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Graz, Austria, May 2008

The Maharajahs Sentence to Kashmir

From a Paradise to a Land of Despair.

Keywords: | Development of methods and resources for peace | | | | | | | | | | | | India | Pakistan

The Maharajah’s Decision

The stakeholders in the Kashmir conflict are the two south Asian regional powers, India and Pakistan, and the Kashmiri people. The Kashmiri people are not a homogenous group, but are composed of the Muslim populations living in the Kashmir Valley who are opposed to Indian rule, but divided amongst themselves on whether Kashmir should become part of Pakistan or should become autonomous. The population can roughly be divided in three groups from a cultural and geographical approach: the Muslim population living in Azad Kashmir, essentially part of Pakistan, the Hindu Kashmiris, mainly in the Jammu area, but since the tensions displaced all over India, and the Buddhist population of Ladakh, the Kashmiri group least affected by the conflict.

For several scholars the starting point and origin of the conflict in Kashmir dates back from the traumatic creation of the two states in 1947. At the moment of the partition of the territory in Kashmir there were around five hundred principalities, and all of them could choose to which State they wanted to belong, either Pakistan or India. However, the constant hesitation and lack of interest on choosing one of the possibilities of the Maharajah Hari Singh (1) was the main cause of the problem.

The decision that would change the destiny of this land was taken when the Pakistani tribesmen invaded Kashmir in October, 1947 and the Hindu Maharajah opted for accession to predominantly Hindu India by signing the Instrument of Accession (IOA) under peculiar circumstances, saying that, {“the other alternative is to leave my State and people to freebooters”. That decision was not readily acceptable to Pakistan and largely Muslim Kashmiris who felt that the land had fallen under the thumb of the infidels” (2).}

For this reason, the integration of the major part of Kashmir to India turned into the perfect example of the Indian secular state. Nevertheless for Pakistan, India is the oppressor of the Muslim population and since this time Pakistan named itself as the ombudsman of the Muslims in Kashmir.

The earlier attempts that failed

The question of Kashmir’s final status was never resolved, however. British authorities had urged that the question of Kashmir’s accession be settled by a plebiscite as soon as law and order was reinstated and the invading forces (Pakistani army) had left. But the plebiscite was never held. The Indian government argued first that the essential precondition to a plebiscite, the exit of Pakistani troops from « Azad Kashmir », had not been met, and later that the Kashmiri people had effectively ratified accession by voting in local elections and adopting a state constitution. United Nations intervention achieved a cease-fire on January 1, 1949.

Through the 1950s and 1960s, political discontent with the central government’s attempts to manipulate politics in the state grew, as successive state governments controlled by the central government eroded Kashmir’s autonomy. Pro-independence and pro-plebiscite activists were repeatedly jailed. In 1964 the first militant group, the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), was formed to fight for independence. On July 2, 1972, India and Pakistan signed the Simla Accord, under which both countries agreed to respect the cease-fire line and to resolve differences over Kashmir « by peaceful means » through negotiation. The Simla Accord left the « final settlement » of the Kashmir question to be resolved at an unspecified future date. Since then, the Simla Accord has been the touchstone of all bilateral discussions of the Kashmir issue, even though the accord itself left the issue unresolved.

Further on, in 1998 India tested five nuclear devices, and three weeks later, Pakistan responded by carrying out similar nuclear tests. In 1999 the tensions mounted over Kargil (a mountainous range). To diffuse tensions the Indian prime minister made a historic bus trip from New Delhi to the Pakistani border in February 1999, the prime ministers of both countries signed the Lahore Declaration in which they vowed, among other things, to renew talks on Kashmir and to alert each other of further arms.

Hence, out of the three wars that both countries have fought - 1947, 1965 and 1971 -, together with the dilemma of the Cold War – Communism versus Capitalism - and the clashes in 1999; Kashmir has turned into the perfect arena where each national identity is defined and the “other” discourse strengthens from the stereotyped speech of each side.

Heritage of the Conflict

The people of Kashmir have seen their livelihoods destroyed along with the fabric of their societies. Tourism, upon which so many Kashmiris depended as a source of income, came to a total halt several years ago. Indigenous cottage industries, such as carpet weaving, embroidery, paper Mache and tailoring have also shrunk to a fraction of what it was in 1988, while agricultural activity has been greatly reduced under the impact of the conflict.

The Kashmiris of the Valley and southern Kashmir have seen the greatest economic dislocation, but the Buddhist of Ladakh are also seeing the erosion of their living standards as a result of reduction of trade with other parts of Kashmir and reduced levels of tourism. Both countries have engaged in an arms race, which India has been better able to withstand. India has spent 2% of GDP on military expenditure, while Pakistan has spent 5% of its GDP, which is one-eighth the size of India’s. In budgetary terms, Pakistan spends 30% of it’s a budget on military expenditure and a similar amount on servicing foreign debt, while India spends about 15% on military expenditure and about 20% on debt servicing.

Hence, although the living conditions of the population in Kashmir is appalling this is not a major consideration for the respective governments in looking for ways to resolve the conflict.. They are rather interested by their power relations. For Pakistan, issues of national vision, identity and religion all crystallize in Kashmir. The loss of Kashmir would have an incalculable effect on Pakistan, both in societal and political terms. For India, there is the fear that the loss of Kashmir would provide an impetus for the secession of other disgruntled ethnic groups. This is a key reason why both countries have been unable to find a way out of their common problem.

Consequently, if the purpose is to find a feasible way to reduce the tensions between the countries and the violence in the region the role of the civil society is not just determinant but imperative. Top-down initiatives have shown to be ineffective due to the lack of political commitment of each side. For this reason it is necessary the creation of conflict transformation proposals which call for cultural understanding and acceptance. The purpose is to call upon the human side of the confronting sides and bring them together so a social interaction is possible by peaceful meanings and consequently it is possible to overrule the militaristic positions of the political powers with inter-cultural dialogue approaches.


Sadly, alarmingly, endlessly, there is trouble in paradise. The valley of Kashmir, once exalted for the lotus blooms in its lakes and the yellow tapestry of its mustard fields, has become a valley of despair — a place haunted by senseless murder and hideous torture, wherever the famously sweet winds blow. Barry Bearak, New York Times, 12 August, 1999.

More than fifty years since the independence of India and Pakistan have passed and still the relations between these two countries are defined by the conflict in Kashmir.


  • The authors of the file are Biviana Buitrago, Sameena Imtiaz and Gillian Wilcox. Sameena imtiaz is the executive director of PEACE (Peace Education and development Foundation) in Islamabad. Gillian Wilcox is currently working in southern Sudan as a coordinator of the Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS) consortium programs.