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THE dispute between India and Pakistan over Kashmir has dragged on for almost ten years, and the only thing to show for repeated United Nations attempts at mediation is a mass of scar tissue. India has now broken its promises to hold a plebiscite and tries to mask its actions behind a smoke screen of technicalities. Yet this is a case where it is difficult to establish absolutes; there is more to the dispute than shows above the surface.
India and Pakistan were partitioned as a result of a conflict and massacre. There are 16 million refugees in the two nations. The number who were killed in their homes or along the wayside has never been accurately established — a million would be a low estimate. It may be easy for nations which have not experienced this holocaust to judge who is right in Kashmir, but the people of Pakistan and India find it hard to think of abstract justice or even fair play when their memories are so bitter.
In addition, the two nations are separated by an ideological dispute over the place of religion in political affairs. It goes back to the 1920s and ‘30s when the Muslim League preached that Muslims and Hindus in India were two nations and that Muslim minorities could never feed secure under Hindu majorities. The Congress Party said there was only one nation; that almost all Indian Muslims were Hindus who had been converted in the distant past.
Followers of both religions often carried their beliefs to their nerve endings, and clashes resulted from the way a Muslim treated a cow or the way Hindus played music outside a mosque on festival days. The Congress said this tension could be eased and eventually eliminated in a secular democracy patterned after Britain and the United State’s. The Muslim League said tension could never be eliminated — that Muslims must have a homeland. India became a secular republic and Pakistan became an Islamic republic where only a Muslim can be president.
Pakistan claims Kashmir because 77 per cent of its people are Muslims, and it says that the partition of India meant that Muslim majority areas should automatically go to Pakistan. India says partition was a political division between the areas where the Muslim League was strong and where the Congress was strong, and that religion came into the picture only because the League used it to get votes.
Both nations are so wrought up that they cannot even agree on which are the major issues. Kashmir acceded to India in October, 1947, shortly after the state was invaded by tribesmen from the NorthWest Frontier. Viscount Mountbatten, the last British Viceroy, accepted the accession but specified that the wishes of the people should be consulted after peace had been restored. India accused Pakistan of aiding the raiders and carried the dispute to the United Nations in January, 1948.
The UN said the raiders and the Pakistani troops who later entered the state should withdraw and a plebiscite should be held. Both nations agreed. Now India says a plebiscite is no longer possible, but it also accuses Pakistan of breaking its promises. After agreeing to demilitarization, Pakistan allowed an entirely new army to be organized in Azad Kashmir, the portion of the state which remained under Pakistan’s control after a cease-fire took effect on New Year’s Day, 1949. A few years ago there were 30 battalions of these forces. India says there are now 45 battalions, complete with the full equipment of a modern army.
Pakistan says the Azad Kashmir forces are local people who have organized for their own defense, and that they are not part of the Pakistani Army. It has never presented any convincing explanation of how an army of 30 or 45 battalions with tanks and heavy guns could spring into being in a poor and backward region where the entire population amounts to less than one million.
A natural explanation is that Pakistan feared an attack by India and was not willing to accept the UN resolution which gave India the sole right to maintain troops in Kashmir. Pakistan therefore created a puppet army which could remain in Kashmir after Pakistani regulars had withdrawn.
India suffered from the same insecurity complex. Late in 1953 the Prime Ministers of both nations were holding direct negotiations on Kashmir and were discussing a compromise solution. Relations between the two countries seemed to be improving for the first time in six years. Then came rumors of impending American military aid to Pakistan, and India abruptly broke off the talks. It appeared to India that Pakistan was negotiating with one hand and grabbing for a gun with the other.
Indians and Pakistanis were facing each other with loaded rifles; for the United States to introduce more guns on one side was like Russia’s selling guns to Egypt and thus upsetting the military balance between Egypt and Israel. Americans gave many assurances that these weapons were meant only to help Pakistan defend itself against possible Communist aggression. India still feared that someday it might be the target for these weapons. Pakistan has since declared that India is its only enemy, and Indian fears have been strengthened.
Reform but no freedom
While arguments about, demilitarization delayed a plebiscite, India bolstered its tenuous legal position in Kashmir with a lavish display of economic assistance. The development budget for Kashmir last year was half as large as for Bombay State, which has twelve times the population of Kashmir. Since 1948, government spending on education has tripled; on agriculture it has quadrupled, and on health it has doubled. Taxes are lower than in any part of India, and there are more tourists than ever before to buy Kashmiri handicrafts.
The state government has carried out a vigorous land reform program. Land has been seized without compensation, and feudalism has been wiped out. Holdings are limited to a maximum of acres. About one sixth of the cultivable area has been distributed to the landless. There are still many tenant farmers, but their rents are fixed at a quarter of the crop, and the landlord has to pay the land tax out of his share.
Kashmiris appear to have everything except the right to choose whether they shall join Pakistan. Anyone who creates pro-Pakistan propaganda runs the risk of being branded a traitor and thrown into jail without trial. Newspapers which favor Pakistan are suppressed. The recent elections turned out to be a farce. The ruling National Conference got a majority of seats even before voting took place; 38 of its candidates were returned Unopposed to the 75-member State Assembly.
The suppression of public opinion dates mainly from August, 1953, when Sheikh Abdullah, the Prime Minister, was thrown into jail without trial. He has remained there ever since. No one has ever explained why he was arrested, although it apparently had nothing to do with Pakistan since Abdullah had always favored India. There are rumors, however, that the Prime Minister thought Kashmir should retain a measure of independence from India.
Abdullah’s arrest caused many Muslims to waver in their previous strong support of the National Conference. His successor, Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed, had to guard his government against three sources of opposition: the adherents of Abdullah, Pakistan sympathizers, and those Kashmiris who favor India but who also think that India is undemocratically blocking a plebiscite.
