When British India was divided into two countries in August 1947, out of 565 princely states that existed before the partition, three had a different take on the future of their people. While Junagarh (or Junagadh, today in Gujarat) decided to cast its lot with newly created Pakistan, Hyderabad preferred autonomy. But one state that could not decide, in spite of enjoying much more autonomy than any other state, was Jammu and Kashmir. India did not allow Junagarh to be part of Pakistan and in case of Hyderabad it resorted to police action and crushed their autonomy with an iron hand.
As the other two states continued to prosper within India, without any problems, the fate of Jammu and Kashmir continued to hang in balance. At the time of India's partition, a Hindu Maharaja ruled Jammu and Kashmir State, even as the majority of people were Muslims. Historians, who have worked on the complex problem of Jammu and Kashmir, commonly referred to as Kashmir, have pointed out many factors for this deadlock, even as India strongly believes that there was nothing to resolve.
In fact, when the states were in the process of deciding where to go, Maharaja Hari Singh, who came from Jammu's Dogra dynasty, is believed to have had a standstill agreement with both India and Pakistan and on many government offices the Pakistani flag was seen fluttering between August 14 and October 26, 1947. But much before the Maharaja (who in fact was dithering) could take a decision, tribal fighters from the North Western Frontier Province of Pakistan carried out a raid on Kashmir that pushed him towards seeking India's military help.
At that time Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, Kashmir's most popular leader who had fought against Hari Singh's family rule, also is understood to have played an important role in facilitating India's military intervention, which helped to stop the raiders at a certain point. There are, however, different versions about what actually happened.
As the showdown between India and Pakistan began with the tribal raid and subsequent military action by India, Jammu and Kashmir state which was spread over Gilgit-Baltistan in the northern region of Pakistan, was divided into two rather three parts. While three-fourth of the state are today controlled by India, the rest is with Pakistan, except some small and rather un-inhabited that later came under Chinese control.
After both countries fought the first war over Kashmir in 1947, ceasefire was announced in 1948 on intervention of the United Nations. While the Maharaja had acceded to India in respect of three subjects viz Defence, Communication and external Affairs, the case of Pakistani intrusion was taken to the UN by the then government headed by India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru who promised a Plebiscite to know whether people of Jammu and Kashmir wanted to be part of India or go to Pakistan. However, that promise was never fulfilled and the history of Kashmir that followed remained full of bruises and betrayals.
Trust and Confidence Belied
Even as the promise of Plebiscite was not held, the “temporary” accession, which Maharaja Hari Singh had signed, was not honoured. For India, the Constituent Assembly of Jammu and Kashmir ratified the accession. But before the Constituent Assembly could conclude its deliberations, New Delhi's government jailed Sheikh Abdullah, who was the trusted point man of Nehru and his government. In fact the credibility of the Constituent Assembly was itself under cloud and with Sheikh's arrest it lost whatever little significance it had.
Sheikh Abdullah was illegally dismissed in August 1953 as Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir (the same was changed to Chief Minister in 1968 to bring it at par with the other states of India, the Governor of the state was till then known as Sadr-e-Riyasat). After he was detained for more than a decade, a fresh demand for fulfilling the promise was launched under the banner of Plebiscite Front. It had the blessings of Pakistan, which had failed to woo the Muslims of the state in 1947. With Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah siding with India, Maharaja was thinking of an “Independent Jammu and Kashmir” and that is why he was weighing the option, until the tribal raid was conducted.
Amid the “installed” governments in Jammu and Kashmir, the Plebiscite Font continued with its struggle for about 22 years. However, after Pakistan fell apart and Bangladesh came into existence, the political dynamics in South Asia changed. Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah entered into an agreement with then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and returned to power in 1975. But he could not get anything restored as far as the autonomous character of state is concerned vis a vis its position in August 1953.
Pakistan and Kashmir
Pakistan's obsession with Kashmir has never died. Whether the tribal raiders had sanction of then government in Pakistan is not clearly known, but in successive years, Islamabad's role in Kashmir dispute became prominent. For most of Pakistanis Kashmir still remains an unfinished agenda of partition and that is why the official line about Kashmir has run through the “jugular vein” syndrome.
Pakistani rulers and politicians like present Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in 2013 have often repeated that Kashmir is the jugular vein (or life line) for the country's existence. Moreover, Pakistan has always believed, since Jammu and Kashmir was a Muslim majority state, it had to become its part and never compromised Kashmir being with India. Continued acrimonious relations between India and Pakistan are also factored into the fact that Kashmir is a bone of contention between the two countries.
For a long period Pakistan has been raking up Kashmir at diplomatic level and continues to consider that the United Nations Resolutions, which guarantee a Plebiscite in Jammu and Kashmir is the only solution to the dispute. Not only in 1947 but also in 1965 and also in 1999 during the so called Kargil Conflict (though at a low scale), Pakistan made its bid to wrest Kashmir.
1987 to 1989: A Turning Point
While India continued to play tricks with Kashmir and the Kashmiris, the simmering discontent that had been on for a long time, bubbled up in 1989, when a large number of youth decided to take up arms against the Indian rule. The reasons were both simple and complex. For many decades the people had been feeling a sense of deception and in 1987 when the elections were held for the local Assembly, youth at that time enthusiastically joined the process with a hope that it will change their destiny. One reason was the predominant Muslim United Front (MUF), a loose alliance of various political and religious groups, which had decided to take on traditional political parties like the National Conference and the Congress. But the elections, with a tacit support from New Delhi's government were rigged, thus further pushing the youth to the wall.
