The Geographical Scale and Scope of the Conflict in Kashmir

The analysis and examination of a specific territory is hardly an arbitrary matter. One’s perspective depends on their particular geo-political context, which in turn affects their study of the given area. Nothing is “neutral” about a territory.[1] The spatial arrangement of the world is often viewed through the three varying outlooks – global, state, and local. This phenomenon of geographical scale is socially constructed and greatly effects the interpretations of space. “Today the question of scale inserts itself at the outset é at the foundation, as it were é of the analysis of texts and their interpretation of events. The result depends on the scale chosen as primary or essential.” [2] Within each geographical scale lies the scope of the conflict. This determines the outcome of the conflict and its solution at either the local level or its proliferation into a global problem. [3]

“It has always been the terrain of the political where sociospatial tensions were fought over, mediated, and negotiated, resulting in ever-changing forms of territorial or geographical organization and in territorially shifting forms of governance.” [4] Scale ultimately determines not only the resolve of a conflict but more importantly the scope or interpretation of the conflict. As the scope of a conflict widens, it is unlikely that both sides will continue to be reinforced uniformly; thus, modifications in scope are partisan by nature. [5]

Kashmir, a contentious region in South Asia, has been greatly affected by the involvement of the international world and the neighboring states of India and Pakistan. The partition of 1947 by the British divided South Asia into Muslim Pakistan and Hindu India. The “princely state” of Kashmir was supposed to be allotted the choice of acceding to Pakistan or India. It was never given that choice. Since then, Kashmir has become a disputed territory. The constant battling between India and Pakistan thrust Kashmir into the global light in which, the United States and United Nations are attempting to find a peaceful solution.

“The continuous reshuffling and reorganizations of spatial scales are an integral part of social strategies and struggles for control and empowerment.” [6] The scope of the Kashmir conflict has been widened by the involvement of the United States and United Nations. Thus, the global scale of the Kashmir dispute has allowed for the Kashmiri people’s desires for an independent state to be ignored. In order to bring “control and empowerment” back to the Kashmiri people, the conflict needs to be rescaled as a local issue in order to find a solution that will best benefit its people.

“Spatial scale has to understood as something that is produced historically; a process that is deeply heterogeneous and contested.” [7]  The conflict in Kashmir is not only the eleven-year war of insurgencies but it has been an ongoing struggle rooted deep in colonization, imperialism and religion. The complete history and demographics of this disputed territory plays a huge role in how Kashmir is spatialized today.

At the time of the partition in 1947, Maharaja Hari Singh, Hindu monarch, ruled over and desired independence for Kashmir but faced pressure from Lord Mountbatten of Great Britain to side with either India or Pakistan.[8] With Pakistan’s population consisting mostly of Muslims and India being predominately Hindu, a conflict of interest was created between Kashmir’s large Muslim population and Singh, their Hindu leader. In August 1947, Pakistani tribesmen invaded Kashmir and took control over one third of the region (which is known today as Azad Kashmir). Reacting to Pakistan’s invasion, the Maharaja decided to accede to India in October 1947. [9]

Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, disputed the accession. He claimed that the accession was illegal because it was brought about through violence between Pakistan and India. Jawaharlal Nehru, the prime minister of India, promised the Kashmiri people that the decision would have to be confirmed by them. The United Nations intervened and proposed a plebiscite. To this day, a plebiscite has not taken place in Kashmir. In order to hold a plebiscite, both countries would have to withdrawal troops and neither India nor Pakistan has done so. [10]

In 1948, the UN declared a cease-fire to stop the fighting, which the two governments accepted. Figure 1 shows the line of control (LoC) that was established by the UN, through the western part of Jammu and the eastern part of Poonch. Poonch, the capital of Kashmir, was subsequently left on the Indian side of the cease-fire line. The LoC is the present border between India and Pakistan but neither country officially acknowledges it. India controls two thirds of Kashmir including Ladakh and Jammu. Pakistan, in turn, controls the northern territories of Gilgit, Batistan, and Huza and Azad Kashmir, which compromises one-third of Kashmir. [11]

