Despite steps to increase people-to-people links between India and Pakistan, the Pakistan Army and intelligence service—which exercise a monopoly over the nation’s foreign policy—have ensured that Kashmir remains a boiling issue between the two nations.
Recent India–Pakistan border skirmishes have brought the dispute over Kashmir to the world’s attention once again. While the latest crisis has abated for now, the issue still festers and is likely to lead to more clashes between these two nuclear-armed nations.
It’s important to understand the historical, political and ideological dynamics in play in Jammu and Kashmir because the crossroads that India and Pakistan currently find themselves at is the same one that’s bedevilled their relationship since 1947. Pakistan alleges that India’s ‘control’ of Kashmir is illegal and that the Indian government is brutally quashing the Kashmiris’ right to self-determination; India argues that Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of the country. The roots of this conflict lie in the partition of the Indian subcontinent along religious lines by the departing British rulers in the late 1940s.
The princely state of Jammu and Kashmir was an anomaly in the logic of the partition: it was a Muslim-majority state governed by a Hindu ruler. Even as the maharaja dithered about joining India or Pakistan or remaining independent, the Pakistan Army dispatched a band of guerrilla raiders, who infiltrated Kashmir in October 1947. The maharaja appealed to Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, who made New Delhi’s intervention conditional on Jammu and Kashmir’s acceding to the Indian Union. The maharaja signed an instrument of accession to India in October 1947, and Indian armed forces thwarted the advance of the Pakistani infiltrators.
In January 1948, India took the matter to the UN but regretted the decision after the Security Council passed a resolution calling for a referendum to allow the people of Jammu and Kashmir to decide which country they wanted to join. The UN, however, made the referendum conditional on Pakistani forces vacating the region. By the time the UN-mediated ceasefire agreement came into effect in 1949, Pakistan had consolidated control over Gilgit-Baltistan (also known as the Northern Areas) and Azad Kashmir, which are today referred to as ‘Pakistan-administered Kashmir’. The two countries have since fought three wars over Kashmir, and cross-border shelling and aggression have been commonplace.
To add to the confusion, the eastern part of Jammu and Kashmir, known as Aksai Chin, is now under Chinese control, after Beijing seized most of it in the 1962 war with India. (Separately, Pakistan ceded the Shaksgam Valley to China under an agreement signed in 1963.) The remainder of the state has been governed by India since 1948. Nonetheless, the state has witnessed almost constant unrest due to India–Pakistan rivalry, Pakistan’s support for local extremist groups and the Indian government’s fraught relations with key Kashmiri political figures.
This article by Aakriti Bachhawat and Prateek Joshi first appeared in the Australian Strategic Policy Insitute’s The Strategist in 2019.
Aakriti Bachhawat is a researcher at ASPI and Prateek Joshi is a research associate with Vivekananda International Foundation, a New Delhi–based public policy think tank. Images courtesy of Simon Matzinger on Flickr and Wikimedia Commons.