EDITORIAL: India and Pakistan: a history of conflict

Tariq Engineer

If there has been one common factor between India and Pakistan through fifty odd years of independence, it has been conflict. Today India and Pakistan stand at the brink of war, with troops amassing on both sides of the India-Pakistan border. The simple fact that these hostile nations have nuclear capabilities makes this an issue that cannot linger in the backwaters of international recognition anymore. Ostensibly both these countries are at loggerheads over the state of Kashmir, but the root of the problem goes beyond mere territory. The stark divide between India and Pakistan arises from a hundred years of bitter division between two ideologies and cultures unable to reconcile their differences. The rift dates back to the days of the Raj, when the British practiced their policy of ‘divide and rule’ in order to ensure there would be no united Indian front to oppose British rule. The British turned the majority Hindu community against the minority Muslim community and helped create the atmosphere of mutual mistrust and hatred that still pervades both cultures today.

As the dream of Indian independence became more and more of an inevitable reality, the Muslim League, the political party that represented the Muslim community, began to demand a separate Muslim state. They feared the Muslim minority would not be given adequate representation in a predominantly Hindu India and would be subject to oppression. They demanded the division of the Subcontinent along religious and communal lines as the only permanent solution to the communal violence that ravaged the Subcontinent during the last days of the Raj: one country for Hindus, another for Muslims.

Now at the time of independence, there existed a number of princely states in the Subcontinent who were given the option of joining either of the two countries. This choice was generally made on the basis of which community had a majority in that state. Kashmir was one such princely state. Though the population of Kashmir was predominantly Muslim, its ruler was a Hindu and he chose to accede to India. Thus began the long drawn out struggle over Kashmir. Pakistan insisted that since Kashmir was a predominantly Muslim state, it should belong to Pakistan. India responded by stating that the ruler of Kashmir had chosen India and therefore there was no argument. War broke out in 1948, resulting in a division of Kashmir along what is called the Line of Control (LOC). There are now two parts to Kashmir—Indian Kashmir and Pakistan occupied Kashmir.

Two subsequent wars were fought between the countries without any resolution. The beginning of the nuclearization of the Subcontinent in 1974 brought an end to war, but not to the hostility each nation felt for the other. The push for peace has not been helped by India’s constant misrule of Kashmir, nor by Pakistan’s political instability and religious fanaticism. As a result, fifty years have produced nothing in terms of a peaceful resolution over Kashmir. The only result produced has been the creation of a forgotten people; the people of Kashmir who have been lost in this tug of war between nations. They are the true sufferers in this conflict, and it is for them that the path to peace needs to be found.