Islam, Women, and the Violence in Kashmir: Between India and Pakistan

By Dr.Nyla Ali Khan

Despite international pressure, the India-Pakistan crisis has not been defused, on the contrary, is highly volatile.

Over the years, successive Congress governments may have made every attempt to highlight the purported illegitimacy of Article 370,* but have taken no serious measures to revoke it from the constitution of India. Surprisingly, even when the Hindu right-wing organization, the Bharatiya Janata party, assumed power in New Delhi, it avoided succumbing to the pressure put on it by its more fanatical cohorts to eradicate the special status enjoyed by the Muslim-dominated state of Jammu and Kashmir.

The role played by India and Pakistan in Jammu and Kashmir echoes the animosity created during the Partition of 1947. The political and social upheaval that followed upon the creation of the two nation-states in 1947 has left legacies that continue to haunt the two countries. The Partition enabled the thunderous forces of violence and displacement to tear the pre-existing cultural and social fabric so systematically that the process of repair hasn’t even begun. I would argue that although the “Third-World” intelligentsia unceasingly complains about the manipulations and short-sightedness of British imperial cartographers and administrators, the onus of the calamity engendered on 14 and 15 August 1947 does not lie entirely on the colonial power. The failed negotiations between Indian and Pakistani nationalists who belonged to the Congress and the Muslim League, the blustering of those nationalists and the national jingoism it stimulated, and the unquenchable hatreds on both sides contributed to the brutal events of 1947. In the words of historian Uma Kaura, “the mistakes made by the Congress leadership, the frustration and bitterness of the League leadership, and the defensive diplomacy of a British Viceroy cumulatively resulted in the demand for Partition.”i As Kaura points out, ever since the inception of pro-independence political activity in pre-Partition India in 1885, the Muslim leadership insisted on the necessity for a distinct Muslim identity.ii  Kaura also underlines the inability of the nationalist leadership to accommodate Muslim aspirations because its primary concern was to ingratiate itself with the militant Hindu faction, which would have created ruptures within the Congress. The borders that were brutally carved by the authorities at the time of Partition have led to further brutality in the form of those riots, organized historical distortions, and cultural depletions with which the histories of independent India and Pakistan are replete.

India’s policy vis-à-vis Kashmir was influenced by other variables. Pakistan’s formal political alignment with America motivated the Soviet Union to overtly support the Indian stance toward Kashmir. The Soviet premier Khrushchev made explicit his government’s pro-India position on Kashmir. In 1955, Khrushchev belligerently declared in the heartland of the Kashmir Valley, Srinagar: “The people of Jammu and Kashmir want to work for the well-being of their beloved country—the Republic of India. The people of Kashmir do not want to become toys in the hands of imperialist powers. This is exactly what some powers are trying to do by supporting Pakistan on the so-called Kashmir question. It made us very sad when imperialist powers succeeded in bringing about the partition of India. . . . That Kashmir is one of the States of the Republic of India has already been decided by the people of Kashmir.”iii The explicit and vocal political support of the Soviet Union in the cold War era bolstered Nehru’s courage, and in 1956 Nehru reneged on his earlier “international commitments” on the floor of the Indian parliament. He publicly proclaimed the legitimacy of the accession of Kashmir to India in 1947, which ostensibly had been ratified by the Constituent Assembly of J & K in 1954. Nehru’s well thought-out strategy was deployed in full measure when the Soviet Union vetoed the demand for a plebiscite in Kashmir made at a meeting of the U.N. Security Council which was convened at Pakistan’s behest.iv It was in 1953 that Pakistan initiated negotiations with the U.S. for military assistance. Bakshi protested that, “America might arm Pakistan or help her in any other way but Kashmir will never form part of Pakistan.” v Nehru vehemently warned Pakistan and the U.S. that, “it is not open [to Pakistan] to do anything on Kashmir territory, least of all to give bases.”vi Nehru expressly declared that the agreement between him and the Pakistani premier, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, regarding the Kashmir issue would change if Pakistan received military aid from the U.S. vii

Subsequent to the disintegration of the Soviet Union India lost its powerful Cold War ally.viii India’s relations with the U.S. reeked of distrust and paranoia at the time. This paranoia worsened when senior officials in the first Clinton administration questioned the legality of the status of Kashmir as a part of the Indian Union.ix The U.S. non proliferation agenda in South Asia actively undermined India’s proliferation strategy in the early and mid-1990s.x Washington’s agenda was propelled by the immense fear that South Asia had burgeoning potential for a nuclear war in the future.xi However, Pakistan’s overt policy of abetting fanatical Islamic elements in Kashmir and Afghanistan led to its political insularity and seemingly legitimized India’s proactive approach. The U.S. adopted the policy of persuading both India and Pakistan by actively participating in the non-proliferation regime by agreeing to comply with the comprehensive test-ban treaty and an interim cap on fissile-material production.xii

The insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir, which has extracted an enormous price from the populace of the state, was generated by the systemic erosion of democratic and human rights, discrimination against the Muslims of the Valley, socioeconomic marginalization, depriving the populace of its right of self-determination, etc. The rebellion may have been incited by India’s political, social, and economic tactlessness, but it has been sustained by Pakistani military, political, and economic support. Kampani’s shrewd assessment seems of particular relevance: valid concerns about the disastrous repercussions of a large-scale conventional war and the menace of nuclear escalation looming large on the horizon have deterred India from launching full-scale attacks on established training camps, insurgent strongholds, and permeable routes in Pakistani controlled territories which precipitate infiltration.xiii Pakistan was successful in aiding and abetting insurgents in Kashmir, providing a red herring to divert the attention of the Indian military from insurgency and counter insurgency operations in the Valley, and in underlining the internalization of the Kashmir dispute.

