The Kashmir Knot

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TIM McGIRK IslamabadOn Oct. 24, 1947, the lights went out on the last Maharajah of Jammu and Kashmir, whose Himalayan domain extended from China to Afghanistan. A patch of darkness has remained on the Indian subcontinent ever since. That evening, Maharajah Hari Singh was presiding over a Hindu rite to the goddess of war. The chubby monarch was seated under a gilded, lotus-shaped umbrella when, suddenly, all the bulbs in the palace chandeliers flickered and died. Marauding tribesmen had blown up Kashmir's power station and were advancing toward the maharajah's lakeside palace in Srinagar. The ritual offering to the war goddess was hastily completed, and the maharajah had no doubts about what to do next. He fled.As Hari Singh's caravan of cars, stuffed with his treasures, family, servants and his favorite pair of shotguns, sped down the mountains from Srinagar to the safety of Jammu in the plains, the raiders closed in on Kashmir's largest city. Only 120 km of undefended road separated them from their prize. With the maharajah in flight, nothing could have stopped the Pathan tribesmen from capturing this vast kingdom and claiming it for Pakistan. The invasion had the secret backing of Pakistan's military leaders, who were worried that Kashmir's Hindu ruler might merge with India even though most of his 4 million subjects were Muslims.The Pathan warriors were told by their Pakistani recruiters that they had been chosen to fight a holy war, one that would free Kashmir's Muslim vassals from their Hindu master. The Pathans, as it turned out, also went along hoping for loot. While they should have been triumphantly raising the Pakistani flag over Srinagar, the Pathans instead stopped to pillage nearly every village along the way. By the time they reached the city's outskirts, burdened by their plunder, the balance had shifted against them.Cornered, the maharajah had signed the papers ceding Jammu and Kashmir to India. This enabled Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, himself a Kashmiri Hindu, to rush troops up to Srinagar and repulse the advancing tribesmen. Pakistani regular troops were then sent to the Himalayas to prop up the fading Pathan advance. Just nine weeks after India and Pakistan had gained freedom from the British Crown, they were waging an undeclared war. Another war, in 1965, would also be fought over Kashmir and two others narrowly averted, one as recently as 1990. But the disputed boundary--or Line of Actual Control, as it's called--remains as it was when the United Nations brokered a 1948 cease-fire between the two countries. Today, despite the continuing presence of U.N. monitors, the Pakistani and Indian armies routinely shoot at each other up and down the mountains. Most of the casualties, invariably, are not soldiers but civilians. Human rights activists, in the past have accused Indian security troops of terrible atrocities.If Kashmir were simply a question of land, Pakistan and India might have resolved this feud decades ago. All that is needed is a Solomon to draw an invisible line through glaciers, lakes and orchards. But Kashmiris never liked their maharajah much; they had another leader, Sheik Abdullah, a former science teacher who founded the National Conference party. While the maharajah scooted off, Abdullah stayed on in Srinagar to help fight the invaders. Even though Abdullah was a Muslim, he knew that Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists and Sikhs had coexisted peacefully in Kashmir for centuries, and he did not believe in Pakistan leader Mohammed Ali Jinnah's vision of a Muslim-only state.PAGE 1  |    |  
 
