Why is Kashmir politically divided?

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Kashmir is a mountainous land in the western Himalaya. The easiest way for you to find Kashmir would be to pull into a filling station in northern India and ask someone. Alternately, you can find Kashmir on a map or globe by placing your map finger on India and then sliding said finger north until you get to India’s tip. The land under your finger is Kashmir. For maximum pleasure, I recommend using one of those globes where they make the mountains bumpy.

Kashmir is, by many accounts, one the most beautiful places on Earth. It’s a land of mountain valleys and crystal lakes. The lakes are dotted with houseboats and surrounded by formal gardens. Kashmir is so beautiful, in fact, that it’s thought to be the inspiration for Shangri-La, the fictional Himalayan paradise described in James Hilton’s 1933 novel, Lost Horizon. Incidentally, the girl group who recorded the ’60s hit song “Leader of the Pack” were called the Shangri-Las. They were from Queens.

While dragging your map-finger around, you may have noticed that not all of Kashmir is actually in India. Some of it is in Pakistan and China. To understand why that is, we’ve got to hop into our DeLoreans and go back to 1947.

Ah, 1947! What a year it was. Fans of unevenly heated, rubbery chicken rejoiced as Raytheon introduced the world’s first microwave oven. Americans danced to Arthur Godfrey’s polka smash “‘I Don’t Want Her, You Can Have Her, She’s Too Fat For Me.” And Britain, exhausted and bankrupt after WWII, decided to grant independence to the jewel of its colonial crown, India.

Upon vacating India, the Brits divided the land into two countries, one Muslim-majority and the other Hindu-majority. The Hindu-majority country is the entity we now call India. The Muslim-majority side is called Pakistan. Pakistan used to include Bangladesh, but in 1971, Bangladesh became an independent state.

At the time of partition, the leaders of India’s 500-plus states were forced to choose whether they would join India or Pakistan. The leader of Kashmir at the time, Maharaja Hari Singh, did not decide at first. Though Kashmir was (and is) majority Muslim, Singh himself was a Hindu and reluctant to join Muslim Pakistan.

Long story short, the Maharaja ultimately decided to stay in India. The Maharaja’s decision is the foundation for India’s belief that Kashmir is theirs. Pakistan, however, believes that Kashmir should have gone to them because it is majority Muslim. The two countries have been arguing about it ever since.

India and Pakistan fought a war for Kashmir from 1947 until 1949, and Pakistan nabbed about a third of Kashmir during that war. The 1949 cease fire line appears on maps today as the dotted “Line of Control.” The LOC is, to this day, the de facto international border between Pakistan and India in Kashmir.

Fighting over Kashmir continued in 1962, when China invaded Indian Kashmir as part of its effort to consolidate its hold on Tibet. Pakistan and India fought another full-on war over Kashmir in 1965, and it’s been on-again, off-again, not-quite-war fighting since then. It is widely believed that the two countries have been on the brink of nuclear war with one another over Kashmir at least twice in the past two decades.

Though the two sides have been inching toward a peaceful, final resolution to the Kashmir conflict over the past three years, tensions between the countries is still high.

The losers in all of this are, naturally, the people of Kashmir. Their land, once described as paradise, has become the urinal for a high-stakes, international pissing match. When a magnitude 7.6 earthquake flattened much of Kashmir this month, neither India nor Pakistan could adequately respond, in large part because hundreds of billions of dollars that could have been spent on decent roads or earthquake-reinforced buildings have been squandered on weapons purchased to fight for Kashmir. Pakistan, whose side was harder hit by the quake, actually has turned down several Indian aid offers because, as the BBC reports, accepting the offers would be “politically embarrassing” to Pakistan’s military dictatorship.

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto once said Pakistan would become a nuclear power even if it meant Pakistanis would be stuck eating grass. With an estimated 2.5 million homeless Pakistanis now approaching winter in the Himalaya thanks to the quake, his perverse fantasy looks like it might be coming true.