FRONTLINE/WORLD . flashPOINT . Kashmir - A Troubled Paradise . Background . PBS

Kashmir: A Troubled Paradise


Map of KashmirKashmir: A Troubled Paradise

In his 1895 book The Valley of Kashmir, British civil servant Sir Walter Lawrence famously described the picturesque region as "an emerald set in pearls, a land of lakes, clear streams, green turf, magnificent trees and mighty mountains – where the air is cool and the water is sweet." Nestled among snowcapped peaks on the northwestern edge of the Himalayas, at India’s northern tip, Kashmir covers approximately 86,000 square miles, making it about the same size as Kansas. Sixty percent of its roughly 10 million residents are Muslim, the remaining 40 percent are Hindu.

Over the past 60 years, the beauty of Kashmir has been overshadowed by tension and violence, which began in 1947 with the partition of Britain's Indian colony. Despite the wishes of Mahatma Gandhi, regarded as the father of Indian independence, the sub-continent was divided along religious lines and two nations were born: the secular but Hindu-dominated India and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Each of the 565 princely states that existed during British rule was to choose which country to join, based on geographical position and religion of its inhabitants.

Kashmir found itself in the middle geographically, and its ruler, Maharaja Hari Singh, was Hindu, while the majority of residents were Muslim. By the time of partition in August 1947, Singh had not decided which country to join. In October 1947, in an attempt to take control of the region, armed tribesman from Pakistan’s northwest frontier province invaded Kashmir. The maharaja requested armed assistance from India, and in return, he acceded to India. Fighting between the Indian army and irregular Pakistan troops continued until January 1949, when a ceasefire was arranged by the United Nations. The U.N. established a ceasefire demarcation through the middle of Kashmir (later called the Line of Control) and recommended a referendum to debate Kashmir’s accession to India. Decades later, the referendum has yet to occur, and the status of Kashmir remains in dispute.

"Over the past 60 years, the beauty of Kashmir has been overshadowed by tension and violence. Despite the wishes of Mahatma Gandhi, regarded as the father of Indian independence, the sub-continent was divided along religious lines and two nations were born: the secular but Hindu-dominated India and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. "

Kashmir: The Disappeared

Mumbai-based correspondent Anuj Chopra traveled to Indian-held Kashmir earlier this year to report on human rights abuses by the Indian Army, stationed there since the Muslim insurgency began in 1989. Thousands of civilians have been reported missing by their families. Read More










The Muslim Insurgency

Over the next 30 years, war between India and Pakistan broke out twice, first in 1965 and then 1971, with the question of Kashmir at the center of both conflicts. By 1989 the clash over Kashmiri identity and independence had slowly morphed into a religious battle, pitting Islam against Hinduism and drawing religious radicals into the fray. Islamic jihadi fighters who had fought in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union in the 1980s arrived in the Kashmir Valley and helped sprout a Muslim insurgency against Indian rule. Some demanded independence for Kashmir, while others called for a union with Pakistan. The government of India maintained that Pakistan supported the insurgency with military training and weapons.

The insurgency has dragged on for more than 15 years, and claims an average of three lives per day. Estimates vary, but anywhere from 50,000 to 100,000 people have been killed during the conflict. According to Human Rights Watch, nearly 85 percent of those killed in militant attacks since the conflict started have been Kashmiri Muslims. While Indian security forces claim they are fighting to protect Kashmiris from militants and Islamist extremists, militants say they are fighting for Kashmiri independence and to defend Muslim Kashmiris from a murderous Indian army. In reality, both sides have committed widespread human rights abuses, creating an environment of fear and distrust. (In "Kashmir: The Disappeared," FRONTLINE/World reporter Anuj Chopra writes about some of the estimated 6,000 to 8,000 cases of “disappearances” since the separatist uprising began. According to human rights monitors, it’s likely that many of these missing persons are suspected Muslim Kashmiri militants indefinitely detained without warning or trial by the Indian army.)

The conflict came to a head in December 2001, when an armed attack on the Indian parliament in Delhi left 14 dead. India blamed Pakistan-based militants operating out of Kashmir, and the two countries deployed more than a million troops in total to the border. Fear grew that the countries would use their nuclear capabilities, but under international pressure, the troops pulled back.

BoatTenuous Progress
Recent years have seen a thaw in relations between India and Pakistan and offered some hope that the Kashmir conflict can be resolved. In January 2004, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and former Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee held what was hailed as an historic summit in Islamabad, their first meeting in nearly three years. When India’s new prime minister, Manmohan Singh, took over in May 2004, he pledged to seek friendly relations with Pakistan, and Singh and Musharraf have engaged in a series of peace talks over the past few years, including one in Delhi in 2004 and another in Cuba in 2006. So far, though, the leaders have only “decided to continue to search for mutually acceptable options for a peaceful negotiated settlement," they said in an official statement following the Cuba talks. And while the Pakistan and Indian armies are observing a ceasefire along the Line of Control, there are still clashes between Muslim militants and Indian security forces.

Sources: The BBC, The Washington Post, The Economist, Human Rights Watch.

Related Links

FRONTLINE/World: Kashmir – The Road to Peace?
FRONTLINE/World fellows Sachi Cunningham and Jigar Mehta travel to Kashmir in 2004 to hear from residents about their thoughts on the conflict and to check in on the success of the peace process.

FRONTLINE/World Dispatch: Kashmir Quake
FRONTLINE/World reporter and Christian Science Monitor correspondent David Montero checks in on the recovery efforts a year after the October 8, 2005, earthquake, which killed more than 70,000 people.

On a Razor's Edge
In this March 2004 story, FRONTLINE/World reporter and producer Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy returns to her native Pakistan as she investigates the clashes between President Pervez Musharraf, a key U.S. ally, and the increasingly powerful Islamic fundamentalists who oppose him.

Ami Vitale's Web Site
Photographer Ami Vitale’s website features online portfolios of her work around the world, including projects from Angola, Argentina, the Balkans, Mauritania and the Middle East.

BBC: Kashmir Flashpoint
The BBC’s extensive Web site devoted to the conflict in Kashmir features an examination into the roots of the dispute, personal stories from Kashmiri residents, a timeline of historic events and analysis of the military and insurgent groups involved.

The Washington Post: Kashmir Interactive
The Washington Post offers an interactive Q&A about the Kashmiri conflict, as well as a photo gallery showcasing the beauty of the land and the reality of war, which includes images by Ami Vitale.

Shalimar the Clown Takes Rushdie Back to Kashmir
For NPR’s Weekend Edition, Steve Inskeep interviews author Salman Rushdie about Kashmir, the setting for his 2006 novel Shalimar the Clown and a place he spent his summers as a child.
This online newspaper provides coverage of Kashmir from the largest news bureau in the Kashmir Valley.

Human Rights Watch: Everyone Lives in Fear
The report “Patterns of Impunity in Jammu and Kashmir” details human rights abuses by both sides during the conflict in Kashmir. Another Human Rights Watch report from 1999, "Behind the Kashmir Conflict", examines the escalation of violence in Kashmir around the turn of the century.

-- Matthew Vree