Backgrounder: Kashmir

By  Verge June 29, 2009

Kashmir, located high in the Himalayas where India and Pakistan guard their borders, has been a flash point between the two countries for more than fifty years.

In 1947, the Indian subcontinent gained independence from Britain and was partitioned to form a Hindu-dominated state in the south (India) and a new Muslim state in the north (Pakistan). The territory of Kashmir was free to accede to either Pakistan or India, though the Maharaja of Kashmir really wished the territory to remain independent.

India's claim to the region rests on the fact that in 1947, India agreed to a request from Kashmir's Maharaja, for armed assistance in order to repel a Pakistan supported Muslim insurgency in Kashmir. In return, Kashmir was to accede the state to India. The accession was to be subject to a later referendum.

At the end of the war that followed, from 1947-48, a ceasefire line was established dividing Kashmir into an Indian-administered region to the south and east, and a Pakistani-administered region to the north and west. Pakistan maintains that India holds no legitimate claim to the region because the agreed to referendum to confirm accession was never held.

To complicate matters, the majority of Kashmir's population is Muslim, and this sharing of a common faith underpins Pakistan's claim to the region. In addition, since 1989, a growing militant movement opposed to India's presence in Kashmir has been fighting for independence. Tens of thousands of Kashmiris have died as a result of insurgent violence.

India accuses Pakistan of backing the armed militants. Pakistan maintains that they lend only moral and diplomatic support.

In 2001, after India blamed Pakistani-based militants for an attack on parliament in the Indian capital of Delhi, tensions rose to the point where roughly a million troops were massed on both sides of the border and both countries were flexing their nuclear muscles. The countries backed down after facing pressure from the international community.

This year (2004), leaders from both countries have been attempting to revitalize a peace process that, historically, has been jeopardized by insurgencies, skirmishes and out-and-out wars. Peace moves seem to be gathering momentum recently and a formal ceasefire has been agreed to along the Kashmir dividing line—the first in decades.

This article originally appeared in the Winter 2004 issue of Verge.

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