Pakistan has carefully wooed the U.S. by making the argument that nuclear disarmament can be achieved in South Asia only if the Kashmir crisis is resolved.xiv Again, I turn to Kampani’s interesting inference regarding Pakistan’s creation of a strategic rationale for its nuclear capability and its constant attempts to foreground the Kashmir issue, “the political linkage between regional nuclear disarmament and the resolution of the Kashmir dispute appears to be an opportunistic attempt on the part of Islamabad to create non proliferation incentives for U.S. policymakers to intervene in the Kashmir conflict.”xv The Pakistani military had reinforced Western concerns regarding nuclear proliferation in South Asia. Availing itself of Pakistan’s aggressive transgression of the Line of Control, India exercised political tact and restraint winning international support for its diplomacy. Washington’s political volte face became apparent when it explicitly demanded that Islamabad withdraw from occupied Indian positions and maintain the legitimacy of the Line of Control in Kashmir. It was implicit in this demand that Pakistan was the egregious aggressor.

The attempt by the U.S. to mitigate Pakistan’s aggression also implied that Washington would not reinforce the status quo in Kashmir.xvi Washington’s incrimination of Pakistani aggression mitigated New Delhi’s fear that internationalization of the Kashmir dispute would spell unambiguous victory for Pakistan. India’s strategy of deploying diplomacy and restraint increased the international pressure on Pakistan to withdraw its forces from Indian territories. India took recourse to the strategy of limited conventional war under nuclear conditions, which occurred prior to President Clinton’s March 2000 visit to New Delhi. At this point in time, proliferation was relegated to the background in Indo-U.S. relations. Stephen P. Cohen and Sunil Dasgupta underline the further recession of this issue into the background during the Bush administration. The neoconservatives in the Bush administration zeroed in on India as a country in the Asia-Pacific region that would offset China’s burgeoning economy.xvii U.S. strategic ties with New Delhi were further consolidated in the wake of September 11, 2001, when the ties between militant Islamic groups and Pakistan’s military and militia forces were underscored.
One of the consequences of the decision of the Bush administration to eliminate Al-Qaeda and its supporters in Afghanistan, was that Pakistan’s premier, General Pervez Musharaff, found himself with no option but to sever ties with the Taliban. Following this drastic change in its policy to withdraw political and military support from Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, Islamabad found itself unable to draw a clear line of distinction between “terrorists” in Afghanistan and “freedom fighters” in Kashmir. Islamabad’s quandary proved New Delhi’s trump card.xviii New Delhi was able to justify its military stance vis-à-vis Pakistan in the wake of the terrorist attacks on the Jammu and Kashmir state assembly in the summer capital, Srinagar, in October and then the attacks on the Indian Parliament, New Delhi, in November 2001.

New Delhi’s strategy was validated by U.S. military operations in Afghanistan and the deployment of U.S. forces in and around Pakistan, which restrained Pakistani aggression. New Delhi was assured that the U.S. would stall any attempt by Islamabad to extend the Kashmir dispute beyond local borders, which might disrupt its operations against the Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Also, deployment of the U.S. military in Pakistani air bases strengthened New Delhi’s confidence that Islamabad would hesitate to initiate nuclear-weapons use.xix The result of India’s policy of coercive diplomacy was that the Musharraf regime was pressured by the U.S. to take strict military action against the mercenary and militant Islamic groups bolstering the insurgency in Kashmir.xx New Delhi was successful in getting Islamabad to privately and publicly renounce its support of the insurgents in Jammu and Kashmir. The Indian administration drew the inference that in the event deterrence measures failed, the Indian military would have to fight limited conventional wars under nuclear conditions.

The possibility of fighting a limited war has driven the Indian government to contemplate a nuclear response to Pakistan’s deployment of nuclear weapons.xxi But Indian leaders have threatened Islamabad with punitive measures if Pakistan resorts to nuclear-weapons use.xxii India and Pakistan routinely brandish their nuclear capabilities in order to intimidate each other. The two countries have also resorted to direct nuclear signaling through ballistic-missile tests. Such strategies emphasize the military and political volatility in South Asia.xxiii Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal has given its military the prowess it required to exploit the disgruntlement of the Muslim population of the Kashmir Valley.