Kashmir’s unique strategic location lends itself to great importance to both India and Pakistan. Its political borders rest against important powers such as Afghanistan, Russia, China, and India. Kashmir, once known as the “Switzerland of South Asia,” lies cradled in the Himalayan, Karakoram, and Hindu-Kush mountains. [12] Economically, Kashmir is of vital importance to the needs of Pakistan, producing all the timber for Pakistan and housing three rivers, Indus, Jhelum, and Chenab, which flow from the Kashmir region into Pakistan and control the agricultural growth. These three main rivers provide potential for large-scale hydroelectric power plants for Pakistan and economic prosperity. [13]

Besides its economic importance, Kashmir’s ideological and religious ties are also noteworthy. Possession of Kashmir by Pakistan reinforces Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s theory of a two-nation separation based on religious beliefs. Since Kashmir is é Muslim, Jinnah believed it should be a part of Islamic Pakistan.[14] On the other hand, India wants control of Kashmir so that it may become a secular nation. India does not want the partition to be viewed as a religious divide and feels it has a right to Kashmir since the accession by the Maharaja in 1947.[15]

India and Pakistan: Scale of the State

Power is the capability of a state to overrun the interests of another state or nation through diplomatic or military strength. Both India and Pakistan have used power to influence and control the Kashmiri people. The two states have rallied for power and domination in Kashmir through numerous clashes, resulting in the death of many Kashmiri people and destruction of the landscape. Competition between India and Pakistan has led to the build up of arms, support for insurgent groups and nuclear armament. Rather than India and Pakistan focusing on right of self-determination for Kashmiris, they have refocused the conflict so that religious or ethnic connections are emphasized. “An inclusionary politics of scale necessitates a vision and strategy in which the current one sided obsession with a politics of identity in which the body has become a central site is replaced by a rescripting and reconstruction of group affinities.” [16] The war between India and Pakistan has been fought over the simple question of which state best represents Kashmir’s characteristics and affinities.

The underlying aggression between India and Pakistan became so strong that a total war nearly came to fruition in 1989. India accused Pakistan of harboring Sikhs, a persecuted religious group from the Punjab and supporting a Sikh separatist movement from India. Prime Minister V.P. Singh threatened Pakistan that India would go to complete war if they attacked or attempted to take over Kashmir. The international forces of the United States, China and the Soviet Union quenched the insurrection. These countries feared the potential nuclear power each country had and wanted to calm and extinguish any apprehension between the two countries. One of the most important results of the talks was the “confidence-building measures” that neither country was going to attack each other’s nuclear installations. [17]

With Kashmir still occupied by Pakistan and India, problems in the region have only grown increasingly worse through the rise in insurgencies beginning in 1989. In 1989, the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) kidnapped the daughter of India’s home minister and Kashmir’s leader, Mufti Mohammad Syed. The Indian government gave into the JKLF, which in turn granted them legitimacy from the government. From that point on the separatist groups grew in strength and number. Indian officials speculate there might be more than 2,000 militants in Kashmir, most of which are between the ages of 13 and 20. [18]

Pakistan, much smaller and less modern than India has been ruled by its military. Pakistan with an authoritarian political culture stems from the Muslim tradition of an authoritarian Islamic state. Today, Pakistan faces the dangers of a collapsing economy and failing institutions. Also, India has labeled Pakistan as a country that exports terrorism, and has pressured the United States to include Kashmir and Islamic militant groups in its war against terrorism. Although the proxy war in Kashmir has not been of benefit to the Pakistan state, the fighting has become a sufficient part of its foreign policy.

Pakistan supports and funds many of the militant groups in Kashmir. The ISI, Pakistan’s external intelligence agency, has run the proxy war in Kashmir for the past 11 years. Lashkar-e-Toiba, Al Badr, and Jaish-e-Mohammad, fanatical foreign mercenaries who despise India, comprise the ISI’s vanguard.[19]  In many ways, Pakistan feels that any leniency in the fight against Indian control will result in their defeat. Therefore, Pakistan continues to supply these militants with guns and recruits while refusing to engage in talks or cooperate with India. Recently, the U.S. ordered funding from Pakistan to Harakut ul-Mujahiden, a terrorist group, to be frozen.

