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Along straits of fear

Kashmir: The Unwritten Historyis a well-researched study of the Kashmir dispute includes a wealth of information on Azad Kashmir. Soutik Biswas writes.

books Updated: Jul 09, 2013 16:34 IST
Hindustan Times

Kashmir: The Unwritten Historyis a well-researched study of the Kashmir dispute includes a wealth of information on Azad Kashmir.

Kashmir: The Unwritten History
Christopher Snedden
Harper Collins
Rs. 599 pp 460

In India, the conventional narrative about the genesis of violence and dispute in Kashmir is the tribal invasion in October 1947 which sought to capture the region for Pakistan. Australian historian Christopher Snedden disagrees.

In this finely etched and well-researched study of one of the world’s longest-running and seemingly intractable disputes involving two nuclear-armed neighbours, Snedden says the people of Kashmir themselves instigated the conflict, over which India and Pakistan have fought wars and now maintain a perilous truce.

Snedden recounts three major actions in 1947 that “confirmed that the princely state was not entirely deliverable in its entirety to India or Pakistan”.

All involved the people of Kashmir. The first was a pro-Pakistan uprising by Muslim residents of Poonch in Jammu that liberated large parts of this area from princely control. The second was a bout of bloody religious violence in the province, including a “possible” massacre of Muslims.

The third, most significantly, was the creation of a provisional free government in the liberated areas of Poonch, which soon came to be known as

Azad Kashmir. The incidents happened during a 10-week period between the partition of India (August 1947) and Hari Singh’s controversial accession to India (October 1947).

Snedden writes the incidents caused death and dislocation and divided the Jammu province physically into pro-Indian and pro-Pakistani areas. The dispute over who Kashmir belonged to began almost after the creation of India and Pakistan.

Snedden argues this was not all. Two more actions in 1947 “showed people in Jammu and Kashmir wanted to determine the fate of ‘their’ state”: in late October, they stitched together a militia to defend themselves against tribal invaders from Pakistan, and in early November, pro-Pakistani Gilgitis rose up and sought to join Pakistan.

Snedden reminds the reader that even though Muslims comprised 77 percent of the princely state’s population, they were “divided in their aspirations” for its international status.

Snedden writes that this proves the people of Kashmir “need to be included in serious attempts to resolve the issue”: they have not been even involved in the comprehensive India-Pakistan composite dialogue process which began in 2004.

He also believes that people themselves got disengaged from the process after the Azad Kashmiris “happily disbanded their people’s militia and ceded all significant power, civil and military, to Pakistan’s leaders in Karachi, including total responsibility for the Kashmir dispute”.

The book contains a wealth of information on Azad Kashmir. Snedden provides meticulously researched accounts about its economy and political system, and its tangled relationship with Pakistan.

It’s an administration which locals, after all, believed would rule the region after being reunited by an UN-mandated plebiscite that never happened.

Which brings us back to the point: How can the people of Kashmir — the real stakeholders — continue to be ignored in forging a final solution to a dispute that bleeds India and Pakistan, and keeps South Asia on tenterhooks?

Soutik Biswas is India Editor of the BBC News site.

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