Aksai Chin also comes under Kashmir
The Kashmir conflict and the UN
The Kashmir region is known worldwide mainly for the coveted wool of the same name, but at the same time it is highly competitive. Caught in the power of three nuclear powers, the civilian population in particular suffers from the ongoing violence. The historical origin is complex, so that the international community struggles with a clear positioning.
How did the conflict arise?
The region, often simply referred to as Kashmir, is a more complex structure than the name suggests. Historically, only the Kashmir Valley bore this title, before the princely state of Kashmir and Jammu emerged in the 19th century during the time of British India. Today this area is fragmented and is ruled by different states. The area controlled by India is divided into Kashmir, Jammu and Ladakh. Adjacent to this are Asad Kashmir (translated: free Kashmir) and Gilgit-Baltistan, which are under Pakistani administration. In 1963 the Shaksam Valley was ceded by Pakistan, which has since been administered by China together with Aksai Chin. The Sichaen Glacier has not yet been brought under complete control by anyone.
The most important starting point of the Kashmir conflict is the end of the colonial rule of Great Britain over British India and the division of the subcontinent in 1947. The Indian act of independence of that year marks the birth of the two nation states India and Pakistan. Although the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir was mostly inhabited by Muslims, the Hindu Maharajah Hari Singh ruled there. He wanted to remain independent in order to preserve the privileges of the Hindu elite as well as to satisfy the majority Muslim population. Representatives of the Muslim League therefore tried to convince Singh in advance to join the Pakistani state. When this did not succeed, Pakistan supported insurgents in 1947 in order to force an affiliation. Singh then called the Indian army for help. Delhi's condition for military support was the annexation of the principality to India, which the Maharajah finally got involved.
Since then, India and Pakistan have waged war over Kashmir in 1965 and 1999. In addition, there have been countless incidents ranging from exchanges of fire at the border to aircraft being shot down to the nuclear armament of both states. In 2019 the conflict flared up again after the government in Delhi lifted the autonomy status in the Indian part of Kashmir, which had been in effect since 1947. This not only denied the region the right to its own flag and constitution, but now also allows Indians from other states to buy property in Kashmir. The decision has sparked major protests in India-controlled Kashmir, but also in Pakistan, as it is feared that it will cement the controversial status quo.
Lines of conflict and actors involved
India claims control of the entire former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir. In doing so, the state refers to the certificate of accession signed by the Maharajah from 1947, which also forms the basis for the accession of the other federal states. The constituent assembly of Jammu and Kashmir, which met between 1951 and 1957, confirmed the accession, which India interprets as the approval of the population and makes a referendum on the membership of Kashmir obsolete. India also accuses Pakistan of supporting violent groups in the Kashmir Valley to encourage secession from India.
Pakistan, on the other hand, takes the view that the instrument of accession signed by Maharajah Singh is irrelevant because he acted against the will of the people of his principality. Due to the majority Muslim population, there should have been a unification with Pakistan. This view is supported by the fact that the population regularly protests against the Indian central government. Pakistan claims the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir, but not the Chinese-controlled area.
China controls the areas of Aksai-Chin and the Shaksgam Valley, which was ceded by Pakistan in 1963. Through the agreement, China and Pakistan settled their border disputes, but India does not recognize this. China sees its sphere of influence endangered by India's claim to all of Kashmir. Therefore, China is on Pakistan's side in the conflict, which regularly leads to verbal clashes with India. In addition, there is another dormant border conflict on India's northeastern border with China, in which China claims land that is controlled by India. There have been repeated armed conflicts in Kashmir between India and China, most recently this year. Several dozen soldiers have been killed since hostilities broke out again in May 2020.
As in many conflicts, the civilian population is the main victim of the conflict. In 2018, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) published a human rights report on the situation in Kashmir for the first time, denouncing catastrophic conditions. In the Indian-administered part of Kashmir, for example, protests repeatedly lead to excessive violence by the Indian security forces and unlawful killings. There are also systematic sex crimes. On the other hand, the report also suggests that Pakistan supports violent groups in the Indian part of Kashmir that are responsible for kidnappings and abuse. There are also human rights violations in the area administered by Pakistan, which restrict freedom of expression, freedom of the press and freedom of assembly. According to Human Rights Watch, around 50,000 people have died in the conflict so far, although the number of unreported cases is likely to be higher.
The role of the international community
India brought the Kashmir issue to the Security Council as early as 1947. The United Nations then began its mediation efforts that resulted in a ceasefire line that remains in force. This border has been monitored by the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) since 1951. The group is headquartered in Islamabad from November to April and in Srinigar from May to October. Overall, the peace mission has an annual budget of almost 10 million US dollars and 116 permanent observers on duty (as of August 2020).
Even though a number of resolutions on Kashmir have been adopted by the Security Council over the years, only a few are often cited. Resolution 1172 from 1998 plays a particularly important role for India. It is true that it primarily condemns the nuclear weapons tests in India and Pakistan. But the resolution also explicitly addresses the Kashmir conflict. Both countries are called upon to find an amicable solution to the conflict and to reduce tensions. India sees itself strengthened in the fact that the Kashmir question with Pakistan must be resolved through bilateral negotiations. This is in contradiction to Resolution 47 of 1948, which pointed out at the outset that a referendum was needed, which Pakistan relies on.
This approach is an example of the attempt by the conflict parties to reinterpret the mediation efforts of the United Nations for their own interests. In 2019, the Security Council dealt with the conflict for the first time in almost 50 years. As an ally of Pakistan on the Kashmir issue, China has put the issue on the agenda as part of the change in autonomy status. This in turn provoked criticism from India, which generally forbids any attempts at mediation by the international community because, from their point of view, it is a purely internal conflict. Ultimately, this was also the reason why the members of the Security Council could neither agree on a joint statement nor on a resolution.
Theoretically, there are different scenarios for the future of Kashmir. The connection to India or Pakistan as well as various models of independence exist. Above all, the idea of an independent Kashmir finds supporters on both the Indian and Pakistani sides, but no official figures are available. In accordance with the right of peoples to self-determination proclaimed by the United Nations, a survey of the population would therefore make sense, which was requested by the Security Council in 1948. Even if this is vehemently opposed, especially by India, Pakistan has no interest in an unfavorable outcome of such a vote. Both states do everything in their power to ensure that their territorial integrity is not jeopardized and that they retain control over the areas they administer. For this reason, it is most likely that the status quo will continue and will continue until there is a fundamental shift in the political balance of power in the region.
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