Very early last month, Prime Minister Modi of India announced that he would abrogate Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, which accorded Kashmir special privileges, removed the territory of Ladakh from its hyphenation with the state of Jammu and Kashmir and made Jammu and Kashmir a union territory. Soon after that momentous announcement, Prime Minister Imran Khan of Pakistan wrote an opinion piece in a major US newspaper, in which he denounced Mr Modi’s actions and stated that the two nuclear-armed neighbours had moved closer to war. The Indian media, ever-ready to find fault with the statements of Pakistani officials, a trait more than shared by their Pakistani counterparts, interpreted that statement as a direct threat if the “Kashmir issue” was not addressed. That led Mr Khan to announce that Pakistan would not start a war with India or use its nuclear weapons first if one did eventuate.
As is usual in such situations that revolve around India and Pakistan, the argument soon devolves into claim and counterclaim, announcement and clarification, and the original situation is soon lost to sight. This iteration of the ongoing argument between the two countries over Kashmir is no different from the many that have preceded it.
In his impassioned plea in the New York Times, dated 30 August, Mr Khan made several claims, some of which do not entirely align with the facts. He states in that article, for instance, ‘I wanted to normalize relations with India through trade and by settling the Kashmir dispute, the foremost impediment to the normalization of relations between us.’ If Mr Khan did indeed wish to normalise relations between the two countries by addressing the issue of Kashmir, it stands to reason that he would begin to enact measures that would see Pakistan comply with the directives of United Nations Security Council Resolution 38 (1948), which instructs Pakistan to withdraw its tribesmen and nationals not normally resident in Kashmir from the region to India’s satisfaction (Article 2(a) of the Resolution) before a plebiscite may be held. The Simla Agreement, to which Mr Khan also refers in his article, stipulates that the matter of Kashmir is to be dealt with bilaterally, which negates Mr Khan’s efforts to bring other parties, such as the US, into the discussion.
There are several reasons why both India and Pakistan seek to control all of Kashmir. In Pakistan’s case, being able to administer all of Kashmir would raise its standing in the Muslim world and enable it to claim that it has accomplished its founder’s, Mr Mohammed Ali Jinnah’s, dream of giving colonial India’s Muslims a homeland. It would mitigate, at least to an extent, the loss of East Pakistan, now Bangladesh. India would like to have control of Kashmir in its entirety because that would give it immediate access to Central Asia’s energy resources and markets, allow it to outflank Pakistan, in part by cutting it off from its all-weather friend, China, and demonstrate to the world that it is truly a secular nation, one that is comprised of both Hindus and Muslims who share equal rights and liberties, as its own founding fathers envisioned.
Both countries also want to absorb Kashmir because of its water resources and tourism potential. The Indus Water Treaty between the two countries, which was brokered by the World Bank, gave the three eastern rivers – the Sutlej, Beas and Ravi – to India and the other three to Pakistan. Despite recent strains, the treaty still holds good and both countries commendably remain committed to solving the water crisis and have allowed inspectors to examine the Chenab basin in their respective regions.
No matter how promising that sounds for a normal relationship between the two countries, the opinions of ordinary Kashmiris are missing. No matter both India’s and Pakistan’s claims to Kashmir, and despite the fact that the people of Kashmir are for the most part Muslim, two-thirds want to go their own way and seek independence. In a private poll conducted in 2010 by the Sunday Hindustan Times newspaper, 66 per cent of respondents in the Kashmir Valley wanted ‘complete freedom to entire Jammu and Kashmir as a new country’ and only six per cent wanted a ‘complete merger of the entire Jammu and Kashmir in Pakistan’. That sentiment was not shared in Hindu-majority Jammu or Buddhist-majority Ladakh, which saw 76 per cent and 70 per cent of their populations opt for a ‘complete merger’ of the state with India. In effect, the people of Kashmir were saying to both India and Pakistan, “a pox on both your houses; leave us to live our lives in peace. We do not wish to be pawns in your power games.”
As history has demonstrated time and again, however, it is extremely unlikely that their wish has any realistic chance of coming to fruition.