Abdullah also insisted that the Hindu monarch had no right to decide the Kashmiris' destiny. Nehru agreed, and so did the outgoing British Viceroy, Lord Louis Mountbatten. (A pragmatist, Mountbatten noted that Kashmir was more closely linked, through religion and geography, to Pakistan than India.) As a result, the maharajah was asked to sign only a treaty of temporary accession to India. Ultimately, Nehru agreed that whether Kashmir would belong to India or Pakistan should be decided by a referendum under international auspices.Nehru, and successive Indian leaders, reneged on this promise. Cheated of their vote, Kashmiris became increasingly militant. Finally, in January 1990, after security forces fired on a group of unarmed protesters, killing scores, the simmering discontent boiled over. A dozen Muslim guerrilla groups sprang up, some wanting independence, the rest opting to unite with Pakistan. Those who wanted to become Pakistanis found a ready source of arms and support from their brethren across the border. Indian officials say more than 29,000 civilians and 5,000 security forces have died in the insurgency. Property worth $500 million has been destroyed, and nearly 300,000 Kashmiris are homeless. Most of them are Hindus who fled the rising Muslim militancy in 1990. Although the Kashmir dispute is mainly a struggle for self-determination, the rebels and their Pakistani backers portray it as a religious war between Muslims and the Hindu titan. Armed militants, trained in Afghan camps, come from as far away as Sudan and the Middle East to fight this new jihad. Farooq Abdullah, the son and political heir of Sheik Abdullah, is now the state's elected chief minister. The insurgency, he says, has destroyed almost everything that was created in 40 years. Says Richard Haas, director of foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution in Washington: Kashmir has the greatest potential to trigger a conventional or nuclear war.Privately, officials in Islamabad and New Delhi admit that the knot of Kashmir could be untangled with relative ease. Here's how: both nations would accept the Line of Actual Control as the international boundary, with Pakistan and India keeping their territories. New Delhi and Islamabad would agree to scale back their forces in the region, while Pakistan closes down the supply of arms and Islamic warriors heading into the Kashmir Himalayas. Both sides would give greater autonomy to their Kashmiris, with closer ties in trade and culture between the two halves of the former kingdom. Chief Minister Abdullah recently commented testily: To hell with it. Pakistan can have [their side of Kashmir] forever. Just allow us to live in peace on this part of Kashmir. Ideally, that's how the conflict could be resolved.This won't happen anytime soon. Neither India nor Pakistan is in a position to talk seriously about Kashmir, explains Amitabh Mattoo, an international studies professor at Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University. Both have weak governments and adopt absolute postures. Any concession on Kashmir given by Prime Minister Mian Mohammed Nawaz Sharif would land him in trouble with Islamic rightists whose power is growing in Pakistan. They are demanding that all of Kashmir be seized by force. In India, Kashmir is an equally emotive topic, especially for the ruling coalition government, which is led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party. U.S. analyst Haas concurs: The time isn't ripe for resolution. Any ambitious diplomacy by outsiders is bound to fail.International attention was riveted on Kashmir last May after India and Pakistan both set off nuclear bombs. Government officials in New Delhi and Islamabad proclaimed that the nukes would lessen the likelihood of conflict in South Asia, but the opposite occured. The tests unleashed furious artillery barrages along the Kashmir line matching each other shell for shell. At one icy battleground, the 6,600-m-high Siachen glacier, Pakistani and Indian armies have condemned themselves to spending $2 million a day, losing hundreds of lives a year through gunfire and sub-zero temperatures, to defend a spot that is of no strategic worth to anybody. Increasingly, Pakistani artillery attacks signal a greater danger for the Indians than just the exploding shells. These salvos provide a fiery cloak to hide infiltrations by guerrillas. According to some Pakistani estimates, a new batch of around 1,100 armed volunteers cross over every spring thaw, bringing the total to more than 4,000 insurgents.Within the former kingdom, many Kashmiris have become disillusioned with the secessionist movement, which quickly turned dirty. Most of the educated moderates who started the uprising are gone, killed off by the army or by fundamentalist rivals who want unification with Pakistan. Too often, the first commanders were replaced by militants more keen on extorting protection money from shopkeepers than on liberation. To counter the pro-Pakistan rebels, the Indian military also succeeded, through bribes and threats, in turning many of the rebel groups against each other; often, the Indian army would be tipped-off to a rebel hideout by a competing militant commander. At the start of the revolt, many Kashmiris harbored the unrealistic expectation that after a few months of insurgency, India would give in and the Pakistani army would march over to free their state. But Pakistan didn't want to risk another war. Ghulam Ahmed Sheik, whose 22-year-old son was killed in 1990, within months of returning from a guerrilla training camp across the border, hates the Indians but feels cheated by Pakistan. It's the poor who died in this rebellion, he says. Pakistan just sat and watched.  |  2  |  
 
With fewer Kashmiris willing to sign on, the insurgency was taken over by what the Indians call foreign mercenaries. Recruits are drawn from Pakistan's side of Kashmir and from the Islamic schools around Punjab, Sindh and the frontier province. These unemployed youths are not only fired by Islamic zeal but, according to the Indian military, are also given cash. Pakistani backers pay guerrillas as much as $5,000 each to complete a one-year combat stint in Kashmir. Says Gurbachan Jagat, director general of police in Kashmir: The infiltrators are better trained now, and some are ex-soldiers or even serving soldiers from the Pakistan Army. Islamabad denies providing covert aid to the Kashmir rebels, but India insists that Pakistani military intelligence is conducting the militants' campaign and paying some of the bills.The new boys are fighting a tougher insurgency. Many are veterans of the Afghan war against the Soviets. They carry machine-guns, rocket-propelled grenades, the latest communications equipment and, when cornered, will fight to the last bullet. Against the Indians, surrender is not a choice. Explains Lieut. General Krishna Pal, the army commander in Srinagar: Even if the foreign militant puts his hands up, my policy is to shoot him. He has no reason to be here. This year, Pal's soldiers have killed nearly 170 foreigners, of whom 139 were Pakistani and 21 were Afghan.Some Kashmiris view these newcomers with misgivings. Most of the territory's Muslims bear no communal hatred against their Hindu neighbors--only toward the Indian authorities--and many were sickened by massacres of Hindus carried out recently by these grim outsiders. Some zealots also try to enforce their puritanical views on the easy-going Kashmiris, with only partial success. An Islamic decree forbidding satellite television was issued recently by the militants, but then they settled for a ban on corrupting music channels, such as MTV, with their gyrating female dancers.Strangely, the nuclear tests by India and Pakistan have renewed Kashmiris' hope for a settlement. If the Kashmir issue hadn't been there, what was the need for India and Pakistan to explode atomic bombs? asks militant leader Shahbir Shah. After the tests both nations are balanced, and it's clear that hostility will not resolve the problem. It's true that the atomic blasts sobered up leaders on both sides, but that hasn't made them more flexible. When Pakistani and Indian officials recently opened a round of talks, their first since the tests, the sessions on Kashmir ended in stalemate once again.With reporting by Meenakshi Ganguly/Jammu and Maseeh Rahman/SrinagarARMED FORCES
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