History of Kashmir Conflict: 1846-1948
Kashmir has gone through a tumultuous history through its existence as it has passed from ruler to ruler and empire to empire. I would like to outline some of the most important aspects of the history of Kashmir that can better shed light on the current situation in the state today, history dating back all the way to 1846. Throughout this short exegesis on the history of Kashmir, I will be using the detailed and important work of Alastair Lamb’s Kashmir: A Disputed Legacy 1846-1990.
Lamb points out in the beginning of his work that after the fall of of the British empire in 1947 the two entities that were carved out in the subcontinent India and Pakistan would help and encourage each other to preserve a unified polity, one of Britain’s greatest achievements. Yet, through the course of the last six decades India and Pakistan have grown further apart and have specifically fought two wars over the claim of its territory, precisely the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
In 1947, the state of Jammu and Kashmir was among approximately 562 Indian princely states that constituted about one-third of the British empire. Kashmir was among those who enjoyed “full legislative and jurisdictional power” (4). They were separate from British India as their allegiance was directly to the British crown. With the fall of the British empire, the Princely states in India would in theory become independent, especially those states who enjoyed similar status to that of Jammu and Kashmir. The process for which accession was to take place was laid out in its fundamentals by 1947. Rulers of Princely states like Kashmir could sign an Instrument of Accession to a dominion who would take over the defense, foreign affairs, and communications. In 1947, the majority of states fell nicely into two “catchment” areas for which they would accede to, one being the state of Pakistan and the other India. Thus, the ruler of Jammu and Kashmir could accede to either India and Pakistan even though three quarters of his subjects were Muslim.
The state was the creation of a Dogra chief in the first half of the nineteenth century Gulab Singh. He had won the favor of Rajit Singh, a great Sikh ruler whose capital was Lahore. In 1820 Rajit Singh appointed Gulab Singh Raja of the State of Jammu from which he began to build his own empire, beginning in the 1830s by the conquest of Ladakh, and then in 1840 by acquiring Baltistan. Poonch also became a state of Gulab Singh’s younger brother Dhyan Singh, but as one can see the beginnings of distaste of foreign rule was apparent as the Muslims of Poonch did not take a liking to Dogra rule. As a result, there were several bloody rebellions which tested the power of the Dogra Rajas.
Because of the non-intervention of Gulab Singh during the first Anglo-Sikh war, the British granted the Vale of Kashmir as a token of appreciation, a region which had been conquered by the Sikhs from the Afghan rulers in 1819. In 1846, the Sikhs were encouraged to cede Kashmir to the English East India Company, yet the Governor-General Sir Henry Hardinge was reluctant to expand British influence in region of the Valley and therefore transferred it by the Treaty of Amritsar of March 16th, 1846 to the Ruler of Jammu for a mere sum of 7,500,000 rupees. The inhabitants of the valley resented this overtake by the Dogra ruler and in response he flayed alive those opposed him. The Vale of Kashmir was a center of tourism and a place where people of the subcontinent could take refuge from the heat and humidity. It also became known for its shawl industry woven from fine threads of pashm wool.
The Vale of Kashmir from its early onset comprised of Hindu and Sikh influence as it was the hub of Hindu culture up until the fourteenth century when Islamic power was established by Shah Mir who seized power in 1339. Numerous preachers visited Kashmir during this time including the most notable among them Persian Mir Syed Ali Hamadani or better known as Shah-i-Hamadan. In 1586, the Moghul Emperor Akbar claimed Kashmir as part of his empire until 1752 with the collapse of the Moghul dynasty. Power was then transferred to the Afghan warlord Ahmad Shah Durrani whose power was then usurped by the Sikhs under Ranjit Singh in 1819. The author would like to direct the reader’s attention to these significant historical happenings in the valley’s history, which can lend some insight into the sentiment of distaste of outside rule including the present day Indian governance of the state. This sentiment is embedded deep within the historical underpinnings of the region’s history dating back nearly 400 years.
