Unveiling the Complexities: Narratives on Kashmir Conflict What lessons we can learn from history?

by Victoria Schofield

On every United Nations Day, the discourse on Kashmir gains resonance. It is crucial to underscore that the discourse pertains to the entirety of Jammu and Kashmir—an unresolved issue that has persisted for 76 years. The nomenclature itself, ‘Jammu and Kashmir,’ encapsulates the complexity awaiting resolution. As we delve into the intricacies of this enduring challenge, it is incumbent upon us to recognize the historical weight carried by the region and the imperative for a comprehensive resolution to the ‘Jammu and Kashmir’ issue, a pivotal subject that continues to demand international attention and concerted efforts for lasting peace.

Throughout temporal progression, the situational dynamics have undergone successive and nuanced transformations, reflecting a continual evolution in the contextual landscape. Upon contemplation of the comprehensive historical narrative expounded by the preceding speaker, it is noteworthy that the genesis of the issue in question emanated as a political discord about sovereignty after the independence and partition of the subcontinent. Initially devoid of a demarcated ceasefire line or Line of Control (LOC), the embryonic stage of this matter was characterized by an absence of a predetermined geopolitical boundary. Within this milieu, a cohort of individuals articulated aspirations for increased autonomy vis-à-vis the autocratic governance of the Maharaja under whose dominion they were placed.

At the juncture of partition, divergent inclinations emerged, with some gravitating towards an allegiance with Pakistan, while others espoused an affinity for India. Notably, the discourse in 1947 did not prominently feature the contemporary conceptualization of independence; rather, it was envisaged that the entire princely state of Jammu and Kashmir, inclusive of its constituent regions such as Gilgit Baltistan, Ladakh, and the border territories encompassing Neelum, Kotli, Poonch, Muzaffarabad, Mirpur, as well as Jammu and the picturesque Kashmir Valley, would be integrated into one dominion or the other.

The notion of partition along communal lines remained conspicuously absent during this period, as did the consideration of acceding to the Maharaja’s inclination for the retention of an independent status, a prospect he momentarily entertained. The recent discourse provided an extensive elucidation on the dismissal of Prime Minister Ram Chandra Kak, who was purportedly fostering an environment conducive to the Maharaja’s contemplation of maintaining the independence of his state.

I want to emphasize the fluidity of the Jammu and Kashmir issue. It is not static. The ground realities have changed, but at the same time, certain principles have remained finite. The rights of individuals encompassing political and religious freedom, good governance, rule of law, freedom of movement and association, freedom of expression, and freedom from military occupation constitute the essential fabric of a just and equitable society. In our contemporary landscape, the imperative challenge lies in discerning how the foundational principles of political and religious freedom, good governance, rule of law, freedom of movement and association, expression, and liberation from military occupation can be realized. Examining pivotal milestones from the past 76 years provides insights, prompting a crucial question: Can we glean lessons from history, or has the trajectory of change become irreversibly transformative? As we reflect on historical junctures, the unanswerable question looms – can we, in our present reality, draw upon these lessons to forge a path forward, or are we navigating an era where the past offers no roadmap for the future?


Historical Milestones: A Glimpse into the Past

So, what are those milestones? Of course, the first milestone was partition followed swiftly by war in 1947 and 1948, and then the establishment of the cease-fire line and the unheld plebiscite. Had the conditions been met for holding the plebiscite, as prescribed by the UN in 1948 and 1949, the history of the region would have been very different. The fate of the entire state hinged on a plebiscite outcome, with the prospect of integration into either India or Pakistan. The resolution, albeit potentially discontented among inhabitants, would have marked a conclusive end. The unfulfilled referendum, however, denied closure. This unrealized democratic exercise leaves the question of statehood unresolved, leaving inhabitants in a perpetual state of adjustment, suspended between potential destinies. The absence of a plebiscite not only thwarted the democratic process but perpetuated a lingering ambiguity, underscoring the profound impact of a momentous decision deferred.

The pivotal juncture of 1962-1963, post the Sino-Indian war, marked a crucial milestone in the protracted ‘Jammu and Kashmir’ issue. Despite Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s initial reluctance to engage in what he termed ‘negotiations,’ the talks under the mediation of the UK and the USA introduced a significant shift. Unlike previous notions of outright integration, the discussions broached the idea of partitioning the state. While no consensus emerged, the principle that neither nation would annex the entire state was established. Notably, after 15 years post-partition, certain regions, including Gilgit Baltistan, Azad Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh, and Jammu, had acclimated to the existing status quo. Importantly, this era marked the transition to focus on the specific geographic area of the Kashmir Valley, a mere strip of land amidst larger territories. Today’s discourse on the Kashmir issue inherently encompasses the complexities of the valley, emphasizing the integral interconnection with the broader ‘Jammu and Kashmir’ matter. It is imperative to recognize that a holistic resolution requires addressing both the valley and the overarching regional quandary, constituting an inseparable duality that demands comprehensive attention.

