Thursday, August 21, 2003

Jammu & Kashmir

Amy’s recent post on the subject of the Indian-Pakistani conflict in Kashmir provided me with the necessary excuse to make this post. Several months ago, when India and Pakistan were rattling their sabers especially loudly, I sent an email to a friend who knows something about the region asking him, “What is so $#@!$ special about Kashmir that India and Pakistan are apparently willing to go to war (possibly nuclear war) over it?” My friend (who wishes to remain anonymous) eventually sent me the following reply, which I found quite edifying. (As a disclaimer, however, I really know next to nothing about the issue myself, and thus cannot pass judgment on his accuracy.)
First, generally, the name "Kashmir" is misused if the person using it is referring to the entire region. The entire State/Province is collectively known as "Jammu & Kashmir" which comprises the regions of "Jammu," "Kashmir," and "Ladakh." Also, the entire region contains three major religious groups, Hindus, Muslims, and Buddhists. Muslims are the majority overall, but not necessarily in every individual region of Jammu & Kashmir.

India and Pakistan used to be one family (collectively known as India). At first, when India was partitioned, it was like one family was being divided, and in some ways, their relations resembled a family feud. This was how it was until the late 1980s. In 1989, a major conflict erupted within India's section of Jammu & Kashmir after elections in the region were found to have been rigged (to favor pro-Indian politicians, as opposed to separatists or pro-Pakistan politicians). It was a stupid/arrogant thing to do on the part of some Indian government leaders. (The most recent elections held in 2002 were relatively fairer and freer and had a good turnout of 48%, better than most American elections.)

As a result of the 1989 elections, the pro-Pakistanis and pro-Separatists (both groups comprised entirely of Muslims) violently rebelled and resorted to terrorism to meet their goals. Unfortunately, they did not target just Indian security forces, but also civilians (to ethnically cleanse the region and increase the percentage of Muslims). They targeted Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, and even other Muslims (those who didn't agree with their agendas). The terrorists primarily use fear/intimidation/violence as a means of getting supporters or silencing their critics.

Pakistan has been arming, training, and sheltering these terrorists, there is no question about that. This has made the situation difficult for India to resolve. In addition, unemployed Afghan mujahadeen (now mercenaries) from the Soviet-Afghan war have turned up in the region.

(Clearly, the Reagan administration was naive, ignorant, or just didn't care if they thought there would be no fallout from supporting, training, and arming the mujahadeen in Afganistan. This is how many Al-Qaeda and Taliban got their initial funding and training. These people were clearly more dangerous, unpredictable, and much less rational than the Soviets were. Plus, Afganistan actually ended up being even more worse off when the Soviets left. But, as with most American policies, nothing really looks beyond the short-term.)

Now, even the terrorists are divided. Some are pro-independent Kashmir (and within this group, some want a secular Kashmir, others want an Islamic state made out of Kashmir; India does not want a radical Islamic state on its doorstep). Others are pro-Pakistan and want the region to join Pakistan. As for other terrorists (particularly those Afghan and Arab mercenaries), they probably would prefer a radical Islamic state, but, for the most part, they probably prefer the status quo so they can continue enjoying killing and terrorizing innocent people. Killing is all these people know, and the only skill they were ever trained in. How can they be integrated back into civil society?

But, for India, Jammu & Kashmir remaining a part of the country doesn't only have to do with protecting the large minority ethnic/religious groups in the region, or with keeping a large chunk of real estate. Jammu & Kashmir is rich in some natural resources. Plus, a lot of the water the rest of India uses originates in the snow-capped mountains of Jammu & Kashmir. Considering some parts of India have been suffering droughts as of late, the water issue is no small thing and, for them, worth going to war over.
Probably the most disturbing part of this story is the second-to-last paragraph. What can you do with a group of people who know nothing but terrorism?

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