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Addressing geo-political realities in Kashmir

  • Published at 12:01 am March 12th, 2019
Kashmir
In a dire situation REUTERS

How its complicated history is tied to the fate of its citizens

The Pulwama attack on 14 February and its aftermath development of tension demand our attention to India and Pakistan’s long battle to maintain a strategic position in the Valley. Ever since the separation in 1947, Pakistan always has dubbed Kashmir as the “jugular vein” or lifeline for itself.

India also holds a similar stance. But to analyze the present imbroglio, we should grasp two important issues properly: The historical development behind this tension and the geo-political circumstances of these two countries.

The British rule in India can’t be less responsible behind the historical development of this tension. Its genesis lies in the “Amritsar Treaty” between the British and Maharaja Gulab Singh, the founder of Dogra dynasty. To install himself as the heir of Jammu and Kashmir (JaK), the Maharaja paid an amount of 75 lakh rupees to the corrupt Britishers. 

That payment wasn’t enough to them and consequently, the Maharaja had to face other kinds of concessions. He was left with no options but to impose punitive taxes on people to gain JaK citizenship rights. According to Prem Nath Bazaz -- a prominent Kashmiri pundit and political activist -- the condition of Muslims was mostly appalling. Hari Singh was the last man of the Dogra dynasty, and it all began to deteriorate during the time of Hari Singh with the “Poonch rebellion” back in 1947. 

Sheikh Abdullah, a then school teacher and a close friend of Nehru, declared in 1946 that, “the time [had] come to tear apart the Treaty of Amritsar. Sovereignty is not the birthright of Maharaja Hari Singh. Quit Kashmir is not a question of revolt, it is a matter of right.”

The irony was that the punitive tax was not applied to the Hindus and Sikhs. The Muslims were the majority in the valley, but they had to bear the burden of tax because their king was not a Muslim, and this created a rift between the communities. 

Constitutionally, JaK was a princely state, which meant it had the technical freedom to join any of the two countries or remain independent. Before the partition, Jinnah was confident that he would succeed in convincing Sheikh Abdullah to annex JaK to Pakistan.

But all his hope ended overnight when Abdullah rejected his idea, and was mainly concerned with liberation from the despotic ruler Hari Singh. He sought Delhi’s help when the revolt erupted in the valley and in the meantime, Nehru reviewed the crisis and ended up making Abdullah the “emergency administrator” of JaK.  

We also need to analyze the geographic location of JaK to understand the strategic reasons behind the tension.

From military to economic points of view, the control of this region is very important to both countries and losing control can pose an existential threat to particular parties. Here, India owns roughly 43% of the land whereas Pakistan owns 37%. After the 1962 war, China also possessed almost 20% of the land. The control of this region ensures an unparalleled source of energy and power-generation because of its natural resources. 

For India, this region is the gateway to the central Asian republics of the previous USSR. The Siachen glacier is dubbed as the world’s most inhospitable and highest battleground in the world. It works as a natural barrier for both Pakistan and China. The whole national security of India will be utterly compromised if they lose control of this place.

From 1984-2009, the annual cost for maintaining vigilance in the Siachen glacier was $5 billion per year for both India and Pakistan. The Valley is also economically important to India since it earns a good amount of revenue from the tourism sector.

Kashmir is also a lifeline for Pakistan. Three out of six rivers of Pakistan such as Indus, Jhelum and Chenab originate from there. These rivers are responsible for irrigation in the most agricultural parts of Pakistan.

Apart from its historically imposed fate, both India and Pakistan are responsible for what is happening to the people of Kashmir presently. According to the neo-realist argument, the international system is anarchical as there is no supranational authority to oversee the entire system. The people of Kashmir are just the citizens of two countries, not the makers of their own fate. They have to deal with what is historically imposed on them. 

On the one hand, Pakistan declared that Kashmir is an unfinished agenda of the partition plan because of the Muslim majority. To keep this agenda alive, they are continuously perpetuating Mao’s dictum of guerrilla warfare, low-intensity conflicts, cross-border terrorism, infiltration, and ceasefire violation. On the other hand, India has also been blamed for its human rights violation in JaK severely. Detention, controlling the movement of the citizens, and disrupting their daily activities have led Kashmiris to feel that they have reached a dead end. Consequently, people of Kashmir are trying to protest, but without much in the way of outcome or success.

The Pulwama attack is no exception to the historical and geo-political realities of JaK. It’s now conspicuous that India and Pakistan -- both armed with nuclear weapons -- will not compromise their position to sacrifice anything substantial for the well-being of the people of Kashmir. So the road ahead looks grim for ordinary Kashmiris. 

Shahjahan Ali is an independent researcher and an alumnus of International Relations, University of Dhaka.