Kashmir – An Integral Part of India

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On the eve of General, now President, Parvez Musharraf’s visit to India people on both sides of the fence are eagerly waiting and watching to see what the outcome of these talks would be. Kashmir is of course what comes to mind, many being convinced that that is the core issue in bilateral relations. Pakistan has always considered that Kashmir, rightfully, belongs to it, based on its two-nation theory. After 1971, Pakistan would be happy to see even an Independent Kashmiri state, if only it would secede from India. It is at this point that it becomes imperative to pause and reflect awhile on history to understand why Kashmir is and will always be an integral part of India.

Kashmir is an ancient land existing for centuries as very much a part of India and not as some place remote from it. The word Kashmir itself is traced back to the Sanskrit word “Kashyapmir” or “the land of Kashyap”. Kashyap is an important figure in Indian mythology who is said to have sired the till today important “Kashyap-gotra” or “Kashyap clan” of the Hindus. Kashmir too had been subject to numerous foreign invasions and intrusions. Foreigners came and went, some left their mark, but most were absorbed into the local culture and society. There is even a version that many of the Kashmir’s are the descendents of the ten lost tribes of Israel that had been exiled in Babylon! Through it all Kashmir remained overwhelmingly Hindu, as ancient archeological ruins, like the sun temple at Martand, as well as numerous ancient but still functioning temples would witness. There is also much literary evidence in this sphere. At the turn of the Christian era Kashmir, under the Kushana Emperor Kanishka, embraced Buddhism � an offshoot of Hinduism. Even today Ladakh � the eastern province of Kashmir is predominantly Buddhist. Sufi Muslims came to Kashmir much later, � only in the 13th-14th century CE. But even then these were just a handful and majority of the people who embraced Islam were predominantly natives of the valley and not outsiders. The arrival of Islam only resulted in a religious and not in any ethnic or linguistic change. However many Kashmiris remained Hindus � the Kashmiri Pundits who because of massacres in the last decade had to flee the Kashmir valley and seek shelter as refugees in other parts of India. However, the Muslims of Kashmir, who were converted by Sufi saints, did not have a history of harboring ill feeling towards the Hindus. They had many similarities with Kashmiri Hindus and many did not even eat beef. Till recently, Muslims accompanied their Hindu friends to the crematorium during cremations. Naturally, during the height of militancy in the 1990s, when Pundits were massacred and their homes burnt, some voices raised were those of the victims’ Muslim neighbors. In this connection one must also remember the concept of “Kashmiriyat”, applied by both Hindu and Muslim Kashmiris to Kashmiri culture.

However, though today the Kashmir valley is predominantly Muslim it is important to remember that the demographic composition in the state of Jammu & Kashmir is pluralistic: out of a total population of around 6 mln. (excluding the population of POK); the Kashmir valley accounts for 52.4%, Jammu � 45.4% & Ladakh � 2.2%. Whereas the valley has 95% Muslims, Jammu has 66.3% Hindus and Ladakh’s population is roughly 70% Buddhist and 30% Muslim.

This was also, roughly, the demographic composition in Kashmir in 1947 when the genesis of the present “Kashmir problem” began. Prior to that the British had managed to become the colonial masters of the Indian subcontinent and Kashmir continued to be ruled by a Hindu maharaja with all major administrative and policy making powers in the hands of the British. Sheikh Abdullah who was the popular leader of the Kashmiri people and head of the National Conference, a representative organisation of the Kashmiri people which had been waging a struggle to liberate Kashmir from the Maharaja, was in prison. 1947 saw the withdrawal of the British from the subcontinent and its partition to accommodate the two-nation theory of the founding fathers of Pakistan. Two independent nations emerged � secular India and Islamic Pakistan. According to the Indian Independence Act passed by the British Parliament on 17th June 1947, British paramountcy over 462 Princely States ceased on Independence Day. Thus technically speaking, these states could declare independence from both the dominions of India and Pakistan and become separate entities. However, in a separate statement, the British government had also made it clear that His Majesty’s Government would not support any move made by princely state in this direction.

