The current array of conflicts over Kashmir cannot be understood or explained without a reference to its historical roots. Briefly, during the British rule there were hundreds of semi-autonomous princely states in India. At the time of partition of India, the Indian Independence Act of 1947 declared that all Indian princely states will be free to join either India or the newly created Pakistan; there was no provision in the Act for the princely states to opt for independence.
Kashmir, Hyderabad, and Junagadh were the three semi-autonomous princely states that did not accede to either India or Pakistan immediately at the time of partition in 1947. Hyderabad and Junagadh were Hindu majority states ruled by Muslim rulers and were located within the territory awarded to India. On the other hand, Kashmir’s population was mainly Muslim but ruled by a Hindu. British gave the domain over Kashmir to Dogra Hindu ruler Gulab Singh in 1846, as a reward for helping them against Afghans and Sikhs. Unlike Hyderabad and Junagadh, Kashmir had borders with both the truncated India and the newly carved Pakistan.
The Muslim rulers of Gujarati state of Junagadh and its principalities eventually signed instruments of accession to Pakistan. India overruled and forcibly seized and annexed the state. A unilateral plebiscite was held in Gujarat without the participation of Pakistan, the legal owner of the state, or the United Nations. India’s argument was that the Hindu majority states could not join Muslim Pakistan. India asserted that Junagadh accession to Pakistan was contrary to the two-nation theory, the basis for the partition of the country into Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan. When the Nizam of Hyderabad sought to remain independent of India or to become part of Pakistan, the state was forced into the Indian Federation through “police action” in September 1948 on the ground that the right of self-determination of the populace was supreme.
However, when it came to Kashmir, India conveniently departed from the principles it applied to seize Junagadh and Hyderabad – geographical location, communal composition, and the people’s right of self-determination. India altogether disregarded Kashmir’s Muslim majority, geographical contiguity to Pakistan, and failed to ascertain the wishes of the people of the state through plebiscite. The plebiscite was out of question. The Indian leaders were well aware that the people of Kashmir would have voted to rid themselves of Indian rule and join Pakistan – a foregone conclusion.
Maharaja Hari Singh, the great-grandson of the Maharaja Gulab Singh, presided over Kashmir at the time of the partition. Hari Singh knew too well that the Muslims who constitute majority of the population of his state would never accept accession of the state to Hindu majority India. Therefore, he was hesitant to sign the instrument of accession to India. The people of Kashmir revolted and rebelled against the ruler for his refusal to accede the state to Pakistan. India claims that Maharajah Hari Singh signed the Instrument of Accession in return for military support to quell the popular uprising against his rule.
However, academicians and historians (Stanley Wolpert, Alister Lamb, Robin Raphel, et al.) seriously doubt that an Instrument of Accession was ever signed and given to India by Maharaja Hari Singh; India never put forward any substantive and credible evidence to back up its claim. The document was never presented to the U.N. or to Pakistan. The issue becomes very dubious and suspicious when one considers that in 1995 the Indian authorities claimed that the original accession document was either stolen or lost. Historical examinations of the events surrounding the accession document lend strong evidence that the document never existed; it was a mere hoax played by India for its hegemonic ambitions. India not only hoodwinked Kashmiris but the whole international community.
That was very briefly how India used political machination and fraud to occupy Kashmir and deprive its people fundamental rights of liberty and justice. The saga of injustice does not end here, the humiliation continues on.
When India annexed Kashmir, it promised to give the state a large degree of autonomy. However, that never happened. In fact, India did exactly the opposite. New Delhi gradually put an iron tight political grip over the state through farcical elections, dictatorial puppet regimes, imposition of direct Governor’s rule, suspension of the Legislative Assembly, and with half a million heavily armed soldiers converted Kashmir into the most densely and fortified military zone in the world. The reneging on the promise of autonomy fuelled resentment against the New Delhi rule.
India cleverly played the sinister game of popular elections every few years in Kashmir. After every election, New Delhi raises the mantra, “India has won a popular mandate from the people of Kashmir”. The elections, from the first elections to constituent assembly in September 1951 till to date, are filled with recorded evidence of blatant rigging, coercion, and troops forcing Muslims to vote at a gunpoint.