United States and United Nations: Global Scale

The “jumping of scales” is a process that “signals how politics are spatialised by mechanisms of stretching and contracting objects across space.” [20] The conflict in Kashmir has recently been seen as a global issue due to the increased involvement of the international community. The war on terrorism has led America to look at Kashmir and many of the terrorist groups that are active and violent in the Kashmir region. Human rights violations have been a concern of the United Nations because of the brutality of insurgent groups and Indian security forces stationed in Kashmir. Intimidation has been a tactic of both countries, especially with the build up of nuclear arms.

India and Pakistan may see greater U.S. involvement in Kashmir’s eleven-year war of insurgencies since the September 11th attacks on America and President George W. Bush’s subsequent declaration of a war on terrorism. In the U.S. war against Al Queda and its search for Bin Laden, Pakistan has become a crucial ally to the United States. Pakistan shares a 2,500-kilometer border with Afghanistan and has had a lengthy, familiar relationship with the Taliban.[21] For these geographic and strategic reasons, Pakistan has been able to enter the international community as a close ally of the United States. India has always cherished its traditional partnership with the United States and is fearful of increased support for Pakistan. India believes that Pakistan has been an exporter of terrorism for decades and especially responsible for funding many militant groups in Kashmir.

The United States has an important balancing act to perform in the East. The three main priorities of the United States in that region have been to support Pakistan’s President Musharaff, who is willing to cooperate with the United States in its search for Bin Laden, to prevent a war between India and Pakistan, and to continue nurturing its long friendship with India.[22] India has attempted to use pressure from the United States to end Pakistan’s support for Kashmiri militant groups.

Nuclear armament by both Pakistan and India has been a major cause of international concern in the Kashmir conflict. “Pakistan’s nuclear tests internationalize the Kashmir dispute and bring it back on the active agenda of the United Nations.” [23]  India’s nuclear testing in May 1998 caused Pakistan to begin testing out of fear that India would have the power to take over Azad Kashmir. India’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) member, L.K. Advani, asserted that, “the geopolitical situation in the region has changed so Pakistan should roll back its policy on Kashmir.” [24]  The nuclear arms race between India and Pakistan has called for concern by the international community. Many experts feel that nuclear armament might bring a “stable deterrence” between India and Pakistan and prevent any preemptive strikes in Kashmir. [25]

While both Pakistan and India believe they have a justified claim to Kashmir, the on-going dispute over Kashmir has been taking its toll on the economy and international attitude of Pakistan and India. Internationally, Kashmir has been viewed as a blemish of India. India, seeking a seat on the UN Security Council, has found difficulty in attaining such a position since human rights violations continue to plague India’s reputation.[26]  Many human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, have not been allowed entry into Kashmir by India.

Kashmir: Local Scale

Since the beginning of insurgent movements in 1989, more than 34,000 people by official count have died and separatist leaders estimate more than 60,000. The Indian security forces have killed approximately 10,000 militants in an effort to suppress insurgencies. [27] The more active and violent the separatist groups become, the more India strengthens its military force and stance. This chain reaction leads to a proliferation of violence and arms between the opposing forces.

Victims of insurgencies are not always the militant members or the Indian security forces, but often the innocent Kashmiri citizens. Unfortunately, distrust of the Indian security forces abounds in the Kashmiri people as the security forces are often seen as more of a threat than a protection.

