The conflict of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) is one of the longest running humanitarian issues in the world today, afflicting the unfortunate but unique multi-ethnic, multilingual and multi-religious political entity (Jammu Kashmir & Aksai Tibet Allied) which emerged from the debris of the fall off the Khalsa Punjab Empire after its defeat in the Anglo-Punjab war of 1846, writes Shafqat Raja, a Kashmiri currently living in Manchester, UK.
The Punjab Empire, in lieu of war indemnity (10 Million Rupees), ceded Douaba, Kashmir Valley, Hazara and adjacent hilly areas to the British East India Company (EIC) in Lahore Treaty of 9 March 1846. Soon after this treaty, the power struggle changed the scenario when Gulab Singh accepted the offer made by EIC and agreed to pay the war indemnity (7.5 million) to add most of those ceded areas into Jammu`s jurisdiction under his rule which paved the way for creation of modern J&K state.
The architects those who laid the historical foundation – the Amritsar Treaty (16 March 1846) - were the British East India Company (EIC) and Raja of Jammu Gulab Singh Dogra. This union of separate entities came under the emerging Dogra Dynasty that followed the new avenues for expansion of their rule from Jammu and Kashmir to (Baltistan, Astore, Chilas, Gilgit, Nagar, Hunza and Chitral etc) the Pamirs “where three empires meet”. Autocratic, like the other Indian states, the Dogra dynasty consolidated and ruled their empire over a century with both positive and negative features in absolutism.
In 1947, the colonial power British Crown decided to decolonise British India and end its sovereignty over the Indian Princely States. British India was to be partitioned based on the Two Nations theory to create Muslim and Hindu majority dominions of Pakistan and India and for the Indian princely states (562 approx) the Suzerainty was to lapse granting them full sovereignty. The partition brought religious violence in British India which also spilt over into the Princely states which were already being influenced by the political trends and hostilities in British India, and which later shaped the communal riots.
As stated above the partition plan laid a separate plan for the Princely states in the Independence Act 1947 (Article7) reiterating the powers granted in Act 1935, giving sovereign authority to Princes (rulers) to decide their national future: either accede to either dominion or (technically) declaration of independence.
As the head of Princely state Jammu & Kashmir, by 15 August 1947 the Ruler was to make declaration of accession or the independence. However, the political sentiment against the autocratic Hindu Dogra Rule in predominantly Muslim Jammu and Kashmir, nourished since 1931, was at an all time high and was/is haunting state’s politics. The Indian Congress and Muslim League both had their spheres of influence in J&K.
In 1947 three political players Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah, Maharaja Hari Singh and Choudhry Ghulam Abbas held the sensitive political arena of J&K with their conflicting narratives. Sheikh Abdullah, the head of National Conference (former Muslim Conference) and most popular Muslim leader of Kashmir (Valley) in alliance with the Congress, once led the Quit Kashmir Movement (1946) against the Dogra rule in Kashmir, demanded abrogation of the Amritsar Treaty and separation of Kashmir from Jammu while at the time of partition (1947), he became demagogue of Congress agenda for state`s accession to India (changed his position again in 1953).
Similarly, the Muslim Conference led by Ch. Ghulam Abbas followed the policy of the Muslim League about states but ideologically believed in Muslims majority state`s accession to Pakistan (later received major position in AJK affairs). The Pro India Hindu right wing had its own strong grip in the Jammu region. Contrarily, the state government (Maharaja Hari Singh) inclined to the third option, the independence, becoming a buffer state between two other rival dominions. Thus the people of state were divided into three opinions to determine the future of the state.
At this crucial historic juncture, the Maharaja, intimidated by domestic and non-state forces, remained indecisive to declare independence and instead offered the “Standstill Agreements” to both India and Pakistan. Unlike India, Pakistan signed the agreement but allegedly breached on 22 October 1947 when armed tribal bands (with local collaboration) attacked the state and reached Baramula town not far from the Capital Srinagar. Having no means to hold back the invasion, the panicked Maharaja Hari Singh, in order to fulfil legal requirements, offered conditional accession to India on 26 October 1947 to get military assistance to repel and expel tribal bands from the state. The accession with India was limited to three main affairs (Defence, Foreign and Communication) and was subject to the will of people. A similar military coup by Gilgit Scouts ceased the state machinery in Gilgit Agency and adjacent areas on 1st November 1947.
The first war between two newly born dominions broke out at this beginning point towards their independence and drew a clear line for future relations. On 1st January 1948 India went to the United Nations as the result of which the UN proposed a ceasefire, withdrawal of forces and arrangements for a plebiscite to decide the future status of state by free will of people (state subjects).
Thus the state of J&K was transformed into an internationally recognised conflict zone.
Facilitated by UN- the Karachi Agreement (27th July 1949) which established the truce and Ceasefire Line (Line of Control since 1972) simultaneously – the first step dissecting the families and dividing the state into Indian Administered Kashmir (IaK ) and Pakistani Administered Kashmir (PaK including AJK and present Gilgit Baltistan) till final settlement by plebiscite.
