By Fram Dinshaw
Since 1947, when India and Pakistan achieved independence from Britain, the death and destruction carried out in the name of Kashmir amount to two full scale wars (in 1947, 1965,), and a vicious but little known insurgency waged against the Indian government since 1989 which only now shows signs of lessening.
In a nutshell, Pakistan and India were both one country before 1947 under British rule, where the problem was shelved but never resolved by anyone. Come independence, the Pakistanis claimed Kashmir as theirs due to its mostly Muslim population. Nehru’s government in New Delhi begged to differ, as the Hindu Maharaja of Kashmir was granted assistance against Pakistan’s incursions in exchange for formally joining India.
It was this Indian demand on Kashmir and Pakistan’s military incursions that sparked the wars of 1947-8 and 1965. Each time, Pakistan suffered tactical defeat, yet India failed to resolve the strategic issue of Kashmir’s status. Pakistan from 1948 to this day holds the northern third, known as ‘Azad (Free) Kashmir’, while India holds the southern portion with Srinagar as its state capital.
To further complicate this already vexing conflict, China grabbed the far North East of Kashmir (known as Aksai Chin) from India in 1962, after a vicious mountain war which saw India soundly beaten. China has refused to budge ever since. My own grandfather was an Indian airforce pilot dropping supplies to troops. He complained that the Chinese advanced so fast most of the supplies were just captured by Mao’s soldiers.
While China stayed put, Pakistan’s government realized they didn’t have the military muscle to wrest Kashmir from India. Yet in the 1980s, the USSR invaded Afghanistan next door, and the Americans found General Zia ul Haq’s regime in Islamabad as a new best friend, sending weapons and money to Mojahedin groups fighting the Russians.
It was no coincidence that 1989 was both the year that the USSR left Afghanistan and the start of an insurgency in Indian occupied Kashmir. The Mojahedin groups spawned by the Afghan wars simply marched east, no doubt encouraged by Pakistan, into Kashmir. Many of these groups advocated an independent Kashmir, yet Pakistan was no doubt waiting in the wings to absorb it like a sponge.
Ultimately, this proxy war raged through the 1990s, killing thousands – Kashmiri residents, Indian soldiers, and militants themselves. Mostly just people like my aunt’s elderly Pathan barber who was so depressed by the violence engulfing this once serene land he just lost the will to live, dying of a broken heart. He was lucky, as thousands more were killed in terrorist attacks, or caught up in gunfights between the Indian army and militants.
Yet a broken heart is an apt description of today’s Kashmir. A beautiful alpine land cut up bloodily between three nations who just cannot negotiate a lasting deal.