The Kashmir Conflict: Multiple Fault Lines

Date01 April 2016
Published date01 April 2016
Subject MatterArticles
The Kashmir Conflict:
Multiple Fault Lines
Navnita Chadha Behera1
The Kashmir conflict has acquired a multifaceted character. On the one hand, it
involves national and territorial contestations between India and Pakistan and on
the other, various political demands by religious, linguistic, regional and ethnic
groups in both parts of the divided Kashmir that range from seeking affirmative
discrimination, a separate political status within the state, to outright secession.
Peace has eluded Kashmir so far because a state-centric peace process is at
odds with its plural social realities and multiple fault lines. The article identifies
the key challenges for the peace process that includes extending its outreach to
all the local stakeholders in a multi-layered dialogue with a mandate to evolve
political and institutional processes and mechanisms for addressing different—
if not divergent—aspirations of its diverse communities, without undermining
the plural character of its society. The prognosis in the foreseeable future entails
a roller-coaster ride with no clear endgame in sight.
Kashmir, peace process, plurality, fault lines, political mobilizations
The Kashmir conflict has radically transformed since its genesis in 1947 when it
first became a bone of contention between India and Pakistan. A conventional
understanding of this conflict remains emblematically tied to the territorial and
ideological parameters, which suggests the dispute is rooted solely in the idea
that a Muslim-majority state had its fate determined by a Hindu maharaja, that
Pakistan—the ‘homeland’ of the subcontinent’s Muslims—is incomplete without
Kashmir’s inclusion, or that India’s secular credentials depend on Kashmir’s
continued accession. Kashmir is thus seen as an immutable zero-sum test of India
and Pakistan’s legitimating ideologies—in which one’s validity invalidates the
other’s—which in turn precludes the possibility of any reconciliation.
1 Professor of International Relations, University of Delhi, India.
Corresponding author:
Navnita Chadha Behera, Department of Political Science, University of Delhi, Delhi 110007, India.
Journal of Asian Security
and International Affairs
3(1) 41–63
2016 SAGE Publications India
Private Limited
SAGE Publications
DOI: 10.1177/2347797015626045
42 Journal of Asian Security and International Affairs 3(1)
Over the years, this conflict has become much more complex, not least because
it has been a battleground for four wars—1948, 1965, 1971 and 1999—between
India and Pakistan and from the late 1990s onwards, a nuclear flashpoint, but
more importantly, the multiple fault lines in its internal domain have acquired a
primacy. So, the populace of the Indian part of Kashmir—known as the Jammu
and Kashmir (J&K) state—has made political demands ranging from affirmative
discrimination and a separate political status within India to an outright secession,
while those living in the Pakistani part of Kashmir—Azad Kashmir and Northern
Areas—have been struggling for their own political and constitutional rights.
The two key premises of this article are as follows. The armed insurgency—
which got underway in the late 1980s in the Kashmir Valley—is embedded in the
much larger Kashmir conflict, making it imperative to understand its deep and
multiple entanglements with the ways the latter has unfolded in its internal as well
as external, especially bilateral, domain. And, the article adopts a longue-durée
perspective for understanding this conflict. The article argues that the conflict ‘in’
as much as ‘on’ Kashmir has become intractable because policy makers as well as
political analysts have failed to fully comprehend and address the emerging fault
lines between the new, expanding and deepening theatre of conflict and the state-
centric paradigm of the peace process. It then highlights the disjunctures between
the unitary character of state structures and social pluralities on the one hand, and
complicity of the state in privileging communal claims even though political mobi-
lizations in Kashmir have consistently taken place along ethnic, linguistic and
regional lines as well. The article argues this case in three parts: the first explains
the multifaceted character of the Kashmir conflict followed by a critical overview
of the ongoing, bilateral peace process; the second highlights the fault lines as well
as the ‘unlearnt’ lessons in the strategies devised for resolving the Kashmir conflict;
and the third offers a brief prognosis of how this might unfold in the future.
Multifaceted Character of the Kashmir Conflict
The fundamental changes in the political dynamics of the Kashmir conflict have prob-
lematized the traditional political construct of a Muslim-majority J&K state pitted
against a majoritarian Hindu India or of an Islamic bond cementing the relationship
between Azad Kashmir and the Northern Areas with Pakistan because it posits a mis-
leading façade of the divided Kashmir being a homogenous entity, which is also why
this issue has traditionally been framed as an India–Pakistan conflict. The multi ethnic,
multilingual, multi-religious and regional identities of Kashmir’s various communities
and their diverse, if not divergent, political aspirations have driven home the need to
recognize the deeply plural character of this society on both sides of the Line of
Control. Some of these important transformations are discussed below.
Cyclical Nature of the Secessionist Movement in Kashmir
The demand for a sovereign and independent state of J&K was first raised by the
National Conference leader Sheikh Abdullah in the early 1950s, though it quickly

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