India had granted a special status to IaK under Article 370 and constitutionally guaranteed J&K`s internal autonomy with its own constitution, flag, legislature and government (Delhi later encroached fully taking advantage of ambitious local politicians, and presently it`s just a policy of coercion). Similarly Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) Government with almost complete features of a state in appearance, claimed itself as successor of the Maharaja and true democratic representative of whole J&K.
The Northern Areas (Gilgit & Baltistan Agencies) came under direct rule of Pakistan`s federal government (16 November 1947) represented by the Political Agent and ruled under Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR). This setup in GB had been given a moral cover by an agreement (Karachi) signed between governments of AJK and Pakistan on 28 April 1949.
In short the Jammu and Kashmir state has actually been divided into two geographical entities controlled by India and Pakistan with three separate administrative units. The United Nations through its resolutions and UNCIP had opened the channels for bilateral and trilateral dialogues to facilitate the process of plebiscite, but both parties in conflict (Indo-Pak) with trust deficit never reached a common ground to resolve the core issue. This later resulted in the 1965, 1971 and Kargil (1999) wars.
The bilateral agreements (Tashkent, Shimla) or declarations, however, transformed it into a bilateral and territorial issue, but were unable to normalise the relations between the two nuclear neighbours maintaining it as the region’s largest militarised zone.
This delay in conflict resolution has given birth to other serious conflicts within the disputed regions of erstwhile state of J&K. Kashmir (Valley) has always dominated the politics of the state, and its political temperature remained warm even in freezing cold weather. The demand for fulfilment of the promised plebiscite (by UN, Pakistan and India) always remained at the epicentre of all political activism in valley.
However the rigged elections of 1987 triggered the armed struggle by those having been participants of that very electoral process. The authorities in the state and centre used draconian laws and methods without accountability: suspending civil and political rights, the use of pellet guns, arrests, tortures, abductions, rapes and extrajudicial killings etc.
This environment seriously shattered the social, political, and economic structures of the valley, and even innocent people have been forced into misery, becoming orphans, widows, and suffering the dreadful pain of losing loved ones.
Hundreds of thousands became victims of such uncontrolled barbaric tools that only derved to add fuel to the fire and galvanized the youth to a point of no return. Similarly the alleged external interference, leaderless mobilization, regional and religious monopoly on that political movement, and the exodus of non-Muslims (especially the indigenous Pundits from the valley) instigated the alienation of non-Muslims that resulted the rise of regional and communal politics, converting a secular society from pluralism to communalism.
Presently (Elections 2014) the Hindu right wing Bhajpa (BJP) swept the Jammu division with 25 seats (2nd largest to PDPs 28) in a state assembly that falsely campaigns for the separation of Jammu from Kashmir, and full integration into Indian Union. Jammu constitutes 26293 sq.km, with a population of 5,350,811.
The People’s Democratic Party (PDP) secured 28 seats mainly in the valley and other Muslim populated regions with a slogan of self-rule but within the context of the Indian constitution.
Kashmir Division is comprised of 6,907,622 in population with 15.73% (15948 sq.km) of the total area of J&K. Ladakh on the other hand, with proportionally a Buddhist majority, also demands its separation from the Valley`s administrative hegemony and maximum local control as union territory of India. Ladakh is the largest division constituting 58.33% (59146 sq.km) area. In reality, the state as a whole is disputed in the UN, and there is no choice for any region or unit to decide its fate individually.
Pakistan Administered Kashmir (PaK) is divided into two administrative units AJK and GB. Both regions have two democratic legislative assemblies and legislative councils respectively, but the ultimate power is retained by the Federal Ministry of Kashmir & GB Affairs. There isn`t any direct road link between these two disputed regions of the disputed state (J&K). GB with 28000 sq miles and around over 1.5 Million population is strategically the most important region of the disputed state and the only land-link between China and Pakistan (Silk Route KKH, CPEC).
Since 1947, this region for a long time had been ruled under FCR, later repealed by reforms (1972), and the region has now moved to a gradual political development. Since the 2009 Self Governance Order, the GB has been given the de-facto provincial status. The social and political structures of GB are fragmented by sectarian and regional conflicts. Most populace believe their present and future status lies with Pakistan. However a considerable number follow the principle stance, GB as legal disputed part of J&K state while a portion of society also demands GB as an independent state.
Azad Jammu & Kashmir (AJK- PaK) is the smallest geographical administrative unit of the disputed J&K state covering around 5134 Sq miles area but densely populated with 4.6 Millions.
