Some historical background on the struggle for self-determination in Kashmir


The division of Kashmir, dating back to the India-Pakistan war of 1947--a legacy of British colonialism

This is an excerpt from an article by a World to Win News Service dated October 25, 2010.

Kashmir lies on the northern borders of India and Pakistan. Its more than 12 million people are mainly involved in farming or work in workshops and small factories making shawls, rugs and carpets. Kashmir’s population is multi-ethnic and multi-religious, with a Moslem majority but also many Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs and Christians.

After World War 2, before British imperialism ended its formal rule and left the subcontinent, the colonialists deliberately aggravated the differences between various nationalities and religions, as they did in other parts of the world.

This policy resulted in the partition of the former colony of India and the creation of the country of Pakistan after a bloody war between Hindus and Moslem that led to millions of deaths and several millions refugees. It was the biggest displacement history had ever seen until then.

After partition and the creation of Pakistan, the subcontintent’s small states that had never been under direct British colonial rule were not allowed to choose whether or not they wanted to be independent. In practice, they were forced to choose to be part of India or Pakistan.

Kashmir was ruled by a brutal Maharajah called Hari Singh. India expected to secure the domination of Kashmir because the Maharajah was a Hindu ruler. Pakistan had its own excuse to seek control of Kashmir because the majority of the population was Moslem. This gave rise to the first India-Pakistan war over Kashmir in 1947.

Pashtun tribal groups backed by Pakistan invaded the Kashmir valley, and India sent in troops with the cooperation of the Maharajah. Finally with the involvement of the United Nations, two Security Council resolutions (39 and 47) in April 1948 required that plebiscite be held to determine whether Kashmiris want to join India or Pakistan.

Independence was not a choice.

The Indo-Pakistani war of 1947 established the rough boundaries of today’s Kashmir. India controls the Kashmir Valley, and two areas called  Jammu and Ladakh, with a total population of around eight million. Pakistan set up its own Kashmir, called Azad (Free) Kashmir, in a tiny western chunk that it controls. The much larger region of Pakistani Kashmir is in the North-West. This province was once called the Northern Areas. In 1982 Pakistani President General Zia ul Haq proclaimed that the people of the Northern Areas were Pakistanis. In 2009, the Pakistani government renamed the Federally-Administered Northern Areas Gilgit-Baltistan. The population of the part of Kashmir controlled by Pakistan is nearly four million.

India and Pakistan fought another two wars over Kashmir in 1965 and 1999. They have also been involved in several skirmishes and disputes over the north eastern part of Kashmir. In short, Kashmir has been a prisoner of the rivalry between the two countries.

Despite the existence of a so-called legislature in Kashmir and a chief minister Omar Abdullah elected in 2008,  the real power in Kashmir is widely regarded to be in the hands of India’s army and intelligence agency and the Indian-appointed governor Narinder Nath Vohra.

Although Chief Minister Abdullah is from Kashmir, like his predecessors, people consider him no more than an Indian puppet. In fact, as the protests intensified during last summer’s uprising, he rushed to New Delhi to ask for more specially trained anti-riot forces to add to the many thousands of Indian troops already occupying the area.

Even before  the curfew established last summer, Indian security forces routinely encircled and raided towns and villages, murdering, arresting and torturing people. Rape and other abuses of human rights have long been a common practice. Tens of thousands of Kashmiri people have been killed, imprisoned and tortured. Some estimates say that 50,000 people were killed by Indian security forces in 1990s.

At that time half a million Indian troops poured into Kashmir, supposedly to fight the Islamic fundamentalist groups backed by Pakistan that were very active for a few years during that decade. Today there are no longer any strong Islamic fundamentalists groups in Kashmir, so neither they nor their Pakistani sponsors can be blamed for the disturbances. But the occupation troops remain to enforce the national oppression of the Kashmiri people that has been going on and meeting resistance for more than 60 years.

The imperialists played an important role in denying the right of self-determination to Kashmir. The policy of British imperialism that led to the division of India into India and Pakistan and divided smaller nations between larger ones is not an unfamiliar policy. Not far from Kashmir, the dividing up of Baluchistan between Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan, and the division of the Pashtun areas between Pakistan and Afghanistan in a different form (since the Pashtuns are the dominant nationality in Afghanistan), are only a few examples of this policy and its consequences.

The UN, too, bears  responsibility. It declared that Kashmir could only be considered a disputed area between India and Pakistan. This is the stand of the U.S., the UK and all of the imperialist powers. In other words, all deny the Kashmiri people′s right of self-determination.

The majority of people of Kashmir are not fighting to free themselves from India in order to join Pakistan, a no less brutal ruler.

Despite the activities of some religious figures and groups, the Kashmiri people’s protests over the last three years have not asked for Islamic rule. In fact, religious slogans and demands  are little heard. There were few if any symbols or banners carried by the protesters to indicate they were supporting Pakistan. What they chanted was ”Azadi” (Freedom),  ”Independence” or nationalist slogans such as ”The Kashmir we have watered with our blood – that Kashmir is ours!”

This is the just demand that the reactionaries in the region and the world hate and fear the most.

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