Monday, January 26, 2009

A short [and incomplete] history of Kashmir

[This is an attempt to quickly summarize the history of Kashmir without personal opinions or judgment.]

Provincial map of Kashmir

Disputed Area map of Kashmir

Pre 1947

  • Kashmir was one of the largest princely states in British India, with a spread out thin population.
  • It primarily composed of five regions -- (a) the Hindu dominated Jammu in the south, bordering Punjab with large arable land; (b) Valley of Kashmir, to the north of Jammu, largely Muslim in demographics; (c) Ladakh, to the east of the Valley, bordering Tibet, largely Buddhist; (d) Gilgit and (e) Baltistan, both west and north of the Valley, mostly Muslim but Shia and Ismaili rather than the Sunni dominated Valley.
  • Many historical texts credit the Mauryan king Ashoka as the founder of the city of Srinagar. Kashmir was definitely under the Mauryan rule in 3rd century B.C. and later the Kushanas.
  • The Gonandiyas ruled Kashmir for many centuries, with a break in the 5th century A.D. when Kashmir was ruled by the invading Huns (Toramana and Mihirakula).
  • After the Gonandiyas, there were the Karkota, Utpala, Kutumbi, Divira, and Lohara, [14] until Muslim rule came into Kashmir in 1349.
  • Then followed 4 centuries of Muslim rule under Durrani (from Afghanistan), the Mughals, and the Afghans.
  • All these Kashmir territories were brought under one kingdom (state) in the mid 1800s by the Dogra Rajputs.
  • Following the two Anglo-Sikh wars [18] and the subsequent cash payment deals with the East India Company, part of Kashmir remains with the Sikhs and part is ceded to the East India Company.


  • The importance of Kashmir in the whole story of independence of India and Pakistan is primarily because of its geographically strategic location.
  • Sharing borders with Afghanistan, China, Tibet, separated by a small piece of land from USSR, and of course wedged between India and Pakistan, Kashmir was of everyone's interest.
  • The story of Kashmir is the story of Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah [10].
  • Lowly born Abdullah received his Master of Science degree from Aligarh Muslim University, and led the revolt against Raja Hari Singh's rule in Kashmir.
  • He founded the National Conference (earlier known as All Jammu Kashmir Muslim Conference) which included Hindus and Sikhs, and fought against the princedom asking for a representative government based on universal suffrage.
  • National Conference closely aligned with Indian National Congress, following close friendship between Abdullah and Nehru
  • In 1946, Hari Singh imprisons Abdullah and plans on keeping Kashmir independent from India and Pakistan
  • 1947, Lord Mountbatten visits Kashmir and tries to convince Hari Singh to accede to one or the other nation, but fails
  • Gandhi visits Kashmir after that, but only meets workers and students who want Abdullah released
  • Come Aug 15, 1947, Kashmir offers a "standstill agreement" to allow free movement of people and trade through the state; Pakistan signs it, India still waiting and watching.
  • Prime Minister Nehru (himself an ethnic Kashmiri) wants Kashmir to accede to India; Home Minister Patel although initially inclined to let Kashmir accede to Pakistan, changes his mind in Sep 1947 when Jinnah accepts the accession of Hindu-majority Junagadh. That instrument of accession was violated, and finally Junagadh reversed its decision. More details on Junagadh in an article by A.G. Noorani at this link [19].
  • End of Sep 1947, Abdullah is released, and he immediately demands a government of the people in Kashmir, in his words, "A popular government, not of any one community; a joint government of the Muslims, the Hindus, and the Sikhs. That is what I am fighting for."
  • Pakistan expects a Muslim-majority Kashmir to naturally join them, while India with its religion-is-irrelevant-secular ideals expects Kashmir to join India due to the closeness between Indian National Congress and the non-sectarian National Conference.
  • In Oct 1947, Hari Singh still wants an independent Kashmir, and the deputy PM of Kashmir is quoted to say "The only thing that will change our mind is if one side or the other decides to use force against us".
  • In two weeks, end of Oct 1947, Pathans from the North Western Province (now part of Pakistan) invade Kashmir from the North.
  • Even today, there is no clear answer to why-they-came, or who-supported-them.
  • Its just called the "tribal invasion of Kashmir" and no historians or anthropologists are able to answer this question.
  • However, at the time, India believed Pakistan had supported this invasion. Pakistan disclaimed all responsibility and said this might be a spontaneous support of the Pathans for fellow Muslims being persecuted in a Hari Singh led Hindu kingdom.
  • In two days the invasion had pushed its way through to the Valley.
  • In Baramula they lost sight of the larger goal, and decided to loot and rape [and lost their standing claim for fighting a holy war]
  • Even strategically that cost the invaders since it delayed their access to Srinagar [capital of maharaja Hari Singh]
  • Hari Singh, in 2 days, asked the Indian government for military assistance.
  • Sheikh Abdullah also urged that the Indian government send troops immediately to push back the invaders.
  • Lord Mountbatten suggested that India should get Kashmir's accession before committing any forces to its defense.
  • This was acted upon and the Instrument of Accession was signed [15].
  • Indian troops [and Air Force] managed to push back the invaders. A more detailed version with step-by-step map of force movements is well documented in a Wikipedia article [17].


  • Upon Nehru and Gandhi's endorsement and insistence, Hari Singh appoints Sheikh Abdullah the Prime Minister of Kashmir.
  • For both Nehru and Gandhi, Abdullah is the face and symbol of secularism and interfaith harmony; not so much for Pakistan and Liaqat Ali Khan who openly denounce Abdullah as a pawn of the Indian government.
  • In 1948 Nehru takes the Kashmir issue to the United Nations.
  • Sir Zafrullah Khan presents a great case for Pakistan and Kashmir is cast as unfinished business of the Partition now
  • The Security Council alters the "Jammu-Kashmir Question" agenda to "India-Pakistan Question" -- a symbolic defeat for India
  • Pakistan demands withdrawal of all armed forces and a plebiscite
  • India agrees to that under National Conference's agenda; only after withdrawal of all armed forces from all parties and the resolution is signed [16].
  • Abdullah's government formalizes the accession to India in 1951.
  • No plebiscite for the people to decide formally if they want to join India, Pakistan, or be independent
  • In all fairness, full withdrawal of armed forces has not occurred either
  • Ramachandra Guha in "India After Gandhi" [1] says this about Abdullah --
    • Whether or not Abdullah was India's man, he certainly was not Pakistan's. In April 1948 he described that country as 'an unscrupulous and savage enemy.' He dismissed Pakistan as a theocratic state and the Muslim League as 'pro-prince' rather than 'pro-people.' In his view, 'Indian and not Pakistani leaders. . . had all along stood for the rights of the States' people.' When a diplomat in Delhi asked Abdullah what he thought of the option of independence, he answered that it would never work, as Kashmir was too small and too poor. (91-92)
  • Although Abdullah accepted the accession to India, he always thought of Kashmir as a Nation. The full text of his speech to the J&K Constituent Assembly [12] (always read Nation as Kashmir here) after his election in 1951 makes a very interesting read and gives an insight into Abdullah's ideas for the Nation of Kashmir.
  • He continues to call for the plebiscite even after 1951.
  • Later in life, when asked what he thought of the option of Independence, Abdullah answered that it would never work, as Kashmir was too small and too poor. Besides, said Abdullah, "Pakistan would swallow us up. They have tried it once. They would do it again." [in Y.D. Gundevia, The testament of Sheikh Abdullah [13]]
  • Abdullah deliberated enough, and even worked with the ambassador from United States on whether the US would support an independent Kashmir.
  • By then, the US had allied itself with Pakistan, given its critical geographical proximity to the USSR, and any openly anti-Pakistan move would not be supported by them.
  • Finally, Abdullah rejected the option of independence as impractical.
  • The option of joining Pakistan as immoral (he called it a "landlord ridden feudal theocracy").
  • But, Kashmir would join India on its own terms -- including retaining its state flag, and the designation of its head as Prime Minister.


