For 70 years, India and Pakistan have been fighting over Kashmir in the Himalayas and Karakorum mountain ranges. In 1949, the conflict led to the division of the border into an Indian and a Pakistani part. But no peace agreement was reached. Since then, peace efforts have been replaced by escalating violence. The world is concerned about the Kashmir conflict because both India and Pakistan have nuclear weapons.
The conflict arose when British India in 1947 was divided into two independent states: the secular (non-religious) India, where the majority of the population was Hindu but where the largest minority were Muslims, and the Muslim Pakistan. In Kashmir, most of the inhabitants were Muslims, but the local king (Maharajah) was a Hindu and sought India’s protection for the area. The intention, however, was that the inhabitants of a referendum would be allowed to choose where they wanted to hear.
But there was never a referendum. Instead, war broke out between the two countries over Kashmir and the area came to be divided between India (for the most part) and Pakistan; China also controls a small part.
Even in 1965, the conflict led to war without reaching a solution, and around the turn of the millennium, the countries were close to going to war with each other again. Then, too, since the end of the 1980s, Muslim guerrillas had joined the fight.
Over the past decade, peace efforts through increased trade and confidence-building measures have been interspersed with setbacks. One such was the terrorist attack in Mumbai in 2008, which was apparently carried out by Pakistan-based guerrillas.
Since the outbreak of the conflict over the mountainous border area of Kashmir in 1947 between India and Pakistan, tens of thousands of people have been killed in the fighting. A series of peace attempts have failed. Today, tens of thousands – perhaps hundreds of thousands – of soldiers are stationed along both sides of the border, the situation is tense and a solution to the conflict seems distant.
In 1947, the British Indian colony was divided into the independent states of India, which are predominantly Hindu, and the Muslim Pakistan. At the time of the division, the colony was a patchwork of British-administered territories and 565 formally independent principalities. These had to choose whether they wanted to belong to India or Pakistan. In most cases, the issue was resolved without any problems, but in Kashmir a conflict arose.
Most of the inhabitants of Kashmir were Muslims but the area was ruled by a local Hindu king (Maharajah). After Pakistani troops began raiding Kashmir, the Maharajah sought the protection of India. India then demanded that he sign an agreement on accession to India. On October 26, 1947, Maharadjan fled from his palace in the city of Srinagar to Jammu further south, where he signed the treaty. The next day, Indian soldiers flew to Srinagar.
Historians have long debated whether the Maharajah signed the treaty on the evening of the 26th, as Indian historiography claims, or during the day on the 27th, when the Indian soldiers had already been flown to Kashmir. Current research suggests the latter.
According to 800zipcodes, India’s position is that the Maharajah voluntarily handed over Kashmir to India and that the military takeover was correct under international law. But Pakistan claims that the agreement was signed on the 27th and that Kashmir had been invaded by India at the time of signing. According to Pakistan, the Maharajah therefore had no authority to conclude an accession treaty.
The idea was that the people of Kashmir would be allowed to decide in a referendum where they wanted to hear – to India or to Pakistan. But the referendum was never held. Instead, the struggle for Kashmir led to war between India and Pakistan. The UN succeeded in establishing a ceasefire, and a ceasefire agreement in July 1949 split Kashmir into two parts. A small international observer force was sent by the UN to the standstill line, and one is still there today.
The most densely populated and economically most developed part of the area became the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir (since 2019 transformed into a Union territory). Today, just over twelve million people live there. Its large Muslim majority lives mainly in the important Kashmir Valley, while Jammu in the southwest is predominantly Hindu and Ladakh in the east is Buddhist (Ladakh became its own union territory in 2019).
Pakistani-controlled Kashmir consists of two parts: Azad Kashmir (actually Azad Jammu and Kashmir), which has great autonomy, and Gilgit-Baltistan, which in practice functions as an autonomous province, although not formally. Of Pakistani Kashmir’s around four million inhabitants are virtually all Muslims.
A small part of Kashmir, Aksai Chin, is controlled by China. India also claims this. Aksai Chin consists for the most part of an unpopulated glacier, but the area is strategically important to China. The dispute over the area led in 1962 to a war between India and China, a war that India lost.
A “boundary” is established
War broke out again in Kashmir in 1965 but led nowhere. In 1971, unrest flared up again as East Pakistan broke away from Pakistan to become independent Bangladesh, backed by India. After peace talks, the Simla Agreement was signed in 1972 and a Line of Control was established in Kashmir, which largely follows the 1949 borders. India and Pakistan have pledged to respect the control line until a final peace agreement on Kashmir is reached. According to the Simla Agreement, India and Pakistan themselves, without external help, will reach a solution.
Both sides today have troops stationed along the line. Sometimes unrest has arisen because there was disagreement about where the line actually goes, but most often there are shootings to show the other party that you are there.