Kashmir: Roots of Conflict, Paths to Peace (review)
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Reviewed by
Sumantra Bose, Kashmir: Roots of Conflict, Paths to Peace. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003. 307 pp.

The dispute over the status of the state of Jammu and Kashmir has bedeviled relations between India and Pakistan since their emergence as independent states from the collapse of the British Indian empire. The initial Indian and Pakistani claims to this Muslim-majority state stemmed from their respective state-building enterprises. Pakistan had been created as the putative homeland for the Muslims of South Asia. Because Kashmir abutted Pakistan, the Pakistani elite had an irredentist claim on the state. India, which, despite being a predominantly Hindu state, had been fashioned as a secular and civic polity, laid claim to this Muslim-majority state to demonstrate its secular credentials. In the wake of the partition of the British Indian empire in 1947, the two sides became embroiled in a war over the status of the state. The war was of brief duration and was brought to a close through the intervention of the United Nations (UN). When a ceasefire was reached on 1 January 1949, Pakistan controlled one-third of the [End Page 144] state and India about two-thirds. Subsequently, after the failure of extensive and tortured negotiations for nearly two decades at the UN and the lack of any progress in bilateral talks, Pakistan orchestrated another attack on Kashmir in 1965. The war this time ended in a stalemate. The United States by then had largely disengaged from South Asia, prompting the Soviet Union to step into the breach and negotiate a postwar settlement in Tashkent.

In 1971 Pakistan found itself embroiled in a brutal civil war when the Pakistani military ruthlessly cracked down on an autonomist movement in East Pakistan. As the Bengali-speaking population of East Pakistan fled to neighboring India to escape from the Pakistani army, India intervened in the civil war, facilitating the creation of the independent state of Bangladesh. The breakup of Pakistan in 1971 demonstrated that religion alone could not serve as the basis of state-making in South Asia. India, on the other hand, maintained its constitutional dispensation as a secular state. However, its practice of secularism started to decline from the 1980s as craven politicians responded to the exigencies of electoral politics. Today both states seek to incorporate the disputed Kashmiri territory for reasons of statecraft and not on the basis of their loftier moral posturing.

After a long and peaceful hiatus, an ethnoreligious insurgency erupted in the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir in 1989. The origins of this insurgency were indigenous, resulting from a tragic pattern of Indian electoral malfeasance in the state and the emergence of a new generation of politically sophisticated Kashmiris unwilling to countenance such political chicanery. With the onset of the insurgency, the Pakistanis promptly entered the fray and bolstered the most vicious, unyielding, and ruthless insurgent groups. In the process, they helped to undermine the notionally secular, grassroots separatist organization, the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front. In the years since then, well over 50,000 people have been killed, a figure greater than the total battle deaths in all four Indo-Pakistani wars. Despite the overt nuclearization of the region after May 1998, the Pakistani military under General Pervez Musharraf precipitated another conflict with India in 1999. Pakistan's incursion into northern Kashmir, though tactically successful, failed to accomplish its main goal of exerting international pressure on India to settle the Kashmir question. Following the 1999 conflict, a number of attempts to resolve the crisis in Kashmir have proven futile, and the Indian government has met with only limited success in restoring political normalcy to the troubled region.

Sumantra Bose's book is a curiously uneven analysis of the forces that led to the current state of the dispute and the possibilities of its eventual settlement. At one level, the book provides a succinct and largely accurate account of the development of ethnonationalist sentiment in Kashmir from the early part of the twentieth century. Bose displays a supple understanding of the political eddies and currents that swirled in Kashmir in the decades immediately before the independence of India and Pakistan. His account of the...


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