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The Role of Kashmir in India-Pakistan Relations

Instructor: David Wilson

David has taught college history and holds an MA in history.

India and Pakistan may be the two nations closest to war in the entire world today. Learn in this lesson the origin of their dispute and the role that Kashmir plays in their relations. Updated: 11/09/2019

Mine, Not Yours

When the media or films invoke ideas about nuclear war, they generally refer to the United States and Russia. Yet the greatest threats of nuclear war today may not be either of these nations but instead a conflict in the Asian subcontinent between two rival nuclear powers, India and Pakistan. Their disagreement about the political control of a border region Kashmir has brought them to the point of war several times although they have not yet used their nuclear arms.

A Very Old Struggle

Like many other global conflicts, the disagreement between India and Pakistan dates back decades to their era of living under colonial rule. Great Britain maintained both Pakistan and India as one colony between the 19th and 20th centuries, but after decades of independence movements by figures like Mahatma Gandhi they decided to award freedom to these two nations. British officials created a partition plan, giving some degree of autonomy to princely states (like Kashmir) about whether to join the Hindu-majority nation of India or the Muslim-majority nation of Pakistan.

Map of India under British rule, with princely states like Kashmir in yellow
India map

The maharaja (prince) of Kashmir, however, preferred to be independent of either nation. He feared that the religious disputes between the two nations would create violence in mixed-faith Kashmir. However, being on the border of a powerful nation means that you don't easily get what you want, and Kashmir was quickly sucked into violence when India and Pakistan were awarded independence in 1947. India won the war decisively with a larger and stronger military, and would win the two further wars fought by these nations during the 20th century, which were also over the question of borders. Today, Kashmir is officially a member of India, having been pressured to join them prior to the first war between India and Pakistan.

Modern Relations

The question of Kashmir remains one of the great areas of dispute between India and Pakistan today, who are two of the most powerful nations in southern Asia. India maintains that Kashmir is rightfully part of their nation, while Pakistan argues that the Muslim majority of the population have pro-Pakistan sympathies and would choose to join them if given the chance (as they were supposed to be allowed in the first place upon receiving independence). In fact, the Google map of Kashmir appears different depending on which of the two nations you're in! Pakistan directly and indirectly supports separatist movements in Kashmir, including terrorism against civilians, while India has attempted to clamp down hard on the region to put a stop to the fighting. Many international bodies, including the United Nations, have tried and failed to stop the fighting.

Map of Kashmir, the region claimed by both India and Pakistan
Map of Kashmir

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