November 6, 2017
The Kashmir Conflict: A Multilateral Affair
The Kashmir conflict is a bloody mess of nuclear capabilities, territorial disputes, and high religious tensions. Kashmir has been disputed territory between India, Pakistan, and recently China since before India and Pakistan were liberated from Britain in 1947. The conflict recently reached its seventieth anniversary; it began on October 22, 1947, making it one of the longest disputes in the world. The conflict began because Kashmir and the other states that were liberated from Britain could choose to join either India or Pakistan. India and Pakistan were originally formed when the Indian subcontinent was divided on religious terms; the religious majority in India is Hindu, and the religious majority in Pakistan is Muslim. This intensifies the conflict, making it not only about the land itself, but also about religion. Because of its location, Kashmir could choose to join either India or Pakistan. Maharaja Hari Singh, the ruler of Kashmir, was Hindu while most of his people were Muslim. Unable to decide which nation Kashmir should join, Hari Singh chose to remain neutral. Singh wanted independence, but his position shifted after Pakistan pressured him by sending tribesmen to his capital. Singh then fled to India for military help, and he signed the Instrument of Accession, granting India official control of Kashmir on October 26th, 1947. Now, India believes that Kashmir is rightfully theirs because Singh signed the Instrument of Accession, but Pakistan believes that as a mainly Muslim state, Kashmir should have been given to them in the first place in the Partition of India in 1947.
Since the beginning of the dispute, India and Pakistan have fought three wars over Kashmir, including the Kargil War in 1999 and the Indo-Pakistani Wars in 1947 and 1965. The countries have also had violent encounters unrelated to Kashmir. In 2003, a ceasefire was established between India and Pakistan across the Line of Control, separating Kashmir into the Pakistani and Indian sections seen today. However, the official ceasefire did not actually end the fighting. Armies and smaller violent groups continue to fire across the border. There are a number of extremist groups, among which are the separatists, a group of violent Kashmiris who want to separate from India and join with Pakistan. The Naxalites are another threat to India; this is a group of extreme Maoists and violent revolutionaries. The Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Taiba are two more anti-India terrorist groups; however, Pakistan rejects and denies rumors of assisting and seeking help from them. These groups and other violent organizations continue to fight despite the ceasefire. Since 1989, almost 50,000 people have been killed by separatists, but some estimations are twice that amount. Deadly encounters between Pakistani and Indian armies still occur frequently today. On September 18, an Indian Army base was attacked near the border. Nineteen Indian soldiers were killed, making it the worst attack against Indian soldiers in decades. On September 29, two Pakistani soldiers were killed while fighting Indian soldiers. India has been responding to these attacks with more attacks across the border; they claim that they cannot renegotiate with Pakistan because Pakistan is affiliated with extremists and terrorists.
The Kashmir conflict is not only territorial; religion is a key aspect in why the conflict continues as well. When Hari Singh was forced out of neutrality by tribesmen sent to him by Pakistan in 1947, he ran to India for help and signed the Instrument of Accession. However, Singh was Hindu, not Muslim, like the majority of Kashmiris, so some Kashmiris did not support him. Pakistan rejects Indian claims to Kashmir and claims that the Maharaja handed over control of Jammu and Kashmir under duress, thus invalidating the legitimacy of the claims. Pakistan claims that India s claim to Kashmir is invalid because Singh signed the Instrument of Accession under duress and not out of free will. Many Kashmiris also denied India s right to Kashmir because they disagreed with his religion. Sixty percent of Kashmiris are Muslim, making it the only state of India where the religious majority is Muslim. Most Kashmiris would rather be part of Pakistan or even be independent than be part of India. If Kashmir had the ability to choose which country to join now, it is likely that they would choose Pakistan. However, this was not the case when Singh chose to give India control in in 1947, and it is seventy years too late to avoid the conflict by choosing differently.
While the religious aspect of the conflict is complicated enough, India and Pakistan are not the only countries involved in this affair. China also is part of the conflict. China occupies Aksin Chin, a small part of the disputed territory. Originally, China s stance was strictly as a peacekeeper of the conflict, saying that it is a bilateral dispute which should be resolved in an amicable manner by the two nations. China continues to encourage India and Pakistan to make peace through increased communication. However, there are worries that China will join the conflict and side with Pakistan. India s army is stronger than Pakistan s, but India is more worried about potentially having to fight a two-front war against both Pakistan and China if China s role in the conflict increases. To make matters worse, all three of the involved countries are nuclear powers, which would create absolute devastation in the event of a full-out war. China claims that the conflict must be solved bilaterally, but China controls some of the land too. Because China is involved, this conflict must be solved multilaterally to prevent further bloodshed on all sides.
Just like any war or violent conflict, the Kashmir conflict comes with enormous costs. However, any war or conflict that lasts seventy years must come with costs through the roof. Separatists have killed nearly 50,000 people since 1989, but that does not include those who have disappeared, and that does not include the thousands killed by Indian troops and terrorist groups. Besides the countless lives lost, the conflict has taken a huge toll on the area s economy. Kashmir used to be a prime vacationing spot for Indians because it is colder than most of India, but the war and disrupted economy all but ended the tourism. The lack of tourism revenue is yet another stab in the damaged economy, which damaged tourism even more; it is a vicious cycle. The number of deaths is countless. The economy is down. Yet both sides continue to fight.
Between the tensions between Muslims and Hindus, refusal to acknowledge others claims to land, and the threat of nuclear war, it is hard to imagine the Kashmir conflict becoming reaching resolution. Each day, the fragile ceasefire is unofficially broken by skirmishes along the border, and tensions continue to heighten. This has been going on for over seventy years, and there is no end in sight. China claims that this conflict needs to be solved bilaterally through increased communications, but they are part of the issue, too; they also occupy some of the disputed territory. The majority of Kashmiris do not want to be part of India, but India still has official claim to Kashmir. India is a more powerful military force than Pakistan, but that will change if China allies with Pakistan. There were hopes for a resolution when the ceasefire was established in 2003, but fire has not ceased. The UN, like China, has called for peace, but the UN has not gotten involved as needed. Pakistan s Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, while speaking at the UNGA, said the international community should intervene in the Kashmir dispute at the earliest, but the earliest should have been before three wars were fought in the name of this conflict. Multiple human rights groups have expressed concern for the conflict, but nothing has changed. When will enough be enough? When will India and Pakistan be able to communicate? When will Kashmir have a say? When will the bloodshed stop, and the official ceasefire will truly cease fire? When will China and the rest of the international community be able to solve this multilaterally? Only then will there be peace.
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