Kashmir – Beginning of the conflict

I was browsing through my childhood photographs and came across a photograph of me on a shikara (house-boat) in Dull Lake, Srinagar, Kashmir. The photograph was clicked on a summer vacation spent in Kashmir more than 20 years ago (1987). The valley was very peaceful then and that peace would be elusive for the next 20 years was beyond imagination. Most Indians say that Pakistan was invaded Kashmir and that Indian troops defended the valley after the instrument of accession had been signed. Pakistanis’ reject the legality of the Instrument of Accession. Moreover, since the state was predominantly Muslim, Pakistanis claim that the state should belong to Pakistan.

Who’s to blame..I do not know. The post is merely an attempt to educate myself on the conflict.

Brief History of the Conflict

India Independence Act (1947)
The Indian Independence act of 1947 was passed at the time of independence from Britain. Under the act, 562 Indian princely states were released from their treaty relationships with the British Empire. The states were advised to join either India or Pakistan. But, Lord Mountbatten, fearing that the princely states’ independence could lead to a civil war, made the accession mandatory. The rulers of the princely states were advised to keep the geographical location of their states and the wishes of the people in mind before making a decision. The accession of three states (Junagarh, Hyderabad and Kashmir) became the sources of conflict between Indian and Pakistan.

Junagarh was predominantly a Hindu state under a Muslim ruler (the Nawab of Junagarh) and surrounded by India from all sides. Fearing that his 800 dogs might be poisoned by the Indian government, the Nawab finally acceded to the Dominion of Pakistan in August 1947. The government of India argued that the accession ran counter to Pakistan’s irredentist policy (division of the country along religious lines). The Indian government sent in their troops and conducted a plebiscite. The population voted overwhelmingly to join the dominion of India and Junagarh thus became part of India.

Hyderabad: The Nizam of Hyderabad, whose princely state was the largest in India, wanted to remain independent. The law and order situation started deteriorating and clashes between the Mulsim militia, Razakar army, fighting for continuation of the Nizam’s rule and the communists of Telangana, fighting for joining in the Indian Union became more and more common. After more than a year of negotiations, the Indians invaded Hyderabad in September 1948 and defeated the Nizam’s troops. The massive support for Indian troops made the plebiscite unnecessary and Hyderabad was thus incorporated into India.

Kashmir: Unlike Hyderabad and Junagarh, Kashmir had a Hindu ruler and a largely Muslim population. Also, Kashmir was in unique geographical location, bordering both India and Pakistan. The ruler of Kashmir, Maharaja Hari Singh, like his Hyderabad counterpart, was dreaming of an independent state. The Muslim population resented Hari Singh. Muslims were taxed and were excluded from the civil and armed services. After crushing a mass uprising in 1931, he gave some concessions and allowed a limited democracy. Even after his reforms, he remained widely unpopular. The grievances of the Muslim subjects fomented a rebellion, which was fanned and supported by Pakistan. In October 1947, the state was invaded by tribals from the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and regular Pakistani soldiers. The Maharaja requested help from India and the Indian government pledged him total support on the condition of accession to India. The Instrument of Accession was signed on 26 October 1947 and the government of India sent troops into Kashmir the next day. The legality of accession is still widely disputed. Pakistan disputes that due to poor flying conditions, V P Menon was unable to get to Jammu until the morning of 27 October , by which time Indian troops were already arriving in Srinagar. Pakistanis also argue that Hari Singh had fled the state and was hence not the ruler of the state.

Despite early successes, the Indian army suffered a setback in December due to cold weather and logistical problems. In the spring of 1948, the Indian side mounted another offensive to retake some of the ground that it had lost and more of Pakistani army became active. Around November 1948, Nehru on the advise of Lord Mountbatten decided to ask UN to intervene. A UN cease-fire was arranged for the 31 December 1948. A cease-fire was agreed to by both countries, which came into effect, the terms of which were laid out in the United Nations Commission on India and Pakistan (UNCIP) resolution. The resolution required Pakistan to withdraw its forces, while allowing India to maintain minimum strength of its forces in the state to preserve law and order. On compliance of these conditions a plebiscite was to be held to determine the future of the territory.

The Plebiscite

Nehru, a Kashmiri Pandit, had reasons to believe that India would win such a plebiscite. Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah, a Muslim who opposed the maharajah’s rule but preferred the secular socialism of Nehru’s. He became Kashmir’s prime minister in 1948, and could surely have swung a plebiscite India’s way. But still Nehru and Patel accepted that Kashmir could accede to Pakistan. The plebiscite never happened. India has argued that a plebiscite cannot be conducted till the Pakistan army withdraws its troops from Azad Kashmir and Northern Areas, both under Pakistan’s control. Pakistan, meanwhile argues that Indian accession is illegal and India must withdraw its troops and a plebiscite be conducted under the aegis of an international body.

References/Links:
Ganguly, Sumit. The Crisis in Kashmir: Portents of War, Hopes of Peace.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/1762146.stm

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