The torture of militants and suspected militants has been a form of counter-insurgent action by the Indian government in order to extract information or to coerce confessions. In over 63 interrogation centers throughout Kashmir, torture is executed including acts such as electric shocks, beatings, heavy rollers on the leg muscles and sexual molestation. [28] The Public Safety Act (PSA) of 1978 has facilitated the Indian forces in the mistreatment and detention of innocent Kashmiris. The PSA states that Indian authorities can “detain persons for up to two years without charge or trial.”[29] Amnesty International states that many suspected militants have been held since the early 1990s. [30]

An important characteristic of Kashmir adding to the internal conflict is the non-homogeneity of the region. Because the Kashmir Valley compromises itself of 95% Muslims, the Hindu population, a small minority, have been forced out of their homes and have fled in fear of their lives.[31]  Many live in refugee camps and have been displaced from their villages in the valley.[32] 1.5 million Kashmiris have fled to Pakistan and 300,000 are refugees in Britain today. [33]

Rescaling the Scope of the Conflict

The disputed region of Kashmir needs to be rescaled as a local issue. Through every change and expansion in scale, the problem has grown farther from the roots and the Kashmiri people have lost control of the conflict altogether. Widening the involvement of the participants in the Kashmir problem has diluted and offset the Kashmiri people’s desire for independence. Human rights, nuclear armament, and terrorism are justified reasons for international intervention but the solution can only be found at the local level.

“The uniqueness of a place, or a localityéis constructed out of particular interactions and mutual articulations of social relations, experiences and understandings, in a situation of copresence, but where a large proportion of those relations, experiences and understandings are actually constructed on a far larger scale than what we happen to define at the moment as the place itselféInstead, then, of thinking of places as areas with boundaries around, they can be imagined as articulated moments of networks of social relations and understandings.” [34]

In order to completely understand the Kashmir conflict, all three scales must be studied. Looking inward at a region does not provide the whole identity for a region but it can provide a solution. Any United Nations resolve would lack a true understanding for the inter-workings of the people involved and be superimposed on the region in order to appease all parties. The past fifty-five years serves as evidence that a resolution cannot be developed at an inter-state level. India and Pakistan have fought relentlessly to gain control of the Kashmir region, which serves as a boundary between the two countries. Both countries have suffered great losses due to the continual proxy war and neither of them have benefited at all, although Kashmiris still hold hope for an independent state.

Independence is a solution that would satisfy many Kashmiris. The people of Kashmir claim opposition to the accession from the start and their voice has gone unheard.[35] They assert that insurgent groups and militant fighting are simply a ploy for attention and recognition of Kashmiri opinions and options. Independence has been the goal of the JFLK, one of the oldest insurgent groups.[36] The Kashmiri people desire for independence but lack organization and coherent goals. The struggle for independence is ingrained in the conflicting religious groups of the region. If independence is attained, a problem may arise for the Hindu or Buddhist minority. Minorities living within a marginalized culture and disputed area, such as Kashmir, run the risk of being treated poorly and discriminated against. [37]

Furthermore, not only do the competing countries of Pakistan and India oppose independence, but also neighboring China. China fears this act might bring hope and lead the way towards Tibet’s independence.[38]  The Indian government is also fearful of the same problem with the Sikhs in the Punjab, if Kashmir is granted independence.

Independence is the only solid resolve since a democratic solution will only create larger problems. A plebiscite, a vote by which all the people choose their governing body, was the purposed democratic solution to the Kashmir conflict by the UN Security Council on April 21, 1948.[39]  The differing geographical scales will bring obstacles in deciding who can vote in a plebiscite to determine Kashmir’s future. Fifteen UN resolutions have granted Kashmiris the right of self-determination and a plebiscite, which appears the most valid option if it is administered in a non-partial manner. Although, a plebiscite continually fails due to the fact that it could not be held in a non-partial manner because of the occupation by Pakistani and Indian troops. [40]

In the inter-state perspective, a plebiscite assumes that Kashmir belongs to neither Pakistan nor India but rather to the Kashmiris. India believes that Kashmir is an integral part of its country because of the accession on October 26, 1947 and a plebiscite would only question its legality. India also claims that Kashmir has been given the right of self-determination through four general elections of which Kashmiris argue were rigged and corrupt. If a plebiscite was held in 1949, India contends that it would have resulted in its favor regardless. [40] In reality, India has stripped Kashmir of ever having a fair and democratic election through vast assumptions and manipulation of elections.