Being a border state, the Maharaja of Kashmir could have acceded to either India or Pakistan, but he took his time deciding on it. Obviously most important for him was his own survival with as many of his powers and privileges intact. He was uncomfortable with India’s leaders, especially Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, for their open hostility to the Princes, whom they considered as the stooges of the erstwhile colonial masters. Moreover, Nehru had on more than one occasion demanded the release of Sheikh Abdullah. The Maharaja knew that they were in favor of replacement of his rule with a democratically elected government headed by Sheikh Abdullah, and what his fate would be if he acceded to India. On the other hand, he had no inclination to accede to Pakistan either, since its reason d’etre was Islam and where he could have no chance to survive as a Dogra Hindu ruler. Moreover, he knew that Jammu & Kashmir was a pluralist state comprising many distinct ethnic and regional groups and accession to an Islamic state would have created endless violent conflicts. The Maharaja played for time by proposing to sign a Standstill Agreement with both India and Pakistan to preserve the status quo till the various modalities of action could be sorted out. Pakistan saw through the Maharaja’s game. Under no circumstances were its leaders prepared to allow the Maharaja the option of acceding to India. Pakistan considered and still considers itself incomplete without the accession of Muslim majority Kashmir. That is why it still talks about the unfinished task of partition. “Kashmir is an inalienable part of Pakistan�it would fall into our lap like a ripe fruit,” explained Jinnah, founder of Pakistan and leader of the Muslim League. This claim can be refuted any time and by anyone. It does not take one to be a political scientist to realize and understand that religion alone cannot be the sole basis for state or nationhood. If this could be so, then all the Arab countries would have united under a single banner long ago, as would have all European countries. On the other hand Bangladesh (former East Pakistan) would never have seceded from Pakistan, even as Czechoslovakia would not have split up.

The fact remains that not only does the state of Jammu & Kashmir comprise people of other religious denominations, but it is also divided in more than one ethnic and linguistic group. There is very little in common between the Muslims of Kargil and those living in the valley or the Muslims in Jammu, Poonch and Rajouri in the Indian part of J&K, and in Muzafrabad, Baltistan and Chitral in the Pakistan occupied part of the state. They are all ethnically very different people from the valley Muslims or Hindus. They speak different languages and have their own distinct way of life. On the other hand, the Kashmiri Hindus (Pundits) in the valley have more in common with the valley Muslims than the Hindus living in other part of the state, including the Dogras in Jammu. The Shia Muslims of Kargil have more in common with the Buddhists in Ladakh than Muslims in other parts of the state. People of the state, hence, cannot be divided only on religious lines between Hindus and Muslims by wishing away all the other identities.

Therefore, as was only to be expected, Jawarharlal Nehru, the then Prime Minister of India refuted Pakistan’s religion-based claims on Kashmir, as too did Sheikh Abdullah.

Anyway, Pakistan telegraphed its acceptance of the Standstill agreement, but soon after, it refused to honor its commitments. Pakistan had agreed to continue to supply all essential commodities like oil and look after the post and telegraph services, but it stopped all supplies and disrupted the postal and telegraph services almost immediately after its acceptance of the agreement. It put every type of pressure on the Maharaja to accede to Pakistan, like economic blockade and the cutting of essential supplies. Items like petrol, sugar, salt, edible oils disappeared from the market. Cheques on the branches of Pakistani banks were not being honored. There was an acute shortage of currency in the state, because even currency notes were not being issued by the Reserve Bank in Lahore. The state was virtually cut off as the Sialkot-Jammu railway line stopped operating from the beginning of September 1947.

