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The unresolved Kashmir dispute: Let the people decide October 25, 2012

Posted by nishankmotwani in : By contributor, India, Pakistan, Snedden, Christopher , trackback

Christopher Snedden

The Kashmir dispute is alive and (un)well, as statements made in September at the United Nations General Assembly by Pakistan’s President Zardari and India’s Foreign Minister Krishna show.  These came almost 65 years after the accession to India by Maharaja Sir Hari Singh, the ruler of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K).  Singh’s accession on 26 October 1947 was contentious.  He was reluctant to join India or Pakistan as he favoured independence for ‘his’ princely state.  Singh primarily acceded to India in order to obtain military help to defend J&K from Pukhtoon tribesmen from Pakistan who invaded Kashmir Province on 22 October 1947.  Their plan was to capture J&K for Pakistan.  India accepted the accession, promised a plebiscite so the people of J&K could decide their future, then sent its military to J&K.  It secured Jammu, the Kashmir Valley and Ladakh for India.

Despite obvious complicity in the Pukhtoon invasion, the Pakistan Government rejected Singh’s accession, which was ‘based on fraud and violence’.  The ‘fraud’ involved three matters.  First, India would not, or could not, produce an actual Instrument of Accession document.  Second, given that 77 per cent of J&K-ites were Muslims and that J&K’s major economic links were with Pakistan, Pakistanis considered that J&K should have joined Pakistan.  Third, Pakistanis perceived Indian deviousness in encouraging Singh to join India and in pre-planning its airlift of troops to Srinagar to miraculously ‘save’ J&K from the invaders one day after the (supposedly unexpected) accession.  The ‘violence’ involved the maharaja’s military attacking strongly pro-Pakistan Muslims in Poonch in south-western J&K and unsuspecting Muslims in eastern Jammu Province, Singh’s home province.  Thousands of Jammu Muslims fled to Pakistan, believing they would soon return after peace and normalcy were restored.  (Equally, Muslims attacked non-Muslims in western Muslim-majority areas of Jammu Province with devastating effect.  All major religious communities suffered in Jammu in 1947, with an unknown number killed.  Some figures suggest that the death toll in Jammu was higher on a per capita basis than in neighbouring Punjab.)

Nevertheless, martial Poonchis fought back.  Along with Muslims in Mirpur District immediately south, they freed large parts of western Jammu from Hari Singh’s control before the Pukhtoons’ invasion of J&K decidedly helped their cause.  On 24 October—two days after the invasion but two days before Singh’s accession—these rebels established their own political entity in the liberated areas.  They called it Azad (Free) Kashmir.  It was ‘free’ from the maharajah’s control.  The pro-Pakistan rebels also claimed that only their government was the legitimate one for the princely state.  After Indian troops entered J&K on 27 October 1947, Azad Kashmir was ‘free’ from Indian control.  It has remained so ever since.

Interestingly, Indians and Pakistanis generally know little about the abovementioned events in J&K.  Few know that people in J&K instigated the dispute over J&K’s international status—the so-called Kashmir dispute.  Few know of the tragic inter-religious violence in Jammu in 1947.  Few know of the creation of Azad Kashmir.  Indeed, most appear to believe India’s perennial official stance that all violence in J&K only began when the Pukhtoons invaded J&K on 22 October 1947 and that this invasion instigated the Kashmir dispute.  New Delhi has propagated this position despite evidence showing that India’s leaders knew in mid-September about the Poonch uprising and in early October about the Pukhtoon invasion of J&K.

Surprisingly, Pakistan has acquiesced in India’s stance, even though Pakistani leaders also knew about events in J&K.  This has been due to ineptitude, embarrassment about Pakistan’s part in the Pukhtoon invasion, being distracted by serious events happening in Pakistan and the subcontinent, and by wanting to obtain all of J&K, not just the pro-Pakistan areas of Azad Kashmir and the Northern Areas (now called Gilgit-Baltistan) which have been under Pakistan’s administration since around 1948.  Recognising an unelected government in one region of J&K while, conversely, seeking a plebiscite for all of J&K, would have weakened Pakistan’s position.  Such recognition also would have contradicted Pakistan’s position on the princely states of Junagadh and Hyderabad—and its original stance on J&K—whereby only the ruler decided the accession issue.  Duplicity has posed great problems for Pakistan.

There are two consequences of the pre-accession actions by people in J&K not being recognised.  First, J&K-ites appear (falsely) to have been passive observers of events in J&K in 1947.  However, apart from the Poonch uprising, people in the Kashmir Valley also organised to defend themselves against marauding Pukhtoons, while people in Gilgit staged a pro-Pakistan uprising in early November 1947.  Second, since mid-1948, India and Pakistan have successfully excluded the people of J&K from all attempts to resolve the matter of J&K’s international status—even though this matter is about their homelands.  J&K-ites have never been asked in any meaningful, inclusive or J&K-wide way what status they would like for their homelands.  Rather, the Kashmir dispute has been an India-Pakistan battle to determine which nation will obtain J&K.

Although both nations seem to realise that a division of J&K offers one way to resolve the Kashmir dispute, India and Pakistan revert to their hardline positions on occasions, as evidenced by Zardari’s and Krishna’s recent UN statements.  Pakistan wants the people of J&K to vote in a plebiscite to determine whether J&K, in its entirety, should join it or India. A division of J&K or independence are not options, even though some, perhaps many, J&K-ites favour the latter.  For India, highly unpopular in the Kashmir Valley since 1988, the only question is ‘when will Pakistan vacate those parts of J&K that it is occupying?’  Given their inability after 65 years to resolve the Kashmir dispute, is it time for both nations to enable the people of J&K to determine what status, or statuses, they would like for J&K?  After all, they actually instigated the Kashmir dispute.  Perhaps only they can resolve it.

Dr Christopher Snedden is the author of The Untold Story of Azad Kashmir, which discusses these events in detail.


1. Shakir Jan - October 26, 2012

good piece, but inadequate information regarding the liberation of Gilgit-Baltistan and its legal status at that time. Sons of the soil liberated their fatherland from the clutches of the Dogra Army through an armed struggle, established a republic and acceded to Pakistan as The Republic of Gilgit.

2. Serge DeSilva - October 26, 2012

Well done, good article!

3. Christopher Snedden - October 26, 2012

Thanks for your comment, Shakir Jan. While I did mention it, space did not allow me to elaborate on Gilgit which was under the tenuous control of the Maharaja of J&K after the British retroceded their control of this region to him on 1 August 1947. There was an anti-maharaja, pro-Pakistan uprising in early November 1947 in Gilgit town, while some of the local rulers in Hunza, Nagar, etc., concurrently also acceded to Pakistan. However, it was not these rulers place or right to do so as, under the ‘rules’ of the British departure from India in 1947, only the ruler of a princely state could make an accession to India or Pakistan, not a subordinate local ruler. In addition, Pakistan chose not to accept these local accessions as this would have contradicted its stance in relation to Hari Singh’s accession, which Karachi did not accept. It also would have comprised Pakistan’s position on the Kashmir dispute and its desire to obtain all of J&K. More work needs to be done on the Northern Areas/Gilgit-Baltistan region.