Kashmir stands as a testimony to India and Pakistan’s greed
The war over Jammu and Kashmir has been a glaring testimony to the long-standing hostility between India and Pakistan. However, it is important to remember that, during British Raj, it wasn’t a part of British India, rather it was an independent princely state -- merely under the protection of the British government. Long before 1947 and the partition of India and Pakistan, Kashmir had its own constitution and justice system.
So, how is it that the status of Kashmir has become reduced to nothing better than a warzone?
To understand this question, we must look at where Kashmir stood before the British left and under what circumstances Maharaja Hari Singh, the then King of Kashmir, signed the “Instrument of Accession” on October 26, 1947.
A key personality in the Kashmir issue was Sheikh Abdullah, dubbed the “Sher-e-Kashmir,” who was the three-time chief minister of Kashmir and a close friend of Jawaharlal Nehru, who himself was a Kashmiri.
The Sheikh was a politician of no significant background, inspired by his liberal education in Aligarh University, he was a key instrument in the fight against the oppression of the Maharaja on Kashmir’s Muslim majority population.
Despite its demographic situation, Muslims faced widespread injustice under the Maharaja.
In the 1930s, the Sheikh gained popularity because of his outspoken opposition of the Maharaja and subsequent establishment of the Muslim Conference (MC), the purpose of which was to protect the interests of the persecuted population. The MC organized a civil disobedience movement which led to the first democratic elections in 1934, in which the MC won 14 out of 21 seats.
Despite this, the MC remained as a consultative body and exercised no real power. At the time, many secular political parties had given way to nationalist and socialist movements, which convinced popular politicians to move their focus from communal politics to secular movements across the state.
Taking advantage of this, Sheikh Abdullah founded the “All Jammu and Kashmir National Conference.” by 1944 the NC came to be known for its socially leftist republicanism which Abdullah championed. This gave birth to a new Kashmiri Nationalism.
This timely political move had garnered him the support of Hindus and Muslims alike. After this, Abdullah started the “Quit Kashmir Movement,” which aimed at ousting monarchical rule and establishing a secular state of Kashmir.
Charged with sedition, Abdullah appealed his case saying: “Where the law is not based on the will of the people, it can lead to the suppression of their aspirations. Such law has no moral validity even though it may be enforced for a while.”
At the time, in 1946, Nehru had his reservations of the Maharaja. Nehru as a lawyer wanted to fight the case for Abdullah, but was stopped at the border by the Maharaja.
Mere months after this, it was ascertained that partition was inevitable and, as such, India and Pakistan both began to persuade the Maharaja to accede to their respective nations. The Maharaja waded in his answer because, in the interest of Kashmir, he wanted independence.
In October, Pathan tribesmen attacked Kashmir, pillaging through the state. The Maharaja requested India to help drive the foreign invaders away. India agreed to help but only if the Maharaja signed the “Instrument of Accession.”
However, unlike other princely states, whose IoAs were drawn up in the names of their rulers, the one for Kashmir was drawn up in the name of Jammu and Kashmir -- as such, Lord Mountbatten, then governor general of the Dominion of India, had written to the Maharaja in personal correspondence: “It is my government’s wish that, as soon as law and order are restored in Kashmir and its soil cleared of the invader, the question of the state’s accession should be settled by a reference to the people.”
Sheikh Abdullah was re-appointed as chief minister of Kashmir in 1947, and he drafted a special provision for Kashmir in article 370 of the Indian Constitution which gave regional autonomy to Kashmir and only delegated powers to India in issues regarding defense and external affairs and Kashmir’s cases would be settled in their own court without interference from a dominion court.
Nehru saw the Sheikh-led government as a mode to peace between India and Pakistan and, as such, Abdullah was asked to broker peace between them. In his efforts to do so, and in pushing off full integration with India, he was charged with treason in the Kashmir conspiracy case in 1953.
Through his tumultuous political career, he wanted what was best for the people of Kashmir: Independence -- which was meant to be decided by a plebiscite that never took place. It is important to note that, in an announcement on All India Radio, Nehru had made a promise in favour of such a referendum.
Even after India drove the invaders away from Kashmir, Pakistan’s claim over the state didn’t die down. This led to two major wars and multiple skirmishes fought between the two countries and, despite the fact that the UN had declared a ceasefire and marked a Line of Control which divided the state into India and Pakistan administered Kashmir, there have been many breaches of this ceasefire.
Kashmir stands as a testimony to India and Pakistan’s greed for power and dominance, because every move in this war was a means to secure the important trade route that the region holds to the rest of Asia, dubbed the Silk Route.
Despite everything, Sheikh Abdullah, whose political career was marred by controversy, was representative of the plight of the Kashmiris -- a free and independent Kashmir with diplomatic ties in both India and Pakistan -- a device for peace between the two nations.
Abrar Tohid is a freelance contributor.