Wednesday, August 07, 2019

Why is Kashmir part of India anyway?

India's unilateral decision to scrap Article 370 of its constitution, which allows a limited independence ("special status") to its Himalayan state of Jammu and Kashmir, has attracted international condemnation and outrage in almost equal measures (and, I suppose, a certain amount of praise and tub-thumping within Hindu circles, although there have been protests against the action even within India). This effectively downgrades the region from state to territory, and reduces its semi-autonomous decion-making ability. Local Kashmiris are bewildered, frustrated and angry, and nuclear-armed Pakistan next door is threatening reprisals. The region is in lock-down with a strict curfew, and all communications with the outside world, including the internet, have been cut off. An already tense region, therefore, just became a whole lot tenser, and the situation could go in any number of directions.
There are various reasons why Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi has decided to make such a contentious move at this time, although his claims that his intention is to free Kashmir from decades of turmoil and violence are clearly disingenuous. But, to be fair, Article 370 was only ever mean to be temporary - despite having lasted 70 years! - and Kashmir remains one of the most militarized and unstable regions in the world, a situation that is clearly not sustainable in the long term (not that 70 years is exactly short!)
Anyway, make if it, and Modi's justification for it, what you will. My question was: why is Jammu and Kashmir in that position in the first place? Why did Hindu-majority India end up with a Muslim-majority province at all?
A little potted history: when British India was partitioned in 1947, generally speaking the Muslim-majority areas became West Pakistan (later just Pakistan) and East Bengal (later East Pakistan and then Bangladesh), and the Hindu-majority remainder became modern India. However, despite its clear Muslim majority (about 77%) and unequivocal claims from Pakistan that the region was theirs, the Maharaja of the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir was undecided as to whether to join with Pakistan or India. In the resulting power vacuum, Pakistani fighters entered the region, intent on claiming it for Pakistan. Kashmir (in the person of Maharaja Hari Singh) then agreed to an "accession treaty" with India, in return for Indian troops pushing out the Pakistani invaders, and the region's uneasy relationship with India was begun. Arguably, then, it was the dithering of the Maharaja, and his failure to determine the future of his state before the transfer of power took place, that has led to all the bloodshed and uncertainty that has plagued this beautiful region ever since.
As a result of that first Kashmir war, both Pakistan and India came to control different parts of the zone, and a ceasefire line was established, although neither country surrendered its claims. A 1948 UN resolution, calling for the demilitarization of the area, was never acted upon, and the "reference to the people" (plebiscite) that was required as part of the Indian accession agreement likewise never happened, so its status remains anomalous (and, arguably, illegal). When India drew up its constitution document in 1949, Article 370 allowed Jammu and Kashmir to have its own separate constitution and its own flag, along with some limited autonomy over the internal administration of the state, particularly over citizenship and property rights (which, importantly, allowed it to block Indians from other states from moving there). 
Two inconclusive but bloody wars have since been fought over the state, which remains a potential flashpoint between the two nuclear-armed powers. Modi's precipitate actions this week might just have set the stage for a third.

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