The Fence


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Regular Member
Feb 19, 2009
A look at the evolution of the biggest issue to plague the subcontinent

With its gorgeous valleys, snow covered mountain ranges and rivers that shaped the very evolution of one of the first human civilizations; Kashmir is a land of such beauty that it has been called heaven on Earth. However, in this paradise is an ugliness that infects the land, for only a few thousand feet from each other stand about a million men, along with billions of dollars of arms in a perpetual state of warfare. For this land is disputed territory; disputed among India, Pakistan and China. This conflict has escalated from a disagreement between two nations to multiple all out wars including a dangereous nuclear standoff at the turn of the 21st century. It has been more than sixty years since India and Pakistan gained their independence but the situation has deteriorated with every passing decade and the mistaken policies and involvements of foreign politicians who have sought to gain prestige by choosing sides in this conflict has only negatively affected the peace process. The fact that there has not been any serious progress over Kashmir’s status does not help alleviate these tensions either and the subcontinent remains under the gloom of an all out nuclear war between these countries. However, to truly understand the conflict, one needs to take a look at the bigger picture at hand.

The root cause can be attributed to the consequences of the somewhat sudden withdrawal of the British from the Indian subcontinent. Not understanding the complexities of the situation, the English partitioned the once Indian empire into two countries; the majority of which was the Hindu dominated India. The Muslims, who were a minority, were given their own country in Pakistan and at that time they also controlled what is now Bangladesh. The problem immediately began with what to do with Kashmir, the maharaja at that time was a Hindu but the majority of his people were Muslims and so the British made the kingdom of Jammu and Kashmir an independent state. However, immediately after its independence voices began to arise in Pakistan which claimed that Kashmir being a Muslim majority country should be absorbed into Pakistan, the maharaja wanted no part of this and he rejected the Pakistani offer. Enraged by what they saw as forceful imprisonment of their people, Pakistani tribesman launched an attack on Jammu and Kashmir in order to intimidate the maharaja. The maharaja who did not see a peaceful way to end the conflict ceded his territories to India, so Jammu and Kashmir became a state that was part of the Indian union. Due to poor planning and the refusal of the British appointed Army Chief of Pakistan to not send any more troops to Kashmir, the Pakistanis were not able to build on their success. A UN ceasefire went into effect and as a result of the first war of Kashmir, India controlled roughly 2/3rds of Jammu and Kashmir while Pakistan controlled the rest.

The next war over Kashmir would come from a very unlikely source, from India’s neighbor to the north, a country that India’s prime minister had championed in the United nations as a model; China. India was one of the first countries to recognize the newly independent China and both the nations worked to establish peaceful relations. However, the honeymoon was short lived as problems started to mount when China annexed Tibet and throughout the late 50’s and early 1960’s border skirmishes between Indian and Chinese forces became more common and more serious. The Chinese asserted that the region in question, “Askai chin” was part of Tibet and therefore was part of China. India countered that Askai chin was part of Jammu and Kashmir and was India’s. Numerous diplomatic offers were presented to India by China but these were rejected as they were seen as too degrading and popular domestic support couldn’t be found. The skirmishes grew bigger in scale and in 1962, the Chinese launched an all out assault. This culminated into an all out war that was especially famous for its brutal conditions as the battlefields were mountain peaks which were unreachable by helicopters and wheeled vehicles. The result of the conflict was a mortifying defeat for the Indian forces and would mark polar changes in the way Kashmir was thought of.

This war would have a very major impact on the way the politics over Kashmir would be played out over the next 50 odd years because for the first time the United States started to take note of the situation. The fact that a communist country attacked a democratic country made the then president of the US, John F. Kennedy remark “India needs defending, and we will defend them”. In fact, the Johnson administration that followed even considered then dismissed the idea of giving India nuclear weapons to better protect itself. The Pakistan leaders had once proposed to India that they band together against their common enemy in china, but India had rejected this proposal. Now, after the 1962 war, Pakistan started to view China as a strong deterrent to India. After the war of 1965 between India and Pakistan ended, both the nations sought to actively involve foreign powers. India for its part was not happy with the United States, and accused it of playing a double standard since Pakistan had once again initiated a war yet the US did little to restrain them.
Being a member of the non-aligned movement, India was technically a neutral state in the cold war, however after China and Pakistan started receiving help from the Nixon administration, India sought closer ties with the Soviet Union. This tie grew stronger and stronger as the USSR had experienced a freeze in its relations with China and China was growing closer to its enemy, the US. The Kashmir issue became a major front in the cold war as both the superpowers sought to play their cards and influence the situation. During the 1971 war that was fought to liberate Bangladesh from Pakistan, the Nixon administration repeatedly ignored the “blood telegrams” which were a series of letters from the Diplomat Archer blood which among other things chronicled human rights violations that the people of Bangladesh were experiencing at the hands of the Pakistanis. The US in a blatant act of nuclear threat, sent it carrier group; the USS Enterprise to the Bay of Bengal to “monitor” the situation. India which has signed a peace pact with the USSR received help in the form of a task group which trailed the US fleet. The Soviets also assured the Indians that if war between either the Chinese or the Americans developed, they would intervene on India’s favor.
The 1980’s brought about the end of the cold war but most importantly, the actions of the superpowers would cast a lasting residue on the issue of Kashmir. The USSR had invaded its troublesome neighbor to the south, Afghanistan and Pakistan was glad to help to the help the US and the western power to undermine the Soviet effort by covertly sabotaging their operation. India for its part, refused to help the United States against its ally, the Soviet union. The Central intelligence Agency, which was probably second only to the Russian KGB in terms of sophistication and technological resources, gave the Pakistani intelligence agencies, chiefly the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), critical technology and training to conduct covert operations.
By the end of the 80’s, the CIA backed ISI became the premier intelligence agency in South Asia. The ISI and the CIA supported the mujahideen, who were forerunners to virtually every terrorist organization today and after the United States withdrew from Afghanistan, Pakistan and by extent the terrorist organizations such as the L.e.T and the J.e.t were free to explore their new found capabilities. One of the chief targets of these people was India and these organizations along with Pakistan’s blessings set up a vast network of bases in what is called “Pakistan Occupied Kashmir”. From there they began a brutal series of terrorist campaigns aimed at destroying India’s will to contest Kashmir. This campaign, to which the US and the western powers paid very little to, targeted both Civilian and military targets.