  • April 10th 1952, Abdullah in a public speech says his party would accept the Indian constitution "in its entirety once we are satisfied that the grave of communalism has been finally dug. Of that we are not sure yet." He also says that the Kashmiris "fear what will happen to them and their position if, for instance, something happens to Pandit Nehru."
  • The Praja Parishad Party [consisting largely of Hindus from Jammu] opposes the two-flags, two-constitutions, and two-prime-ministers system and vociferously protest.
  • Abdullah saw the Praja Parishad movement as way to force a solution of the entire Kashmir issue on communal lines.
  • Dr. Shyama Prasad Mookerjee leads the Praja Parishad and campaigns heavily for Kashmir to be wholly part of India.
  • In a subsequent arrest, Mookerjee falls ill, and later dies of a heart attack while in jail.
  • This triggers a much larger protest and the Jan Sangh in India heavily oppose the Nehru government's support to Sheikh Abdullah.
  • It is purported that Sheikh Abdullah is seeking independence for Kashmir (not clear which part of Kashmir since Jammu was clearly controlled by the Praja Parishad, and the Northern Areas were already part of Pakistan) and in a move supported by the Indian government, the head of state Karan Singh (son of Maharaja Hari Singh) dismisses Sheikh Abdullah from his Prime Minister's position.
  • He is also arrested within two hours of that, and jailed, while his deputy Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed moves into power. Later biographers explain this as a way by which Abdullah was kept "quiet and safe" in prison, because as a free man he would easily mobilize popular sentiment in his favor. Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed starts his role of Prime Minister in a populist style, holding darbars to hear the grievances of the public. Among things he did, he raised the procurement price of paddy; made school education free; approved new state sponsored engineering and medical colleges; and abolished customs barriers between J&K and rest of India.
  • More development in the works, as Rajendra Prasad (then president of India) visits Srinagar to inaugurate a hydroelectric project on the Jhelum river.
  • The State's own Constitution comes into force on January 26, 1957 under which the elections to the State Legislative Assembly are held for the first time on the basis of adult franchise the same year. This Constitution further reiterates the ratification of the State's accession to Union of India.
  • The Sheikh is suddenly released in January 1958, after no charges were brought against him since his arrest in August 1953.
  • He makes his way back to the Kashmir Valley, where he is met with a stunning reception.
  • Within 3 months, in April 1958, he is arrested once more; and this time on the charge of plotting with Pakistan to break up India, create communal ill-feeling and disharmony, and receive secret aid from Pakistan in the form of money and bombs.
  • Although the Sheikh may have contemplated independence for Kashmir, it is clear to all that the charges are easily exaggerated.
  • In his trial, the Sheikh says that he stands for a single objective: the right of self-determination for the people of J&K. Also repeats his commitment to secularism, admiration to Gandhi, and once strong friendship with Nehru, who even now "would not deny the right of the people as the final arbiters of their fate".
  • While the Sheikh is in prison, Nehru personally (financially) takes care of educating the Sheikh's son Farooq Abdullah in Jaipur.


