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“They Don’t Need People:” A Brief History of the Kashmir Conflict

Written by Areebah Oyshe

Jammu and Kashmir, the landlocked area between China, Pakistan, and India, are now in the midst of a territorial dispute. Throughout three wars in 70 years, there have been countless terrorist attacks, airstrikes, and other human rights violations during the occupation of half a million Indian troops and a number of militias and terrorist groups. 

When the British ended their colonization of the Indian subcontinent in the 1900s, the region was split by the dominant religious groups: Muslim-majority Pakistan and secular India with Hindu roots. The partition was bloody, and created a million refugees overnight.

The region is then divided into provinces and princely states, some 550 princely states given the choice to join either India or Pakistan. Most states followed the will of their people, except for one: the Jammu and Kashmir state. The predominately Muslim state was ruled by Hindu Monarch, Hari Singh.  Singh, wanting independence for Kashmir, remained neutral. In an effort to maintain a civil relationship, Singh signed an agreement with Pakistan that would allow trade and travel between Pakistan and Kashmir. 

Despite this, the Kashmiri people feared that Hari Singh would join India. Many Kashmiris rebelled in 1947 and armed Pakistani tribesmen joined the fight. Singh sought help from India for military aid and agreed to join India in return, signing the Instrument of Accession in October 1947. It provided special status within the Indian constitution, which guaranteed Kashmir independence except for communications, foreign affairs, and defense, sparking the first Indo- Pakistan war in Kashmir.

The UN security council brokered a ceasefire in 1949, arranging a new border, which split the territory and gave both India and Pakistan portions of Kashmir territory. The UN also requested that armed Pakistani tribesmen and the Indian military to both withdraw, in an effort for the Kashmiri population to vote and decide on their dependence. Despite this, neither country complied. The Pakistan government maintained that, as primarily Islamic, Kashmir should belong to them whereas the Indian government believed that Hari Singh’s agreement should have been kept, and therefore, Kashmir should be their territory. Both countries continued to try to take control of the area for decades despite the UN’s ceasefire.  Meanwhile, the Kashmiri people continued to suffer throughout the 1960s for the duration of the second Indo-Pakistani war. The third Indo-Pakistani war focused on Eastern Pakistan in the 1970s. India assisted in a Pakistani rebellion, resulting in Pakistan losing control over the territory, which established itself as Bangladesh. In an effort to gain territory after their loss, Pakistan refocused on Kashmir. 

In 1987, Indian government officials reportedly interfered in their own election to help the pro-India party take power. Kashmiris felt that they were again denied the right to vote and thousands in India protested Indian occupation

India met the protests with harsh resistance, which inevitably led to more violence. In January 1988, Indian authorities opened fire on demonstrators. From a two year struggling movement to a full-blown popular uprising, more than 600 people were killed on both sides. The Kashmiri militia comprised of Jammu and Kashmir’s liberation front started recruiting Muslim youth to fight and attack the Indian military.  The Indian government responded with 500,000 troops, all sent to Kashmir, and allowed radical terrorist groups to dominate the insurgency. India also cracked down on militants and protests, forcing citizens to flee or be killed.

By 1998, the fourth Indo-Pakistan war was a battle between two nuclear-armed nations. Pakistan’s militant groups launched a series of attacks outside of Kashmir, while India cracked down on protests, killing and wounding activists in the process. 

Even today Kashmiri people’s voices are not heard. Caught in the middle of a violent dispute their rights are grossly being violated. Torture, arrests, and detention, murder, sexual violence, and disappearances are commonplace in Kashmir. There are also violations of the right to health and education, restrictions on the right to freedom of expression, retaliation against human rights defenders, and restrictions on journalists.  More recently Internet and telephone services have been suspended, travel has been restricted, and the Instrument of Accession was revoked by the Indian government in August 2019.  As one Kashmiri said, “this is a territorial dispute… they don’t need people.”

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