Kashmir is the oldest major unresolved conflict in the world today. It draws parallels with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, but is more urgent in some ways than that conflict. Palestinians and Israelis have recognized each other, communicate directly, and have signed agreements. The prospects of a major war between Palestinians and Israelis have receded. The dispute has settled down now into a pattern of skirmishes, and is centered on implementation of peace agreements signed earlier.
Not so in Kashmir, which precedes the Palestinian-Israeli conflict by one year [Kashmir conflagrated in 1947; Palestine-Israel war in 1948].
Unlike major transformations and diplomacy on Palestinian-Israel conflict, Kashmir has seen no progress toward resolution in seventy years.
Today, the dispute literally sits in the middle of three nuclear powers: India, Pakistan and China [five if you add United States and Russia]. Kashmir affects relations between these powers, impacts peace in Afghanistan, and hinders regional trade and development affecting at least two billion people.
The conflict poses the biggest threat to India: it has transformed India into an insecure, bitter country, locked in a conflict with a neighbor five times smaller — Pakistan. The conflict has forced the Indian government and politics away from the liberal and secular ethos of the country’s founders, the Indian military is bruised from endless counterinsurgency operations, and a major humanitarian disaster has taken shape in Kashmir, complete with mass graves, rape cases, orphans, and disappearances. Today’s India is unrecognizable: cow vigilantes, murder of progressive journalists, and threats to the media and civil society.
Fact is, Kashmir is defining India when it should be India defining the world with education, inclusiveness, and tolerance.
Foreign Policy magazine wrote in May 2016 that India is Losing Kashmir. And this was two months before the outbreak of the deadliest Kashmiri protests against Indian control in July that year. Those protests were likely the world’s largest peaceful expression of dissent against military control.
The New York Times, in a rare criticism of India, blasted Indian military’s role in the disputed territory in a April 21, 2017, editorial titled Cruelty and Cowardice in Kashmir.
And in June 2018, the United Nations demanded an international investigation into human rights abuses in Kashmir going back to 1947. The UN singled out both Pakistan and India but blamed New Delhi for the worst abuses, including gang-rapes by soldiers.
This demand by the world body for a global probe augments an earlier UN demand for an internationally-supervised referendum in the valley so Kashmiris can decide their future. Nehru, India’s charismatic first prime minister, promised the UN that India, and neighboring Pakistan, will facilitate the referendum but then reneged on his word, something that Indian politicians debate even today.
So, why should we care about Kashmir?
Kashmir is one of the most beautiful places on earth. It will be a tragedy if it evaporates in a nuclear Armageddon. Kashmiris have an impressive story to tell about peaceful resistance to foreign control. You can’t but admire the will of this nation to resist forcible integration into one of the largest countries on earth — India.
Kashmir is an admirable example of religious tolerance.
This is not a religious conflict [most Kashmiris are Muslim, but they are also Sikh, Hindu, and Buddhist, and they embrace each other], nor is it just a territorial dispute between states. This is about people, beautiful, brave people, and their will to persevere in the face of impossible odds.
Resolving this conflict will entail first having India accept that Kashmiris have a right to decide their future in accordance with UN Security Council resolutions, and then have both India and Pakistan sit down to sincerely resolve the conflict.
India is larger and bigger than both Pakistan and Kashmir. It is also the world’s largest democracy by size. All of this entails special responsibilities on India for peace and stability in the region. Subjugation of a people against their will must not be the legacy of a nation that produced Gandhi, one of two leading men who peacefully ended British control of India [the other was Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan].
Does this help you better understand why Kashmir matters? Want to know more but don’t want to read? Check out this easy primer by National Geographic on Kashmir Conflict.