The beautiful region of Kashmir, a rose between two thorns, is between the Himalayas and Pir Panjal range and is an area of striking natural beauty. Sadly, its borders have also been the subject of a long running dispute between Pakistan and India since the end of British colonialism led to the partition of the two states in 1947. It has also been the cause of two of the three wars waged between Pakistan & India in the last five decades. Currently India controls about 55,000 square miles of the territory and Pakistan controls about 32,000 square miles. The majority of Kashmir’s 10 million residents are Muslim.
I recently sat down with Ums, a very close friend, and we discussed his personal views on the Kashmir conflict. Ums is a Kashmiri himself, from Srinagar, and is passionate about his roots. He has adopted a non-violent means of awareness raising through discussion, debate, and rhetoric, which he feels is ultimately more effective.
I have pasted below a few of the questions that I had asked him to gain more of an insight about his sentiments for you guys.
OUH – Can you tell me a little bit about the history of Kashmir, which led to the current situation?
UMS – Jammu & Kashmir was a gigantic princely state, which was ruled by the Hindu Maharaja back in the day of the British rule. Pakistan thought that India had an eye for Kashmir and that caused the Pakistani army to invade the state. It was only when Pakistan actually arrived in Kashmir that the Maharaja rushed to the Indians for their assistance. They accepted his request on the basis of him signing an accession letter to India, which the Maharaja did to save him, his fortune, and the people of Kashmir.
The Kashmir dispute needs an immediate solution. For over six decades, India & Pakistan have fought wars over us without even considering what the Kashmiris want. Unfortunately, Kashmir has become accustomed to tragedy and devastation and it has been a very difficult time for us. The two countries need to abandon their rigid stance and be honest in resolving this dispute once and for all; trust me, we are not going to give up until we gain our independence.
OUH – Why did the Maharaja or the Viceroy agree to India’s conditions at the time?
UMS – As I mentioned above, the Maharaja was leaning towards independence and it was only when Pakistan arrived in Kashmir that he rushed to the Indians for their assistance. The letter was signed on October 27th, 1947, which is also knows as “Black Day” in Kashmir till today. The Viceroy accepted the condition only on the basis that the people of Kashmir would be allowed to decide what they wanted, which was self-determination. This was actually a provision that was put in place at the time of partition, as there were princely states where the head of the state was of a different religion than a majority of the state and any dispute would be resolved in accordance with the aspirations of the majority.
This right of determination also ended up being echoed by Nehru, the Indian Prime Minister at the time, in the middle of the UN Assembly and then again at a gathering of millions in Kashmir. However, India has denied that right to date even though there are a number of UN resolutions that have been passed regarding this issue.
OUH – Can you tell me a bit about the Kashmiri (Hindu) Pandits?
UMS – In regards to the Pandits, I, as a Muslim Kashmiri, am fully ashamed of what happened to the 250 Hindus who died and the 500,000 people who had to relocate because I feel that Kashmir belongs to them as much as it belongs to me. The Indian Government took complete advantage by encouraging the Pandits to relocate and turned this into Islamic extremism. One must think why the Indian Government didn’t do this when the Muslims were being slaughtered in Gujrat.
Personally, I would like to see the Kashmiri Pandits return to the Valley and this should be done on a government, social, and security level. India has 700,000 army personals in Kashmir at the moment and I’m sure they are able to manage this just fine. India has been completely irresponsible and selfish by not helping solve this issue and the same is said about Pakistanis. I truly believe that these talks and initiatives are going to be wasted until we see the next generation of politicians in both these countries.
OUH – Do you think Pakistan & India have a genuine interest in finding a resolution for Kashmir? Is there any resolution in sight?
UMS – Plebiscite is the most appropriate solution as it is the democratic approach for solving the Kashmir dispute. We have been expecting India to implement its promise of carrying this out and as I mentioned earlier, even Nehru had said this in his speech to the people of Kashmir soon after the partition. Believe me; we are not against meaningful talks as long as they help in ending the illegal occupation of India over Kashmir.
Unfortunately, this issue has been dragging on for decades. Pakistan & India have been too busy pointing fingers at each other and have had several discussions & solutions as well. However, they have forgotten to involve a representative from Kashmir and have not bothered to get to the root of the problem. The only issue that they have agreed on is the distribution of water through the Indus Water Treaty, which is governed through International Law. From a Kashmiri perspective, it’s extremely disappointing and frustrating as we can’t even make use of our own natural resource — our neighbors have been too busy abusing it. I guess it would be like the Arabs not being able to make use of their own oil because the Europeans & Americans had cut a deal instead leaving them to pick up just the small change at the end.
OUH – Honestly, do you think Kashmir would be able to survive on its own if it were to gain independence?
UMS – In regards to partition, each state had a choice to make. They could either be a part of India or a part of Pakistan and we can’t understand why Kashmir was left alone to be a slave to these two new masters instead of having the same option as everyone else.
India and Pakistan have had, and continue to have, a proxy war in Kashmir as they cannot afford to go face to face with each other. There are over 700,000 soldiers occupying Jammu & Kashmir, with a total population of around 7 million. India’s excuse is that they are fighting the militants but as per their own records, they say they are only about 1000 to 2500 militants active in the region today. Well, what do you think? Are they present over there to protect us from the militants or are they planning a strategic move to further occupy us?
Coming back to your question about Kashmir surviving on its own, of course it can survive on its own. Historically, Kashmir was a part of the famous silk route and was an important trading area in the region. We had numerous routes to trade, which included China, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and even the Middle East. However, we now only have one source, which is a small tunnel link to India. Unfortunately, we have had to depend on India for the past 60 years and are unable to be economically independent. Due to the terrain, it is actually more feasible for us to trade through Karachi, Pakistan instead of going through any of the Indian ports.
