Struggle carves uncertain future

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 02 August, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 02 August, 2005, 12:00am

Despite efforts by India and Pakistan to bring peace to Kashmir, its people now live in limbo.

With security significantly improved compared with most of the 1990s, and a widespread war weariness settling over Kashmir, nearly 200,000 mainly Indian tourists, escaping the searing summer heat of the northern plains, flocked back to the valley during the first five months of the year.

But life is still uncertain and the hard-won gains could easily disappear. The conflict's origins date back nearly 60 years.

As British rule over the subcontinent ended in August 1947, the states of Jammu and Kashmir became independent, but when Pakistani Muslim tribal rebels invaded in October that year a desperate Hindu maharajah agreed to join the Indian union in return for troops. After the United Nations negotiated a ceasefire a year later, the state was partitioned with two-thirds going to India, including the much-prized 200km-long valley.

The UN called for a referendum in which Kashmiris could decide to join either India or Pakistan. Such a vote has never been held. The Muslim majority in the valley became alienated from Indian rule over perceived heavy handedness by New Delhi and a failure to deliver greater autonomy.

In 1989, several rose up demanding independence, and as separatist groups developed armed factions, the struggle became increasingly violent. The Indian military is accused of widespread human rights abuses in the state. The groups still fighting Indian rule are now based in Pakistan-run Kashmir and mainly favour union with Pakistan. About 44,000 people have died since 1989.