What Is Kashmir Exactly?
Kashmir is a mountainous region situated on the northern tip of India. It borders parts of China to both the east and northeast, Pakistan to the west, and Afghanistan to the northwest.
It is home to parts of both the Himalayan and Karakoram Mountain ranges, home to many of the world’s highest peaks. Kashmir tends to be prone to earthquakes and the same tectonic activity that formed its stunning mountain landscape due to its geographical location on the Northern portion of the Indian-Australian Tectonic Plate.
Altogether, the region of Kashmir encompasses 86,000 square miles. Kashmir is notably divided by what is referred to as the “Line of Control” that stretches for 435 miles across the territory.
Why Is the Kashmir Region So Important?
Since the ancient and medieval time periods, Kashmir has been an important geographical hub for the development of early versions of Hinduism and Buddhism. During the mid-medieval period, Muslim dynasties began to form in the territory as well, and by the time that conflict broke out in the mid-1900s, the population of Kashmir was majority Muslim.
As such, Kashmir holds a storied religious significance for all three of the religious groups that reside within its borders.
The Kashmir Conflict Background
It all started back in 1947, when British rule in India finally dissolved and the country of India was officially split in two, resulting in the creation of a new separate country, Pakistan.
Fearing that their rights would be ceded to the Hindu population in India after the British receded, Muslims banded together to demand a separate state. Thus the borders of present-day India and Pakistan ended up being divided largely along religious lines, with the vast majority of the Pakistani population being Muslim.
When it came to the 650 prince-run states such as Kashmir that existed within the borders of India and Pakistan, the Indian Independence Act allowed the leaders to essentially decide for themselves if they would like to become a part of either of the two newly formed countries or remain independent. While it sounds simple enough, many of the prince’s desires for independence were often overruled by the people who feared falling back under British rule.
For Kashmir, the trouble started because at the time of the separation, the majority of Kashmir’s population was Muslim, but the ruler, Prince Maharaja Hari Singh, was Hindu. Feeling torn about the difficult decision he faced, the leader tried to remain neutral. Later that year, Pakistan sent Muslim tribesmen to the then capital. Hari Singh appealed to India for military aid and asylum, officially ceding the disputed territory to India.
The Kashmir Conflict Continues
The first war between India and Pakistan over the domain of Kashmir broke out between late 1947 and 1948. In early 1948, India appealed the UN. After numerous attempts at establishing peace, a ceasefire was established in 1949 when Kashmir was divided into an area of Pakistani and Indian control.
While the dividing Line of Control was intended to be only a temporary solution until the conflict was resolved, it has remained in place to this day and was officially instituted as the official border of the two countries and China in the 1972 Simla Agreement. Despite multiple attempts at a ceasefire, fighting remains a common occurrence along this infamous line.
Since 1947, India and Pakistan have fought a total of three official wars over this hotly disputed territory, and the continual conflict in the region has resulted in the loss of life of at least 47,000 lives. To this day, Kashmir remains heavily militarized and divided. A final successful resolution to the Kashmir Conflict has yet to be achieved.
And furthermore, conflict over the region has also had implications in the global nuclear weapon scene. After China got a nuclear bomb in 1964, India increased their efforts to build one in part to defend against Chinese aggression. Once India successfully detonated a nuke in 1974, Pakistan set their sites on creating one as well. Today, China, India, and Pakistan are all nuclear weapon countries, further complicating the conflict over Kashmir.
Today, about 45% of the geographical region encompassed in a state called Jammu and Kashmir is officially controlled by India, while 35% of the region comprising the states of Baltistan, Azad Kashmir, and Gilgit falls under Pakistani domain. Twenty percent of the region encompassed in the northeastern state of Aksai Chin is currently controlled by China.
Kashmir is home to a largely Muslim population in the Pakistani regions, a Hindu population in the Indian region, and a Buddhist Tibetan population in the Chinese region.
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