OUH – Interesting point. What else would you be able to offer?
UMS – Kashmir has fertile land. We can systematically provide agriculture farming, with the help of storage facilities and trade with other regions, which would include fruits, vegetables, rice, saffron, etc. We have ample amounts of natural reserves as well such as calcium, coal, granite, cement, wood, etc to make use of. Unfortunately, we just haven’t had the opportunity to have a huge industrial revolution yet but Inshallah, one day we will.
In regards to handicraft manufacturing, we are up against the best in terms of carpets, paper-mache, shawls, wood-carving, etc.
OUH – I’ve also heard about “white oil”? Could you elaborate on that?
UMS – Yes, Kashmir has white oil, which can generate hydro-electricity. There is so much potential to exceed and Kashmir could even have the power to supply electricity to Northern India and parts of Pakistan as well.
OUH – A few of my Kashmiri friends from Muzaffarabad have shared their personal views on the beauty aspect of Kashmir. Would it be right for me to assume that Srinigar and the surrounding areas are as beautiful and could possibly make some revenue from that aspect as well?
UMS – You’re right. One of the biggest things we have is tourism. We have all four seasons to offer our guests and have the ability to flourish even more. The summer can offer a honeymoon destination, provide opportunities for adventure sports, and be used for golfing. In the winter, Kashmir could be an amazing ski destination as the powdered snow Kashmir has is one of the best in the world. There is so much potential that we might even be able to survive just on tourism alone. However, it’s very unfortunate that even though a few of my cousins have hotels in Srinigar and are in the hotel industry, they are severely suffering due to the current situation.
OUH – How do you view the international efforts which have been made towards Kashmir? Are you satisfied?
UMS – Efforts on the international front have been going on for decades now. However, the real momentum in these efforts increased only when the Kashmiris voiced their frustrations in the 1990s. Until then, we, as a nation, had exhausted all the peaceful means and were lacking direction. The sacrifice of so many martyrs in the last two decades has played a prominent role in highlighting the dispute while spreading the pain of the occupied people of Kashmir to the world. It is only the sacrifice of these martyrs that has provided a platform for pro-freedom leaders. Unfortunately, the efforts need to be carried out at a much faster and more solid pace. When it comes to solving conflicts in the Muslim world, the International community doesn’t pay as much attention as they should.
OUH – Do you feel India has been sincere with Indian-Occupied Kashmir?
UMS – No, India has not been sincere. In the recent past, India has tried every single oppressive strategy to suppress the Kashmiri nation, but fortunately it has failed to restrain the voice of the masses. They have carried out many operations to quell the pro-freedom sentiment of Kashmir but have been unsuccessful. I find it strange that India is struggling to feed its own population and are willing to spend such expenditure on holding on to Kashmir.
OUH – What is India & Pakistan’s role in Kashmir right now?
UMS – We have always had our Pakistani & Indian friends fighting over us. In regards to Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, I believe that there is severe oppression as well. I recently met a Kashmiri from there and he vented to me how there is a doctrine, which is led by the Pakistanis and it continuously reminds them that they are a part of Pakistan and have not gained independence. The unfortunate fact is that even the leaders who are brought forward only keep the Pakistani ideology in mind and not of the state of Kashmir.
The Pakistani Governments feels as if this is a perfect opportunity to take revenge on India after Bangladesh’s independence and of course after the success of driving the Russians out of the region.
Personally, I believe India is transforming and becoming more secular; especially after the recent elections. However, just to be clear, I do believe that India has played a disastrous role in Kashmir and this is not a reason for us to be a part of them.
Yes, I agree that violence, which included weapons, was picked up by the Kashmiris but the amount of human rights abuses that have been committed by the Indian Armed forces are unbelievable. It’s absolutely disgusting to see how there is an Indian soldier every few meters holding a gun. He abuses his power by strip searching, acting vulgarly, and humiliating the men and women of Kashmir. I guess it’s their way of reminding us that we are their slaves and they are here to rule us. Similarly, my Kashmiri friend from Pakistan Occupied Kashmir told me the same scenario from their side as well, which is disappointing.
Honestly, I don’t want to get in the number of people who have been dislocated, raped, abused, or missing in both, Indian Occupied & Pakistani Occupied Kashmir but I do know that we do not trust the governments and probably never will.
OUH – Thanks. Any concluding thoughts?
UMS – We aren’t naïve and are not living in a bubble. We know that our independence will lead to a lot of difficulties. I understand that it will be a struggle but it will be our struggle, our nation, and our responsibility. The right of self determination has to be taken into account and only then will we be able to succeed. We cannot force our ideas on anyone and we want it to be a purely democratic resolution. I know that Indians & Pakistanis are going to find it very difficult to let go of us. I know that it’s going to be a difficult struggle of freedom and it will take time. Just look at India & Pakistan – they first rebelled in 1857 and it took them about 90 years, so I guess we’re just at 62 and still counting.
We must never forget that we have to fight this struggle through non-violence means. It can only be won effectively through blogs, marches, discussions, debates, education, and by spreading awareness throughout the world.
I was grateful to UMS for sharing his views, and was most impressed by his commitment to finding a non-violent solution to this conflict. I think we should all remember that ultimately we are facing a battle to educate and to raise awareness around the world. We can all contribute our bit to the resolution of this struggle by taking part in marches, blogs, discussions and debates – the importance of which should not be underestimated.