Asia Where Three Nations Meet
The great mountainous area of Kashmir has always been stuck in the middle. The region, for the first part of its history, enjoyed a great deal of seclusion from the outside world, and served as a mixing pot of Buddhist, Hindu and later Muslim peoples. However, as the large empires of the 19th century encroached upon each other, Kashmir’s independence became threatened. Despite the world famous Cashmere wool, which was originally produced in this area from mountainous goats, Kashmir was and still is not an overly prosperous land.
But what would the old British, Russian and Chinese empires have wanted with this rough terrain, whose people mostly relied on subsistence agriculture to survive, if not wealth? The answer is of course the strategic position which Kashmir afforded all three of these 19th century powers. At that time, the British, Russians and Chinese were terrified of one of the other nations invading their empire. However, because much of their borders were surrounded by prohibitive mountain ranges or extremely harsh deserts, this paranoia could only be focused on certain holes in the defence of their lands. Kashmir unfortunately was not only a point where the three empires met, but also such a gap.
The Chinese at this time were insignificant compared to Russia and Britain, both of the later nations having taken vast swathes of the formers territory and received little more than protest. However it was Britain which incorporated Kashmir into its own domain. The Princely State of Kashmir and Jammu was born, and it stayed this way, until the last of the empire’s influences died out in 1947.
Like the dust that lifts high in June, when moving through Kashmir
After the British left India in 1947, internal ructions caused Pakistan and what would later become Bangladesh to split off from the main body of the sub continent. Having predominantly Muslim populations, they did not wish to be ruled over by a Hindu majority. For the Princely State of Kashmir and Jammu, this would have profound resonations.
At the time of the partition of India, Kashmir had a predominantly Muslim population, but a Hindu ruler. Pakistan expected the territory to be annexed to its own, however rumours got around that Kashmir would go to India, so Muslim militants started an uprising. Although in the confusion Kashmir signed itself up to go along with India, the UN demanded a plebiscite, to determine where Kashmir should go, so as to come to an agreement between its citizens and its rulers. The plebiscite remains to be seen however.
This wasn’t the end of the turmoil for Kashmir. The Chinese still believed and to this day believe that part of the Kashmir area, Askai Chin is part of their territory. This belief led the Chinese to build a 750 mile road connecting Xinjiang and Tibet. 112 miles of this road crossed into Indian territory, and although, due to its inaccessibility on the Indian side, the existence of this road was not discovered until 1957, it was the catalyst for western theatre of the Sino-Indian war. India withdrew its forces, and despite conceding to China’s claim due to their overwhelming military superiority, reorganised its military just in case a future conflict might take place. China received concessions from Pakistan over the Trans Karakoram Tract in 1963, which India do not acknowledge.
For Pakistan it wasn’t so simple, after another two wars with India, one in 1965 and another in 1971, they achieved nothing but de facto administration of a small part of Kashmir which borders themselves. Despite the largely Muslim population, and that Pakistan did not accept the treaty which allowed Kashmir to become part of India, due to their belief that its Hindu ruler at the time was a tyrant who did not have the support of his people, it seemed that Kashmir was happy to stay with India.
They talk of days for which they sit and wait, all will be revealed
That was of course until 1989, when after a disputed election had taken place, pro Pakistan militants fought against pro Indian militants. Many of the militant groups religious allegiances were synonymous with the country whose side they chose. Whilst Pakistan claims that this turmoil proves Kashmir wants to join Pakistan or at least be independent, India claim that it is the cause of Afghan trouble makers leaving Afghanistan in the wake of the Soviet-Afghan war and later terrorist inspired Pakistani’s who purely want Kashmir for geopolitical gains.
This social unrest however, as well as wide spread violence gave India the chance to send its military into Kashmir in order to restore peace. Of course this was not the case entirely, and although the main unrest was ended, that which remained was pushed underground, taking on a more asymmetrical approach in damaging the Indian army.
But what do the Kashmiri’s want? It has been well stated what China want, which they basically have, even if it is not recognised by India. It is also well known what India want, keeping Kashmir and the integrity of its own borders. Pakistan state two things which they want, the first and likely most preferred for them is Kashmir falling into their own hands. However Pakistan also profess to support Kashmiri independence, calling what the Indians call terrorists, freedom fighters.
The people of Jammu, which is predominantly Hindu, mostly want to remain with India, in fact 95% of them favour this option. But in the more contested parts of Kashmir, surveys have found that up to 87% of the population wish to be independent. In India, it has been observed that 67% of the people want Kashmir to be ruled by New Delhi, whereas in Pakistan opinion is more divided, with 48% wanting control of Kashmir to pass to Pakistan, and 47% supporting full independence for the territory.
The people of Kashmir, as well as the outside world acknowledge that they would probably be better off as Indian subjects than Pakistani ones, as the Pakistani controlled area is considered un free by Freedom In the World, and only 6% of Kashmiri’s would prefer to have Pakistan as their ruler. On the other hand, the Indian controlled area of Kashmir is considered partly free and 61% of Kashmiri’s believe India to be a better ruler than Pakistan. The point remains however, that most Kashmiris want to be independent after for being so long a converted piece of land of more powerful nations.
In 2005, there was a devastating earthquake in Kashmir, which killed 80,000 people. Ironically it was this disaster which prompted forces on both sides of the line of control to put down their weapons, and open up five points through which humanitarian aid could flow. It is a shame that something as drastic as this would be the only reason for cooperation between the two neighbours on the Kashmir question. However, it has allowed some negotiations to begin. It can only be hoped, that after all these centuries, the people of Kashmir will be listened to, and that their best interests will be served.
A History of India
Campaigns on the North West Frontier by Captain H. L. Nevill D.S.O
Freedom in the world