Pakistan has also never been supportive of a plebiscite in Kashmir. In 1949, Pakistan refused to remove its military so that a plebiscite could be held and it is doubtful that Pakistan would act any differently today in the case of a plebiscite. Pakistan would dispute the terms of the plebiscite that would only allow the two options of joining either India or Pakistan in lieu of the majority of Kashmiris who want independence. Therefore, if a plebiscite were to be held with the only two choices of acceding to Pakistan or India, the true voice of the Kashmiri people would not be heard and the people would not be satisfied with the result. [42]

The Kashmir conflict is a territorial dispute between India and Pakistan, which has led to the larger issues of nuclear armament, human rights and terrorism. All three of these issues are of great concern to the international community, which has thus enlarged the scope of the Kashmir conflict to a global level. Because of its history of combat and battle, an immediate solution that would appease all parties, India, Pakistan, and the Kashmiris, seems unlikely. Optimism resides that the violence and military action, and counter-action, which has come to reign in Kashmir, will turn itself over to diplomatic action and peaceful negotiation. The Kashmiri people must be empowered and authorized to organize and solve the conflict within their own boundaries. The rescaling of the Kashmir conflict will provide choice for the people as it was intended in 1947 during the partition. Interference by India, Pakistan or the United States only muddles the dispute further and their own suggested solutions on the problem.

The Rape of Kashmir – by Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed

The Heart of Kashmir – Kash Gabriele Torsello Diary 1994 (An On-line Photo Exibition)

More MMN Articles on Kashmir (Google Search Results)


The Crisis in Kashmir: Portents of War, Hopes of Peace by Sumit Ganguly

India: Government and Politics in a Developing Nation by Robert L. Hardgrave, Stanley A. Kochanek

Semi Sovereign People : A Realist's View of Democracy in America by Elmer E. Schattschneider

Political Geography : World-Economy, Nation-State and Locality by Peter J. Taylor, Colin Flint

Kashmir in Conflict : India, Pakistan and the Unfinished War by Victoria Schofield

Pakistan : Political Roots and Development 1947-1999 - by Safdar Mahmood

The Aftermath of Partition in South Asia (Routledge Studies in the Modern History of Asia) - by Tai Yong Tan, Gyanesh Kudaisya

War at the Top of the World : The Struggle for Afghanistan, Kashmir and Tibet - by Eric S. Margolis

Government Policies and Ethnic Relations in Asia and the Pacific by Michael E. Brown (Editor), Sumit Ganguly (Editor)

The State of Martial Rule : The Origins of Pakistan's Political Economy of Defence (Cambridge South Asian Studies, No 46) - by Ayesha Jalal

The American Papers : Secret and Confidential India-Pakistan-Bangladash Documents, 1965-1973 - by Roedad Khan (Compiler), Jamsheed Marker

Conflict Unending : India-Pakistan Tensions Since 1947 by Sumit Ganguly

The Origins of War in South Asia : Indo-Pakistani Conflicts Since 1947 by Sumit Ganguly

The Nuclearization of South Asia by Kamal Matinuddin

Kashmir : Domestic Insurgency, International Dispute by Iffat Sana Malik

Security Issues in South Asia (Studies in Global Security) by Sumit Ganguly

Mending Fences : Confidence-And Security-Building Measures in South Asia by Sumit Ganguly (Editor), Ted Greenwood (Editor)

Brecher, Michael. The Struggle for Kashmir. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1953).

Evans, Alexander. “Reducing Tension Is Not Enough.” The Washington Quarterly 24.2 (2001).

Fathers, Michael. “Play Nice.” Time Asia. Vol 157 No. 5, (February 5, 2001).

Hilali, A.Z. “Kashmir: A Dangerous Flashpoint in South Asia.” Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars Vol 31. No 2. (1999).

“Kashmir: Political Rights and Civil Liberties” Freedom House.

Oberoi, Surinder. “Fear and Loathing in Kashmir” The Washington Quarterly 24.2 (2001).

Slater, Joanna and Ahmed Rashid. “Dangerous Manoeuvres.” Far Eastern Economic Review, (January 10, 2002): 14-18.

Slater, Joanna and Sadanand Dhume. “Old Foes Make For Poor Allies.” Far Eastern Economic Review. 4 October 2001.

