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Independence or accession: thinking about Pakistan’s goals for Kashmir

Independence or accession: thinking about Pakistan’s goals for Kashmir

Noted security studies expert Hafiz Saeed had this to say about developments in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir, on this most auspicious of days:

“No one could defeat the Muslims… If America had to run away, then India, you will have to leave Kashmir as well,” said Saeed amid chants of ‘al-jihad, al-jihad’.

Saeed expressed support for all Kashmiri leaders and prayed to God to protect and unite them.

“India’s army of 800,000 will lose… Kashmiris will get independence,” he said.

Photo: The Hindu

Photo: The Hindu

Far be it for me to too seriously deconstruct what Mr. Saeed has to say, but there is something interesting there. “India’s army will lose…Kashmiris will get independence.”

That’s interesting for two related reasons. One, as far as I know, it has never been Pakistan’s aim to achieve Kashmir’s independence. Rather, the goal has always been to unite Kashmir with the rest of Pakistan, for symbolic, security, and ideological reasons. Two, one could make a plausible case that Pakistan’s “choice” of accession over independence aided India in putting down the rebellion in the early 1990s.

The case to be made is pretty simple: when the rebellion broke out in full force, there were two major organizations on the ground — the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) and Hizbul Mujahideen (HM). The JKLF was more of a secular, nationalist organization whose goal of independence mapped more clearly on to the preferences of the local population. HM was more of a religious organization, more narrowly defined and aiming for accession to Pakistan.

At the onset, the ISI supported both organizations relatively equally, but soon switched its support much more heavily to HM. This was for a number of reasons. First, the ISI favored the goals of HM (accession) over those of JKLF (secession). Second, the ISI was more comfortable dealing with “like-minded” Islamist-type organizations than secular, nationalist ones. Third, JKLF’s goal of a “united” Kashmir would actually cut into Pakistani territory (Gilgit-Baltistan) rather than add to it. Fourth, the ISI felt it could control HM to a greater extent than JKLF, whose popularity amongst the local population was its true source of strength and was thus less susceptible to puppeteering from abroad.

As a consequence, Pakistan turned its guns towards JKLF and its support toward HM and other Islamist organizations, including the then nascent Lashker-e-Taiba. The JKLF splintered and died a slow death over the following three years, beset by internal struggles and squeezed from Indian security forces on one side and Pakistan-sponsored militant organizations on the other.

It is important to note that the withdrawal of Pakistani support was not the sole or even primary cause of the ascension of HM over JKLF. In particular, Paul Staniland argues that the differing social-institutional bases of the two organizations played the major role in their respective trajectories. But even Paul concedes the importance of Pakistani support drying up:

PS excerpt1

Why does this matter? Well, we get no do-overs in history, but the counterfactual here is important for analytical purposes: what if the Pakistani military and ISI had, rather than aiding in the fragmentation and death of JKLF, given it exclusive and unabashed support? What if the Pakistani military and ISI had, rather than trying to make Pakistan stronger, simply insisted on making India weaker? What if the Pakistani military and ISI had, rather than getting bogged down in ideological/Islamist goals, acted more in keeping with the dictates of realpolitik?

What if, in other words, Pakisan had acted in Kashmir the way India acted in Bengal/East Pakistan? In 1971, there was one Mukti Bahini, not several. Furthermore, India evinced no interest in uniting East Pakistan with West Bengal (to my knowledge). India, in other words, did not get greedy. Pakistan did.

Given global events in the early 1990s, especially in Eastern Europe and Afghanistan, it would not have been a challenge to present Kashmiri independence as “repressed people finding freedom” as opposed to “consistently revisionist state finally succeeding in upending territorial status quo”. This is not to say that a different Pakistani stance on Kashmir’s final status would necessarily have meant that it would be “liberated” today. I’m making a more guarded claim: that Pakistan’s choice in supporting accession over independence had a significant adverse impact on the likelihood of India losing Kashmir. Other analysts have echoed this claim, albeit in passing:

SB excerpt

In other words, Pakistan helped India keep Kashmir. Maybe it’s not such a guarded claim after all.

About Ahsan Butt

Assistant professor of government and politics at George Mason.

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