The social structure is almost shattered because of tribalism (Bradrism), and both strengthened and catalysed by politics. The political activism is an everyday business with unlimited conflicting ideas both internally and externally. Pro Pakistan and mostly Pakistan based political parties actually run the setup through ballot but there are number of pressure groups following the secular, nationalist and progressive ideologies, the struggle for right to self-determination and the dream of a restored, reunified and independent state of J&K. Most of the groups are least of all interested in the handicapped political and administrative system of AJK under the Constitutional Act of 1974 (relatively deprived of many basic, political and economic rights as compare to other provinces of Pakistan). However, as with any other mainstream mass political parties (in Govt or opposition), these pressure groups are mostly unable to put forward any workable roadmap.
AJK actually had been declared as the base-camp (1947-48) for the struggle to liberate those areas under Indian control.
Thus, Kashmir Freedom Movement (Tehrik e Azadi e Kashmir) is the most common slogan and agenda of all political parties and groups; hence they all are dependent on the everyday incidents taking place in Srinagar or elsewhere in IaK. More than one million people of AJK are currently living permanently in Europe (mostly UK) and America. These expatriates also follow the similar traditional patterns in their political activities without any plan or productivity.
The people from all disputed regions of erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir are the victims of this long standing dispute that has resulted in their sufferings, loss of loved ones, daily state`s backed atrocities, divided families, and socio-economic and political deprivations.
The regions Jammu and Ladakh, subjected to division and rule, are equally disputed and parallel stakeholders in the conflict. Kashmir valley has been bathed in blood on its own by brutal state forces and has sacrificed hundreds of thousands people in the political struggle. Unfortunately their cries have not been heard in order to bring any change to their miserable conditions. As it appears, finding no remedy is the outcome of the internal divides, regardless of whether these are regional or religious.
The change may only come when the divided valley seeks a helping hand from Jammu and Ladakh to materialise a peaceful struggle for a genuine cause, opportunity to exercise unfettered right of self-determination and on this side of divide, GB with similar political legacy comes out of the wishful confusion that it could have any other legal status in the presence of Kashmir conflict and its better to make a bond with AJK. The Kashmir valley played a major role in the people’s struggle for human and political rights since the inception of the J&K dispute.
Having claimed base-camp status that lured people in IaK to rise again and again, the people in PaK, if they give up the politics of Tribalism (Bradrisam) and minor differences, can offer a real helping hand to their brethren in IaK, helping them with political and moral support.
The weak AJK itself ought to uplift in every aspect of daily affairs. Having found the home disorganised and disintegrated, the Diaspora from either side of J&K is unable to find diplomatic support from other countries. This becomes even more difficult when the assistance is sought following the policies of foreign missions and high commissions of Indo-Pak as the international community is not ready to lend a hand to change the status quo.
The time demands that all stakeholders realise that because of their shared historical, legal and political status, they all are collectively tied in an international conflict with no way out individually. So it’s better for them to be treated equally by each other to bring consensus on a common agenda.
Despite the armed or peaceful struggle, India and Pakistan have assumed responsibility until the final settlement of the dispute, and are under obligation to take serious steps to resolve the Jammu Kashmir Conflict, the mother of other issues faced not only by the people of disputed state but of whole South Asia.
The local governments on both sides of LoC which are portrayed to be special status, autonomous or self-governing, are taken by the state subjects across the LoC/CFL as puppet regimes and they have been proven to be just a partnership in kleptocracy. In fact the deprivation is so deep that the state subjects across LoC (CFL) are made to applaud the inauguration of basic health facilities, water pumps, schools, link and metal roads etc because even the infrastructure has remained incomplete in these last seventy years.
Civil and political liberties are curtailed by Special Power Acts or similar laws. The status quo resulted in poor economic conditions and unemployment across LoC (CFL) that has forced a large number of the population to leave their homes for an uncertain future and unknown destiny. This migration has also caused something of a brain drain.
The divided families constantly shed their tears on the hilltops and banks of rivers . Indo-Pak rivalry, an arms race in the name of deterrence, speculations of cross border interference by the two, uncertain political and economic conditions and shadows of an unpredicted and unprovoked war brought nothing but around 15-23% (estimated) of the population living under poverty line in Pakistan and India. Both neighbours and rival nuclear powers they can still secure their national interests while moving to a viable and peaceful resolution of the core conflict in J&K that is acceptable to these two parties and the third primary party, the direct victims, the state subjects across LoC (CFL).
The primary way forward is the dialogue between all three parties and at the same time allowing the state subjects right of free movement and trade within their state. If Indo-Pak can imply the irrelevance of borders or joint management system, then the people of temporarily divided state should also be allowed to share such discourses.
Indo/Pak are in discussions for trade and visa free entry on their international borders which in principle should enable people to cross the CFL (LoC) and meet their fellow citizens and loved ones.
The people of Jammu and Kashmir across LoC deserve and seek peace and prosperity for all, wishing Indo/Pak to secure their bilateral interests but not at their cost. It time tolive and let live and let live.
It’s time to start demilitarisation and resolve this bloody conflict.
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