Iowa State University

Inside Iowa State
July 5, 1996

Who controls Kashmir?

Prof's new book details conflict

By Steve Sullivan
While world leaders struggle to resolve conflicts in Bosnia, Northern Ireland and the Mideast, an Iowa State professor is offering a solution to a decades-old conflict in a place few readily can locate on a map.

The place is Kashmir, a South Asian state of 7.5 million people that has been at the heart of the rancorous relationship between India and Pakistan. At issue is which country ultimately controls Kashmir. In his new book, Divided Kashmir: Old Conflict, New Opportunity, geography professor Mustaqur Rahman traces the history of the Kashmir conflict, the various solutions that have been attempted and, in the end, offers his own solution, based on geography and historical precedent.

Rahman, who was born in India, worked on the book for two years. He is firm in his belief that unless the conflict is addressed, South Asia could explode into another Mideast or Bosnia.

"India and Pakistan are spending 60 to 70 percent of their budgets on defense, but both are suffering from ethnic problems. Kashmir is in the center of South Asia and remains an active problem between India and Pakistan," Rahman said. "Our immediate concerns are in other places, like Israel, but Kashmir has been a problem for the last 50 years. It has already fought two wars. Both India and Pakistan are atomic powers now. The third war will be much more dangerous. A solution to the Kashmir issue must be found for the benefit of all of South Asia."

Much of the Kashmir conflict can be traced to 1947, when Britain was hastily transferring its Indian empire to the independent Pakistan, which was primarily Muslim, and India, which was primarily Hindu. The 500-plus princely states of the region were given the option of acceding to either country. Kashmir, like several of the states, faced a difficult situation because its ruler -- Maharaja Hari Singh -- was a Hindu, while the majority of the Kashmiri people were Muslim.

In 1947, the Kashmiri Muslims revolted, prompting the Maharaja and his family to flee from his capital. Before agreeing to help, Indian officials forced the Maharaja to sign an accession agreement -- without the backing of his people.

The action would prompt decades of heated political debate and military skirmish between Pakistan and India. In 1949, India and Pakistan accepted a United Nations cease fire. Kashmir was divided into political units. India and Pakistan each occupy one unit. Another is controlled by Pakistan, while the fourth is controlled by China.

This division, however, did little to ease tensions in Kashmir. Powerful organizations, including the United Nations and the World Bank, and some of history's most famous leaders, including Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Lord Louis Mountbatten and John F. Kennedy, have played roles in the conflict and attempted solutions.

There are a number of alternatives for dealing with the dispute in Kashmir. India would prefer to maintain the status quo, Rahman said. For India, losing Kashmir could cause a domino effect with other states that are part of India but itching to secede. Other options include allowing Kashmir to accede to Pakistan, granting Kashmir independence or dividing the state regionally.

Rahman has proposed dividing the state by the terms of the Indus Water Treaty, which divided Kashmir's rivers between India and Pakistan. It is the only cooperative agreement involving Kashmir that the two countries have signed.

When Britain partitioned the Kashmir region in 1947, the canals were given to Pakistan, and the headwaters feeding them to India. The two countries argued endlessly over their respective rights. In 1951, recommendations from World Bank officials resulted in the Indus Waters Treaty, which India and Pakistan signed in 1960. The treaty, which was supported and funded in part by the United States, divided Kashmir's river system and allocated three western rivers (Indus, Chenab and Jhelum) to Pakistan and three eastern rivers (Ravi, Sutlej and Beas) to India.

"It was one of the boldest steps ever taken by two belligerent nations," Rahman said. "It addressed grievances that threatened peace in South Asia and had soured relations from the very beginning. This agreement could provide the blueprint for a resolution of the Kashmir conflict. The western rivers and their basins should join Pakistan, and the eastern rivers and their basins should join India."

Rahman has sent his book to U.S. diplomats, but has yet to receive a response.

World leaders may want to consider his ideas, though. Kashmir has been embroiled in a separatist rebellion since the late 1980s. Kashmiri, Pakistani and Afghan rebels fighting for secession from India have held four Western vacationers, including an American, hostage for nearly a year.

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