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Lecture Series on Roots of Sectarian Conflict

Publisher: Cambridge University Press (June, 1991)

Publisher: Cambridge University Press (June, 1991)

There are 2 major underlying factors that brought about significant changes in the 1980s--one is national and one is international. First, the national. As Indira Gandhi centralized the Indian policy, the forceful dismissal of Kashmir’s chief minister at that time, Farooq Abdullah (son of Sheikh Abdullah) in 1983 and the rigged elections of 1987 were turning points. You don’t have to know the history to understand the main point I am trying to develop. The main point is that there were non-democratic, anti-democratic centralizing antics undertaken by the Indian government under Mrs. Gandhi. And this made a new generation of younger Muslims in Kashmir feel that they could not control their own political destinies.

As disaffection grew, the Indian state treated the problem mainly in terms of law and order. Security forces used brute force and this further pushed young Kashmiri Muslims into militancy. So this is one part of what changed in the 1980s. The other thing that changed had to do with the international situation around Kashmir. What changed was the situation in neighboring Pakistan. It changed because the Soviet Union was defeated in Afghanistan in the late 1980s and what had happened in that process of defeating Soviet Union in Afghanistan was that the United States had built up Pakistani intelligence services as an instrument to fight the Soviets by linking up with various “jihadi” groups. With the defeat of the Russians, this built up troublemaking capacity of Pakistani intelligence service and jihadis became, so to speak, freely available and seeking a place to unleash itself upon and they turned upon Kashmir as part of an overall foreign-policy shift in Pakistan. So the two changes that come together in the late 1980s are disaffected Muslim Kashmiris and the ISI-jihadi nexus. They come together and they forge an alliance that has basically been behind much of the conflict in Kashmir.

During much of the 1990s, indigenous Kashmiri Muslims were the main political actors demanding greater power and autonomy, pushing Kashmiri Pandits out of the valley, an ethnic cleansing of sorts, which, much to my surprise, has not evoked as much political attention, even in India, as it ought to have. And confronting the massive security forces that India employed in the region. Indian security forces repressed Kashmiri militants rather brutally. And, had these militants not been supported by the outside, as was the case in Punjab for example, the conflict would have probably petered out. Over the last 5 to 6 years however, numerous jihadis, some Kashmiri and some not, most trained and armed in Afghanistan or Pakistan, have joined the fray. The situation by now is deeply tragic. Most Kashmiri Muslims don’t trust the Indian government and would probably opt for a sovereign state. Neither India nor Pakistan will let this happen. India wishes that the coming state elections in a few months will create a political resolution, or will at least make a dent, this is not likely. Pakistanis hope that Indian Kashmir will become a party of Pakistan is totally quixotic. Enormous resources are being put on a goal that will never be achieved.

Irrespective of who is right or who is wrong, the only realistic solution to the Kashmir problem will have the three following ingredients: first, it will more or less formalize the existing line of control between India and Pakistan as a legitimate international border; second, Pakistan will have to eventually exercise some limits on its support for jihadis; and third, the Indian government will have to offer deep concessions to all the three regions of Kashmir--the more Hindu region, the Muslim region and the Ladakh region, but especially the Muslim region, where most of the alienation exists. And these concessions will allow these regions to govern themselves much more autonomously within the Indian federation. So, in a sense, everybody will have to make these concessions and accommodate the real forces on the ground. The military balance is in favor of India, the Muslims within Kashmir are mobilized, these facts have to be taken into account in any eventual. It is far too brief a statement and I have touched on the main points. I will be happy to go into any level of details as suits the audience.