Kashmir’s 69-year-long history of deadly strife


When news spread in early July that Indian troops had killed a charismatic commander of India-held Kashmir’s (IHK) biggest militant group, the Hizbul Mujahideen, the public response was spontaneous and immense.

Tens of thousands of angry youths poured out of their homes in towns and villages across the Himalayan region, hurling rocks and bricks and clashing with Indian troops.

A strict curfew and a series of communications blackouts since then have failed to stop the protesters, who are seeking an end to Indian rule in Kashmir, even as residents have struggled to cope with shortages of food, medicine and other necessities.

The clashes, with protesters mostly throwing rocks and government forces responding with bullets and shotgun pellets, has left more than 60 civilians and two policemen dead. Thousands have been injured on both sides.

But Kashmir’s fury at Indian rule is not new.

The stunning mountain region has known little but conflict since 1947, when British rule of the subcontinent ended with the creation of India and Pakistan.

The history:

In 1947, the kingdom of Jammu and Kashmir was asked to join with either India or Pakistan.

But Maharaja Hari Singh, the unpopular Hindu ruler of the Muslim-majority region, wanted to stay independent.

However, local armed uprisings that flared in various parts of Kashmir, along with a raid by tribesmen from northwestern Pakistan, forced Singh to seek help from India, which offered military assistance on condition that the kingdom link itself to India.

The ruler accepted, but insisted that Kashmir remain a largely autonomous state within the Indian union, with India managing its foreign affairs, defence and telecommunications.

The Indian military entered the region soon after, with the tribal raid spiralling into the first of two wars between India and Pakistan over Kashmir. The first war ended in 1948 with a UN-brokered cease-fire.

Nonetheless, Kashmir was divided between the two young nations by the heavily militarised Line of Control (LoC), with the promise of a UN-sponsored referendum in the future.

In IHK, many saw the transition as the mere transfer of power from their Hindu king to Hindu-majority India.

Kashmiri discontent against India started taking root as successive Indian governments breached the pact of Kashmir’s autonomy. Local governments were toppled one after another, and largely peaceful movements against Indian control were suppressed harshly.

Pakistan regularly raised the Kashmir dispute in international forums, including in the United Nations.

Meanwhile, India began calling the region an integral part of the nation, insisting that Kashmir’s lawmakers had ratified the accession to New Delhi.

As the deadlock persisted, India and Pakistan went to war again in 1965, with little changing on the ground.

Several rounds of talks followed, but the impasse continued. In the mid-1980s, dissident political groups in IHK united to contest elections for the state assembly.

The Muslim United Front quickly emerged as a formidable force against Kashmir’s pro-India political elite.

However, the United Front lost the 1987 election, which was widely believed to have been heavily rigged.

A strong public backlash followed. Some young United Front activists crossed over to Azad Jammu and Kashmir, where the Pakistani military began arming and training Kashmiri nationalists.

By 1989, Kashmir was in the throes of a full-blown rebellion.

India poured more troops into the already heavily militarised region. In response, thousands of Kashmiris streamed back from the Pakistani-controlled portion with weapons, staging bloody attacks on Indian security forces and pro-India Kashmiri politicians.

Indian soldiers, empowered with emergency laws giving them legal impunity, carried out a brutal military crackdown, leaving Kashmiris exhausted and traumatised.

More than 68,000 people have been killed since then.

Kashmir rebels suffered a major setback after 9/11, when the US pressured Pakistan to rein in the militants. Indian troops largely crushed the militancy after that, though popular demands for “azadi” ─ freedom ─ remain ingrained in the Kashmiri psyche.

In the last decade, the region has made a transition from armed rebellion to unarmed uprisings, with tens of thousands of civilians repeatedly taking to the streets to protest Indian rule, often leading to clashes between rock-throwing residents and Indian troops.

The protests are usually quelled by force, often resulting in deaths.