After the acquisition of the valley by the Dogra ruler Gulab Singh, Kashmir underwent many transformations and expanded its influence in other regions surrounding it. This new polity was quite unprecedented in the history of the subcontinent as it constituted a range of ethnicities and religions. The original “heartland” of the region, Jammu, consisted predominantly of Hindu and Sikh in population and was dominated by the Dogras who claimed an ancestry of Rajouri descent. Kashmir, or technically the Vale of Kashmir, consisted almost entirely of Sunni Muslims with the exception of a very influential upper class of Kashmiri Brahmins, or otherwise known as the Pandits. They traced their lineage through prominent leaders of Indian history one of whom was Jawaharlal Nehru. The Vale of Kashmir had no traditional links with the people of Jammu during the 1940s or previously and therefore had their highly developed and advanced culture with a milieu of both Hindus and Muslims. The thinly populated Ladakh was at that time predominantly Tibetan Buddhist. Baltistan, now belonging to Pakistan’s Northern Areas, were also ethnically related to Tibet but belonged to the Twelver Shiah branch of Islam. The author cannot comment on the current proportional shifts that have taken place over the last 60 years as there is very little census data that has since been conducted in the state.
In every respect for the Muslim state subjects, they lead hard lives even under the grandson of Maharaja Hari Singh who ruled until 1947. An institution of begar, conscription of the public for public work activities, was enforced whose origin can be traced back to 1893. As historian Alastair Lamb explicitly says, “In every respect of the State’s life there was discrimination against the Muslim majority and application of legislation expressively designed to favor Hindus” (84). Such was the fear of Dogra rule that the slaughtering of a cow was forbidden up until 1934, but as the author can attest to a psychological apprehension of beef continues to exist to this day in the Vale of Kashmir.
At the time of the Maharaja, Hindu-Muslim relations were relatively amicable and Kashmiri Muslims were described as subservient and obedient to the Maharaja as the Dogra rulers had brutally suppressed all remnants of opposition. Nevertheless, beneath the calm there was a bitter resentment to Dogra rule and this began to take shape in political outbursts by the late 1920s. The author would like to mention the eerie similarity between this simmering discontent of the inhabitants of the Vale of Kashmir during the early 20th century, which was cloaked by apparent normalcy with the current situation in Kashmir and the unobtrusive normalcy beginning in 2004.
With this understanding of the discrimination taking place toward the Muslims of the region, a movement for the betterment of the Kashmiri Muslim began in 1905 by the then religious leader of the Muslims of Kashmir Maulvi Rasool Shah who founded in the capital Srinagar an association named Anjuman-i-Nusrat-ul-Islam with its business improving the condition of Kashmiri Muslims in fields of education and religion. It sent committees to meet with the state government to seek redress of grievances committed against the Muslims of Kashmir. As this laid precedent for establishment of institutions that sought improvement of welfare in the valley, other groups followed suit in the second and the third decades of the 20th century. Their political inclination took on a religious undertone and thus they dealt with issues concerning differences among Muslims and legitimacy of sects. With the educational dealings of these new Muslim associations, Muslims of Kashmir were able to explore institutions of higher learning outside in India and by the 1930s, the first graduates returned to Kashmir among of whom included Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah, Mirza Afzal Beg, and G.M. Sadiq, people and whose lineage would dominate Kashmiri politics for decades to come.
Though opposition was pent up in the Islamic universities in India, an event in 1931 would change this disunity to an organized opposition movement that present day Kashmiris mark as the moment of their resistance to foreign rule. Many events are noted to have taken place against Muslims during this year under the auspices of the Maharaja of Kashmir but one that is notably remembered occurred in early June 1931. It was reported in the Jammu province that the Maharaja’s government disrupted Muslim worship and desecrated the Holy Quran. As news of this reached the capital Srinagar citizens were enraged and massive processions and public meetings ensued. One such meeting occurred on June 25th, 1931 when a non-Kashmiri Abdul Qadeer, North-West Frontier region resident, made a fiery speech calling for an armed resistance to the Maharaja’s rule. He was immediately arrested and this provided the fuel for the ensuing protests and processions. On July 13th, 1931 the trial of Abdul Qadeer commenced outside the Gaol in Srinagar with a great assembly of Kashmiri Muslims taking place. The police resorted to baton charges and stones were thrown in response. Eventually, the police resorted to fire leading to the death of 23 demonstrators. This day became to known to Kashmiris as “Martyrs Day,” the official commencement of an independence struggle form foreign rule, which to this day continues. This crisis was dominated by two specific leaders, the religious leader Mirwaiz Mohammed Yusuf Shah and the other a young teacher who graduated from Aligarh Muslim University with a Msc Degree in Chemistry Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah.