For Indians themselves, as admitted in many quarters, the elections in Kashmir are fraud, anything but free and fair. B. K. Nehru who was Governor of Kashmir from 1981 to 1984 has this to say in his memoirs, Nice Guys Finish Second, about elections in Kashmir: "From 1953 to 1975, Chief Ministers of that State [Kashmir] had been nominees of Delhi. Their appointment to that post was legitimised by the holding of farcical and totally rigged elections in which the Congress party led by Delhi’s nominee was elected by huge majorities."
Prem Nath Bazaz, a Hindu Kashmiri journalist, in his book, Democracy through Intimidation and Terror, writes about the elections in Kashmir, “After independence, rulers of J&K State were not the freely chosen representatives of the people as they should have been but were the nominees and the proteges of the Central Congress Government”. He further notes, “The fact remained that the final decision about selection of candidates, extent of rigging and supply of funds rested with the central Congress leadership. Not even once the elections were fair and free and a candidate holding independent views had slim chance to be elected.” The charade of elections was only a faÃ§ade to disguise the illegal occupation of Kashmir.
From 1947 to 1987, the conflict was mainly an interstate affair between India and Pakistan. During this 40-year period, the situation in Kashmir was tense and uptight but relative calm prevailed. Then came the election of 1987. As with any previous elections, the 1987 elections was yet another exercise in fraud, only on a much massive scale. The election of 1987 proved to be the last straw. The sense of deprivation and exploitation finally came into play; the long simmering resentment against the New Delhi’s rule came to a full boil. The reasons for the eruption of full scale militancy is explained by Sumit Ganguly, Professor of Political Science at Indiana University, in these words, “…Whereas previous generations of Kashmiris, whose political consciousness was low, had long tolerated all manner of electoral irregularities, the generation that had emerged in Kashmir during the long years of Sheikh Abdullah’s incarceration did not have the same regard for the Abdullah family, nor was it willing to tolerate such widespread electoral fraud” (Explaining the Kashmir Insurgency: Political Mobilization and Institutional Decay, International Security).
Indian response to Kashmiri uprising came in the form of “brutality of torture that defies belief” and “electric shock and rape as a counter insurgency tactic”, Amnesty International and other human rights groups such as Human Rights Watch have published several disturbing reports of Indian abuse and human rights violations in Kashmir. Let me cite here just one case of deeply shocking torture of a twenty year old Kashmiri boy at the hand of Indian security forces. This incident is documented by the Amnesty International in its March 1993 report, and by the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.
“Manzoor Ahmed Ganai, son of Abdul Aziz Ganai and resident of Wakoora district, Gahderbal, Jammu and Kashmir, was reportedly arrested on 7 January 1993 along with 14 other persons by soldiers from the army 10 Bihar regiment during a search operation in his village. He was reportedly tortured for ten days with electric shocks, beaten with sticks and guns and was trampled on by soldiers”. The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs in its special September/October 1994 report, adds, “This reportedly included hanging him upside-down by his ankles for several days and burning the back of his thighs with lighted paraffin. He died in February, apparently as a result of the injuries he had sustained under torture."
After such ghastly reports were made public by the international organizations, India has restricted human rights abuse investigators’ entry into Kashmir.
India may chant as much as it wants, “Kashmir is an internal affair of India” or “Kashmir is an integral part of India”. But the facts are so well known and so well publicized and their meaning so entirely clear that Indian chant ends up being a self-deluding fiction. U.N. resolutions for the holding of an impartial plebiscite in Kashmir and accepted by India; deployment of U.N. Military Observer Group (UNMOGIP) between the Pakistani part of Kashmir and the Indian occupied territory; Indian Prime Minister Jawahar lal Nehru, and Lord Mountbatten’s, the then Governor General of India, solemn declaration that the final status of Jammu and Kashmir would be decided by the people of the state, belie India’s claim that Kashmir is its integral part.
As it is not an internal affair of India, the international community has the responsibility to put the pressure on India to resolve the Kashmir conflict that has become the worst human rights problem in the world. It is not a clichÃ© but a hard truth, there will never be any peace in the region unless a credible political solution that meets the aspirations of the people of Kashmir is implemented.
Considering that the tussle is between the two contending nuclearized nations –” India and Pakistan – it would not be an exaggeration to say that the conflict also constitutes a potential threat to world peace.