Published:  03:36 AM, 10 August 2019

Kashmir: Why India, Pakistan fight over it

Kashmir: Why India, Pakistan fight over it
Nuclear-armed neighbours India and Pakistan have fought two wars and a limited conflict over Kashmir. But why do they dispute the territory - and how did it start?

How old is this fight?

Kashmir is an ethnically diverse Himalayan region, covering around 86,000 sq miles (138 sq km), and famed for the beauty of its lakes, meadows and snow-capped mountains. Even before India and Pakistan won their independence from Britain in August 1947, the area was hotly contested. Under the partition plan provided by the Indian Independence Act, Kashmir was free to accede to either India or Pakistan.

The maharaja (local ruler), Hari Singh, initially wanted Kashmir to become independent - but in October 1947 chose to join India, in return for its help against an invasion of tribesmen from Pakistan. A war erupted and India approached the United Nations asking it to intervene. The United Nations recommended holding a plebiscite to settle the question of whether the state would join India or Pakistan. However the two countries could not agree to a deal to demilitarize the region before the referendum could be held.

In July 1949, India and Pakistan signed an agreement to establish a ceasefire line as recommended by the UN and the region became divided. A second war followed in 1965. Then in 1999, India fought a brief but bitter conflict with Pakistani-backed forces.

By that time, India and Pakistan had both declared themselves to be nuclear powers. Today, Delhi and Islamabad both claim Kashmir in full, but control only parts of it - territories recognized internationally as "Indian-administered Kashmir" and "Pakistan-administered Kashmir".

Why is there so much unrest in the Indian-administered part?

An armed revolt has been waged against Indian rule in the region for three decades, claiming tens of thousands of lives.
India blames Pakistan for stirring the unrest by backing separatist militants in Kashmir - a charge its neighbor denies. Now a sudden change to Kashmir's status on the Indian side has created further apprehension.
Indian-administered Kashmir has held a special

position within the country historically, thanks to Article 370 - a clause in the constitution which gave it significant autonomy, including its own constitution, a separate flag, and independence over all matters except foreign affairs, defence and communications. On 5 August, India revoked that seven-decade-long privileged status - as the governing party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), had promised in its 2019 election manifesto. The Hindu nationalist BJP has long opposed Article 370 and had repeatedly called for its abolishment.

Telephone networks and the internet were cut off in the region in the days before the presidential order was announced. Public gatherings were banned, and tens of thousands of troops were sent in. Tourists were told to leave Kashmir under warnings of a terror threat.

Two former chief ministers of Jammu and Kashmir - the Indian state which encompasses the disputed territory - were placed under house arrest. One of them, Mehbooba Mufti, said the move would "make India an occupational force in Jammu and Kashmir," and that "today marks the darkest day in Indian democracy".

Pakistan fiercely condemned the development, branding it "illegal" and vowing to "exercise all possible options" against it. It downgraded diplomatic ties with India and suspended all trade. India responded by saying they "regretted" Pakistan's statement and reiterating that Article 370 was an internal matter as it did not interfere with the boundaries of the territory.

Within Kashmir, opinions about the territory's rightful allegiance are diverse and strongly held. Many do not want it to be governed by India, preferring either independence or union with Pakistan instead. Religion is one factor: Jammu and Kashmir is more than 60% Muslim, making it the only state within India where Muslims are in the majority. Critics of the BJP fear this move is designed to change the state's demographic make-up of - by giving people from the rest of the country to right to acquire property and settle there permanently.

Ms Mufti told the BBC: "They just want to occupy our land and want to make this Muslim-majority state like any other state and reduce us to a minority and disempower us totally." Feelings of disenfranchisement have been aggravated in Indian-administered Kashmir by high unemployment, and complaints of human rights abuses by security forces battling street protesters and fighting insurgents.

Anti-India sentiment in the state has ebbed and flowed since 1989, but the region witnessed a fresh wave of violence after the death of 22-year-old militant leader Burhan Wani in July 2016. He died in a battle with security forces, sparking massive protests across the valley.

Wani - whose social media videos were popular among young people - is largely credited with reviving and legitimizing the image of militancy in the region.

Thousands attended Wani's funeral, which was held in his hometown of Tral, about 40km (25 miles) south of the city of Srinagar. Following the funeral, people clashed with troops and it set off a deadly cycle of violence that lasted for days. - BBC

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