  • Post China war, Nehru's position in the political sphere of India is heavily undermined. Many signs that the man is failing in health as well.
  • In April 1964 Nehru decides to put an end to the matter of the Sheikh, and after obtaining the consent of the Chief Minister of J&K orders the release of Sheikh Abdullah from a decade in the prisons.
  • Sheikh Abdullah in his first speech on the day after his release, says the two pressing problems of communal strife and Kashmir should be solved during Prime Minister Nehru's lifetime; and that after him a solution of these problems would become difficult.
  • Abdullah travels through out the Kashmir valley and is cheered heavily; before traveling to New Delhi to meet with Nehru.
  • The Congress party as well as the Left party (and of course the Jan Sangh) are very concerned about the prospects of talks between Nehru and Abdullah, as they all see Abdullah as one with a design to detach Kashmir from India.
  • Nehru receives support from two unexpected sources – the radical socialist and Sarvodaya movement leader Jayaprakash Narayan; and Nehru's former political opponent and one-time close associate C. Rajagopalachari.
  • Rajaji openly says that the freeing of Abdullah should act as a prelude to allowing the people of Kashmir to exercise their human right to rule themselves as well as they can.
  • Meanwhile in Kashmir, the open corruption of the Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed's government had turned popular sentiments against India.
  • April 29, 1964, Abdullah meets with Nehru for a week and discusses many details of a solution for Kashmir with Nehru and his deputy (officially he was a minister in the Cabinet without any portfolio) Lal Bahadur Shastri (also a fellow Kashmiri).
  • Rajaji writes to Shastri urging that Kashmir be given some kind of autonomous status. Rajaji described the self-determinatino of Kashmir seems to be a lesser issue than reducing Indo-Pak jealousy.
  • Abdullah visits Rajaji on May 5th and after a long meeting and are purported to have come up with an ideal solution for the Kashmir issue. The Hindustan Times carries the headline: "Abdulla, CR, evolve Kashmir formula: Proposal to be discussed with PM".
  • May 6th, Abdullah returns to Delhi and has long discussions with Nehru. It is not clear what exactly this plan was, although there were hints at a possible condominium over Kashmir by both India and Pakistan (along the lines of autonomous Andorra, whose security was guaranteed by both France and Spain).
  • Abdullah openly says he wants to visit Pakistan with more than one alternative.
  • Rajaji in an article writes that asking Field Marshal Ayub Khan to cede Azad Kashmir will scuttle the entire plan; and probably the Sheikh should focus all his attention on Kashmir valley, leaving Jammu as a counterpoise to Azad Kashmir, to be presumed to be integrated to India without question.
  • On May 11, Abdullah openly asserts that despite his weakness (in health), Nehru is the symbol of India, and that after Nehru he did not see anyone else tackling these problems with the same breadth of vision.
  • May 16th, Nehru talks about these alternatives, and says that unless we succeed, India will carry the burden of conflict with Pakistan with all that this [these alternatives] implies.
  • May 22nd, Nehru declines to disclose the details of all the alternatives saying he does not want to prejudice the Sheikh's mission to Pakistan. Just says that his government is prepared to have an agreement with Pakistan on the basis of their holding on to that part of Kashmir occupied by them.
  • May 25th, Sheikh Abdullah meets with Ayub Khan in Rawalpindi for over 3 hours and end of it says he found in Rawalpindi, the same encouraging response as in Delhi; and that there is an equal keenness on both sides to come to a real understanding.
  • May 26th, another long meeting between the Sheikh and Ayub Khan, and the Sheikh is seen coming out beaming. He informs the crowd, that on the basis of these talks, the Pakistani president has agreed to a meeting with the Prime Minister Nehru in the mid-June.
  • Dawn, Pakistan's written forum for its intelligentsia, complains that Abdullah had taken up a role of an apostle of peace and friendship between Pakistan and India, rather than that of the leader of Kashmir, whose prime objective should have been to seek their freedom from India.
  • May 27th, Nehru dies, and with him, these campaigns for peace.
  • Hindustan Times quotes a Pakistani newspaper as, "The death of Nehru meant the end of a negotiated settlement of the Kashmir issue. Whoever succeeded Nehru would not have the stature, courage and political support necessary to go against the highly emotional tide of public opinion in India favouring a status quo in Kashmir."

