Border Focus: Kashmir


What is disputed?

The name Kashmir is used to include the Indian-administered state of Jammu and Kashmir, the Pakistan-administered state of Gilgit-Baltistan (formerly the Northern Areas) and Azad Kashmir and Jammu, and the Chinese-administered regions of Aksai Chin and the Trans-Karakoram Tract.

India controls the majority of the area, occupying 101,338 square km (39,127 square miles), Pakistan 85,846 square km (33,145 square miles) and China, the remaining 37,555 square km (14,500 square miles).

None of the sides have accepted the occupations of the other sides to be permanent. India claims the entirety of the area to be Indian, whereas Pakistan generally takes the line that the area is disputed. It is illegal for maps in India to display the area as anything other than fully Indian, but the majority of international maps consider the area to be in dispute.

How did the dispute start?

The dispute over Kashmir is a result of Britain's hasty decolonizing program in 1947. Kashmir was ruled by a monarch, under British tutelage, for the majority of the colonial period, and when Britain split the country into India and Pakistan, it was decided that the princely states would choose themselves whether to join India or Pakistan, or to remain independent.

Jammu and Kashmir was the largest princely state, and while it had a Hindu ruler – Maharaja Hari Singh – it was predominantly Muslim, and on partition Pakistan expected Kashmir to be annexed to it.

When Singh failed to make a decision either way after the 14-15th August Independence days passed, Pakistani tribals and militias entered Kashmir, intending, essentially, to frighten the Maharaja into submission. Instead, Singh appealed to the British governor-general, Lord Mountbatten, and the new government of India for assistance. India could not help, however, because India and Pakistan had signed an agreement of non-intervention. Although tribal fighters from Pakistan had entered the territory, there was no conclusive evidence that the government of Pakistan was officially involved, and so it would have been illegal for India to enter without Singh acceding to India.

Singh became desperate when Pakistani tribals reached the outskirts of Srinagar, and so Singh signed an agreement, known as the Instrument of Accession with Lord Mountbatten, ceding Jammu and Kashmir to India. Indian soldiers entered Kashmir soon after and drove the Pakistani tribals from all but a small section of the state, and in December 1948 a ceasefire was agreed under UN auspices.

The UN Security Council passed Resolution 39 in January 1948, establishing a special commission to investigate the conflict, and passed Resolution 47 in April of the same year, which ordered the Pakistani army to retreat from Jammu and Kashmir and for a plebiscite to be held in which those habiting in Jammu and Kashmir would determine their nationality. Pakistan failed to remove their military presence, and so India argued that the plebiscite could not go ahead. Ownership of Kashmir has been disputed ever since.

When did China get involved?

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Great Britain tried to establish the northern boundaries of Kashmir through agreements with Afghanistan and Russia. China, however, never accepted these agreements, and considers parts of eastern Jammu and Kashmir to be part of Tibet, and therefore Chinese.

In the early 1950s, the Chinese army started extending its reach, and since then have occupied what they call Aksai Chin. In 1962, China and India fought a brief border war over various areas under dispute, including Aksai Chin, and Chinese success meant that they have administered the area since. The line that serves as the border in this region is called the 'Line of Actual Control'.

Another portion of land, called the Trans-Karakorum Tract was ceded by Pakistan to China in 1963.

Kashmir map

How serious is the dispute?

The dispute over Kashmir has resulted in numerous conflicts between India and Pakistan and has been a major thorn of the sides of the neighbours' relations since their inception in 1947.

Particular incidents of note include the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965, a five week war that started after tens of thousands of Pakistani soldiers crossed the 'Line of Control' dressed as Kashmiri locals. After trading territory for a few weeks, a stalemate was reached, and a ceasefire was negotiated in Tashkent, with both sides agreeing to return to the pre-war lines.

War broke out between the two in 1971 over East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). After an incredibly short war, Pakistan admitted defeat, and Bangladesh emerged as a new country. The Simla Agreement of July 1972 laid down the principles by which to govern Pakistan and India's future relations, and both sides agreed to settle their differences by peaceful means. The accord also converted the 1949 UN 'Ceasefire Line' into the 'Line of Control' (LOC).

