Two large countries, hostile to one another for some 70 years,
One is the world’s number one weapons purchaser, despite standing at 136th place on the U.N. Human Development Index; the other stands at 146 on that index and is the world's 11th largest arms importer.
Both countries also possess nuclear weapons.
As you've probably guessed, they are India and Pakistan.
The main reason for their enmity is Kashmir.
The recent history of Kashmir
Kashmir is frequently in the news. It is a small region where three large countries intersect – India, Pakistan and China. It is the reason for one of the longest-lasting international disputes of recent times; it is, as former U.S. President Clinton put it, “The most dangerous region in the world.”
1947 was the year when India attained independence and Pakistan was founded. It is also the year when the Kashmir Problem entered the world political stage. At that time, Kashmir was a principality ruled by an Indian maharajah and the British. The maharajah’s decision to attach his land to India and his signing a treaty of annexation was a turning point. That is how the Kashmir Problem began, which would be remembered over the course of three wars between India and Pakistan, in 1947, 1965 and 1999, as well as sporadic uprisings, border clashes and oppression.
Present-day Kashmir was largely shaped in the wake of the 1947 War and consists of three regions. The central and southern parts, known as Jammu-Kashmir are an Indian state. Some 70% of the 12 million population are Muslim, and 25% Hindus, while there are also small minorities such as Sikhs and Buddhists. The northern region of Kashmir, Gilgit-Baltistan, together with Azad Kashmir to the west, are under the control of Pakistan; the 3.6 million population is entirely Muslim. There is a further non-settled region under Chinese occupation in the east.
The reason for the failure to resolve the problem is that both sides have diametrically opposed viewpoints. The Indian thesis is that all of Kashmir is “an inseparable part of India”: Pakistan’s official view is that the Muslim majority Jammu-Kashmir belongs to Pakistan.
Kashmir's Dark Years
It is not only the New Delhi and Islamabad administrations that are unhappy with Kashmir’s current borders and status. Most of the people of Kashmir are deeply unhappy with them, too. These are the people of Kashmir who are trapped between two hostile states, who are allowed no say on matters of interest to themselves and who are forced to live amidst terror, fear and violence. To be more accurate, these are the innocent people of the Kashmir under Indian administration and Muslims have long been a target of India’s policies of oppression and violence. Jammu-Kashmir is the only Indian state with a majority Muslim population, of around 70%; an inconvenient fact that India never admits is that the Muslim majority do not want to be governed by India. What the Muslim people want, as is known to one and all, is either independence or to be a part of Pakistan. Although it was decided at the UN Security Council right at the start of the problem - in 1948 - for a referendum to be held to allow the people to decide their own destiny, India has never permitted it. On the contrary, it has tried to settle the problem through military means. India’s policy of force and intimidation becoming a part of daily life in the region led to protests in the 1980s and triggered a counter-struggle. With the emergence in the early 1990s of armed militant groups backed by Pakistan, resistance and uprisings increased. India’s suppression of these uprisings with the use of force led to even more blood being spilled. Some 100,000 people lost their lives during this period.
The dark years of Kashmir are full of severe human rights violations by the Indian Army. Deaths while in detention, unsolved killings, torture, disappearance and rape are considered routine matters. Thousands of bodies in mass graves that have been unearthed are terrifying documentary evidence of extrajudicial murders and atrocities. There is an extraordinary military force in the region in the name of ensuring security. There are 700,000 Indian troops in Kashmir, roughly one for every 17 people.
Of course, the problems in the region that make life difficult are not restricted to security alone. The people of Kashmir are struggling to survive in the face of extreme poverty, high unemployment, ignorance and scarcity in a climate deprived of basic rights and freedoms.
The Two Roads in front of Kashmir
Although the sound of weapons have been heard less in Kashmir in recent years, and although fewer acts of violence have been seen, it would be a grave mistake to regard this as the beginning of a solution. The continuing rancor between both sides, the severe tension and the continuing India-Pakistan arms race are all warning signs of a potentially massive threat waiting in the wings.
The ongoing disagreement can only be resolved by a peaceful and just agreement between India, Pakistan and Kashmir. The Pakistani administration has recently become optimistic, and India’s attitude in the wake of this month’s elections is a matter for speculation.
Despite the various options, one of two paths will determine the future of Kashmir.
What one would wish is for India and Pakistan to abandon the hatred and enmity between them and put an end to the problem with sincere hard work and political will. A just solution will bring peace, well-being, stability and growth to Kashmir and southern Asia. These two great countries can build a bright future by investing their limited resources, not on arms and armies, but on education, health-care and development. The fertile lands and rich underground resources of Kashmir, its natural beauty and moderate people, can build the necessary foundations.
The key to a solution is diplomacy between the sides based on love and understanding. The repressive policies adopted thus far have merely encouraged the lack of a solution and led to disappointment. Love is the basis of both true Islam and Hinduism; both faiths recommend that people of different faiths and beliefs be treated with affection and compassion.
However, the overall number of Hindu radicals in India and extremists in Pakistan are quite large. Both sides have become blind and deaf to the fact that they are acting in violation of their own beliefs and the international public is seemingly unwilling to intervene. Radical elements can only be won over through united backing from Islamic countries.
If the radicals are allowed to prevail - which is the other path - the future awaiting Kashmir may be a very dark one. What is more, that darkness may fall, not only over Kashmir, but over southern Asia as a whole with its population of some two billion. The consequences of an all-out war between India and Pakistan, and especially one in which there is a potential for the use of nuclear weapons, are too nightmarish to contemplate. It is therefore incumbent on both sides to resolve the matter peacefully, with cooler heads prevailing over the passions of the radicals, for the sake of the Indian subcontinent and its peoples.
Adnan Oktar's piece on Daily Mail & Riyadh Vision: