Q&A: Kashmir Dispute
27 March 2006
Islamabad: India and Pakistan began peace talks that cover the long-standing dispute over the territory of Kashmir in early 2004. The mountainous region has been a flashpoint between the two nuclear powers for more than 50 years. Here is a step-by-step guide to the dispute. Why is Kashmir disputed? The territory of Kashmir was hotly contested even before India and Pakistan won their independence from Britain in August 1947. Under the partition plan provided by the Indian Independence Act of 1947, Kashmir was free to accede to India or Pakistan. The Maharaja, Hari Singh, wanted to stay independent but eventually decided to accede to India, signing over key powers to the Indian Government - in return for military aid and a promised referendum. Since then, the territory has been the flashpoint for two of the three India-Pakistan wars: the first in 1947-8, the second in 1965. In 1999, India fought a brief but bitter conflict with Pakistani-backed forces who had infiltrated Indian-controlled territory in the Kargil area. In addition to the rival claims of Delhi and Islamabad to the territory, there has been a growing and often violent separatist movement against Indian rule in Kashmir since 1989. What are the rival claims? Islamabad says Kashmir should have become part of Pakistan in 1947, because Muslims are in the majority in the region. Pakistan also argues that Kashmiris should be allowed to vote in a referendum on their future, following numerous UN resolutions on the issue. Delhi, however, does not want international debate on the issue, arguing that the Simla Agreement of 1972 provided for a resolution through bilateral talks. India points to the Instrument of Accession signed in October 1947 by the Maharaja, Hari Singh. Both India and Pakistan reject the option of Kashmir becoming an independent state. How dangerous is the Kashmir dispute? It is potentially one of the most dangerous disputes in the world. In 1998 India and Pakistan both declared themselves to be nuclear powers with a string of nuclear tests. 2002 saw a huge deployment of troops on both sides of the border as India reacted to an armed attack on the national parliament in Delhi the previous December. India said the attack was carried out by Pakistani-based militants assisted by the Pakistan Government - a charge always denied by Pakistan. In the worst-case scenario, the Kashmir dispute would trigger a nuclear conflict. Aside from that, the separatist militancy and cross-border firing between the Indian and Pakistani armies has left a death toll running into tens of thousands and a population brutalised by fighting and fear. Who are the militants? There are several groups pursuing the rival claims to Kashmir. Not all are armed, but since Muslim insurgency began in 1989, the number of armed separatists has grown from hundreds to thousands. The most prominent are the pro-Pakistani Hizbul Mujahideen. Islamabad denies providing them and others with logistical and material support. The Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) was the largest pro- independence group, but its influence is thought to have waned. Other groups have joined under the umbrella of the All-Party Hurriyat (Freedom) Conference, which campaigns peacefully for an end to India's presence in Kashmir. Indian forces announced a unilateral ceasefire against militant groups in November 2000, but violence continued. Attempts to get talks going between the government and the separatist parties have foundered over separatist demands that Pakistan should be included in any dialogue. India says there can be no three-way discussion involving Pakistan because it sponsors violence in Kashmir. Is religion an issue? Religion is an important aspect of the dispute. Partition in 1947 gave India's Muslims a state of their own: Pakistan. So a common faith underpins Pakistan's claims to Kashmir, where many areas are Muslim-dominated. The population of the Indian-administered state of Jammu and Kashmir is over 60% Muslim, making it the only state within India where Muslims are in the majority. Are there grounds to hope the Kashmir dispute can be resolved? Recent months have seen a big thaw in relations between India and Pakistan. That process culminated on 6 January, with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee committing themselves to a dialogue covering all issues between the two countries - including Kashmir. The two men said they were 'confident' that talks 'will lead to peaceful settlement of all bilateral issues, including Jammu and Kashmir'. The two governments will have huge international backing to make the talks succeed. An end to the violence and uncertainty in Kashmir would also be widely welcomed in India and Pakistan by those weary of the fighting and those who see it as a hindrance to economic development in the South Asia region. Analysts say that Pakistan has also given ground, with President Musharraf in December saying that he was prepared to 'put aside' his country's long-standing demand for a referendum on the future of Kashmir, as outlined in United Nations resolutions. And when Mr Vajpayee agreed to talks, he did not mention India's long-standing insistence that all cross-border terrorism be halted before talks could take place. Instead, he accepted an assurance from General Musharraf that he will not allow Pakistan-controlled territory to be used to support terrorism. However, a diplomatic solution has escaped both sides for more than 50 years, and there are no signs of any new proposals yet. Furthermore, both leaders face powerful hardline groups within their own countries who will be carefully monitoring the talks to make sure concessions they deem to be unacceptable are not offered to the other side. In addition, violence within Indian-administered Kashmir persists. The Pakistani and Indian armies are observing a ceasefire along the de facto border, the Line of Control that divides Kashmir. But the ceasefire is not being observed in the conflict between the Indian security forces and Kashmiri militants. India has long alleged that Pakistan-backed militants have been launching attacks across the country - including a double bombing in Bombay last year that killed some 50 people. The possibility of major militant attacks will increase in the spring, as the snows melt and mountain passes again become accessible to infiltrators. What is the Line of Control? A demarcation line was originally established in January 1949 as a ceasefire line, following the end of the first Kashmir war. In July 1972, after a second conflict, the Line of Control (LoC) was re-established under the terms of the Simla Agreement, with minor variations on the earlier boundary. The LoC passes through a mountainous region about 5,000 metres high. The conditions are so extreme that the bitter cold claims more lives than the sporadic military skirmishes. North of the LoC, the rival forces have been entrenched on the Siachen glacier (more than 6,000 metres high) since 1984 - the highest battlefield on earth. The LoC divides Kashmir on an almost two-to-one basis: Indian-administered Kashmir to the east and south (population about nine million), which falls into the Indian-controlled state of Jammu and Kashmir; and Pakistani- administered Kashmir to the north and west (population about three million), which is labelled by Pakistan as 'Azad' (Free) Kashmir. China also controls a small portion of Kashmir. What's the UN involvement? The UN has maintained a presence in the disputed area since 1949. Currently, the LoC is monitored by the UN Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (Unmogip). According to the UN, their mission is 'to observe, to the extent possible, developments pertaining to the strict observance of the ceasefire of December 1971'.