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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 45 New Delhi October 29, 2016

The Kashmir Question

Sunday 30 October 2016

by Binish Maryam

The hasty departure of the Britishers from India in 1947 resulted in the emergence of two independent states, India and Pakistan. Though sharing a common history, the two states have been engaged in the most complex and sharply contested rivalry. The source of this contention has mainly been over the control of the erstwhile princely state of Kashmir. Since 1948 the state of Kashmir is divided into a Pakistani controlled part and an Indian controlled part. This de facto partition continues to this date with the dividing line being known as the Line of Control.

Politically the line has remained unstable, with control being the only justification for its presence. Compulsions to control plagued the two powers. India and Pakistan attempted to become militarily stronger; they escalated their defence budgets, bought sophisticated weapons and finally emerged as nuclear powers in the South Asian region. In the last six decades Kashmir has turned into the most militarised region in the world. The prolonged unrest in Kashmir reflects a narrow vision that has been applied while maintaining peace. Both countries’ concern in Kashmir can be summarised in three ways: maintaining their claim on the territory, defending its security, and upholding their prestige.

The hostility between India and Pakistan left little respite to put Kashmir’s house in order. The 1960s and 1970s were decades of war. The 1990s onwards it took the form of insurgency, where thousands of young men crossed over the Line of Control to train in hastily set-up camps in ‘Azad Kashmir’ and North Western Frontier Province. By the mid-1990s, Muslim militias and the Indian Army dominated the life in the Valley. The Kashmiri people were frequently trapped in a battle between the Indian troops and Islamic militias. Killing became the norm than exception in the Valley. The upheaval and unrest in Kashmir has been dealt with by state action that includes militarisation and imposing security laws. There were arbitrary arrests and detentions, civil and human rights were subordinated in the name of national security. The year 1999 saw the worst form of armed conflict between India and Pakistan in Kargil, leading to escalation of the conflict in Kashmir. The Kashmir Valley was declared a “disturbed area” in which the security forces could make preventive arrests, shoot at sight or cordon and search entire villages. Tension remained high between the two countries throughout and Kashmir was locked in an endless cycle of violence and siege.

While dealing with Kashmir both the national and international forces have focused on the need for prevention of an accidental war, elimination of terrorism and non-proliferation of nuclear weapons in the region. The discourse neglects the entire issue of human rights, fundamental freedom, justice, and self-determination. War is only one form of peace-less condition; opposite of peace is more than the existence of manifest violence. When coercive mechanisms are effective, the society is governed by fear and repression. However, prolonging exploitative conditions eventually produce violent resistance like liberation movements and civil unrest.The Kashmir uprising in 2010 and 2016 has demonstrated the failure of the Indian state and democracy. The new kind of protest and revolt, that is visible in the streets of Srinagar, is mostly led by the unarmed civilians of the Valley. A.G. Noorani, calling it the worst form of crisis, says: “The Valley is no longer on the boil. It is in an incipient revolt which can get worse. It builds on the renewed awakening through militancy and is mostly local in origin.”

In the current situation the civilians are out on the street in direct confrontation with the Army. One pelting stones and the other using pellet guns resulting in innocent killings, blackouts and clampdown. The authorities have imposed an indefinite curfew in most parts of the Indian-administered Kashmir after the killing of popular militant and top commander of the Hizbul Mujahideen group, Burhan Wani, by the security forces. At least 68 civilians and two security officials have died and more than 9000 people injured in over 50 days of violence, according to official tallies. The people’s dissatisfaction with the state structure is such that they are willing to die for the cause of Kashmir. Every time there is a funeral of those who protest and dissent the Indian state, massive crowds come out and join. Unarmed civilians protesting against the Indian Army project a sorrow tale. The security and integrity of any nation cannot be protected unless the residents and inhabitants of that place guard it. While all-out effort was made to guard the territory, the state failed to win over the hearts of the Kashmiris. In Kashmir, conflicts are contained without necessarily resolving it. The cosmetic make-up of conflict areas is a short-sighted vision, and peace in the real sense can hardly be attained through this method. Under the conflict management programme the Indian state has helped to reinforce a coercive policy by conforming to dominant social norms. It basically aims at controlling an open conflict thus minimising the physical loss and potential damage that can be the result of such violence. Once the direct strike has been controlled the soldiers are kept on vigil so that no armed clash resumes. Like politically oppressive societies, demands for autonomy have been answered by coercive responses rather than negotiation of new relationships. No successful attempt has been made to build new social and political environment that creates an atmosphere of trust and confidence. The dispute-settlement mechanism and conventional negotiations have failed to solve the problem in the Valley. To prevent the recurrence of future conflict in Kashmir there is a need to evolve satisfying peaceful conditions that is acceptable to all parties, especially the people of Kashmir.