When today Pakistan talks about its “Kashmiri brethren” a claim based only on religion, it is important to remember how concerned they were for the latter in 1947, subjecting them to hardships, purely in its own self interest. Under such pressure tactics from Pakistan, together with Indian Home Minister Sardar Patel’s diplomacy, the Maharaja had no other option but to accede to the Indian Union, and agreed to release Sheikh Abdullah and share power with him. Having failed in their efforts to pressurize the Maharaja, the Pakistani government decided to annex the state by force. A large number of tribals, accompanied and guided by the regular Pakistani army officers, were dispatched to invade Jammu & Kashmir. The Pakistan government had hoped that Mountbatten would be able to dissuade Nehru from sending the Indian armed forces to the state to push out the invaders. The official machinery mobilized about 7000 tribesman in 300 trucks to head for the border post Domel. Unfortunately for Pakistan, the raiders took much longer than planned to reach Srinagar. The delay gave the Maharaja time to sign the Instrument of Accession with India and for the Indian government to fly troops in Srinagar. The Pakistan planners of the not so covert military operation had expected only a brief encounter with the Maharaja’s forces. But the raiders could not resist the temptation of loot and pillage along the 200 km road to Srinagar. As the events unfolded, all the calculations of the Pakistani leaders went wrong. Nehru agreed to help fight the raiders, but only after an understanding with the Maharaja about the release of Sheikh Abdullah. The Instrument of Accession was signed on 26 October 1947, and the Maharaja released Sheikh Abdullah on 29 October 1947. The Indian troops were flown to Srinagar on 27 October 1947. If India’s intention had only been to annex Kashmir, Nehru would never have linked the supply of Indian troops with Abdullah’s release from prison. Neither would the Government of India have promised to hold a plebiscite to finally decide the question of accession “with the wishes of the people of the state”.

When the Instrument of Accession was signed the marauders were just five miles away from the capital Srinagar, and were forced to backtrack. The low intensity war continued till the end of 1948. Though it was the longest war, it was the least costly in terms of manpower and equipment. India did lose 5000 square miles of territory. Kashmir was virtually partitioned into Azad Kashmir and the State of Jammu & Kashmir. However, Pakistan did considerable damage to its cause by its tacit involvement in the atrocities committed in the name of liberation. Sheikh Abdullah said “In the name of the people of Kashmir, I invite observers from all countries, especially Islamic countries, to come and see for themselves what the invaders have done to destroy the home of these Mussalmans for whose deliverance they pretend they were coming in the name of Islam and as friends from Pakistan�. At this grimmest hour of our trial arrived the rescue forces of the Indian Union, for which every Kashmiri is grateful�” Similar words were echoed by other personalities after the Bangladesh War of Liberation in 1971, concerning Pakistani actions against their Muslim brothers in East Pakistan (later Bangladesh).

Officially Pakistan maintains that it did not support or instigate the raiders and that it neither attempted to influence the Maharaja during the initial phase nor try to interfere in the internal affairs of the state. It then seems a strange coincidence that Akbar Khan, the man who played an active part in the invasion, rose to the post of Major-General in the Pakistan army after the cease-fire in 1949. Sheikh Abdullah bluntly stated that Pakistan was behind the attack. Indian defense personnel corroborated that an invasion of this caliber could not have been planned by tribals alone. Incriminating evidence is provided by Akbar Khan himself: “I hurriedly contacted people to check if the necessary men, for whom rifles had been issued, were in their proper places. I discovered that they were not. The thousand men on the Kathua road were not there because their country made rifles had broken down and they had returned to Pakistan�” Who issued the rifles and why did the tribals return to Pakistan are interesting questions that come to mind. Liaquat Ali Khan, the then Prime Minister of Pakistan refused to recognize the accession, calling it a fraud and Abdallah a quisling. He defended the invasion on the grounds that “there were strong feelings of sympathy throughout Pakistan�(for) the persecuted people of the state”. Only what actually happened was that the Muslims of Kashmir did not react to this noble gesture, and did not seize this chance to be “liberated”. This is where Pakistani analysis falls flat. If the Kashmiri Muslims were pro-Pakistan they would not have remained aloof from the raiders. Had Abdullah and his brand of secularism been unrepresentative then the Kashmiri Muslims would have all the more joined the raiders in the war for their liberation. Abdullah said that the state had provisionally acceded to India not to please Nehru or Gandhi but to “save ourselves from poverty and destruction�” However, it was a conditional accession, to be ratified in due course by the will of the people, expressed through a plebiscite. That plebiscite was never held and since then the Pakistan media has screamed itself hoarse blaming India for it. But here again it was Pakistan who impeded the plebiscite.

