By: Anmol Gupta
Today Kashmir is a turbulent but extremely vital and as some would say an integral part of India. But what if History had followed a different course in Kashmir? What if Maharaja Hari Singh had not signed the instrument of accession on October 26, 1947 and Pakistan had succeeded in capturing the Kashmir Valley? Here’s imagining a different course of History and the Present for Kashmir, had it become a part of Pakistan in 1947.
In the early hours of 24 October 1947 the invasion of Kashmir began, as thousands of tribal Pathans swept into Kashmir heading for Srinagar, from where Maharaja Hari Singh ruled. On 25 October, V. P. Menon, a civil servant considered to be close to Sardar Patel, flew to Srinagar to get Hari Singh’s approval for Kashmir’s accession to India but Hari Singh was indecisive. On 26 October, Hari Singh and his durbar shifted to Jammu, to the safety of the Maharaja’s winter palace, and out of harm’s way from the marauding tribesmen. Hari Singh through his Prime Minister requested India for military aid but was not yet ready to sign the instrument of accession. Finally, the maharaja signed the instrument of accession on 2nd November, 1947 but by that time the entire Kashmir Valley, Mirpur, Gilgit, Poonch and Nowshera had been captured by Pakistan backed militias. India immediately flew the 1st Sikh battalion into Jammu on 3rd November and managed to secure Jammu, Akhnoor, Udhampur, Reasi, Kathua, Doda and Kishtwar for India. Over the next few months with the onset of summer, Kargil and the Leh regions were also secured by India. A low intensity war raged on between Pakistan and India over the territory with ceasefire being finally called on January 1, 1949.
Pakistani Premier Liquat Ali Khan immediately called for conducting a referendum in the territory of the erstwhile state of J&K under its control and backed by an affirmative vote, the territory of Kashmir became a province of the Republic of Pakistan in 1950. On account of the legal accession of Jammu and Kashmir to India by Maharaja Hari Singh, the Indian state termed the referendum and integration of Kashmir with Pakistan as illegal. And hence, Kashmir remained an unresolved issue between India and Pakistan.
The tallest leader in the Pre-Independence Kashmir, Sheikh Abdullah, was released from prison in 1953 after recognising Kashmir’s integration with Pakistan as final and permanent. He was jailed again in 1959 after he lead violent protests to demand autonomy for the province of Kashmir and to stop the systematic settlement of Pashtuns and Punjabis in Kashmir which were causing a grave demographic imbalance in the region. There were massive protests all across the Kashmir Valley when Abdullah died mysteriously while imprisoned in Rawalpindi Jail. Under the military dictatorship of General Ayub Khan, these protests were quelled with an iron fist. But underneath the calm exterior, Kashmir simmered.
Even though discontent was brewing among the average Kashmiris, the period from 1960 to 1990 was one of relative peace when tourism prospered in the valley. For Pakistan, East Pakistan was the troubled territory during the 1960s which was eventually liberated from Pakistan after the 1971 Indo-Pak war. It seemed that the fate of Kashmir had also been sealed with the ratification of the Shimla Agreement between Indira Gandhi and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in 1972 where both the countries agreed to accept the current Line of Control as the actual border between India and Pakistan. For Indira Gandhi, who was an ethnic Kashmiri, it was a major climb down from India’s and her party’s officialy stated position but was able to push through the settlement of the issue on the back of India’s resounding victory against Pakistan in the recently concluded war.
For Kashmir, the growth of Tourism in the 1970s brought economic benefits but it also increased the pace of migration of ethnic Pashtuns and Punjabis to the region (who largely came and settled in Kashmir in search of livelihood). The calls by the local Kashmiri leadership to impose restrictions on this unchecked migration which was permanently altering the ethnic mix of Kashmir largely went unnoticed. The problem was aggravated with a large number of Afghan refugees settling in Kashmir during the 1980s who favoured settling in the valley due to a similarity in temperature with Afghanistan. Comparisons had begun to be drawn with the Hill states in India where permanent settlement of outsiders was largely restricted through stringent land laws and constitutional provisions. The politics of Kashmir during this period were lead by the Farooq Abdullah controlled Kashmir Conference, the Pakistan Muslim League which drew its primary support base from the Punjabis and Pashtuns settled in Kashmir and the Syed Ali Shah Geelani lead Jamaat e Islami which grew in influence during Zia-ul-Haq’s regime as a counter to the Muslim Conference.