1964 – 1982

  • After Nehru's death, the Sheikh is interned from 1965 to 1968 and exiled from Kashmir in 1971 for 18 months. The Plebiscite Front is also banned. This was allegedly done to prevent him and the Plebiscite Front which was supported by him from taking part in Elections in Kashmir.
  • 1965, the Indo-Pak war ends in a stalemate, and following a UN-negotiated ceasefire, the Line of Control is still maintained.
  • 1971, another Indo-Pak war, this time for the freedom of East Pakistan – Bangladesh is formed.
  • Sheikh Abdullah watching the alarming turn of events in the subcontinent realizes that "for the survival of this region there was an urgent need to stop pursuing confrontational politics and promoting solution of issues by a process of reconciliation and dialogue rather than confrontation".
  • Abdullah starts a dialogue with the Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, being keenly aware of [as he put it] imminent danger of the breakup and balkanisation of both India and Pakistan with disastrous consequences.
  • In 1974, the Sheikh-Indira accord [20] is signed, whereby the Sheikh gives up the demand for a plebiscite in lieu of the people being given the right to self rule by a democratically elected Government rather than the puppet government which till then ruled the State. Following this Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah becomes the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir.
  • Congress Party withdraws its support and mid-term elections are called again in J&K.
  • Abdullah's National Conference again wins with overwhelming majority, and Sheikh Abdullah becomes the Chief Minister again, and remains the CM until his death in 1982.

Post 1982

  • Dr. Farooq Abdullah, son of the Sheikh, is elected CM after his father's death, and remained CM until 1984.
  • Ghulam Mohammad Shah succeeds Farooq Abdullah as the CM between 1984 and in less than a year, President's rule imposed on J&K.
  • Farooq Abdullah returns as CM in 1986 and remains CM until 1990, when another term of President's rule is imposed, this time for 6 years.
  • Again between 1996 and 2002, Farooq Abdullah returns as CM, after President's rule is lifted for 6 more years.
  • Following the instability after the Kargil conflict of 1999, President's rule returns to Kashmir in 2002, and continues to be in place even as of today.
  • During this post-82 period, much infiltration by jihadis and a lot of atrocities by the army of the Indian Union are documented all over the valley and along the Line of Control.

An extended reading list: [that this document heavily draws upon]

[1] Ramachandra Guha. India after Gandhi – The history of the world's largest democracy. []

[2] Romila Thapar, A history of India. []

[3] Romila Thapar, Harbans Mukhia, Bipin Chandra. Communalism and the Writing of Indian History.

[4] A. L. Basham. A cultural history of India.[]

[5] Wikipedia article on Kashmir. []

[6] BBC News In-Depth – The future of Kashmir. []

[7] Kashmir Information Network. []

[8] Maps of Kashmir. []

[9] Conflict in Kashmir – selected Internet resources. UC Berkeley Libraries. []

[10] Wikipedia article on Sheikh Abdullah. []

[11] A comprehensive note on Jammu & Kashmir – the Indian government's stance. From the web pages of the Indian Embassy in Washington D.C. []

[12] Full text of Sheikh Abdullah's speech to the J&K Constituent Assembly, 1952. []

[13] Y. D. Gundevia. The testament of Sheikh Abdullah. []

[14] Kalhana. Rajatarangini – Early history of Kashmir. []

[15] Instrument of Accession executed by Maharajah Hari Singh on October 26, 1947. []

[16] Resolution adopted by the United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan on 13 August 1948.
(Doc No.1100, Para. 75, dated 9th Nov, 1948). []

[17] Wikipedia article on the First Kashmir war. []

[18] Wikipedia article on the Anglo-Sikh wars. []

[19] A.G.Noorani. Of Jinnah and Junagadh. In the Quaid-e-Azam Papers, Volume 5. [Chronicled in two parts in the Frontline reviews. Part1:; Part2:]

[20] Wikipedia stub on Sheikh-Indira accord. []

Links from Austin's Thursday Open Mike discussion list:

[21] Arundhati Roy. Land and Freedom. []

[22] Yogi Sikand. Rethinking Kashmir politics. In The South Asian. []

[23] BBC News In-Depth – Kashmir Flashpoint. []

[24] Yogi Sikand. Dangerous portents in Jammu & Kashmir: A view from Doda. In The South Asian. []

[25] Yogi Sikand. Dreams of Harmony once dreamt. In The South Asian. []


Itisha said...

Great summary! Very impresive, given the amount of research and work that must have gone into it. Especially makes it easy for someone like me, who is lazy to sift through all the literature.

workhard said...

U actually did all this research.. hats off to u man:)

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Anonymous said...

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