Factsheet: Kashmir

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Image credit: Rishabh Pandoh

By William Gould

Kashmir is a state in the northwest of India, in which some areas are de facto under the control of Pakistan and China. Its complex religious and political history has made it a flashpoint, sparking several wars and a simmering internal conflict

What is the history of Kashmir?

In ancient times it was Hindu and Buddhist, then Muslim until 1819 when Sikhs took control, until they were defeated by the British in 1846.

From 1847 to 1932 ethnic Dogras — upper-caste Hindus from the Jammu region — ruled Kashmir. Rights of Muslims were restricted; for most of its existence as a princely state, Muslims were not generally permitted to become officers in the military, and were very poorly represented in the civil administration. The press was also tightly controlled.

Muslim protests in 1931 led to widespread rioting and this has been cited by many as the beginning of a Kashmir “freedom struggle”. In June 1932, the All-India Kashmir Muslim Conference — later the National Conference party (NC) — was founded, led by Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, the “Lion of Kashmir”.

In September 1944, the National Conference party adopted the programme of Naya Kashmir (New Kashmir), proposing a national assembly for Kashmir, Urdu as the common language, massive land reforms with the creation of peasant proprietors from the hundreds of thousands landless in the state.

What happened in Kashmir during Partition in 1947?

By the end of Dogra rule in 1947, the Princely State of Jammu and Kashmir was 77 per cent Muslim, and was therefore (like Hyderabad in the south) a Muslim-majority area ruled by a Hindu.

Kashmir was expected to accede to either India or Pakistan after Partition. Following a revolt, rebels gained control and declared a pro-Pakistani area of “Azad Kashmir”. But soon afterwards, an incursion with Indian support quashed the rebellion and on 26 October, the instrument of accession to India was signed.

War then ensued between India and Pakistan in Kashmir, and in the capital Srinagar, the NC emerged as the de facto government.

How did the status quo emerge?

In November 1947 the government of India pledged to hold a referendum in Kashmir to determine whether it would stay in India or become part of Pakistan. It also referred the issue to the nascent United Nations, which demanded troops on both sides withdrew before a plebiscite be held.

In 1949 a ceasefire was agreed, which froze the situation with Indian forces in control of most of Kashmir, but the referendum was never held. The 1949 boundaries between the regions occupied by each side’s armies is known as the Line of Control and is the de facto border between Indian and Pakistani-controlled Kashmir.

Pakistan claimed that India failed to set it in motion, and India said the necessary conditions for Pakistani withdrawal were never honoured. A further reason that the plebiscite was not held related to the space of Kashmir itself as a transit point for Partition refugees moving in both directions, who had experienced extreme violence. This led to further mass killings and destabilisation.

How was Kashmir incorporated into India?

With most of Kashmir in Indian hands, it became a state under the country’s 1950 constitution, but with a high degree of local autonomy.

Under Article 370 of the constitution, the jurisdiction of the Indian government over the state was limited to three subjects of defence, foreign affairs and communications. In these areas, this would have to be done “in consultation with the government of Jammu and Kashmir State”. All other subjects could only be covered with the “final concurrence” of Jammu and Kashmir.

The NC government in Kashmir under Sheikh Abdullah was backed by the federal Indian authorities and Delhi and he supported them in return, but in reality he sought independence and sovereignty. He also vehemently and publicly opposed attempts by the Hindu right (and the right wing of the ruling Congress Party) to push for further integration of Kashmir into India.

After fierce internal struggle, Abdullah was deposed and imprisoned and new leadership with the support of Delhi came to power in Srinagar. New laws were passed which gradually eroded Kashmir’s autonomy from the Indian government enshrined in Article 370.

How has Kashmir led to war?

In 1965, taking advantage of another bout of political infighting in Kashmir, Pakistan fomented an uprising in the state. This then spiralled into a full war between India and Pakistan in the autumn of that year.

During a brief but bloody conflict the two armies fought each other to a standstill until an internationally brokered ceasefire but Pakistan’s move is largely seen to have failed, because at this stage it did not have the support of many local insurgents.

In the 1970s, Sheikh Abdullah was released from prison and returned to power after abandoning his long-held plans to make Kashmir independent of India. More laws gradually integrated Kashmir further into India.

In the 1980s, a number of Muslim opposition groups, both political and armed, emerged to struggle against the Congress-aligned NC party.

From the summer of 1988 into 1989, a series of bomb attacks in and around Srinagar created a sense of insecurity that culminated in high-level political assassinations of a NC leader and Hindu judge. At the end of 1989, another election took place that was considered by most to be rigged.

With the breakdown of law and order in the state, direct rule was established from the central government. Protests led to the shooting of 300 unarmed demonstrators by paramilitary border security between 21 and 23 January 1990.

Kashmir has since been the focal point of two wars and other major conflicts between India and Pakistan, principally in 1947, 1965 and 1999. In 1990, protests against an election process led to the shooting of 300 unarmed demonstrators.

In the 1990s a number of armed splinter groups emerged in favour of an independent Kashmir, including the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) and splinter groups influenced by neighbouring conflicts. Spurred on by Pakistan, these insurgencies ultimately led to a second war with India in 1999.

Pakistani soldiers infiltrated the Line of Control disguised as local militants, but an Indian counter-attack eventually restored the status quo.

What has prompted the most recent unrest?

Today, Kashmir has three regions: India-controlled Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh with a population of 7.25 million (70 per cent Muslim); Pakistan-controlled Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Kashmir with a population of six million (99 per cent Muslim); and the Chinese-controlled areas in the northeast, Aksai Chin and Trans-Karakoram Tract.

Since the 1999 war, Kashmir has continued to see rebel groups attack Indian soldiers and symbolic targets, and retaliations by the security forces.

But the election of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party in 2014 has changed the situation significantly. The BJP election manifesto pledged to change the status of Kashmir, to annul article 370 in its entirety and to integrate the state fully into India.

On 5 August, 2019, the Indian government issued a presidential order to nullify the autonomy of the territory. These changes were accompanied by the imposition of a curfew just before the presidential order, the holding of the main party political leadership in Kashmir under house arrest, a total media blackout, and the arrest of 4,000 civil rights protesters. Arrests included Kashmir’s previous chief ministers, Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah.

William Gould is a professor at the school of history, Leeds University. [email protected]

Academic experts

Mridu Rai, Presidency University, Kolkata

Suvir Kaul, English Department, Pennsylvania University

Christopher Snedden, Daniel K Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, Hawaii

Sumantra Bose, Department of Government, London School of Economics

Further reading

Bose, Sumantra, Kashmir: Roots of Conflict, Paths of Peace (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003)

Kaul, Suvir, Of Gardens and Graves: Kashmir, Poetry, Politics (Durham: Duke University Press, 2016)

Rai, Mridu, Hindu Rulers, Muslim Subjects: Islam, Rights, and the History of Kashmir (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004)

Snedden, Christopher, The Untold Story of the People of Azad Kashmir (New York, Columbia University Press, 2012)


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