Troubled Kashmir

January 29, 1992

Every once in a while the world is reminded that there is another long-standing, intractable, violent, religion-based dispute over a lovely land. South Asia's counterpart to the Holy Land or Northern Ireland is Kashmir, the mountain-ringed valley in the north of India.

Last week's procession of Hindu militants the length of India to the Muslim-majority valley is another of a long series of provocative actions on both sides. The leader of India's largest opposition party had to be airlifted the last leg of his journey so he could safely reach the central square of Srinagar, Kashmir's capital, and posture for an audience composed of Indian security forces.

The valley, beloved of Mughal princes and poets, has been the focus of a three-way struggle since India and Pakistan were partitioned in 1947. Two wars and decades of sporadic guerrilla fighting and terrorism have failed to undermine India's questionable legal claim to the state or to strengthen Pakistan's even weaker case. In the middle, as they have been for four decades, are the predominantly Muslim Kashmiris. A talented people who would rather trade than fight, they seek to distance themselves from their Indian rulers, who profess to be secular but increasingly succumb to orthodox Hindu pressure. It is especially tragic that Kashmir's politics has polarized on religious lines, since the inhabitants of the valley have been relatively free of the Hindu-Muslim antagonism that has plagued their neighbors.

Kashmiris who were satisfied with the special degree of autonomy granted them after partition have seen it eroded over the decades. Acquiescence in Indian rule eroded along with it, resulting in a growing separatist movement. Political factions favoring complete independence gain in strength with every repressive move by Indian authorities. Clumsy attempts by Pakistan to infiltrate guerrillas have aroused little popular support. But as Indian tactics become increasingly repressive, and Hindu militants continue to exacerbate the situation, help from across the border could become a more appealing option to Kashmiris.

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