Kashmir's Troubled History

Three Wars In 50 Years

Dispute between India and Pakistan is seemingly existential: Like the Hatfields and the McCoys, it is hard to imagine them not feuding. The two countries were cut from the same cloth in 1947, when Britain quit its colonial holdings in South Asia, leaving the Islamic state of Pakistan and the secular state of India.

The region was full of kingdoms run by maharajahs and potentates who were told to choose between the two. Kashmir's ruler, a Hindu in a mostly Muslim state, faltered until fighters loyal to Pakistan invaded. He sided with India in exchange for military aid, leading to a war that left a third of the region in Pakistani hands by the time a cease-fire was signed in 1949. Pakistan later complicated the picture by ceding part to China.

India and Pakistan fought a second war over Kashmir in 1965. In 1971, conflict over the status of Bangladesh generated more violence over Kashmir. Since then the countries haven't warred openly over the region, but fighting has proceeded just the same.

Beginning in the late 1980s, frustrated Kashmiris variously seeking a referendum, outright independence, or a merger with Pakistan, struck out at India. In the early 1990s, these militants made Srinagar an extremely dangerous place, particularly for those connected to India's government or military.

Most reasonable estimates suggest roughly 20,000 people - Indian soldiers, Kashmiri insurgents, and many innocent civilians - have died so far. Today, Srinagar is a city under martial law in all but name. Soldiers and police guard nearly every intersection.

The militants have taken to the mountainous countryside, fighting a guerrilla war against Indian forces. The province's governor, Girish Saxena, says 234 militants have been killed and 449 have surrendered or been arrested this year. Many fighters are from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and other countries. Pakistan denies funding insurgency in Kashmir, but its leaders oppose Indian rule there and say its people should decide its fate by referendum. Independent analysts say Pakistan's intelligence agency funds and otherwise supports Kashmiri insurgency.

India's attempts to maintain order in the province have drawn criticism. Ravi Nair, India's leading human rights activist, says the government practices torture, executes foreign militants on the spot, and uses house-demolition to punish the families of insurgents. The government acknowledges that militants are killed if they refuse to surrender, but denies human rights abuses.

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