Contextualizing Kashmir

Recent reporting on Kashmir simplifies the millennia of history that lead to the Kashmiri tragedy. I try to provide context and argue for shades of gray instead of right and wrong. Important points are in bold. Note: I’m not a historian. I only scratch the surface. I hope reading this encourages you to continue reading.

Figure: Map of Kashmir. Kashmir’s borders are in black. Colours show division between India, Pakistan, and China.

Summary

  • India and Pakistan are united by 5000 years of recorded history.
  • Successive kingdoms ruled both India and Pakistan created a complex cultural heritage. In history, he who rules Delhi also ruled Lahore.
  • Schism between Hindus & Muslims began when the British played off Hindus and Muslim to maintain power.
  • This British strategy, called “Divide & Rule”, along with a Hindu renaissance, lead Muslims to call for a separate country.
  • Therefore, the idea of Pakistan is only a 100 years old.
  • Post-independence, the US & USSR turned India and Pakistan into yet another Cold War theatre, destroying chances for peace. As a result, India & Pakistan fought 3 wars: 2 official and 1 unofficial.
  • Today, India & Pakistan are enmeshed in a complex geopolitical struggle that spans Afghanistan, China, and the US.
  • Kashmir’s value derives from being headwaters for several major rivers. Further, China’s too has occupied part of Kashmir.
  • Pakistan’s existence relies on playing major powers against each other, similar to North Korea.
  • Kashmir is a mess. A beautiful region harmed by British interests, and then US & USSR interests.
  • Today, Pakistan leverages Kashmir to build national identity and international support, while India feels misunderstood and backed into a corner.

Pre-British History

  • About 4500 years ago (ya), Pakistan and northern India were united by the Indus Valley Civilization (IVC).
  • Between 4000 ya and 2000 ya, Indo Aryans migrated into South Asia, and mixed with IVC to create today’s people.
  • Over the following centuries, South Asia saw multiple rounds of invasion and assimilation by every invader possible, from Greeks and Arabs to Persians, Turks, and Mongols.
  • Several waves of Muslim invaders razed Hindu temples, burnt Buddhist monasteries, and imposed Muslim rule, providing grounds for anti-Muslim grievance.
  • Muslim invasions climaxed in the Turko-Mongol Mughal empire, an Islamic empire ruling over a Hindu culture.
  • From this synthesis came a complex, syncretic culture.

Enter the British

  • The British “East India company” de facto ruled India starting mid-18th century.
  • The British Empire officially took over from the East India Company in 1858 until independence in 1947.
  • British ruled resulted in massive wealth extraction. South Asia was reduced from a wealthy country to subsistence level poverty. Examples:
    • South Asia was wracked by famines during British rule that killed tens of millions.
    • South Asians were banned from collecting something as basic as salt.
    • South Asia turned into a captive market for British goods.
Figure: Chart showing reflecting massive wealth transfer from India and China to Western countries, such as Britain.

Religion & British Rule

  • Britain maintained control by dividing Hindus and Muslims, called “Divide & Rule”.
  • British policy gradually destroyed South Asia’s secular fabric.
  • Simultaneously, India’s independence struggle resulted in a resurgence of national consciousness, of which Hinduism was a large component by definition.
  • Incited by Britain’s “Divide & Rule” policy, and awakened by the Hindu resurgence, Muslims countered by forming the Muslim League.
  • In 1947, millennia of history were undone by Partition.

Cold War, the US, and the USSR

  • Post independence, countries worldwide were forced to navigate between the US and USSR, or risk being overthrown.
  • India aligned with USSR, and Pakistan with the US.
  • USSR and US supplied India and Pakistan with weapons to fight each other.
    • Example: In the 1971 India-Pak war, Pakistan fielded US F-86s against Indian’s USSR MIG 21s [ref]. Even today, Pakistan fields F-16s against India’s Sukhoi 30s.
  • Ideologically, the countries diverged. Pakistan is an Islamic republic and 97% Muslim. India is secular and 80% Hindu. India actually has more Muslims than Pakistan.
  • Sociopolitically, the countries also diverged. Pakistan was repeatedly ruled by military governments. India’s democratic process was only briefly interrupted between 1975-77.

Kashmir at Independence

  • After independence, all kingdoms were forced to choose between India or Pakistan.
  • The Kashmiri raja dithered till Pakistan launched irregular forces into Kashmir.
  • India responded by landing paratroopers in Srinagar, Kashmir’s capital.
  • Where Indian and Pakistani forces met is the actual border today, called the Line of Control (LOC).
  • Whether the Kashmiri raja chose India or Pakistan is hotly debated. However, historical events described above render the debate irrelevant.

Kashmir Post Independence

  • Trouble began in the 1980s as Pakistan capitalized on disaffection in Kashmir to spark an insurgency.
  • Pakistan actively trained militant groups to destabilize Kashmir. India responded with force. The situation escalated.
  • Simultaneously, Hindus were driven out of Kashmir. See “Kashmiri Pandits”.
  • The situation deteriorated as Pakistan engaged India in asymmetric warfare.
  • Since Pakistan’s raison d’etre is to be the Muslim response to India, Pakistan is forced to build national identity by encouraging Muslim discontent against India.
  • India has trouble placating a Muslim-majority region that is now suspicious of Hindu-majority India. Indian security missteps exacerbate the situation.
  • US and China have vested interests in undermining India.
  • US-India relations improved in the 90s and the countries are now simply frenemies. China continues to support Pakistan out of geopolitical self-interest.

Kashmir Today

  • Pakistan’s sponsorship of militancy in Kashmir is now enmeshed in the broader web of interests stretching from Afghanistan to China.
  • Because the US needs Pakistan’s help in Afghanistan, the US continues to support Pakistan despite the Pakistani intelligence’s support for terrorist groups.
  • China continues to support Pakistan as it attempts to encircle India in Sri Lanka (Hambantota), Pakistan (Gwadar), Myanmar (military ties), Nepal (infrastructure).
  • Meanwhile, India has suspected involvement in Baluchistan, and is building ties with Afghanistan, while quietly improving relations with the US and Israel.

Moral Shades of Gray

  • While Pakistan accuses India of human rights violations in Kashmir, Pakistan is a less tolerant country than India. Pakistan isn’t secular, and penalizes minorities (see the case of Asia Bibi for example).
  • Pakistan supports China, but China has imprisoned 2 million Muslims in Xinjiang.
  • US supported Pakistan’s anti-India militancy until recently.
  • India allowed the demolition of the Babri Masjid, and allowed anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat.
  • Indian forces have violated human rights in Kashmir.
  • Most tragically, neither India nor Pakistan attempt to respect their thousands of years of shared history. Nor does the international community support such reconciliation.
  • Britain, specifically, has never taken responsibility for the tragedy it created.

Conclusion

Kashmir’s current situation is an inevitable consequence of the post-colonial condition, where newly independent states undergo painful nation-building while navigating capricious geopolitical waters. The solution is for India and Pakistan to gradually restore ties through cultural exchange and trade. But only a concerted attempt by both sides along with support from the international community will create peace. Self-indulgent and self-righteous headlines in Western media only undermine the peace process. Until all sides change course, Pakistan and India are forced into a lose-lose game of cat-and-mouse while Kashmiris suffer. Kashmir has no quick fix.

Thank you for reading :) Again, I’m not a historian. I only scratch the surface. I hope this encouraged you to continue learning. Leave a comment if you have questions or feedback.

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