This opened Kashmir into an era of violence which has so far claimed an estimated 80,000 lives besides damage to properties worth billions of rupees. Human rights violations, which include disappearance of people, killings in custody, rape and unmarked mass graves, have unfortunately become the matter for an Epitaph on Kashmir. India has continuously defended its record on Human Rights but has failed to come clean. Non-state actors aided and abetted by Pakistan have also committed atrocities but the magnitude on the government side is higher. Today's Kashmir is craving for a political solution and end to every kind of violence.
It is the youth of Kashmir who has been at the centre stage. Even today it is disillusioned. It is alienated from Indian mainstream. It hates India and believes that it has been through a bruised history of betrayals. Their story is directly linked to broken promises, shrinking of democratic spaces and denial of their participation in a genuine democratic exercise. While young people in most other parts of India have speedily become part of a changing economic paradigm and have benefitted from it, the youth in Kashmir is still mired in the question of its political future.
The last 25 years have seen unprecedented pressure on Kashmiri youth, as they are the one who bore the brunt of the conflict. Thousands have been killed, jailed and many continue to languish in the jails. This has made a huge impact on a generation that grew up after the 1989 armed rebellion. In Kashmir, today the politics is divided mainly into two camps – the mainstream and the separatists. The latter one “flourished” in the last two and a half decades and is claiming to espouse the cause of “right of self determination” to people to “decide the future of the state”.
Many among the separatists do not agree that the allegations of “large-scale” rigging in 1987 assembly elections was the main reason for Kashmiri youth to raise a banner of revolt and join the armed rebellion. But those who have closely followed the developments in Kashmir argue that most of those who resorted to militancy in 1988 were the youth who had taken active part in the elections and had seen it as the last hope within a “democratic set up” to address the grievances. The sense of deprivation and the feeling of denial of political rights led to an uprising among the youth who crossed over to the Pakistani side of Kashmir in thousands to get trained in arms and ammunition thus kick starting the protracted armed conflict.
With political unrest embedded in the psyche of an ordinary Kashmiri mind since 1947, there were many attempts by young people before 1987 to take the issue to armed centre stage. The governments foiled them, though without taking the growing disillusionment of the youth serious. However, 1987 was re-opening the chapter of what many call “unfinished” agenda of partition. Pushing the educated youth of Kashmir into gun culture changed the society and the thinking of the following generations also shaped on those lines.
Today's youth in Kashmir are completely different from the rest of India. For the generation born after the 1989 revolt, India means a soldier on the streets of Srinagar, who asks him to prove his identity and forcibly makes him wait on a highway till an Army convoy passes. Controversial laws such as Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), denial of delivery of justice and merit are other important bench marks which makes the youth feel that Jammu and Kashmir was never treated as “integral part” of India as claimed by the governments and the political parties. Harassment of Kashmiri students in universities in the rest of India also stands testimony to the fact that how the suspicion vis a vis an ordinary Kashmiri is deep rooted in the minds of majority of Indians.
Political Dimensions I: Internal
Unfortunately, New Delhi has always dismissed the Kashmir problem as a problem related to Law and Order and even in some cases to unemployment. But that is not true. Unemployment is surely an issue which is confronting the Kashmiri youth but over a period of time it has been seen that thousands of youth have been given jobs but that did not put an end to the unrest. It is also a fact that participation of Kashmiri youth in the militancy, which is believed to be sponsored by Pakistan, has been very low in past ten years but politically the Kashmiri youth is far distanced from Delhi. Looking at the Social networking sites such as Facebook, one could easily gauge the mood of an average Kashmiri youth towards India.
This situation has not shown any let up as there is complete absence of any serious engagement between Kashmiris and New Delhi. Government of India has time and again discredited its own “efforts” to reach out to the people. The dialogue between the government and a section of separatists that started in 2004 has since fallen apart. The recommendations of Working Groups set up by Prime Minister in 2006 are gathering dust. The report of the interlocutors has been virtually thrown into the dustbin. Though people had rejected the report as a half hearted exercise, the government further eroded its credibility by even not having a look at what their own interlocutors had suggested.
With no political engagement with Kashmiris, there is a vacuum. No doubt the elections have been held and people have participated too, but this has not come up as an alternative to the solution of the Kashmir problem. Shrinking of democratic spaces and continuance of draconian laws like AFSPA and Public Safety Act and failure to deliver justice to victims of violence particularly at the hands of state forces has pushed the people to the wall.
Political Dimensions II: External
The dialogue with Pakistan was also seen as an important measure to address the issue. The peace process between India and Pakistan from 2003 to 2007 had contributed a lot in creating a space of optimism as people's hopes about “some” resolution were raised. That is why they supported the peace process and we could see “normalcy” returning to Kashmir during that period. Cross Line of Control Confidence Building Measures also played a major role in narrowing down the differences of opinion on both sides of Kashmir and could counter the stereotypes that have been working against the interests of people.
In last seven years nearly 22,000 people have travelled on bus services across the Line of Control thus providing much relief to the divided families. The procedure continues to be cumbersome in getting the permits but still it helped a lot in alleviating the sufferings of the people who have remained divided for 65 years. Similarly the trade, with so many bottlenecks, has been on. Understanding on people on both sides is must to lead to an atmosphere that could help find an amicable solution.
Both India and Pakistan should realize that Kashmir is an issue, which needs to be resolved. Sticking to their respective positions is not helping people. They continue to live under the shadow of uncertainty. And at the time the NATO forces are preparing to withdraw from Afghanistan, there is every likelihood that this atmosphere of despair and disillusionment could be exploited. Youth in Kashmir are desperate and this desperation could take any turn. It is better if New Delhi realizes its failures in Kashmir, take them as a lesson and move forward for a dignified solution.