashmir become part of it, and that there be a plebiscite to settle the matter.
Their point of view is understandable, Kashmir after all is a majority Muslim state. It would make sense if the Muslims within the state wished to be part of the majority Muslim nation that is their neighbour.
Since 1948, Pakistan has been to war three times over the issue, and has been defeated three times. They have also given haven to organisations that are deemed to be terrorist, and there are allegations that Pakistan has helped to train and fund them.
Does Pakistan want to administer Kashmir?
When one takes this into account alongside the insurgencies that have taken place, and led to the deaths of Indian army personnel, it does not paint a positive picture of Pakistani intentions toward the region. Pakistan has claimed it wants a peaceful solution, but their actions suggest that they desire a more permanent military solution. Many in the region feel abandoned by the Pakistani government.
With the support of China, this might be possible, if such a war scenario was ever to be seen as beneficial to China. With the instability within Pakistan, the way in which the country’s attitude toward Kashmir is expressed varies considerably. At times, there can be forceful rhetoric and tension dissipated through diplomatic, while at other times there will be open or closed aggression that leads to chaos for all involved. With India now starting to react in a similar manner, there is a greater risk of the situation escalating.
An enduring conflict?
Indian and Pakistani attitudes toward Kashmir vary on political, social and economic factors. When India was developing into the nation it is today, it tried to maintain a diplomatic and peaceful image toward Kashmir, seeking to portray itself as a defender of the people from Pakistani aggression.
However, with a nationalist government in power, India has moved from the defender to the aggressor and suppressor, and as such is losing some of the hard fought diplomatic ground won during the Cold War years. Pakistan, meanwhile, has maintained that Kashmir should be part of its own territory.
Currently, it appears that the military are the leading policymakers in the Kashmir debate, hence the growing risk of conflict. Previously the diplomats led discussion, and productive talks took place. Jammu and Kashmir will remain an issue for many years to come, and approaches will continue to evolve with or without the approval of those most affection: the Kashmiri people.