Since the formation of India and Pakistan in 1947, both countries have fought over the region known as Kashmir. Containing a Muslim majority, but ruled by Hindu-dominated India, Kashmir is viewed by Pakistan as belonging to them. So strong is this conflict that it has been the trigger of two separate wars between India and Pakistan, and even drawn China into the conflict. Add to the mix, the nuclear arsenal of both countries and it’s not difficult to see the potential flashpoint that Kashmir represents in the region. Join Active Minds as we explore Kashmir and seek to understand its pivotal role in South Asia.

Key Lecture Points

  • Kashmir, a region about the size of Utah, has been a source of confrontation between India and Pakistan since 1947. This territorial dispute has brought India and Pakistan to war three times and resulted in a militant insurgency. This dispute is a continuing concern to the rest of the world because both India and Pakistan are nuclear powers.
  • The Kashmiri region is a mostly mountainous region at the northwestern end of the Himalayan system. It is traversed by the Karakoram Range, and by the Indus River. It encompasses one of the most beautiful as well as one of the most inhospitable topographies in the world. It is surrounded by China in the northeast, by the autonomous region of Tibet in the east, by India in the south, by Pakistan in the west and by Afghanistan in the northwest.
  • The Kashmiri region is made of 3 parts: the major portion (45%) is Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir; 35% is Pakistani-controlled Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan and 20% is the Chinese-controlled areas of Aksai Chin and Trans-Karakoram.
  • The roots of the dispute between India and Pakistan over the Kashmiri region go back to 1947 when British-ruled India became independent and was partitioned into India and Pakistan. Jammu and Kashmir, with a largely Muslim population but a Hindu ruler, signed an instrument of accession, putting the area under Indian protection. Pakistan, created to provide a homeland for the subcontinent’s Muslims, objected. The first war between India and Pakistan for control of Kashmir broke out in 1947 and when it ended in 1949 the region was divided between the two countries along much the same ceasefire lines as it is today.
  • Border disputes between India and China in the Kashmiri territory flared up into brief wars in 1962 and 1963. and incidents continued intermittently into the 1990s. In 1993 and 1996, India and China defined a Line of Control for the disputed border and mutually agreed to abide by that Line—an agreement that remains in effect to date.
  • The last 3 decades have seen the rise of an independence movement in the region as well as an Islamist insurgency backed by Pakistan. Pakistan has repeatedly called for a plebiscite, believing the Muslim majority in the region would vote to join Pakistan. India has refused to hold a referendum saying the participation of the people of Jammu and Kashmir in Indian state elections indicates their acceptance of Indian authority and that a plebiscite is not necessary.
  • Although in recent years violence in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir has abated, the dispute and the insurgency have not gone away. The possibility of another flare-up at any time is a concern to the US because of its desire to maintain good relations with both countries, especially with Pakistan while the war in Afghanistan continues.

Exploration Questions

  • What historical events and geographic factors led to the long-standing territorial dispute over Kashmir?
  • What are the implications to the US foreign policy of the territorial dispute?

Reflective Questions

  • Why do you think the territorial dispute over Kashmir has gone on so long? How do think it will be resolved—which scenario do you think is most likely to happen?
  • Have you ever been to Kashmir? India or Pakistan? What do you remember most?

More to Explore

Books For Further Reading

  • Wolpert, Stanley A. India and Pakistan: Continued Conflict or Cooperation? University of California Press, 2011. 144 pages. The author explores the complex history of these two antagonists and provides insights on the future of South Asia.
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  • Forster, E. M. A Passage to India. Mariner Books, 1965. 368 pages. This novel describes the clash of cultures in colonial India.
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  • Akbar, M. J. Tinderbox: The Past and Future of Pakistan. Harper Perennial, 2012. 376 pages. The author describes the history of Pakistan, its current leaders and its impact on the rest of the world.
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  • Kapur, Akash. India Becoming: A Portrait of Life in Modern India. Riverhead Hardcover, 2012. 304 pages. The author uses personal stories to convey the incredible recent social change and economic development of this country.
    Click here to order