All Roads Lead To Kashmir

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It looks as though the road to the attacks in Mumbai last month originated in the mountains of Kashmir.

Both India and the United States blame Lashkar-e-Toiba — a militant organisation established by the Pakistan Army in the 1980s to fight the Indians in Kashmir — for the attack. When speaking to an Indian news presenter via a mobile, one of the assailants implied that the attack was, at least in part, a response to the continued oppression of Muslims in Kashmir.

Whether or not these claims point to a direct link between Kashmir and Mumbai, it sheds light on one of the key political grievances of the Indian subcontinent’s Muslim population.

The bulk of Jammu and Kashmir is located in the north-western Indian Alps, the other portion in Pakistan. Before partition they were ruled by a Hindu prince, Hari Singh, although its population was and remains predominantly Muslim with smaller Sikh, Hindu and Buddhist communities. His dynasty was installed by the British following its success in the Anglo-Sikh Wars of the mid-1800s. While most of the territories we now know as Pakistan and India were partitioned into separate nation states at midnight on 14 August 1947, princely states like Jammu and Kashmir were left to make their own decision at a later date.

What happened after partition has been hotly disputed by the two rival nations, but it is clear that the majority Muslim population overwhelmingly favoured joining Pakistan. Hari Singh favoured a regime that would retain him as ruler. Soon after the partition, tribal militants from Pakistan entered the princely state in an attempt to drive out Hari Singh. Fearing his eventual demise, Singh appealed to India who in turn demanded his accession to the country. When Indian troops entered Jammu and Kashmir to drive out the Pakistani irregulars, it sparked the first of the two rival nations’ four wars, eventually resulting in major territorial gains by Pakistan and a UN-brokered ceasefire.

Although the UN recommended a plebiscite to determine which country the population wanted to join, India, which now controlled the region, never held one.

The "Kashmir issue" as it came to be known led to another two wars, in 1965 and 1999. The latter, resulting from a clandestine raid of an Indian-controlled mountain base overlooking Pakistan in Kargil, was the brain child of an ambitious Army General by the name of Pervez Musharraf. Pakistani forces were eventually forced to retreat under Indian and international pressure. A popular backlash against then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for the decision to retreat set the stage for the rise of Musharraf.

Yet the Kashmir issue remained fundamentally unaddressed. Both the 1999 and earlier 1965 Kashmir war ended in bloody stalemate. As a result, the "Line of Control" between Pakistan and India in Jammu and Kashmir is the most heavily militarised region in the world, thanks in large part to Western, Chinese and Russian arms manufacturers.

Ever since both nations developed nuclear weapons in the 1990s the equation has become even deadlier.

Sectarian tensions have been high within Indian-administered Kashmir this year. After the Indian Government sought to expropriate forest land for Hindu pilgrims visiting a shrine in July, pro-independence protests by the Muslim population between July and August were violently suppressed by Indian authorities. Estimates of deaths range from tens to hundreds. A number of prominent opposition party politicians were also killed. Hindus, in turn, protested the decision to cancel the land expropriation.

Many believe the expropriation was a deliberate attempt to increase the Hindu presence in the region.

Although Indian authorities held elections in November, separatist political parties were banned and their leaders and many supporters languished in prison.

Conditions in Pakistani administered Jammu and Kashmir, known as "Azad" or Free Kashmir, are not much better.

Pakistan’s leaders, particularly in the military, have from the very founding of the nation used the Kashmir issue as a rallying point with which to exert their influence. For almost the beginning of its creation the vast majority of Pakistan’s national budget has gone into military expenditure. Much of that funding has been premised on fighting a war with India that is largely centred around Kashmir.

With its mountainous, wooded terrain and extremely cold temperatures, the Line of Control has been a useful platform for launching attacks on India without requiring the use of conventional military forces. Yet on several occasions these attacks have risked or have launched full scale war between the two countries.

After the Mumbai attacks, it appears the strategy of sending irregular forces, including jihadi militias, into India via Kashmir has backfired for Pakistan.

The tragic irony for ordinary Kashmiris is that the Mumbai attacks have turned out to be a political boon for India internationally as its actions in Kashmir continue to be ignored by the international community. The Indian Government has gone into overdrive to paint itself purely as the victim after the attacks.

Although Pakistan raised the Kashmir issue at the United Nations Security Council this week during deliberations on Lashkar-e-Toiba and its alleged involvement in the Mumbai attacks, the troubled region continues to suffer in silence.

New Matilda

New Matilda is independent journalism at its finest. The site has been publishing intelligent coverage of Australian and international politics, media and culture since 2004.

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