It is hard to imagine that Kashmir, one of the most beautiful places on earth, inhabited by a peaceful populace, can become the bone of contention between two countries. There is no doubt that Kashmir became a “disputed territory” only because self-aggrandizing politicians tried to divide the region on the basis of religion. In fact, the main reason behind of the constant strife between India & Pakistan is more political than religious.
Kashmir: A Quick Glance
Kashmir, a 222,236 sq km region in the northwestern Indian subcontinent, is surrounded by China in the northeast, the Indian states of Himachal Pradesh and Punjab in the south, by Pakistan in the west, and by Afghanistan in the northwest. The region has been dubbed “disputed territory” between India and Pakistan since the partition of India in 1947. The southern and southeastern parts of the region make up the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, while the northern and western parts are controlled by Pakistan. A border called the Line of Control (agreed to in 1972) divides the two parts. The eastern area of Kashmir comprising the northeastern part of the region (Aksai Chin) came under the control of China since 1962. The predominant religion in the Jammu area is Hinduism in the east and Islam in the west. Islam is also the main religion in the Kashmir valley and the Pakistan-controlled parts.
Kashmir: A Shared Haven for Hindus & Muslims
It may seem that the history and geography of Kashmir and the religious affiliations of its people present an ideal recipe for bitterness and animosity. But it is not so. The Hindus and Muslims of Kashmir have lived in harmony since the 13th century when Islam emerged as a major religion in Kashmir. The Rishi tradition of Kashmiri Hindus and Sufi-Islamic way of life of Kashmiri Muslims not only co-existed, they complemented each other and also created a unique ethnicity in which Hindus and Muslims visited the same shrines and venerated the same saints.
In order to understand the Kashmir crisis, let’s take a quick look at the history of the region.
A Brief History of Kashmir
The splendor and salubriousness of the Kashmir valley is legendary! In the words of the greatest of the Sanskrit poets Kalidas, Kashmir is “more beautiful than the heaven and is the benefactor of supreme bliss and happiness.” Kashmir’s greatest historian Kalhan called it the “best place in the Himalayas” – “a country where the sun shines mildly…” The 19th century British historian Sir Walter Lawrence wrote about it: “The valley is an emerald set in pearls; a land of lakes, clear streams, green turf, magnificent trees and mighty mountains where the air is cool, and the water sweet, where men are strong, and women vie with the soil in fruitfulness.”
How Kashmir Got Its Name
Legends have it that Rishi Kashyapa, the saint of antiquity, reclaimed the land of the Kashmir valley from a vast lake, known as “Satisar”, after goddess Sati, the consort of Lord Shiva. In ancient times, this land was called “Kashyapamar” (after Kashyapa) that later became Kashmir. The ancient Greeks called it “Kasperia,” and the Chinese pilgrim Hiun-Tsang who visited the valley in the 7th century AD, called it “Kashimilo.”
Kashmir: A Major Hub of Hindu & Buddhist Culture
The earliest recorded history of Kashmir by Kalhan begins at the time of the Mahabharata war. In the 3rd century BC, emperor Ashoka introduced Buddhism in the valley. Kashmir became a major hub of Hindu culture by the 9th century AD. It was the birthplace of the Hindu sect called Kashmiri ‘Shaivism’, and a haven for the greatest Sanskrit scholars.
Kashmir under Muslim Invaders
Several Hindu sovereigns ruled the land until 1346, the year of the advent of Muslim invaders. During this time, a multitude of Hindu shrines were destroyed, and Hindus were forced to embrace Islam. The Mughals ruled Kashmir from 1587 to 1752 – a period of peace and order. This was followed by a dark period (1752-1819), when Afghan despots ruled Kashmir. The Muslim period, which lasted for about 500 years, came to an end with the annexation of Kashmir to the Sikh kingdom of Punjab in 1819.
Kashmir under Hindu Kings
The Kashmir region, in its present form, became a part of the Hindu Dogra kingdom at the end of the First Sikh War in 1846, when, by the treaties of Lahore and Amritsar, Maharaja Gulab Singh, the Dogra ruler of Jammu, was made the ruler of Kashmir “to the eastward of the River Indus and westward of the River Ravi.” The Dogra rulers – Maharaja Gulab Singh (1846 to 1857), Maharaja Ranbir Singh (1857 to 1885), Maharaja Pratap Singh (1885 to 1925), and Maharaja Hari Singh (1925 to 1950) – laid the foundations of the modern Jammu & Kashmir state. This princely state lacked a definite boundary until the 1880s, when the British delimited boundaries in negotiations with Afghanistan and Russia. The crisis in Kashmir began immediately after the British rule ended.