Tensions began to rise again after a disputed election in Kashir in 1987, and what started as a peaceful rebellion against the Indian government became an armed uprising. The first armed rebel group was the indigenous Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) but Islamic militant groups proliferated rapidly.

The position of Pakistan in the rebels' actions is debated. Based in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, they found financing and recruited from within Pakistan. India and many international observers believe they were – and are – aided and guided by Pakistan's intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), although Pakistan maintains they receive only moral support and diplomatic support.

In mid-1999, insurgents and Pakistani soldiers infiltrated into Jammu and Kashmir. During the inhospitable winter months, Indian forces regularly move to lower altitudes, leaving the LOC vacant. The insurgents took advantage of their absence and occupied the mountain peaks of the Kargil range, thereby blocking the highway that connects Srinagar and Leh. This highway is the only link between the Kashmir Valley and Ladakh and Pakistan's actions sparked high-scale conflict between the two armies. Initially, Pakistan blamed the fighting entirely on independent Kashmiri insurgents, but it soon became clear that Pakistani paramilitary forces were involved. The Indian Army, supported by the Air Force, recaptured most of the positions, and both sides received intense international pressure to withdraw given their nuclear capabilities.

In the aftermath of the Kargil War, relations were severed, nationalism rose on both sides, and India took steps to increase its military preparedness. Relations since 2000 have risen and fallen: Pakistan clamped down on insurgent action in Kashmir in 2002, prompting a thaw in relations, but this was only successful for a few years, and relations took a severe hit in 2008 when Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), a militant group with alleged links to the ISI, attacked Mumbai.

Talks between the two sides resumed in early 2010, but with strong levels of mutual mistrust, it is unclear what will happen.

What are possible settlements routes?

The dispute over Kashmir is less about an actual fervent desire to own the territory, and more to do with wider issues and insecurities between the countries. The portions of Kashmir that Pakistan does control are among the poorest in the country, with Gilgit-Baltistan province having a very uncertain constitutional position until recent years. There have been complaints against the government of extreme human rights abuses on both sides of the LOC, with the Indian government coming under particularly strong criticism from rights groups. Cases of rape, torture and 'disappearances' of activists and critics of the government are commonly reported, and civil unrest is frequent.

India has expressed a desire for the LOC to become the international border between the two, but Pakistan has maintained that a plebiscite is necessary to determine the region's future. While Kashmir fully joining either India or Pakistan is discussed as an option, it seems extremely unlikely that the losing side would agree to it, given the history behind the dispute.

An option called the 'Chenab plan' was first mooted in the 1960s and would see the region divided along the River Chenab. This would give the majority of land to Pakistan, and the entire Kashmir Valley, with its Muslim majority population would be brought within Pakistan's borders. Unofficially, some Pakistani politicians have suggested they would accept such a solution, but it is widely unpopular in Kashmir. Moreover, it would represent a loss in territory for India, which the populace would likely not see as acceptable.

The other possiblities include independence for Kashmir in various forms. While a 2010 Libyan-funded study found that the most popular option for Kashmiris in both Pakistan and India was independence, it is unlikely that either country would be willing to forgo so much land.

A more likely scenario is perhaps for an independent Kashmir to be created out of the Kashmir Valley – currently under Indian administration – and Azad Jammu and Kashmir – currently under Pakistani administration. This would leave India with Ladakh and Pakistan with Gilgit-Baltistan. Still, while this would seem to take care of many problems, it seems unlikely that either country would allow discussions that would bring about such a conclusion.

A final option for creating an independent Kashmir would be to create a new country out of just the Kashmir Valley. This is sometimes considered the best option as it would address the grievances of those who have been fighting against the Indian government since the 1980s, but there are major questions over whether such a country would be economically viable.

Because of the political importance the region has acquired, it seems unlikely that either government would be willing, or able, to give up any territory in the region. Most likely the LOC will continue to stand as the border for years to come.