The latter was from a family of Kashmiri Brahmins who converted to Islam in the early 18th century. His family was not of good means but was well-known among influential Kashmiris of that period, which eventually precipitated in his attainment of an education from Aligarh University. Along with Mirwaiz Mohammad Yusuf Shah of the Vale, they set up the most powerful political party to date through the establishment of the All Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Conference, which became a major source of opposition to the Maharaja. Other members of this party became Chaudhri Ghulam Abbas as wells Mirza Afzal Beg, G.M. Sadiq, and Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed. From the beginning, the party suffered internal discord, a fact arising from the growing secular ideology of Sheikh Abdullah. By 1941, the parties earliest proponents left and allied with Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s Muslim League in British India, among which included Mirwaiz Mohammad Yusuf Shah and Chaudhri Ghulam Abbas. As the party would soon be renamed the National Conference, it began the “Quit Kashmir” campaign against the Dogra rule. As thus was the case, it boycotted the January 1947 Legislative Assembly elections resulting in the overwhelming victory of the Muslim Conference who then later passed a resolution on July 19th, 1947 advocating the accession of the state to Pakistan.
By this time, Jawaharlal Nehru became a close associate of Sheikh Abdullah and even visited him when the Maharaja imprisoned him in Srinagar. The former saw in Sheikh Abdullah the same vision of a secular, independent India uniting all the territory under the former British empire. It was in 1936 and later in 1944 that the founder of Pakistan, Mohammad Ali Jinnah came to Srinagar to investigate the political differences between the Muslim and National Conference and failing to find any common ground outwardly disapproved of the National Conference’s secularism. He claimed only the Muslim Conference represented the true Muslim majority of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Though he viewed direct involvement in state as unconstitutional unlike his Indian counterpart Jawaharlal Nehru, he firmly believed the Muslim Conference garnered the support of the majority of Muslims in the Vale of Kashmir.
As August 15th, 1947 came and went the Maharaja failed to accede either to India or Pakistan thereby making it an independent state with a life of its own, never minding that further complicated the issue of Jammu and Kashmir for the next six decades. On August 12th, 1947 the new Prime Minister Janak Singh proposed to both India and Pakistan a Standstill Agreement allowing the state of Jammu and Kashmir to continue trade and communication with its two new neighbors while still making up its mind. However, India balked at such an agreement and stated on official from the state must be sent to New Delhi before anything further could take place, a caveat that never was fulfilled. As a result, India rejected the claim advocated by Lord Mountbatten and thus was entering unchartered waters in its foreign policy since independence.
As 1947 was drawing to a close, the attitude of the Maharaja toward accession changed markedly as he was neither happy of acceding to India or Pakistan as in the latter case he thought he had no chance of remaining ruler of the state. Nevertheless, he favored the idea of independence but with an increase in mass resentment against his rule, he concluded the help of India would be needed with the price being accession. On October 21st, 1947 a growing sense that the India army would invade Kashmir after the state’s accession prompted Kashmiris in the Muzaffarabad region to dash from the state border to Srinagar. The arrival of Patiala troops in the state also contributed to this sense of urgency on the other side of the border, very much so in the Poonch region as they were sympathizers of the Kashmiri people and their subjugation during Dogra rule. As would be later called by Indian Intelligence officers, “Operation Gulmarg” became apparent on the night of the 21st of October 1947 in the Domel-Muzaffarabad area. Taking the Dogras buy surprise who were guarding the bridge that crossed the Jhelum river and lead to Srinagar, the Poonch men killed the majority of the Dogra army in the early hours of October 22nd, 1947, representing an act of rebellion against the rule of the Maharaja. With the road now clear and the primary objective the taking of the capital Srinagar in clear view, victory was nearly in the hands of the Poonch men had they a few armored cars which would have been necessary in taking of the key Srinagar airfield. The governor of Jammu and Kashmir came to New Delhi on the next day October 23rd, 1947 and the next day asked Jawaharlal Nehru for Indian help in the form of men, ammunition, and arms. He carried with the order of accession of the Maharaja to India but did not show it to him, while the the latter hoped that any concession of accession to India would not harm his desire for independence. On that same day, the Poonch rebels declared their independence from the Maharaja rule in the form of Azad Kashmir. With the then Prime Minister of the state of Jammu and Kashmir worried about what would ensue, he rushed to New Delhi persuading Nehru to intervene in this precarious situation for the Maharaja for which in return he would accept Sheikh Abdullah as the head of the state. Thereafter, on the morning of October 27th, 1947 an airlift of Indian soldiers to Srinagar took place just in time to take hold of the Kashmir airfield and to set the form of the Kashmir dispute, which has remained ever since. As Alastair Lamb points out and is a key centrality to the dispute of Kashmir, if Mahajan’s (one of the men who was sent to attain the signature of accession by the Maharaja in the days leading up to October 27th, 1947) “account of his travels is true, and he was quite emphatic that he refused to return to the State until Srinagar airfield was firmly in Indian hands (reflecting both the Maharaja’s determination that Indian assistance should physically arrive before he finally committed himself to handing power to Sheikh Abdullah….) then it would appear that the Indian intervention actually took place before the formalities of Accession had been completed” (136).