Swyngedouw, E. “Authoritarian governance, power and the politics of rescaling.” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 18, no.1 (2000).

Vinayak, Ramesh and Harinder Baweda. “Kashmir’s Bloody Puzzle, Can it be Solved?” India Today. (14 August 2000).


[1] Taylor, Peter J. and Colin Flint. Political Geography: World Economy, Nation-State and Locality, (England, Harlow: Prentice Hall, 2000): 39.

[2] Swyngedouw, E. “Authoritarian governance, power and the politics of rescaling.” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 18, no.1 (2000): 68.

[3] Schattschneider, E.E. The Semisovereign People. (New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1960): 3.

[4] Swyngedouw, E. “Authoritarian governance, power and the politics of rescaling,” 68.

[5] Schattschneider, 4.

[6] Swyngedouw, E. “Authoritarian governance, power and the politics of rescaling,” 70.

[7] Swyngedouw, E. “Authoritarian governance, power and the politics of rescaling,” 70.

[8] Rahman, Mushtaqur. Divided Kashmir. (London: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1996), 2

[9] Evans, Alexander. “Reducing Tension Is Not Enough.” The Washington Quarterly 24.2 (2001); 2.

[10] Rahman, 47

[11] Hilali, A.Z. “Kashmir: A Dangerous Flashpoint in South Asia.” Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars Vol 31. No 2. (1999), 65.

[12] Hilali, 65.

[13] Brecher, Michael. The Struggle for Kashmir. (New York: Oxford University Press,1953); 45-50.

[14] Brecher, 51-54.

[15] Evans, Alexander. “Reducing Tension Is Not Enough.” The Washington Quarterly 24. (2001), 1.

[16] Swyngedouw, E. “Authoritarian governance, power and the politics of rescaling,” 74.

[17] Hardgrave, Robert L. and Stanley A. Kochanek. India: Government and Politics in a Developing Nation. (Orlando: Harcourt College Publishers, 2000), 424-425.

[18] Oberoi, Surinder. “Fear and Loathing in Kashmir” The Washington Quarterly 24.2 (2001), 22.

[19] Vinayak, Ramesh and Harinder Baweda. “Kashmir’s Bloody Puzzle, Can it be Solved?” India Today, (14 August 2000): 15-18.

[20] Swyngedouw, E. “Authoritarian governance, power and the politics of rescaling,” 71.

[21] Slater, Joanna and Sadanand Dhume. “Old Foes Make For Poor Allies.” Far Eastern Economic Review. (October 4, 2001): 22-24.

[22] Slater, Joanna and Ahmed Rashid. “Dangerous Manoeuvres.” Far Eastern Economic Review. (January 10, 2002): 14-18.

[23] Hilali, 71.

[24] Hilali, 71.

[25] Hilali, 71.

[26] Fathers, Michael. “Play Nice.” Time Asia. 5 Vol 157 No. 5. 17 (February 2001): 23

[27] Oberoi, 24.

[28] Schofield, Victoria. Kashmir in the Crossfire. (New York: I.B. Tauris Publishers, 1996): 264.

[29] “Kashmir: Political Rights and Civil Liberties” Freedom House.

[30] “Kashmir: Political Rights and Civil Liberties” Freedom House.

[31] Evans, Alexander. “Reducing Tension Is Not Enough.” The Washington Quarterly 24.2 (2001): 25

[32] Newberg, Paula. Double Betrayal: Repression and Insurgency in Kashmir. (Washington: Carnegie Endowment, 1995): 65.

[33] Hilali, 65.

[34] Taylor and Flint, 327.

[35] Rahman, 163.

[36] Ganguly, Sumit. The Crisis in Kashmir. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997.): 143.

[37] Ganguly, 143..

[38] Ganguly, 144.

[39] Ganguly, 142.

[40] Rahman, 162.

[41] Rahman, 162.

[42] Ganguly, 143.

Above is a current paper that the author has been researching and working on for the past 3 months.  She is seeking her BA in International Affairs with a concentration in the Middle East and Kashmir region at Mary Washington College.