Kampani makes an intelligent assessment about the growing nuclear capabilities of both India and Pakistan and the role they have played in deterring a large-scale conventional war: Pakistani military leaders are privately convinced that Pakistan’s daunting nuclear arsenal has dissuaded India from embarking upon a large-scale conventional war. India’s cautious stance is, however, dictated by multiple factors. New Delhi’s primary concern is that a limited war would not enable it to accomplish substantive political or military objectives, that such a war might spin out of control and would be impossible to cease according to the wishes of the administration and the military, that India might find itself in disfavor with and spurned by the international community, and that the war might beef up nuclear armament. The impending menace of precipitated nuclearization looming large on the horizon has been one of the many factors underlining the dire necessity of maintaining a quasi-stable regime in the South Asian region.xxiv In effect, one of the ramifications of India and Pakistan climbing the ladder of nuclear proliferation has been the engendering of a tottering stability, maintained amidst the continuing conflict in Kashmir. However, the overt support that the Pakistani government has lent the insurgents in Kashmir has enabled India to tarnish Pakistan’s reputation as a terrorist state.
Pakistan’s explicit aiding and abetting of the insurgents in Kashmir has created misgiving about its strategies, and has enabled India to prevent UN mediation. India has also cashed in on Pakistan’s strategies to portray it as an untrustworthy nuclear state. New Delhi managed to diminish the threat of the unwieldy internationalization of the Kashmir dispute by threatening a nuclear exchange in 2001-02 unless the US intervened to prevent Pakistan from fomenting cross-border terrorism.xxv The ideological and power rivalries between India and Pakistan, however, transcend the Kashmir dispute.xxvi But regardless of the possibility of nuclear restraint in South Asia, any resolution to the Kashmir dispute would put a monkey wrench in the drive in both countries to beef up their nuclear arsenals.

During the last decade, each military crisis between India and Pakistan has been followed by attempts at diplomatic rapprochement, but have been fiascos. The two countries go through sporadic peacemaking efforts, which are characterized by negotiations. For instance, in January 2004, the then Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee and the Pakistani premier, General Pervez Musharraf agreed “to the resumption of a composite dialogue” on all issues “including Jammu and Kashmir to the satisfaction of both sides.” Musharraf assured the Indian government that he would not permit “any territory under Pakistan’s control to be used to support terrorism in any manner.”xxvii But Kampani underlines the skepticism that this joint statement was unable to mitigate: “Many observers have interpreted the joint statement as a tacit admission of Pakistan’s past support for the LOC in Kashmir and an indication of its resolve to finally end military confrontation over the dispute. However, there is also considerable skepticism in India on the nature of change in Pakistan’s policy: is it tactical or strategic? Similarly, the Pakistani government fears that India is taking unfair advantage of Islamabad’s restraint to consolidate its political and military grip over Kashmir.”xxviii Pakistan has won the disapprobation of international powers by deploying the policy of fighting proxy wars through radical Islamist groups, which has reinforced New Delhi’s confidence that the internationalization of the Kashmir dispute wouldn’t get unwieldy. India also believes that the restraint it exercised during the 1998 nuclear tests has given it the reputation of a responsible nuclear power. Despite international pressure, the India-Pakistan crisis has not been defused, but, on the contrary, is highly volatile. The insurgency in Kashmir, India and Pakistan’s ideological differences, their political intransigence could result in the eruption of a future crisis.

* Temporary provisions in the Indian constitution in regard to the States of Jammu and Kashmir
i. Kaura 170.
ii . Ibid., 164.
iii . Jain, 15-20.
iv . Das Gupta.
v . The Hindu Weekly Review.
vi . Indiagram.
vii . From Nehru’s Speech in the House of the People, December 29, 1953.
viii . Kodikara.
ix . Battye.
x . Perkovich, 318-403.
xi . “Prepared Statement by John H. Kelly, assistant secretary for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs before Subcommittee on Asian and Pacific Affairs, House Foreign Affairs Committee.”
xii . Interview with Strobe Talbott, Hindu.
xiii . In South Asia in World Politics, 166)
xiv . Iqbal.
xv . Hagerty, 167.
xvi . Ibid.,171.
xvii . “U.S.—South Asia: Relations under Bush.”
xviii . Chaudhuri.
xix . Kampani, “India’s Compellence Strategy.”
xx . Transcript of PBS interview with U.S. undersecretary of state Richard Armitage, August 30, 2002.
xxi . Chengappa.
xxii . Tellis, 251-475.
xxiii . “Delhi Positions Missiles on Border.”
xxiv . Kampani, “Kashmir,” in Hagerty, 177.
xxv . Ibid., 178.
xxvi . Tellis, 8-11.
xxvii . Text of PM, Musharraf Statement,” Hindu.
xxviii . Kampani, “Kashmir,” in Hagerty, 179.
xxix . Guha, 15.
The above is an excerpt from Dr.Nyla Khan’s forthcoming book, Islam, Women, and the Violence in Kashmir: Between India and Pakistan (Westport: Greenwood Press, 2008). The book is expected to be published in May. The foreword is by Professor Ashis Nandy at the Center for the Study for Developing Societies, New Delhi.  Dr.Khan received two Research Services Council Grants for this project from the University of Nebraska, Kearney, USA,  where she is Assistant Professor of English.

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