Bakshi is popular despite his strong methods toward the opposition. He attracts large crowds wherever he goes and he walks among the people without bodyguards. He tours the countryside holding court in schoolyards and under trees, and local farmers feel free to vent their grievances, at least their nonpolitical ones.
As India warmed up to the job of helping Kashmir advance, it grew cool to the idea of a plebiscite. In March, 1956, Nehru publicly declared that a plebiscite was no longer possible and that Kashmir was legally a part of India. In November the Kashmir Constituent Assembly voted a constitution making Kashmir a full-fledged Indian state. It took formal effect on January 26. Pakistan seized this as an opportunity to bring the dispute back to the UN Security Council, which had not considered the matter in more than four years. The Pakistani case had the virtue of simplicity; India was denying Kashmiris the right of self-determination. In turn India, while being less than frank regarding its own actions, has asked whether a fair plebiscite has ever been possible, and whether a plebiscite of any sort is desirable at present.
When India agreed to the UN resolutions of almost ten years ago it stipulated that any plebiscite should take place in an atmosphere free from religious tension. Pakistan rejected restrictions on the use of religion as an issue. Since Pakistan’s main appeal was based on its claim to be the sole guardian of Muslim interests, it felt that its hands would be tied if it could not discuss religion in any way it pleased.
But India was well aware that religious and racial appeals are good weapons to use in a plebiscite, where voters are asked to answer yes or no to a single question that will seal their fate for the rest of their lives. Skillfully placed rumors would have a telling effect.
Even now when you talk to Pakistani officials about the economic benefits that have been conferred on Kashmiris they say, in effect, “Yes, a lot has been done. India wants to get votes. But what will happen to the Kashmiris if the Indians win a plebiscite ?” There is one rumor currently circulating in the Srinagar bazaars, that Hindus have a scheme to seize Muslim lands.
Muslim versus Hindu
There are slightly more than a million Hindus, Sikhs, and Buddhists in Kashmir; they predominate in the Jammu and Ladakh areas. If a plebiscite were held on an all-Kashmir basis and Pakistan won it, this sizable minority would automatically become part of an Islamic state. The chances are that a good many of them would begin a tragic mass migration to India. Several years ago both sides considered a separate plebiscite so that Ladakh and Jammu might join India while the rest of Kashmir might go to Pakistan, but for various reasons no agreement was reached on this compromise.
There is still another hurdle to get over. There are more than 35 million Muslims living in India. If a plebiscite were held on a limited basis, religious feelings would still be whipped up; and if even a single part of Kashmir accepted the two-nation theory and joined Pakistan, Hindu fanatics would feel justified in waging a hate campaign against Indian Muslims. The partition massacres might be renewed in all their fury.
Pakistan rejects this argument and says that India, in effect, is threatening to unleash a genocidal campaign against Muslims in India if the UN insists on carrying out a plebiscite in Kashmir. The truth of the matter may never be proved, because India will always reject a plebiscite on the ground that it must guard against communal disorders. However, there is then a risk of trouble from the other side. Pakistan says that if the UN is unable to bring about a plebiscite in Kashmir, it will not be able to hold back frontier tribesmen who want to liberate their coreligionists from “Hindu oppression.”
India rejects this as propaganda, saying that the frontier is well guarded by Pakistani troops and that the tribesmen could never reach Kashmir without the consent, if not the assistance, of the Pakistan government.
Indian leaders say privately that Pakistan will not gamble on a fullscale war. Even with American military aid, the Pakistani Army is much weaker than India’s, and New Delhi knows that Pakistan will not risk a fight on unequal terms. However, Indians are afraid that Pakistan might stir up limited fighting along the cease-fire line in the hope that India will change its mind and accept a UN force such as was organized for use in Egypt.
There are indications that Nehru is still open to compromise despite his declaration that the Kashmir case is closed. He has said that India’s only concern is the well-being of the Kashmiris and he admits that India cannot hope to hold Kashmir forever without the consent of the people. Nehru is also well aware that the dispute is a running sore in the body politic of the subcontinent. It forces India and Pakistan to spend money on armaments they can ill afford; it gives Pakistan an excuse to shout slogans about Hindu oppression; and it destroys India’s prestige in world affairs.
The need for compromise
The Kashmir problem is now a matter of national pride in both India and Pakistan. Movie audiences in India cheer when Krishna Menon appears in the newsreels. The problem of Kashmir is also tied up with domestic affairs in the two nations, which explains why Indian and Pakistani politicians are frequently heard making strong statements — they go down well with the general public.
It appears that a final solution will never emerge unless representatives of both nations can be persuaded to meet privately and indulge in the give-and-take that is necessary for any compromise. Continued UN debate may only delay self-determination for the Kashmiri people since both sides would be tempted to strengthen their fixed positions and indulge in propaganda pyrotechnics for the edification of their own people. This would increase the underlying tension which has prevented a settlement for so long.
A continuation of the dispute, among other things, furthers Russian propaganda purposes in India. The leaders of Pakistan are already bragging that the United States and Great Britain are supporting Pakistan’s case because Pakistan is a member of SEATO. Indian newspapers repeat these statements as evidence that India is not getting a fair hearing on Kashmir. They ignore the fact that India’s case is so complicated that it took Krishna Menon eight hours to explain it; Indians mistake boredom for prejudice.
While anti-American and anti-British feelings increase among the Indians, pro-Russian feelings also increase. The Indian public feels it can depend on Russia since Khrushchev announced more than a year ago that Kashmir is part of India. Khrushchev is not concerned about self-determination for 4.5 million Kashmiris any more than he is for his own people—but he is interested in winning friends among 360 million Indians.