The Washington Times
Commentary, 5 February, 1992

Andy Messing Jr.

Hidden Conflict in Kashmir


As India begins disintegrating, of a half-dozen internal conflict zones in which their military is fighting, none stands out for pure brutality as Kashmir does.

There has been a religious polarization over the past several years, which was virtually non-existant at the partitioning in 1947. The Muslim majority of the Kashmir region is now pitted against the entire Hindu Indian nation. Ironically, the free press of India was the first to document in detail the systematic attempts at repressive military measures to subdue Kashmir rebel actions that are even condoned by special legislative measures by the Indian Parliament.

In this active rebellion, up to 30,000 people have been killed by a regional military and paramilitary force fluctuating between 350,000 to 430,000 in just the last two years. Torture, gang rape and various other heinous acts are commonplace by uniformed members of the security forces. Only a fraction are being documented by a small heroic element in the India press, some of whom have been killed or imprisoned, with even groups like Asia Watch and Amnesty International being denied access to the region.

Now, as various Muslim guerrilla and political groups within in Kashmir become fully engaged in the struggle against the Hindu Indian government, they are faced with choices. One is to pust for a semi-autonomous region free of central government control, a situation highly unlikely due to present conditions. Another is to associate themselves with their Muslim brothers in the Muslim Pakistan section of Kashmir or become an independent nation. In the refugee camps in Muzaffarabad, wounded and tortured guerrillas chant, "When we are free, we will decide as free men."

Torture, gang rape and other heinous acts are commonplace...Only a fraction are being documented by a small heroic element in the India press.

In the contested region of Indian-held Kashmir where 8 million people live, the Muslim population clusters in the area contiguous to Pakistan. Two wars, one in 1947 and another in 1965, were fought between Pakistan and India over just Kashmir. Both times, people-rich India prevailed, and they have diluted the population composition in their portions of Kashmir by importing Hindus from Southern India. As the Muslims feel further compressed, turmoil is erupting. They are demanding a plebiscite that was mandated in 1948 by the United Nations as Kashmirs feel they have this right to self-determination. India is continuing to ignore that in favor of the Simla agreements of 1971. These agreements have India and Pakistan working out the problem. However, it is clear India would have the advantage if these negotiations take place. Pakistan had that proviso rammed down its throat after losing the 1971 war; therefore it has dragged its feet, lest it hurt its Muslim brothers in Kashmir by nullifying a fair U.N. settlement. However, most Kashmiri Muslims want self-determination and disregard the "bogus" Simla agreements.

The U.S. government's position in this matter favors India, in spite of decades of anti-American sentiment. The State Department, intimidated by the 800-million-plus Hindu Indian state, had announced that it favors the Simla agreement. Already, the Defense Department is moving toward a military agreement with the Indian military even though the Indians have been allied with the former Soviet Union for two decades. This upsets the delicate balance of power between India and Pakistan.

Pakistan, a country that has supported American assistance to Afghanistan Freedom Fighters against the Soviet Union, is now faced with this and pro-Indian Democrat Rep. Stephen Solarz's increased verbal assaults on its defense of itself. This at a time when India is buying ex-Soviet submarines, and possibly nuclear weapons, to make itself a dominant offensive power in the area. Record high Indian-American donations to the congressmen may reflect his prejudice in dealing with this problem, one that could be the catalyst for a nuclear, biological or chemical confrontation between these still warring countries.

Accordingly, now is the time to throw this hot potato back to the United Nations for adjudication, with the first move a peacekeeping force to be sent in immediately. Then, with a full debate on the subject with Pakistan, India and Kashmiri Rebels participating, let opposing parties accept a U.N.-supervised plebiscite in the Kashmir region. Not to take action now would mean that in the short-term tens of thousands of Pakistanis, Indians and Kashmiris will die in this horrific conflict. A more frightening prospect is what former President Richard Nixon predicted, the possibility of an ugly nuclear war there in the long term.

F. Andy Messing Jr. is executive director of the National Defense Council Foundation and a former Special Forces officer.