Text of 1949 UN Resolution Calling for Referendum on Kashmir
Pakistan was carved out of India in 1947 as the Muslim counterweight to India’s Hindu population. Predominantly Muslim Kashmir to the north of both countries was divided between them, with India dominating two-thirds of the region and Pakistan one third. A Muslim-led revolt against the Hindu ruler triggered a build-up of Indian troops and an attempt by India to annex the whole in 1948, provoking a war with Pakistan, which sent troops and Pashtun tribesmen to the region. A UN commission called for the withdrawal of both countries’ troops in August 1948. The United Nations brokered a cease-fire in 1949, and a five-member commission made up of Argentina, Belgium, Columbia, Czechoslovakia and the United States drew up a resolution calling for a referendum to decide Kashmir’s future. The full text of the resolution, which India never allowed to be implemented, follows.
Resolution of the Commission of January 5, 1949
The United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan, Having received from the Governments of India and Pakistan, in communications dated 23 December and 25 December 1948, respectively, their acceptance of the following principles which are supplementary to the Commission’s Resolution of 13 August 1948:
1. The question of the accession of the State of Jammu and Kashmir to India or Pakistan will be decided through the democratic method of a free and impartial plebiscite;
2. A plebiscite will be held when it shall be found by the Commission that the cease-fire and truce arrangements set forth in Parts I and II of the Commission’s resolution of 13 August 1948 have been carried out and arrangements for the plebiscite have been completed;
(a) The Secretary-General of the United Nations will, in agreement with the Commission, nominate a Plebiscite Administrator who shall be a personality of high international standing and commanding general confidence. He will be formally appointed to office by the Government of Jammu and Kashmir.
(b) The Plebiscite Administrator shall derive from the State of Jammu and Kashmir the powers he considers necessary for organizing and conducting the plebiscite and for ensuring the freedom and impartiality of the plebiscite.
(c) The Plebiscite Administrator shall have authority to appoint such staff of assistants and observes as he may require.
(a) After implementation of Parts I and II of the Commission’s resolution of 13 August 1948, and when the Commission is satisfied that peaceful conditions have been restored in the State, the Commission and the Plebiscite Administrator will determine, in consultation with the Government of India, the final disposal of Indian and State armed forces, such disposal to be with due regard to the security of the State and the freedom of the plebiscite.
(b) As regards the territory referred to in A.2 of Part II of the resolution of 13 August, final disposal of the armed forces in that territory will be determined by the Commission and the Plebiscite Administrator in consultation with the local authorities.
5. All civil and military authorities within the State and the principal political elements of the State will be required to co-operate with the Plebiscite Administrator in the preparation for the holding of the plebiscite.
(a) All citizens of the State who have left it on account of the disturbances will be invited and be free to return and to exercise all their rights as such citizens. For the purpose of facilitating repatriation there shall be appointed two Commissions, one composed of nominees of India and the other of nominees of Pakistan. The Commission shall operate under the direction of the Plebiscite Administrator. The Governments of India and Pakistan and all authorities within the State of Jammu and Kashmir will collaborate with the Plebiscite Administrator in putting this provision into effect.
(b) All person (other than citizens of the State) who on or since 15 August 1947 have entered it for other than lawful purpose, shall be required to leave the State.
7. All authorities within the State of Jammu and Kashmir will undertake to ensure, in collaboration with the Plebiscite Administrator, that:
(a) There is no threat, coercion or intimidation, bribery or other undue influence on the voters in the plebiscite;
(b) No restrictions are placed on legitimate political activity throughout the State. All subjects of the State, regardless of creed, caste or party, shall be safe and free in expressing their views and in voting on the question of the accession of the State to India or Pakistan. There shall be freedom of the press, speech and assembly and freedom of travel in the State, including freedom of lawful entry and exit;
(c) All political prisoners are released;
(d) Minorities in all parts of the State are accorded adequate protection; and
(e) There is no victimization.
8. The Plebiscite Administrator may refer to the United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan problems on which he may require assistance, and the Commission may in its discretion call upon the Plebiscite Administrator to carry out on its behalf any of the responsibilities with which it has been entrusted;
9. At the conclusion of the plebiscite, the Plebiscite Administrator shall report the result thereof to the Commission and to the Government of Jammu and Kashmir. The Commission shall then certify to the Security Council whether the plebiscite has or has not been free and impartial;
10. Upon the signature of the truce agreement the details of the foregoing proposals will be elaborated in the consultations envisaged in Part III of the Commission’s resolution of 13 August 1948. The Plebiscite Administrator will be fully associated in these consultations;
Commends the Governments of India and Pakistan for their prompt action in ordering a cease-fire to take effect from one minute before midnight of 1 January 1949, pursuant to the agreement arrived at as provided for by the Commission’s Resolution of 13 August 1948; and
Resolves to return in the immediate future to the Sub-continent to discharge the responsibilities imposed upon it by the Resolution of 13 August 1948 and by the foregoing principles.