Peace in Kashmir?

LAHORE/NEW DELHI – A subtle shift may be occurring in one of the world’s longest-standing and most intractable conflicts – the dispute between India and Pakistan over Kashmir. Increasingly, it seems, Pakistanis are questioning what the Kashmir dispute has done to their own state and society.

When Pakistan was carved out of India by the departing British in the 1947 Partition, the 562 “princely states” (regions nominally ruled by assorted potentates, but owing allegiance to the British Raj) were required to accede to either of the two new countries. The Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir – a Muslim-majority state with a Hindu ruler – dithered over which of the two to join, and flirted with the idea of remaining independent.

But rumors that the Maharaja was leaning towards India triggered an invasion from Muslim revolutionaries and Pakistani tribesmen. The Maharaja, fearing that his state would fall to the marauders, acceded to India, which promptly sent troops to stop the aggressors (by that point augmented by the Pakistan Army). The First Kashmir War lasted until 1948, at which point India took the issue to the United Nations Security Council, which resulted in a cease-fire that left India in possession of roughly two-thirds of the state.

In order to determine the Kashmiris’ preference, the UN mandated a plebiscite, to be conducted after Pakistani troops had withdrawn from the territory. India had insisted on a popular vote. Kashmir's National Conference Party, led by the fiery and hugely popular Sheikh Abdullah, was a democratic, pluralist movement that was closer to the Indian National Congress, the party of Jawaharlal Nehru, independent India's first prime minister, than it was to the Muslim League, which had advocated the creation of Pakistan.