A cursory look at the events in the last few decades would reveal that India, Pakistan and even Kashmiris have reached the Mutually Hurting Stalemate (MHS)1 stage on Kashmir, and there is no way other than reaching an understanding at the political level. It is clear that none of the parties involved in the conflict—India, Pakistan, Kashmiris and the militants, can alter the status quo through military means. The status quo, on the other hand, is also not acceptable, as it is hurting all the parties concerned. India and Pakistan have failed to reach an understanding on Kashmir and their control in the region has turned the area into a military camp. Strict state vigilance has robbed the people of their normal life.

To achieve lasting peace, it is essential to handle conflict in such a manner that there is reduction in violence without subordination of justice and freedom. Mere absence of violence and suppression of conflict is not necessarily peace. The two nations must soften their stand on Kashmir. Instead of a top-down approach a bottom-up design should be adopted. Dialogues and negotiations on Kashmir should not remain the monopoly of the two nations; instead the residents/people of Kashmir should initiate the talks. They should not be “talked about”; rather they should be “talked with”. There has to be a consensual solution acceptable to all parties. The Kashmiri people, who have suffered three decades of strife and violence and state repression, need to be reached out to.

Peace-building goes beyond the peacemaking and peacekeeping approach as it aims to transform conflicts, thus laying the grounds for long-term sustainable peace. It involves a number of methods like sustained dialogue, demilitarisation, restoring law and order, rebuilding the justice system, strengthening civil society organisations and it works towards improving relations between the antagonistic groups. It focuses on the causes of conflict and addresses the economic, social and political aspects of reconstruction and reconciliation. There are a diverse set of actors involved in the peace-building process, ranging from civil society, governments, international and regional organisations, truth commissions, historical commissions etc.

In most of the post-conflict societies, peace-building is often laced with the idea of liberal peace-building, where the task of building peace is mostly handled by the various state institutions. It involves democratic election and few economic reforms, but it is vital to understand that these factors are not solely enough for a stable and lasting peace. The intra-level conflict involves the members of the society and affects the relational dimension of peace between people. Any approach towards peace must look into the everyday effect of conflicts. Liberal peace-building measures mostly involve the state as a part of the peace-making mechanism but for lasting peace it is important to think beyond the liberal paradigm and include the society in the peace-building task. Sustainable peace can be achieved only with the empowerment of the communities torn apart by war.

Both India and Pakistan have to accept that their policy on Kashmir falls short of bringing peace. Talks on ceasefire and terrorism across the Line of Control will not ensure peace; at best it can minimise violence. Peace can come with resolution, reconstruction and reconciliation, demilitarisation, softening of the Line of Control and free movement of people. Just peace is an atmosphere conducive to the interests of the people. It builds an environment where there is freedom of mind and body. This can be done by speaking out, by addressing the complaints and grievances that have been quietly internalised by the victim community. A peaceful community assimilates rather than discrimi-nates, promulgates human and legal rights, does its best to dissolve alienation and fear, encourages the people to share values and develop congenial relationships, and promotes a hope that material benefits will accrue as a product of peaceful transactions and independence.


1. Huma Haider, The Topic Guide on Conflict, Governance and Social Development Resource Center, 92.

2. Tom Keating and W. Andy Knight, eds., Building Sustainable Peace, (United Nations University Press, 2004),xxxii- xxxiii.

3. Paula Banerjee, ‘The Line of Control in Kashmir’ in Ranbir Samaddar and Helmut Reifeld, eds., Peace as Process: Reconciliation and Conflict Resolution in South Asia, Manohar, 2001, 299-318.

4. A.G. Noorani, ‘It is a Revolt’, Frontline, August 19, 2016.

5. Radha Kumar, Negotiating Peace in Deeply Divided Societies: A Set of Simulations, Sage Publication India, 2009, 356-382.

6. Oliver Ramsbotham, Tom Woodhouse and Hugh Miall, eds., Contemporary Conflict Resolution: ThePrevention, Management and Transformation of Deadly Conflicts (Polity Press, 2011), 97-98.

8. Sean Byrne and Jessica Senehi, Conflict Analysis And Resolution As A Multidiscipline A Work In Progress” in Handbook of Conflict Analysis and Resolution, eds., Dennis J. D. Sandole, Sean Byrne, Ingrid Sandole-Staroste, Jessica Senehi. (Routledge Taylor and Francis Group, 2009), 22.

9. K.Satchidananda Murty and A.C. Bouquet, eds., Studies in the Problems of Peace (Asia Publishing House 1960), 176-201.

10. Thania Paffenholz, “Western Approaches to Nego-tiation and Mediation: An Overview” in Peace Building: A Field Guide, ed., Luc Reychler and Thania Paffenholz. (Lynne Rienner Publishers, London, 1999), 75-81.

11. Sanjay Kak, Documentary “Jashn-e-Azadi: How We Celebrate Freedom?” on


1. A situation in which neither party thinks it can win a given conflict without incurring excessive loss, and in which both are suffering from a continuation of fighting. The conflict is judged to have entered a period of ripeness, a propitious moment for third party mediation.

Dr Binish Maryam is an Assistant Professor (Adhoc), Maitreyi College, University of Delhi.

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