Nehru internationalized the issue by requesting UN intervention on 1st January 1948. This was a step advantageous to Pakistan. The UN Commission for India and Pakistan (UNCIP) had three broad functions: to stop hostilities, to define the conditions of a truce, and to reaffirm the commitment to a plebiscite. The resolution, passed on 13 August 1948 called for:

I. An immediate cease-fire.

II. Withdrawal of all Pakistani forces from that portion of Kashmir occupied by them;

III. The reduction of Indian forces in the portion under their control;

IV. The governments were required to reaffirm that the future of Kashmir would be decided by the will of the people.

The resolution was doomed to fail since Pakistan refused to remove her forces first and demilitarization of the zone became a remote possibility. However, demilitarization was a prerequisite for a plebiscite. The fact remains that Pakistan, being aware of this prerequisite, failed to withdraw its troops. Instead Pakistan reinforced its postition in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (POK). Why? Was it that, in spite of its rhetoric, Pakistan was actually afraid that the plebiscite, if held, would actually have gone in Indian’s favor? And, in retrospective, it appears that it certainly would have. Sheikh Abdullah almost confirmed it when he said “we want to link the destiny of Kashmir with India because we feel that the ideal before India and Kashmir is one and the same. There is no place for Kashmir in a theocratic state.” He further stated: “Economically Kashmir depends for its markets much more on India than on Pakistan. Politically, it was felt that India was a much more progressive state than Pakistan and Kashmir would have far greater scope for free development according to its own genius if she was allied to India.” In 1949 Abdullah initiated a series of land reforms. A century of Dogra rule had resulted in the concentration of ownership of most of the 2,200,000 acres of cultivable land in the hands of a small class of landlords � the chakdars. The owners were Hindu, the tillers � Muslim. With the reforms, the maximum land holding was limited to 22.75 acres: the remainder was distributed among the peasantry. The historian M. Brecher in his book Struggle for Kashmir writes “..The vast majority of Kashmiris have benefited from these reforms and many of those interviewed expressed the fear that in Pakistan where no comparable land reforms have taken place, the land given to them might be returned to the landlords�The overwhelming majority who have benefited from these social and economic reforms favor the continuation of the present pro-Indian Government of Jammu & Kashmir.”

Alastair Lamb too says in his book Kashmir: A Disputed Legacy that “In the early years of the dispute�a majority of the population of both Kashmir and Jammu provinces would in fact, had they been given the chance to express their preferences, not have opted for union with Pakistan�.some kind of association with the Indian republic would have been acceptable.”

The partition of Kashmir along the line of cease-fire emerged as the only practical solution. No plebiscite was held in 1948-49, and more than 50 years down the line no plebiscite can be held now. Situations, circumstances have changed, the Government of India has poured crores of rupees into the state exchequer, the state and people of Jammu & Kashmir enjoy special positions and privileges that are not accessible to the other states of India and their people. Jammu & Kashmir is the only state in India that has a constitution of its own. The Preamble to the Jammu and Kashmir constitution drawn up in “persuance of the accession of this State to India”, and specifically Section I asserts that “The State of Jammu & Kashmir is and shall be an intergral part of the Union of India.” The citizens of India are not ipso facto the citizens of Jammu & Kashmir. Non-Kashmiri Indians, even if they have been residing in the state for years cannot acquire right for settlements and to hold property in the state. They do not have the right to vote in the election to the state assembly or the local bodies on the panchayats. A woman citizen of Jammu & Kashmir loses her property and other rights if she marries a non-state subject. Some articles of the Indian Constitution like Article 360 (Declaration of financial emergency in the state) and Article 365 (authority of the President of India to issue directions to the state government in exercise of the executive power of the union) do not extend to Jammu & Kashmir. Education in the state is free till the University level. Most items of daily consumption continue to cost much less than in the rest of India since they are heavilly subsidised by the center. As per the bulletin of the Reserve bank of India, per capita central assistance for the state was 90% in the form of grants and 10% as loans when for most of the othr Indian states loans constituted 70% and grants only 30%. Indeed a strange phenomena if anti-India propaganda in certain sections of the media- whereby India discriminates against the people of the state � is to be believed.