The worst fear of the Kashmiris was confirmed by the Census of Pakistan in 1998 which numbered the Kashmiri speaking population of Kashmir at 48% of the total population of 1.31 crores. Not only had Kashmiris become a minority in Kashmir, the unchecked migration had increased the population of the province to an unsustainable level resulting in large scale deforestation and shrinking of lakes. The area of the show piece Dal lake had already reduced to a meager 7 sq km and still no meaningful measures were being initiated to rectify the situation. The beauty of Kashmir had definitely waned and the place no longer held the same value like it once did for the western tourist. With few trees and shrinking lakes, summers in Srinagar had become unbearable. The State of Pakistan with meagre economic resources lacked the might to stem this rot and tourism in Kashmir was doomed. The economy of the valley in the absence of other industries was somehow surviving on the domestic tourist inflow from Pakistan. But even the days of the domestic tourists were numbered.
To make matters worse the onset of the twenty first century witnessed a growth of hard-line Islam in the valley. Most analysts believe the large scale settling of Afghan refugees and the Pashtun population in Kashmir combined with the increasing influence of conservative parties like the Jamat-e-Islami aided hard-line Islam taking root in the valley. The restrictions imposed by these self styled protectors of Islam have spelled a death knell for tourism in the valley. The Khyber Pakhtunwa and the Kashmir provinces of Pakistan are today not only a safe sanctuary for the Taliban but also a support center and a breeding ground for the Islamic state. In addition, the armed resistance of certain indigenous Kashmiri groups demanding Azaadi from Pakistan though largely contained has ensured that the valley suffers from permanent unrest. With estimates (No census has been conducted in Pakistan since 1998) pointing that the number of ethnic Kashmiris is today less than 40% of the total population of the valley (making them a minority), the success of such armed movements seems highly unlikely.
The sad state of affairs in the Kashmir valley has recently been brought to light by the floods of unprecedented magnitude witnessed in 2014. The floods which engulfed the valley not only claimed over 7000 lives (while destroying the property and livelihood of thousands of others), it highlighted the complete lack of governance in the valley. The apathy of the Pakistan Government and the slack pace of rehabilitation have come in for strong criticism across the globe with pictures of children sleeping in the open (during the harsh winter months) doing the rounds of the internet. The citizens of Kashmir are yet to receive any compensation or a rehabilitation package from the government of Pakistan to help them rebuild their lives a full two years after the calamity. In the seventy years since Independence, Pakistan has truly managed to convert this ‘Heaven on Earth’ into a living hell.
A brief chat with eighty-three year old ethnic Kashmiri Manzoor Alam Bhat in Zainakadal, Srinagar reveals a story. Bhat tells you that the separation of Kashmir from India and its integration with Pakistan was the gravest misfortune to strike this so called Paradise. The sad reality is that the province may be called ‘Kashmir’ but it is today only an extension of Punjab or Pakhtunwa. The Pakistani state has suppressed the people of Kashmir in every sense be it culturally, economically or numerically. They have even managed to destroy the immense natural beauty that God had blessed Kashmir with. He says that his extended family living in Bhaderwah and Kishtwar in India are a much happier lot as the country has taken good care of them in spite of them being a religious minority. Research reveals that Bhaderwah and other adjoining parts in the Indian state of Jammu draw 23 times the number of foreign tourists than the entire Kashmir valley. Historically dwarfed by the natural beauty of Kashmir and called mini Kashmir, Bhaderwah in India has become a major tourist attraction post 1947.
Among ethnic Kashmiris there is near unanimity that the merger with Pakistan is indeed the greatest tragedy to strike the region. Impressed by the economic might of India and the state of its citizens, they wish that at the time of independence Kashmir had remained a part of India. Over the past few years, the incidences of Kashmiris illegally crossing over to India and other countries have also risen substantially. The ethnic Kashmiris today may want to become a part of India but the fate of the region is already sealed. If only their forefathers had resisted the Pakistani onslaught in 1947 or the fundamentalist clamor during the referendum of 1950, Kashmir would have remained a part of India. One can only hope that the present generation in Kashmir is wiser and makes the right choices for their future and for the future of Kashmir!
The writer is a MBA in Finance and has recently shifted base to Jammu after working in various corporates for 8 years
U4UVoice does not endorse the opinion reflected in this article neither does the article necessarily reflect U4UVoice policy.