In the wake of India’s hot pursuit of militants into Myanmar, Pakistan has raised numerous alarms about Indian aggression. It has issued various warnings that no such Indian incursion into Pakistan will be tolerated. As often happens in such circumstances, the international media has raised the tocsin of the potential for yet another “Indo-Pakistan” clash. Unfortunately, much of this coverage of the so-called India-Pakistan conflict is deeply problematic in that writers, perhaps with good intentions, seek to impose a false equivalence on both nations’ conduct, giving the impression that India and Pakistan contribute equally to the fraught situation that currently exists.
This is dangerously untrue and feeds into a policy-process that has failed to come to terms with the most serious problem in South Asia: Pakistan. Such coverage also rewards Pakistan for its malfeasance by attributing blame to India in equal share and thus legitimizing Pakistan’s ill-found grievances. The only parties who benefit from such an understanding of the “Indo-Pakistan” dispute are the Pakistan military and its terrorist proxies. One such article was published by the Washington Post on June 11 by Tim Craig and Annie Gowen. In this essay, I seek to provide the necessary historical and empirical background that is required to make sense of the current situation. In doing so I directly challenge such writers as Craig and Gowen, among others, to devote more time to understanding the conflict dynamics before they inadvertently obfuscate the situation more than they illuminate it.
Pakistan’s Tired Kashmir Claims
As the article notes, the origins of the India-Pakistan dispute date back to 1947, when the two countries were tweezed out from the detritus of the British Raj. Pakistan’s founders argued that Muslims of South Asia could never be safe and secure under a Hindu majority in a unified India and thus required a separate state after the British departed. This was the crux of the so-called Two Nation Theory, which held that Muslims and Hindus are equal nations despite the fact that Muslims were far fewer in number.The Two Nation Theory was deeply problematic from beginning. First, Muslims had lived under Hindu dominion in the past with no significant diminution of their basic freedoms. Second, as independence loomed,many of the Muslims in what became West Pakistan did not want to join Pakistan in the first place. Third, during and after Partition, about one third of South Asia’s Muslims opted to remain in India rather than join Pakistan. Fourth, the 1971 secession of East Pakistan based upon ethno-nationalist mobilization against West Pakistani oppression further undermined the notion that South Asian Muslim identity was a sufficient basis for nationhood. The Two Nation Theory has remained the motivation for Pakistan’s claims upon Kashmir, without which Pakistan believes Partition can never be a complete process and the Two Nation Theory remains a dream deferred.
Partition was conducted on the basis of geographical contiguity and Hindu-Muslim demographics. Three so-called Princely States — Hyderabad, Junagarh, and Kashmir — did not cast their lot with either of the new nations even though hundreds of other such states had done so. The Muslim sovereign of Hyderabad, a large swathe of territory deep within India, governed a mostly Hindu population. He preferred to remain independent of either dominion. After a prolonged skirmish with the sovereign’s own militia and their supporters, India forcibly annexed Hyderabad. Junagarh, a Hindu majority state also deep within Indian territory, was governed by a Muslim who signed an instrument of accession to Pakistan. Pakistan initially refused to accept it because it shared no border with Junagarh. In the end, Pakistan accepted the instrument, likely in hopes of using it as a bargaining chip for the prize: Kashmir. Kashmir’s sovereign was a Hindu who presided over a Muslim majority population. While Kashmir was the only Muslim-majority state in the Raj, the polity was diverse and included Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and Muslim communities various sects of Sunnis and Shia. Kashmir’s sovereign also sought independence. He signed a stand-still agreement with Pakistan to stave off military action while he dithered in casting his lot with either India or Pakistan.
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