Kashmir’s problems deserve our concern

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. (U-WIRE) — Once called “Paradise on Earth” for its natural beauty, today Kashmir is dubbed the “Valley of Death.” It is already the longest-standing conflict in United Nations history, and one of the bloodiest and most prolonged disputes witnessed by the world. Fifty years after the conflict began, Kashmir is no longer just a problem halfway across the world; it has now become our problem.
What makes the Kashmir situation our problem is the nuclear threat it poses. Both India and Pakistan sit with nuclear missiles pointed at each other. If a nuclear war erupts, it would have devastating consequences for the whole world. The nuclear threat, combined with the incalculable human tragedy already afflicted on the people of South Asia, demands that we change our policy toward Kashmir.
Instead of ignoring the issue and sitting idly, American attention and involvement have become crucial. Currently, the United States just expresses its wish that the conflict be resolved peacefully. What is necessary is an aggressive push on the part of the United States to make Pakistan and India start negotiations that include international moderation.
Last summer, India and Pakistan came dangerously close to starting a third war over Kashmir. Tensions are on the rise again. In fact, last week Pakistan accused India of killing 14 civilians and warned that it was “ready for any eventuality.”
So what exactly is the problem in Kashmir? The current conflict can be traced back to 1947 when the British were partitioning the Indian subcontinent into Muslim Pakistan and Hindu India. It is important to understand the historical background that was established at this time to be able to understand the contemporary conflict.
As the British were liquidating their empire, 562 “princely states” that the British had created to consolidate their rule had to decide which country to join based on geographical considerations and the “mandate of their people.” Before the partition deadline, all the princely states had joined either India or Pakistan, except Junagadh, Hyderabad and Kashmir.
In both Junagadh and Hyderabad, a Muslim king ruling over a Hindu majority initially opted to join Pakistan, but was then forced by the Indian military to grant a plebiscite — basically a referendum — so that the inhabitants could determine their own future. As a result, these states joined India.
The same but reciprocal problem existed in Kashmir — the ruler, the Maharaja (feudal lord), was Hindu and the majority of people, about 80 percent, were Muslim. The people of Kashmir wanted to join Pakistan, but the Maharaja, according to his son, “was too much of a Hindu” to agree to that. Going against the wishes of his people and after much delay, the Maharaja opted to join India.
This time, the Indian military did not act as it did in Junagadh and Hyderabad. So the Kashmiri citizens, aided by Pakistani irregulars crossing the border, resorted to armed revolt against the Maharaja. The Indian military then intervened by occupying Kashmir to restore order.
Within days of the fighting, a written and explicit understanding developed between all the parties involved that said as soon as the situation returned to normal, the Indian military would withdraw and a plebiscite would be held to determine the ultimate status of Kashmir.
More than 50 years later, the world is still waiting for the plebiscite, and the Indian military is still occupying Kashmir.
In fact, the United Nations has passed numerous resolutions calling for both sides to hold an internationally monitored plebiscite in Kashmir. But India, despite its original promises, has refused. It says that Kashmir became an inseparable part of India with the Maharaja’s decision, and any promises it made at the time are no longer applicable in the post-Cold War era.
To compound the problem is the deteriorating human rights as well as law and order situation in Kashmir. In its just-released 1999 human rights report, the United States decried the human rights abuses in Kashmir carried out by the Indian military. Major human rights organizations confirm that during the past 10 years, the Indian military has allegedly killed 30,000 Kashmiris — two-thirds of whom are civilians. Furthermore, India has reportedly resorted to torture methods and a scorched-earth policy.
During the past 10 years, the Kashmiris have responded with armed insurgency against Indian occupation. Many believe that this movement is supported by Pakistan. Yet Pakistan claims that it only offers moral support to what it calls an “indigenous freedom struggle.”
The situation is truly dire in Kashmir, and we can only expect the worst. As a result, the United States needs to take a proactive approach by pushing toward the resolution of the conflict through the implementation of a plebiscite as called for by the United Nations resolutions. President Clinton’s upcoming visit to South Asia is a good place to start.
Ultimately, Kashmir is no longer a regional conflict. As the world’s major nuclear trigger, it is the ultimate international problem, because the possibility of nuclear war threatens our very existence. We need to act before it is too late.
Imtiaz Chaudhry’s column originally appeared in Wednesday’s Pennsylvania State University paper, the Daily Collegian.