Harry Sterling

From Edmonton Journal: “Kashmir as much a victim of internal division as …

“India’s Kashmir region is once again plunged into violence with dozens killed or wounded and mobs attacking government buildings.

The bloodshed was simply the latest in a series of violent confrontations that have plagued Indiacontrolled Kashmir since it was absorbed by New Delhi following India’s independence in 1947 when Kashmir’s Hindu Maharaja — confronted by invading Pakistani-backed Muslim militants — agreed to Kashmir joining India despite Kashmir’s population being predominantly Muslim.

Anti-Indian violence increased dramatically in the late 1980s in Indianadministered Jammu-Kashmir with over 60,000 reportedly killed since 1989.

The long-standing tension between India and Pakistan, the latter controlling the region of Azad Kashmir to the west, has led to three wars between the two neighbours.

Both governments are keenly aware that if the present status of India-controlled Kashmir were to change, whether by Kashmir becoming a fully independent state or joining Pakistan, that change could embolden separatist tendencies already existing within India and Pakistan.

New Delhi, in particular, has reasons to resist any truly meaningful change in Jammu-Kashmir’s political status, since the territory’s Muslim majority would likely seek separation from India if offered genuine choice.

However, what remains unclear is whether the people of Kashmir would freely choose to join Pakistan, a self-proclaimed Islamic state, or opt instead to become a fully independent nation, secular or otherwise.

In fact, some of the political movements seeking to end Indian rule over Kashmir do not necessarily favour integration into Pakistan.

Pakistan has been particularly suspicious of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, JKLF, which wants a United Nations referendum on Kashmir’s future, something India’s then prime minister Nehru originally promised in 1947 when India and Pakistan separated and Kashmir’s ruler, a Hindu Maharaja chose to “accede” to Indian despite his subjects being predominantly Muslims.

As Pakistan has repeatedly pointed out, that promise has never been honoured.

To complicate matters, Kashmiri groups do not always agree on their country becoming an Islamic state like Pakistan. Some prefer Kashmir to be a secular nation. Some power-brokers do not want to be dominated by Punjabi Muslims. (Long-standing religious differences between Sunni and Shiite Muslim are also capable of inciting bloodshed.)

Minority communities in Kashmir are fearful any change in Kashmir’s present status would undermine their own rights. This is particularly pertinent for Ladakh Buddhists, who are more related to the people of Tibet than Kashmir.

These fundamental differences will not be easily resolved even if India and Pakistan try to improve relations.

Were Kashmir to someday opt to become an independent state, such a state could want to include areas currently part of India and Pakistan within its own territory because of historical and ethnic links with Kashmir.

The current dispute over Kashmir between India and Pakistan is as much about their own futures as unified nations as it is about Kashmir’s.”

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