Kashmir - Switzerland of Asia Apr02

The Muslims ruled Kashmir for 300 years before Ranjit Singh annexed it in 1789. The Sikhs lost two wars against the British and finally gave it to the British in lieu of war reparations. The British sold the state for 7.5 million rupees to the Hindu Raja of neighbouring Ladakh and Jammu. He excluded the Muslim population from civic and diplomatic participation.


In 1947 the subcontinent divided into two nation states – India and Pakistan. The princes were allowed to choose which country to join and most chose on the basis of geographic proximity. Kashmir, adjoining both India and Pakistan, could have joined either. Hari Singh seemed to prefer an independent Kashmir as a neutral “Switzerland of Asia”. In the weeks after partition, the Kashmiri Muslims, aided by Pakistanis, revolted against their Hindu ruler, marched towards Srinagar, murdering, raping and looting wherever they went. Hari Singh fled, and Nehru’s India sent troops into Kashmir to quell the rebellion, prompting Hari Singh to sign the instrument of accession that handed Kashmir to India.


Most of the state came under Indian control whilst the remote north-western part (33% of land) around Gilgit known as “Azad” Kashmir became part of Pakistan. In January 1949 a UN brokered ceasefire established “the line of control” and the presence of international peacekeepers. They have been there ever since!


India and Pakistan went to war over Kashmir in 1965-66 and 1971. In 1972, under the Simla Agreement, they consented to negotiate over Kashmir’s future. There has been no settlement to this day!


Have Kashmiris ever been asked what they want? NO! A key condition of the UN in 1949 was that a referendum should be held in the state. Nehru was quick to declare that the people of Kashmir should determine their own future. Sadly, no referendum has been offered to the Kashmiris! Instead Kashmir has had a series of leaders who have failed in being democratic or accountable.


What has happened to Kashmir since 1949? There is resentment, sporadic riots and massacres involving armies of India, Pakistan and numerous terrorist organisations. Thousands, on both sides, have died! Millions of dollars, spent in arms, ammunition and soldiers have brought no benefit for the Kashmiris! How can India and Pakistan justify such waste of scarce resources?


In 2000, the State Assembly of Jammu and Kashmir, voted to press the Indian government to grant the state full autonomy within the Indian union (except in matters of finance, foreign affairs and defence). Sadly, the Indian government rejected this appeal. India is a federation of states and it is understandable that if Kashmir were to acquire such autonomy others would seek the same. This is not the only reason. Kashmir has become a touchstone of national virility for both India and Pakistan and religious influence, sadly, distorts good political judgement.


India and Pakistan are now nuclear powers and this terrifies the international community. The risk of war between them, coupled with acts of terrorism, deter foreign inward investment and tarnish the international image of both countries. Fifty years of conflict over Kashmir has not brought peace and economic prosperity to both Muslims and Hindus living in Kashmir!


Canada and Belgium constitutions successfully offer power sharing for their bi-polar citizen groups. Kashmir can offer its Hindu and Muslim citizens the opportunity to share power. All Kashmiris will then be aware that rights come with responsibility and accountability! A referendum in Kashmir, under UN or EU supervision, can guarantee both true independence and neutrality. Open borders, with both India and Pakistan, will attract investment (foreign & domestic), tourism and trade benefiting not only Kashmir but India and Pakistan as well.


The leaders of India and Pakistan must bite the bullet of pride and act with courage to offer peace, security and prosperity to both Hindu and Muslim citizens of what could be the independent and neutral “Switzerland of Asia” - Kashmir!