If India, therefore, refuses the plebiscite then the UN resolution automatically becomes null and void. This is because, as the UN Secretary �General Kofi Annan, rightly pointed out during his visit to South Asia earlier this year, the UN resolutions on Kashmir do not fall under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter and therefore, are not self-enforcing. They require the cooperation of both parties in order to be implemented. Had the welfare of Kashmir and its people been Pakistan’s only consideration then it would have accepted the Line of Control as the final borders. Instead it has launched repeated attacks, the brunt of which had to be borne by the people of Kashmir, for whose welfare Pakistan is apparently so concerned. It was telling that Pakistan struck once after the Indo-China War of 1962, when India was fatigued and weakened. After the 1971 war, India could have forced a final settlement of Kashmir on Pakistan during the Shimla Agreement when all the odds were in her favour. That she did not choose to do so proves her goodwill and integrity regarding Kashmir. However, it is not coincidental that Pakistans’s claims over Kashmir increased and its sponsored militancy in the valley intensified soon after the break-up of the Soviet Union � India’s greatest ally. Then recently Pakistan struck in Kargil and since then the best option appears to be to turn the de-facto border into a de-jure one. When Pakistan talks abut the human rights violations by Indian troops stationed in the state, it should first and foremost remember who bears the responsibility for the stationing of troops and the anguish caused to the people there. Again, the fact that many of the militants operating for the so-called liberation of Kashmir are foreign militants and not Kashmiris themselves, and also the fact that, after 1995, many Kashmiri militants started laying down arms and surrendering to the Indian forces voluntarily, speak for themselves.

Moreover, the secession of Kashmir from the Indian Union would be a step back in time. This is an age of regional cooperation and joint economic and military alliances and unions. Such a step would not only be retrograde, it would be suicidal, since it would also mean the further fragmenataion of the state into Hindu-dominated Jammu, Buddhist dominated Ladakh, etc. Further, the secession of Kashmir based on religious grounds has no legs to stand upon. India is home to the second largest Muslim population in the world – more Muslims reside in India than in any other Islamic country, except Indonesia. Muslims have held the highest office in India and there is no reason why the Muslims of Kashmir should feel themselves estranged from the rest of Indian society.

Pakшstan constantly harps on Kashmir and its liberation. Of course, domestic considerations play an important role. Pakistanш pride would be salvaged if Kashmir became part of that country in lieu of Bangladesh. However, Pakistan’s claims on Kashmir far predate the liberation of Bangladesh. Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif rely on Kashmir during elections to enhance their appeal to the electorate. The army, which is the actual power wielder in Pakistan, also seeks legitimacy for its actions and power from the Kashmir issue and its “Indian danger” rhetoric. All this points only to one fact � that it is not the liberation of Kashmir that really interests Pakistan, as it is the disintegration of India. It would be naive to think that if Kashmir is allowed to break away from India, all would immediately be well in Indo-Pakistan relations. Pakistan may then start eyeing other Muslim majority provinces of India and calling for thier “liberation”.

Pakistan has time and agian internationalized the issue. However, in concrete terms, internationalizing the issue, has come to naught so far as Pakistan is concerned. In spite of the routine resolutions adopted at almost every summit of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, no Islamic country would actually support Pakistan’s stand on Kashmir. The implications for many of the member states would be too great. Neither would China, Pakistan’s great ally, support claims for a separate Kashmiri state � again the implications for China’s own Xinjiang province and Tibet would be too great. Hence, as President Musharraf himself has warned the people, too much of hope should not be pinned on the Kashmir issue, and talks should mainly focus on trade and other issues for enhancing confidence and trust in each other. Sure, the Indian Government has a big task on hand with regard to Kashmir � to restore peace and normalcy there, and to develop the state economically. The Government did it once in Punjab, it will do so in Kashmir too. That is all. Kashmir is and will always be an integral part of India.

Aditi Bhaduri is an independent researcher, freelance writer, peace activist and a columnist with “The Statesman”, one of India’s leading dailies.

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