Sharing paradise in a precarious state

Written by Markandeya Karthik

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The Kashmir situation is a predicament with no clear solution

‘If there is heaven on earth, it is here, it is here, it is here.’ I didn’t expect to find this quote, attributed to the Mughal Emperor Jahangir when he visited Kashmir in the 17th century, as I Googled Kashmir on my quest to find out more about the place that caused an upheaval in South Asia on 5th August 2019. 

The revoking of Article 370 by the Indian government from the Indian constitution impacted the lives of millions. Not only in Kashmir but also in faraway Hong Kong (two and a half time zones and a twelve-hour trip apart) as people in the Indian community here discussed Kashmir to death. The Emperor Jahangir, whose Persian name translates to “conqueror of the world”, so impressed by the beauty in Kashmir, might not have imagined that this province ruled by him, paradise in his eyes, could cause such global tremors someday. 

When the British left India in August 1947, they partitioned it by carving out two distinct countries from the areas they directly governed, an Islamic Pakistan (a homeland for Muslims formed from Muslim majority areas) and a secular India (formed from the rest). Then, there were the princely states existing as enclaves within India and Pakistan. These states had so far been autonomous as a reward for their loyalty and allegiance to the British and were now given a choice of either being part of one of the two newly formed countries or remaining independent. Jammu & Kashmir (J&K), one of these princely states needed to decide too. but its situation was complicated with a Muslim majority population and a Hindu ruler. 

Islamic Pakistan decided to support a local uprising in J&K as it expected the Muslim majority populated J&K to join it. This caused the Hindu ruler to ask India for support and India decided to provide this support with the condition that J&K would become part of India. But by the time this was agreed on, Pakistan had overrun and controlled the north-western parts of J&K (Northern Areas in the map). India then stepped in and ensured that hostilities subsided. Then it took the case to the United Nations for resolution. The UN advised Pakistan and India to withdraw their armies from J&K in a sequential manner (Pakistan first, followed by India) and carry out a plebiscite where the people of J&K would decide if they wanted to be part of India or Pakistan or remain independent. Unfortunately for the people of J&K, this has not happened yet, even after many decades and with Pakistan and India having fought three wars over the issue. The passage of time has also seen parts of J&K going under the control of China. 

In August this year, India decided to revoke the special status provided to the part of J&K that it controls and further, divided it into two distinct administrative regions – J&K and Ladakh. The special status included substantial autonomy over its own affairs, conditions that had been agreed on when J&K decided to be part of India. This status had been enshrined in the Indian constitution as part of what is called “Article 370”. 

While the revoking of this special status is considered by India as an internal matter, both Pakistan and China are perturbed by this for their own reasons. For Pakistan, the revoking of special status means that J&K is now just another region in India, no distinct from any other state and this makes the region open to migration and demographic change. The administrative re-organization has resulted in the Muslim majority area (J&K) being made distinct from the Buddhist majority area (Ladakh). Both actions have shrunk Pakistan’s rationale of claiming Muslim majority areas. For China, the reorganization means that Ladakh, bordering the Chinese administered area of Aksai Chin (overrun and claimed as a part of Tibet by China in 1962), is now subject to more developmental focus by India. This could open up problems with their Belt and Road Initiative that runs through areas that India claims as its own. 

However, these decisions by India and the subsequent moves have created the maximum problems for the most important stakeholders - the people of J&K. In an effort to minimize any repercussions, India has cut off communications (including the Internet!) with J&K. People’s daily lives have been upended as Indian troops have taken over the streets and imposed curfews to ensure security and stability. Tourists and journalists have been driven out and there is no reliable news coming out of the area. Crucially, the revocation of their autonomy and the following actions taken are likely to have made the people of J&K disconsolate. 

There is no easy solution available, not with each stakeholder – India, Pakistan, China and the people of J&K – having completely distinct perspectives and goals. With three nuclear-weapons-armed nations as stakeholders in this crisis, the situation in Kashmir is delicate, as it has been for the last few decades, but never more sharply in focus than it is now. The latest happenings have intensified the rhetoric on all sides and created a situation where the least provocation could lead to a cascade of escalating retaliations and, eventually, global nuclear war.