The seven-decade dispute over Kashmir has become a humanitarian nightmare, the cause of three wars between nuclear rivals Pakistan and India, and the reason for an ongoing armed rebellion against New Delhi's rule.

The Kashmir dispute remains the oldest unresolved disagreement on the UN agenda.

It's been the cause of three wars between nuclear rivals Pakistan and India, and there has been an armed rebellion since 1989 against New Delhi's rule in India-administered Kashmir.

Former US president Bill Clinton called it "the most dangerous place in the world." Much of the world pays Kashmir little attention today, despite its continuing volatility.

But how did we arrive here?

Kashmiris are said to have not ruled their region since their king Yusuf Shah Chak was defeated in the 16th century by the Mughals.

In November 1586, when Chak launched a guerrilla attack against the armies of Mughal King Akbar, he was certain that "Independence is just a day away."

That was over 400 years ago.

From Mughals, Kashmir passed into the hands of Afghans and then to the Sikhs.

Then it was the British and their empire building at the expense of indigenous interests.

Today, those guerrilla attacks continue. This time, against Indian soldiers.

Kashmir's Balfour deal

Like the Sykes-Picot and Balfour agreements which tore apart the Middle East, the British were cavalier in their treatment of the region. With the 1846 Treaty of Amritsar, the Raj sold Muslim-majority Kashmir and its citizens to a Dogra king of the Jammu region – Ghulab Singh.

The Hindu Dogras switched sides from the Sikh empire, joined the British, and helped them defeat the Sikhs in the 1845-46 Anglo-Sikh wars.

In exchange for Kashmir, the British received 7.5 million nanakshahi rupees (the currency under the Sikh empire), one horse, 12 goats, and six cashmere shawls. This sale remains etched in the collective awareness of many Kashmiris.

From 1847 to 1947, the Dogras expanded their control to Buddhist Ladakh and the independent states of Gilgit and Baltistan. Many Kashmiris chafed at Dogra rule.

In 1931, the Quit Kashmir movement against Dogra rule began to gain momentum.

When the British decided to leave the subcontinent in 1947, all 565 princely kingdoms were told to join either Pakistan or India, i.e. to essentially pick between a Muslim-majority or a Hindu-majority state.

Ghulab Singh's great-grandson, Hari Singh, who ruled Kashmir, opted for independence.

Pakistan was sure that Kashmir, as a Muslim-majority region, would join it.

It signed a standstill agreement with Hari Singh that assured Pakistan would not hinder travel, trade and communications. India refrained from a similar deal.

Jammu massacre

In the Poonch area, whose people had served in the British army, an uprising against Dogra rule erupted in August 1947, which soon extended beyond the district. 

Dogra forces aided by sympathetic Hindus and Sikhs attempted to quell the uprising in Jammu. What some labelled as "the systematic extermination of Muslims" resulted in the deaths of thousands; estimates range between 70,000 to over 200,000 massacred in Jammu region.

Hundreds of thousands of Muslims fled to Pakistan and those who stayed back went from being a majority to a minority group in the Jammu region. 

In Poonch, the tables turned when the rebels sought support from Pakistani Pashtun tribes.

They took over part of Poonch from Dogra forces in what is now known as Pakistan-administered Kashmir, near the line of control. The joint forces of Poonchis and Pashtuns also reached the Kashmir valley in October 1947.

Hari Singh immediately sought India's help by temporarily acceding the territory to India.

Then Governor-General and last Viceroy Lord Mountbatten backed his decision with an understanding that this would only be temporary accession prior to "a referendum or a plebiscite."

Under the accession terms, India's jurisdiction was to extend to Kashmir's external affairs, defence and communications.

Indian army enters Kashmir

On October 27, India entered Kashmir, eventually suppressing the rebellion. Many Kashmiris on both sides of the divide observe this day as Black Day. India celebrates it as Infantry Day.

Hari Singh went into a self-imposed exile to India but by then a provisional Azad (or free) government was formed in areas liberated by the Poonch uprising.

This region soon popularly became known as Azad Jammu and Kashmir.

Pakistan disputed Hari Singh's accession, saying he had no right to sign an agreement with India when a standstill agreement with Pakistan was still in force.

Pakistanis and Kashmiris argue that Hari Singh was unpopular in Kashmir and therefore not entitled to take a decision on behalf of his people.

On November 2, 1947, Indian Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru promised a plebiscite in Kashmir saying:

"The fate of the State of Jammu and Kashmir is ultimately to be decided by the people. The pledge we have given not only to people of Kashmir but also to the world. We will not and cannot back out of it."

Twenty-three days later, Nehru again promised plebiscite in Kashmir:

"We have suggested that when people of Kashmir are given a chance to decide their future, this should be done under the supervision of an impartial tribunal such as United Nations Organization."