Indian foreign policy after the cold underwent a dramatic face lift. With the fall of its longtime ally, the USSR and the emergence of China as a more serious contender on the world scene, India sought to bolster its reputation on the world stage. In that aspect, India formalized ties with previously strong pro-western countries like Israel. Even relations with the United states started to warm up, at least until the nuclear tests of 1998, where both India and Pakistan declared their nuclear ambitions to the world by conducting numerous nuclear tests. This drew very sharp condemnation from the leaders of the world and especially from US and china which was alarmed and said India should be made to give up its nuclear weapons. Pakistan too had some sharp embargoes placed on it and unlike India; the already weak Pakistan economy was further shaken. Also, their military had relied on mostly US made equipment and with the placement of the embargo they lost access to critically needed spare parts. The placement of the embargo more than any other actions made the people of Pakistan questions the United States intentions. They had once considered the US as allies but now they were beginning to think that Washington was only concerned about its own interests and was manipulating Pakistan into doing its work. Within a year of the nuclear tests, both Pakistan and India were at it again during the 1999 kargil war. The incident was once again propagated by Pakistani based militants with support from the ISI and elements of the Pakistan army. Since both the countries had nuclear weapons, there was a very real possibility that the conflict could go nuclear. However, India stopped its offensive after recapturing all the points that were lost to the infiltration of the militants and short of the Pakistan occupied Kashmir. World leaders were especially pleased with the restraint shown on the part of India and condemned Pakistan for allowing unchecked aggression. Relations between Pakistan, India and the United states experienced a polar change after the events of September, 11th. Throughout the course of the Bush administration, relations improved between India and US and a high volume of trade was conducted between the countries. The United States also approved a deal that would provide India with nuclear fuel although New Delhi is not a signatory to the nuclear non proliferation treaty, giving it a one of a kind exclusion. As a result of 9/11, Pakistan was forced to abandon its long time ally, the hardcore Islamic Taliban and support the Indian-Iranian-Russian supported Northern alliance. The US for its part lifted sanctions on both the nations and vowed to cultivate closer ties with New Delhi.

In December 2001, Islamic terrorists struck at the very heart of the Indian government when they attacked the Parliament at New Delhi. India blamed Pakistani terror groups and asked Islamabad to take credible action. Pakistan responded by staging its forces on high alert and blaming the Indian Intelligence agency(R&AW) for the attack. A fed up and irate India expelled the Pakistani ambassador and began the largest mobilization of troops to Kashmir and Punjab in over 3 decades. Over fears of a massive Indian invasion and a humiliating loss like during the 1971 war, Pakistan repeatedly warned that it would use any weapon in its arsenal including nuclear weapons in spite of the fact that India had reaffirmed to its commitment to its no first use policy. The Indian Defense Minister famously replied that India could "take a bomb or two or more but when we respond there will be no Pakistan”. For a period of about one year, the Subcontinent was under the threat of nuclear annihilation which was finally mediated when top level diplomats met and agreed to a de-escalation of tensions. Pakistan for its part said that it would crack down on militants and under pressure from the United States, made some arrests. The subcontinent experienced a lull in conflict and years of massive economic progress until the events of November 26.2008, when terrorist struck Mumbai and killed over 170 people, including foreign citizens. For the first time, the United States said that it would fully endorse any action that the Indian government would take. While most of the European powers sympathized with India over the Kashmir situation, Washington had previously always been elusive on this topic, preferring a peaceful approach between the nations. This above all else was the strongest showing of support that the US had given India in its conflict with Pakistani based terrorists.

War has been an important part of the Kashmir legacy as the evolution of the conflict can be understood by looking at it. In a sense, the Kashmir issue is one of the last remnants of the cold war as both the US and USSR putting in considerable time to affect its outcome. For its part, India has been accused of clamping down on the freedom of the people in Kashmir and the region remains one of the most isolated places in the world. Also, India has never openly conducted an election to determine the the will of the people of Kashmir. The common conception is that the Muslim majority would influence the elections and would vote to join Pakistan. However, when Pakistani forces covertly infiltrated Kashmir and sought to raise a popular uprising against India, the movement was defeated when the locals simply turned over the Pakistani agents to the Indian authorities. The advent of terrorism and Pakistan’s repeated sponsorship of these terrorists who have killed thousands of innocent civilians dampens the peace process. Furthermore, their repeated refusal to take action against such people and the blatant disregard it has shown remains a sore thumb. Also, the fact is that the mistaken involvement of foreign powers has negatively influenced the process as it has cause both countries to question the motives of countries who try to help mediate the situation. As the world enters a new age of globalization where every country is interconnected, it becomes more important than ever to put an end to this conflict. However until it does, Kashmir remains a land in turmoil, a land whose beauty is marred by the ugliness of hate and conflict.

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