However, much changed in the late 1980s. Local government became more corrupt, Delhi override increased, civil rights were violated. Similar things had happened in other states before, but the threat from Pakistan (which in 1965 had tried to conquer Kashmir) justified the presence of large military forces. In addition, the revolution in Iran, the war in Afghanistan and the two American wars against Iraq (1990 and 2003) made the terrorist threat real. But with the Indian army’s attempts to control separatists and jihadists , the number of militant separatists in Kashmir has only increased.
Special laws that gave the army wide powers, abuses of power and human rights violations have weakened the population’s confidence in India. Some separatists have also attacked the non-Muslim population and most Hindus have now left the valley. For years, there have been regular street fights (especially after Friday prayers) between stone-throwing youths and the police. Throwing stones at the police is a ritual for many, even though it is dangerous and has a serious background. Civilian casualties and human rights violations have occurred to a large extent. It is estimated that 24,000-40,000 people have been killed since the unrest began in the 1990s. Election fraud, corruption and an ailing economy have further weakened the local population’s confidence in the political apparatus.
It is important to distinguish between those who want more autonomy , full independence or accession to Pakistan. The last group is probably quite small. Pakistan’s strict religious laws and political unrest make it unattractive. There are no opinion polls, but the largest political movement, the All-Party Hurriyat Conference, is seeking independence and wants a referendum on this.
The UN plays a limited role in Kashmir. An observer force (UNMOGIP) has been monitoring the border between India and Pakistan since 1949, when a UN agreement called for the withdrawal of military forces and a referendum. But Pakistan did not withdraw its forces and India never held the vote.
Islamism has made Kashmir a battleground for outside groups. Fighting guerrillas from Afghanistan have found a new case in Kashmir. Both al-Qaeda and IS have designated Kashmir and the liberation of their brothers there as their main targets, although they are unlikely to have enough presence in the area to be an important factor.
Pakistan has received some support from the Muslim world. As the only recognized Muslim nuclear power, Pakistan enjoys respect. Many countries, however, fear that guerrilla forces and terrorists could get out of control. For the same reason, the United States, which was previously one of Pakistan’s supporters, has now become India’s supporter.
The new major player is China, which has taken over as Pakistan’s international supporter. Trade and transport routes from China, through Pakistan and to a Chinese-built port on the Persian Gulf, bring Pakistan into the growing Chinese sphere of influence, something India dislikes.
China supported Pakistan this autumn, and brought the issue of Kashmir up for discussion in the UN Security Council. At the same time, China’s principle is not to interfere in other countries’ internal affairs. The Chinese are also concerned about Muslim separatist tendencies, as they are in conflict with the Muslim Uighurs in the Chinese province of Xinjiang.
6: Domestic policy
Both India and Pakistan are democracies. Put bluntly, this makes the conflict worse. The current Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, is vulnerable to criticism from Islamist parties because he leans on their support. In recent times, all the country’s leaders have wanted a better relationship with India, but still held back for fear of domestic reactions. In addition, it is difficult for Pakistan’s political leadership to control guerrilla groups operating from Pakistani territory. The army is a “state within the state” and has its own agenda. It is often accused of keeping the Kashmir conflict hot in order to justify its own existence and size.
In India, the situation is different, but just as problematic. Although all parties agree that Kashmir should remain Indian, Hindu nationalists in particular have profiled themselves on the Kashmir issue and opposition to Pakistan, a country located in Asia according to EBIZDIR. Several terrorist attacks in the winter of 2017–2018 turned the election campaign from being about economics to being about security. Thus, Prime Minister Narendra Modi could appear as the nation’s guardian (“chowkidar”).
By emphasizing an external enemy, Modi’s party has turned its attention away from other issues. A solid majority of the population supports the Prime Minister’s line in the Kashmir case, so Modi’s political rivals are forced to be equally steadfast.
7: Possible solutions
After more than 70 years, it is unlikely that the border separating Pakistani-controlled Kashmir from Indian-controlled Kashmir will be lifted. Then there are two possibilities left:
The border will be an international border recognized by both countries. Kashmir remains divided into two. It is not an unnatural solution, because as a principality, this was not an ethnically homogeneous country. Parts of Kashmir were under the prince for only a few decades. The two parts must then be integrated in their respective countries. There is no doubt that India will have the biggest challenges here.
Another possibility is a “softening” of the border. Many families are divided, many have had their lives ruined by daily skirmishes along the border. This contributes to dissatisfaction and a feeling of being occupied.
A softening of the border presupposes trust on both sides. It could contribute to increased trade, increased investment and economic growth. With trade and transport, the border will become less important and the need for increased autonomy or independence will decrease – as is the case in Northern Ireland. Democratic institutions and economic development can in the long run contribute to the question of belonging in the background.
Such a solution presupposes that Pakistan manages to reduce terrorist attacks across the border. Pakistan has a big challenge here. On the Indian side, the problem is that trust between the people and the government is thin.
In addition, softening the border requires great political courage in both Pakistan and India. This political courage does not currently exist on either side of the border.