But India didn't pull back its troops.

Pakistan and India went to war in May 1948, with each side unable to move beyond the de facto border, Line of Control (LoC) that divides the hamlets and hearts of Kashmir into Pakistani and Indian-administered Kashmir.

UN's call for a plebiscite

But before that, India took the case to the United Nations, which called for a plebiscite in the region, agreed by both India and Pakistan.

Meanwhile, India formed an emergency government in October 1948, with pro-India Kashmiri Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah as the prime minister of Kashmir.

Pakistan and India agreed to a ceasefire in 1949 but there was no truce despite the UN calling for a plebiscite in the region in multiple resolutions.

In 1957, India formally incorporated the disputed region into the Indian union.

It granted Kashmir semi-autonomous status under Article 370. But that status was gradually eroded.

In 1962, India lost a sliver of Kashmir called Aksai Chin in a war to China which merged the new territory into its Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

In 1963, Pakistan and China exchanged border territories. The deal passed another stretch of Kashmir called Shakasgam valley into Chinese hands, completing the trifurcation of Kashmir.

The 1965 war between India and Pakistan, initiated by the latter, ended in a stalemate.

In the 1966 Tashkent agreement, both sides agreed to resolve the Kashmir dispute.

They fought another war in 1971, in which India forces helped East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, separate from West Pakistan.

In 1972, India and Pakistan signed the Shimla Agreement that reiterated the promises made in Tashkent.

Absorbing part of Kashmir into India

Between 1948-1975, India jailed and released Abdullah multiple times. He finally agreed in 1975 to become the chief minister of India-administered Kashmir. 

New Delhi was accused of rigging the local assembly elections of 1987 in Kashmir in favour of Abdullah's National Conference party, triggering a colossal backlash that continues to today.

Boys and men in their crossed the Line of Control (LoC) to get arms training from Pakistan. They came back to start an armed rebellion against New Delhi’s rule. 

Led by the pro-independence Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, the rebellion was soon joined by pro-Pakistan outfits like Hizbul Mujahideen, now designated by the administration of US President Donald Trump as a terror group. It had avoided that designation for almost three decades under previous US administrations.

The defeat of Russia in Afghanistan in 1989 was a morale booster in Kashmir and beyond to groups who wanted to defeat another superpower – India.

Soon militants from Afghanistan and Pakistan and from as far as Sudan and Chechnya were fighting in the rebellion.

India dispatched some 600,000 soldiers to crush the uprising, turning Kashmir into the world's most militarised zone.

Militants and Pakistani troops occupied the heights of Kargil inside Kashmir in 1999. That war ended with the US pressurising Pakistan to pull back from Kargil and the prime minister of Pakistan being ousted in a military coup. India claimed it as a military victory.

Kashmir after 9/11 attacks

The US "War on Terror" following the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States forced Pakistan to reframe its support for those it called 'freedom fighters' in the Kashmir conflict. Islamabad was also forced to close most of its training camps in Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

Many foreign militants left Kashmir for Afghanistan to fight US troops.

Under former military dictator and president General Pervez Musharaf, Pakistan entered a ceasefire with India in 2003 that some say helped India consolidate its grip over Kashmir. It was also able to fence the de facto border with modern technology for the first time.

Kashmir went off the international radar until 2008, when the Indian government transferred a piece of land to a Hindu shrine.

This sparked non-violent but massive anti-India demonstrations dispersed with force. 

In 2010, a series of killings and staged gun battles by Indian troops sparked another wave of demonstrations against New Delhi's rule.

Indian soldiers killed dozens of people and wounded thousands in protests that went on for months.

Not everybody, however, agreed with the shift from armed rebellion to non-violent confrontation, which, in any case, did not force a back down by India.

Young men like Burhan Muzaffar Wani joined rebels or militants and took up arms to fight Indian soldiers and police whom they see as tools of the occupying force.

Wani's killing in 2016  provoked the third wave of pro-independence protests in eight years.

India responded with arms and controversial pellet shotguns, blinding many and maiming thousands of protesters and bystanders.

Too old to be left unresolved

October 27, 2017 marks 70 years of modern dispute over Kashmir. Or as some Kashmiris say, 2017 marks 432 years of foreign rule.

Since 1989, nearly 100,000 people, mostly civilians, have disappeared or been killed, many of them buried in unmarked mass graves.

The UN, Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and other countries have called for a UN-brokered referendum in the region but New Delhi rejects any third-party role in the dispute. 

The ongoing confrontation over Kashmir has become one of the greatest human rights crises in history, marked by wanton killings, rape, incarceration of leaders and activists, torture and disappearances of Kashmiris. 

As Kashmir expert and author Christopher Snedden says: "The Kashmir dispute is now so old that if it were a person, it would be entitled to a pension."

Source: TRT World