Kashmir is a territory located at the border of China, India, and Pakistan. It is not wholly owned by a single country and is governed by India and Pakistan who refuse the region’s independence. This uncertainty surrounding the control of Kashmir has also led India and Pakistan to relentlessly fight over its control, leaving the Kashmiri people subject to the fallout of this violence.
Modern Kashmiri plight began when India gained independence from Britain in 1947. When the British granted the Indian subcontinent independence and left the region, they split it into two distinct nations: India and Pakistan. Pakistan would serve as a Muslim-majority state, with India being a technically secular, but Hindu-majority state. The leftover provinces that the British failed to assign were thus left with the decision to join either country, a decision that was typically made by the monarch of the state, based on the makeup of their jurisdiction. However, Kashmir served as an exception in this procedure: It was the only state that was Muslim majority ruled by a Hindu monarch.
The monarch desired independence for the area and, therefore, remained neutral in the decision on which country to join. However, a small population in the Poonch area of Kashmir rebelled, as they thought the monarch would decide to join India. Tribesmen from Pakistan quickly joined in support of this rebellion, in response to which the monarch turned to India for military support against the uprising. In exchange for military assistance the monarch agreed to allow Kashmir to join India. This event provoked the first of three distinct wars fought between India and Pakistan within Kashmir.
The United Nations Security Council called for a ceasefire two years after the first war had commenced, establishing a line dividing India and Pakistan’s respective territory in Kashmir. Along with this measure, the action called for each side to withdraw their troops from the area and allow for a referendum to be conducted that would allow Kashmiri residents to autonomously decide their collective fate. However, this agreement was not held up, and the vote for the Kashmiri people was never held.
The second war occurred in 1965 and again ended with another ceasefire that did not change the status quo. The final war occurred in 1971 in the territory of what was then East Pakistan, and resulted in Pakistan’s territory here being lost and made into a new nation, Bangladesh. Due to Pakistan’s loss in 1971, their grip on Kashmir tightened, resulting in it becoming the most militarized place on Earth.
The feelings and livelihoods of the Kashmiri people have been constantly disrupted and compromised by fighting between India and Pakistan. Civilians of Kashmir are pawns in the hands of these armed, nuclear powers.
Despite the decades of fighting, there exists an abundance of skills, beauty, and distinctiveness within the region. Kashmir’s economy is based predominantly on agriculture. The Kashmir valley, in particular, is renowned for cold water fisheries, among other things. An integral waterway, the Indus River, also flows directly through Kashmir, enhancing its greenery and richness in natural resources. The saffron produced within Kashmir is also quite eminent, and serves as a major luxury export.
Unfortunately, the wonders that the territory itself has to offer have been minimized and degraded as a result of the ongoing dispute. Further, the tourism industry, once booming by way of Kashmir’s natural beauty, has been completely destroyed. In these ways, the ongoing uncertainty involved with the dispute has perpetually inhibited Kashmir to flourish economically.
We can take India’s relatively recent revocation of Kashmir’s special status, granted within Article 370 of the Indian constitution as an example of how this is happening. This article had granted Kashmir a higher degree of autonomy and special protections within the Indian constitution. The most respected and enforced component of this article was the right to the land within Kashmir, granted to Kashmiris. This right gave Kashmiris and Kashmiris only, the ability to buy and sell property within Kashmir. Thus, the article, for the first time ever, had allowed Kashmiri citizens to be able to protect and further their own interests without the shadow of dominant Indian or Pakistani interests hanging over them.
However, when the article was suddenly revoked due to the Indian government deeming it as discriminatory against Indian citizens residing in Kashmir, its ensuing rebellions provoked a security and communication lockdown. The Kashmiris felt as though their aspirations of one day becoming an independent state were snatched in a moment. Their desires and more importantly their right to self determination had already once been directly dismissed when both India and Pakistan did not follow through on the referendum prescribed by the UN, and now one of their most integral protections had also been confiscated.
As a result of these sentiments, a lockdown within Kashmir was immediately instated. The lockdown quickly affected the economic state of Kashmir too, rendering upwards of 2.4 billion dollars worth of losses. This massive economic shock makes the power of India and Pakistan over Kashmir immensely clear. The quality of life of Kashmiris residing in the area are ignored and, with the fate of the economy always being dependent on the actions of India and Pakistan, Kashmir has never been allowed to thrive on its own. Economic uncertainty fosters fear and caution in daily life.
It is reasonable to conclude that the lack of a stable economy worsens Kashmir’s condition. Governments are not aware of how much funding is available, and by way of this, education systems suffer, employment chains are impacted, and general prosperity declines. The United States Institute of Peace details specifically that, “The political upheaval… has exacted a heavy toll on the state’s economy, and the richest source of income has become the threat and use of violence. Mired in poverty, young people are easily recruited into predatory terrorist and paramilitary organizations, some of which are financed and trained by Pakistan’s security services, some of which enjoy the protection of Indian authorities.”
Thus, we see how the economic resources and strengths have themselves been the source of additional violence and propaganda for both countries. Both India and Pakistan have never hesitated to take any opportunity to exploit the Kashmiri people if it will allow them a foothold in their ongoing confrontation.
Despite this bleak trajectory, India and Pakistan have recently agreed to a strict ceasefire in Kashmir. The nations have agreed to stop cross-border fire along a set of previously assigned jurisdictions. Although a ceasefire between the two is not a completely novel phenomenon, it is said that the talks for this particular ceasefire were held in a distinctly civil manner and the decision to stop fighting—at least for the time being—has been willingly made.
Yet, typically within this conflict, these ceasefires have been continuously violated. Since the first of January of this year, the ceasefire has been already violated by India 175 times, resulting in 8 civilian deaths, according to Pakistan. On the other side, India’s home affairs ministry details that in 2020, Pakistan violated the ceasefire 5,133 times, resulting in even more casualties and injuries. Through this, it is clear to see how little the agreement matters to both states, and how, once again, they fail to consider the repercussions of their actions on the Kashmiri people. In order for this ceasefire to be successful, both sides will have to refrain from violation and learn to trust that their opposite parties will do the same.
Looking forward, the fate of the Kashmiri people will be determined by whether or not Pakistan and India begin to consider their rights and sentiments. Hopefully, this ceasefire will come to be respected. If not, other resources should be brought in to represent and elevate the Kashmiri experience in eventual resolution of this crisis. In order for progress to be made, it is integral that the Kashmiri narrative be brought to the frontlines. Sooner, rather than later, Kashmiri’s suffering must come to an end.
Edited by Elina Qureshi
Misbah Lalani is a first year at McGill University, pursuing a bachelor’s in honours international development studies and industrial labor relations, with a minor in social entrepreneurship. She is serving as a staff writer for Catalyst and is particularly interested in economic development and market conditions in Middle East.