Recent events involving Kashmir — where the Indian parliament overwhelmingly voted to lift the special autonomous status of the state through Articles 370/35A of the Constitution and reorganize it into two Union Territories — have elicited widespread criticism across the world from journalists, commentators, to policy makers alike.
The narrative created by these influential opinion makers has almost entirely focused on the detention of separatists and their political allies, communications blackouts, and temporary restrictions in the state, which is indeed important. But little, if any attention has been paid to the history and actual root cause of the Kashmir conflict — Pakistan sponsored aggression and terrorism.
For 70 years now, Pakistan has used both regular and asymmetric warfare to forcibly change the ground dynamics and demographics in Kashmir, and foment chaos and violence.
Military Attempts to Seize Kashmir
Starting in 1947, Pakistan orchestrated an invasion of the former princely state using its own military forces in conjunction with lashkars, or Pashtun tribal militias, leading to widespread violence and mayhem, including massacres and the capture of non-Muslim women.
Pakistan’s unilateral aggression in Kashmir led the erstwhile Maharaja, Hari Singh, to ask India for assistance and legally accede to the Indian Republic through the Instrument of Accession (the legal document all former princely states signed to join the modern nation of India) with the support of Kashmiri political leaders.
Even with United Nations intervention, Pakistan blatantly disregarded UN Security Council resolution 47, which clearly and unequivocally required Pakistan to withdraw all of its regular and irregular forces from Kashmir.
After a cease-fire, Pakistan continued to occupy approximately one third of the state comprising Pakistani Occupied Kashmir (or Azad Kashmir) and Gilgit-Baltistan.
Unsatisfied with the status quo, Pakistan again tried to militarily force the issue in 1965 by trying to seize India’s state of Jammu and Kashmir. Similarly, in 1999, Pakistan’s military crossed the internationally-recognized Line of Control and temporarily occupied strategic mountain passes on the Indian side of the border in Kargil, shortly after the late Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee travelled by bus to Pakistan on a peace mission.
Pakistan’s actions in Kashmir have not just been limited to overt military conflict, but have also included the use of proxies and strategic terror assets.
Pakistan’s Proxy War in Kashmir
Starting in 1989, Pakistan’s military and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency started a full-blown proxy war, first using discontented Kashmiri youth and then transitioning to the use of Islamist militants, many of whom were battle hardened from their jihad against Soviet forces in Afghanistan. This is the same military-intelligence complex that protected Osama Bin Laden and Islamist terrorists that have attacked U.S. interests.
As South Asia scholar and former Pakistani ambassador to the US, Husain Haqqani, noted in his book, Between Mosque and Military, the ISI supported jihad in Kashmir as an instrument of state policy and the violence was “rooted in the ideology of Pakistani Islamists, carefully nurtured for decades by the Pakistani military.”
The Pakistan sponsored terrorist campaign included plans to complete a “communal cleansing” of Kashmir by attacking non-Muslim indigenous Kashmiris in order to change the demographics and create a minority-free Kashmir.
The end-result? The ethnic cleansing of over 350,000 Kashmiri Hindus, known as Pandits, from the Kashmir Valley.
The violent campaign targeting Hindus in Kashmir was organized and systematic, and included massacres, rape, threats, and intimidation. Public announcements were placed in newspapers, sermons made in mosques, and posters hung on houses ordering all Kashmiri Hindus to leave the Valley, threatening violence if they did not and calling on Muslims to take up jihad against non-Muslims.
Moreover, between 1988 and 2003, approximately 1,490 Hindus were killed across the state, although some estimate that the numbers are much higher, while thousands of Hindu businesses, education institutions, and religious sites were destroyed or illegally occupied.
While religious minorities in Kashmir were specifically targeted, Kashmiri Muslims by far bore the brunt of terrorist related violence, which has taken the lives of 15,000 civilians.
Pakistan sponsored terror groups active in Kashmir, such as Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Hizb-ul Mujahideen (militant wing of the Islamic organisation Jamaat-e-Islami) and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), have been designated as Foreign Terrorist Organizations by the U.S. State Department and enjoy links with the broader terror network in South Asia, including the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and ISIS.
LeT gained international notoriety for carrying out the 2008 Mumbai attacks along with their Pakistani military handlers, and most recently, JeM carried out a suicide attack in Pulwama in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, escalating tensions between India and Pakistan.
Ironically, these same terror groups have frequently been described as “rebels” or the resistance against Indian rule in the media. And the fact that their flags are often prominently displayed at “protests” in Kashmir is ignored, leading one to believe that it’s otherwise peaceful Kashmiris protesting, as opposed to radical Islamists and their supporters.
Pakistan Occupied Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan
For all its interference in India’s state of Jammu and Kashmir, Pakistan has also quietly and systematically extended its control over the territories of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) and Gilgit-Baltistan.
Pakistan’s military-intelligence aparatus settled large numbers of Sunni Muslims in Gilgit-Baltistan, a predominantly Shia Muslim area, to irreversibly change the demographics, leading to sectarian clashes and massacres of Shias.
There have also been a number of protests against human rights violations in PoK, where the military and ISI have carried out at least a hundred extrajudicial killings of activists, rigged elections, and repressed political dissent.
Finally, Pakistan unilaterally gave away 2,000 sq miles of Kashmir in the Shaksgam Valley to China in 1963, distorting the historic boundaries of the state and further complicating the Kashmir conflict.
To entirely gloss over or whitewash these historic and current sins in Kashmir by Pakistan is not just irresponsible, it’s dangerous.
Samir Kalra, Esq. is the Managing Director at the Hindu American Foundation