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1 August 2000 Kashmir in Conflict. India, Pakistan and the Unfinished War
Tor H. Aase
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Kashmir in Conflict. India, Pakistan and the Unfinished War by Victoria Schofield, I.B. Tauris, London – New York, 2000. 292 pp, paperback. ISBN 1-86064-545-3. UK£14.95.

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Victoria Schofield takes us into a conflict that is predicted by many to be a global hotspot in the 21st century. Ever since the Indian Subcontinent was divided in 1947, Kashmir has been a continuous threat to the political stability of the region. Several full-scale wars have been fought over Kashmir, and hardly a year has passed without minor events and clashes. Proponents of a gloomy scenario refer to the fact that India and Pakistan, the main contestants in the conflict, have both entered the present century as nuclear powers.

Pakistan has never accepted that Kashmir, with its overall Muslim majority, became part of India in 1947. Various Pakistani governments have repeatedly referred to a UN resolution of 1948 which recommended that a plebiscite be held in Kashmir over the question of accession to India or to Pakistan. Kashmir itself wants to add the third option of independence to these alternatives, and India does not want a plebiscite on any terms. Presently one third of the old State of Jammu and Kashmir is under Pakistani control, and the remaining two thirds belongs to India. This division is, however, the outcome of the relative strength in war between India and Pakistan – not the result of deliberate negotiations or boundaries based on ethnicity or topography. Those who suffer most under these circumstances are, of course, the Kashmiris.

The author's aim is to inform the reader about the complexity of the issues. She takes us on a historical journey from ancient Kashmir at the time of Ashoka right up to the “undeclared war” at Kargil in the autumn of 1999. In particular, three historical events are claimed to have been crucial in shaping the present impasse.

The seeds of the problem were planted in 1846, when the British East India Company sold the valley of Kashmir to Raja Gulab Singh of Jammu for ten million rupees. By that transaction, the Raja of Jammu became Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir. From the outset, the new state was not in any sense a nationstate. Jammu has a predominantly Hindu population, Kashmir proper is dominated by Sunni Muslims, Ladakh has a substantial Buddhist population of Tibetan origin, and Baltistan and parts of Gilgit Agency, which was later annexed by the Maharaja, are inhabited by Shia Muslims. This patchwork of linguistic and religious groups was ruled by a Sikh dynasty, the Dogras, under whom the Muslims in particular felt oppressed and deprived.

The Dogras ruled the State of Jammu and Kashmir with support from the British, who were comfortable with a buffer between British India and expanding Tsarist Russia. But as the day of independence on the subcontinent approached, a decision had to be made about the future destiny of Jammu and Kashmir. Maharaja Hari Singh could not make up his mind whether to comply with the general principle that states with a Muslim majority should accede to Pakistan, whether to accommodate Jammu and Kashmir within secular India, or whether to retain independence. While the Maharaja pondered these alternatives, tribal people from Northern Pakistan invaded the Western parts of the state. In order to avoid Srinagar falling into the hands of the insurgents, Hari Singh asked for assistance from the Indian army, which was granted on the condition that he first accede to India. After 73 days of independence, Jammu and Kashmir became part of India.

The third moment of destiny occurred during the “proxy war” of the 1990s, when Muslim resistance to Indian domination turned violent. Encouraged by Muslim resistance in other parts of the world and by the break-up of the Soviet Union and the restructuring of Eastern Europe, a new generation of Kashmiri Muslims took up arms in an effort to change their lot. With massacres and kidnappings now substituting for political arguments and intrigues, relations between the various factions inside Kashmir, as well as between India and Pakistan, became more bitter than ever, seriously diminishing the odds for a peaceful solution to the conflict in the foreseeable future.

Schofield wisely avoids jumping to any substantial conclusions about who the culprits are and how peace should be restored. Instead, she outlines some of the repercussions of various alternative solutions for the actors involved, and concludes that all thinkable ways out of the deadlock are opposed by at least one of the contestants. Given this situation, she recommends that small steps towards reconciliation, such as establishing a “Checkpoint Chakothi” on the border between Indian- and Pakistani-held Kashmir, should be encouraged, pending a change in the wider international context. By contrast with several other publications dealing with this issue, this book is serious about the fact that “Jammu and Kashmir” is not a uniform category, but a differentiated complex of ethnic and religious groups with their own distinct histories and external affiliations.

If there are any shortcomings in the book, they are concerned with the treatment of “Kashmiriyat” – Kashmiri identity. Throughout the book, there is confusion about whether Kashmiriyat refers to the Kashmir valley only, or whether it also resonates with the populations of Jammu and Ladakh. It is certainly not relevant to people in the Northern Areas of Pakistan (the previous Gilgit Agency). In the same vein, the term kaum is translated as “nation”, and may be read as referring to all inhabitants of Jammu and Kashmir. But throughout Western Himalaya and Afghanistan, kaum is primarily a designation for an ethnic group or a caste. All Gujars of India, Pakistan and Kashmir constitute a kaum, and so do Rajputs, Sayeds, Jats, Durranis, etc. When “The Lion of Kashmir”, Sheikh Abdullah, includes all inhabitants of Jammu and Kashmir in one kaum that has a common Kashmiriyat identity, he is trying to accomplish what leaders of multiethnic states are coping with everywhere: the imposition of a sense of homogeneity on a heterogeneous population. The very problem in Kashmir, however, is that persisting kaum identities are not found on the level of the former state.

On the whole, Schofield has written a brilliant book that will stand as an authoritative source of insight into a conflict that will remain one of the potentially most dangerous in the contemporary world for years to come. The text is rich in detail without losing sight of the main theme; it is impressively well documented, and the author manages to maintain an unbiased balance between adversaries who all claim legitimacy for their particular views. The book is also exciting to read. Schofield gives a masterful portrayal of the intrigues among Maharaja Hari Singh, Nehru, Jinnah, Sheikh Abdullah, and other players in the game – including their personal tactics, their suspicions, and the unexpected turns of events that have characterized the problem of Kashmir. All of this is wrapped up in a highly readable narrative form. I read the book during my Easter vacation, and I did not miss le Carré or other masters of fictional suspense for a second!

Tor H. Aase "Kashmir in Conflict. India, Pakistan and the Unfinished War," Mountain Research and Development 20(3), 292, (1 August 2000).[0292:KICIPA]2.0.CO;2
Published: 1 August 2000
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