Nevertheless, with the influence of Mountbatten, Nehru proclaimed on November 2nd, 1947 on All India Radio that “we have declared that the fate of Kashmir is ultimately to be decided by the people, that pledge we have given”, which “we will not, and cannot back out of”, and that “we are prepared when and law and order have been established to have a referendum held under international auspices like the United Nations” (138). The United States Department of State also issued a stance on Kashmir in a paper to the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 2nd, 1947. It said that:
the Dominion of India may attempt to establish the extant electoral rolls as the basis for the referendum. As these rolls are said to contain less than 7% of the population and were compiled on a basis which served to weight the members of the wealthier educated Hindu minority who would obviously vote for accession to India, it is important that the electoral body should in fact be composed on a basis of complete adult suffrage in order that the result of the referendum may be representative of the actual wishes of the people of Kashmir.
Following the 1948 war between India and Pakistan over the issue of Kashmir, the United Nations took a more proactive approach and laid the foundation for the demand of Kashmiris through the last six decades. As a UN brokered ceasefire called for a plebiscite in the region that never took place, relations between Pakistan and India thereafter soured. However, in its most landmark statement through Resolution 47 passed on April 21st, 1948, the United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan (UNCIP) called for a committee of five members to investigate the territorial dispute of Kashmir and made specific recommendations to both sides. Pakistan was to arrange the withdrawal of all its troops who were citizens of the country of Pakistan while India was to withdraw its troops to a level that would be need to maintain law and order. Refugees were to be allowed to return and political prisoners were to be set free. The UN would then appoint a Plebiscite Administrator with sufficient powers to ascertain the wishes of the people of the State of Jammu and Kashmir. When the UNCIP committee reached the subcontinent in July 1948, it produced a plan of action on August 13th, 1948, which called for an immediate ceasefire and the opening of negotiations, involving the withdrawal of Pathan tribesmen and other Pakistani nationals. It was then to be followed by the withdrawal of the bulk of Indian forces. Once this truce was signed, the arrangements for a plebiscite could then be worked out.
As the author has somewhat futilely attempted to summarize the root cause of the conflict in Kashmir for the last six decades, he would like to point out that the years following the passage of this landmark UN resolution yielded no advancement in the solution of Kashmir and therefore does not add to the discussion of presenting the problem of Kashmir. He would like to again direct the reader to the monumental book on the history of the Kashmir conflict as mentioned in the opening paragraph and for which this paper’s foundations rests upon. Though the ensuing 60 years following 1948 have seen three more wars between India and Pakistan and an armed revolt that began in 1989 against Indian rule (leading to the death of nearly 100,000 civilians at the hands of the Indian army), these have only been espoused due to the events of 1947 and 1948 for which the right to self-determination of Kashmiris rests upon. To this day, and in the current second uprising currently taking place in the Vale of Kashmir, the call of the subjects of Kashmir is for imposition of the UN plebiscite that was alluded to by both Nehru, the United States, and the UN. Therefore, it appears to the reader and Alastair Lamb that the situation and environment in Kashmir will only be ameliorated through state referendum, allowing the people of the state to decide their future. The reader hopes that this article brings to light the problems that have faced Kashmiris and continue to face Kashmiris to this very day.