The 1965 war, though yielding no tangible results, significantly exacerbated hostilities between India and Pakistan. My extensive research on Jammu and Kashmir underscores a concerning trend: with time, attitudes have hardened, leaving less room for dialogue. The subsequent 1971 war, unrelated to the Kashmir issue, culminated in the 1972 Shimla Agreement. While this accord omitted explicit mention of Jammu and Kashmir, it crucially mandated bilateral resolution of outstanding issues. This milestone not only conveyed to the international community India and Pakistan’s commitment to bilateral resolution but also introduced a nuanced clause, permitting alternative means if bilateral efforts fail—often overshadowed, allowing for the possibility of international mediation or facilitation. This nuanced perspective is paramount in comprehending the broader narrative surrounding the Jammu and Kashmir issue.

The watershed of the 1989 insurgency marked a transformative milestone in the protracted saga of Jammu and Kashmir, encapsulating the emergence of what is broadly labeled the “independence movement.” This evolution represents a profound departure from the historical dichotomy of aligning the region’s voice solely with either India or Pakistan. Instead, a vociferous chorus, predominantly resonating from the Kashmir Valley, has articulated a compelling demand for a third option – namely, “independence.” It is crucial to exercise discernment, recognizing that this assertive narrative predominantly emanates from the Kashmir Valley, with limited resonance in regions such as Ladakh, Gilgit Baltistan, and, for the most part, Azad Jammu and Kashmir. The complexity of divergent regional voices within the overarching discourse underscores the intricate fabric of the contemporary Jammu and Kashmir problem.


The year 2001 constitutes a pivotal milestone as it witnessed a profound shift in the global discourse surrounding the Kashmir issue. The erstwhile rhetoric of “freedom fighting” for self-determination underwent a seismic transformation after the 9/11 attacks, where the international community increasingly labeled such endeavors as terrorism. This reclassification rendered the pursuit of self-determination less acceptable and devoid of external support, fundamentally altering the geopolitical landscape surrounding the Kashmir dispute.

Subsequently, the 2004 peace process, characterized by the Musharraf-Manmohan Singh four-point formula, held promise for potential resolution. However, this milestone, despite embodying principles suggested by earlier leaders, remained unfulfilled, bearing the weight of a lingering trust deficit exacerbated by the 1999 Kargil war. Remarkably, amidst the tensions that followed the Kargil conflict and the 2001 bombing of the Delhi parliament, leaders of India and Pakistan managed to resume talks. Unfortunately, the geopolitical realities of the time prompted a withdrawal from the peace process in 2004, leading to a prolonged impasse in meaningful discussions on the resolution of Jammu and Kashmir. The downward trajectory of their relationship was further exacerbated by the 2008 Mumbai attacks, marking yet another critical juncture in the vexed history of the two nations.

The 2019 abrogation of Article 370 in the Indian Constitution, which conferred ‘special status’ upon Jammu and Kashmir, marks a significant and contentious milestone. This action, altering the constitutional status of the region, contravened a crucial clause in the 1972 Shimla Agreement, stipulating that neither party would unilaterally modify the status quo. India’s official map, portraying Jammu and Kashmir as two Union territories—Jammu and Kashmir, incorporating Azad Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh, encompassing Gilgit Baltistan—has reshaped the narrative, aligning with its 1947 position of complete integration. This stark contrast with Pakistan’s map accentuates the persisting divergence in perspectives.

While the notion of a plebiscite is occasionally invoked, limited to choosing between India or Pakistan, it has become an impractical resolution. The residents of Gilgit Baltistan identify with Pakistan, and those in Ladakh see themselves as part of India. A unitary plebiscite risks contested outcomes, necessitating a nuanced approach that acknowledges the diverse aspirations within the region. The dispute over Jammu and Kashmir transcends mere territorial boundaries; it encompasses the entire state and demands a holistic resolution that considers the varied components and demographics, including the majority of Muslims and minorities such as Buddhists and Hindus.

Regrettably, the missed opportunities for dialogue, exemplified by the failed negotiations in 2004 and preceding talks, underscore a recurring tragedy. Learning from these milestones, the present challenge lies in overcoming entrenched positions and fostering a conducive environment for meaningful negotiations that encompass the complexities and aspirations of all stakeholders involved.

Impact on Generations: A Lingering Shadow

A poignant lesson gleaned from the historical milestones surrounding the Jammu and Kashmir issue is the enduring impact on successive generations when conflicts persist. Since the onset of the insurgency, an entire generation has come of age burdened by the unresolved issue, living in perpetual conflict. The experiences of schoolchildren in the Kashmir Valley, born after the insurgency began and before the abrogation of Article 370 in 2019, reflect the somber reality that unresolved disputes cast a shadow over the lives of future generations. As a historian, I encountered school children who, though not born during the insurgency or partition, have lived their lives in conflict due to the unresolved issue. Furthermore, these milestones underscore a disconcerting trend: as each passing year deepens the impasse, attitudes harden, rendering the situation increasingly precarious.

If the situation is not resolved in another 5 or 10 years, there can always be another volcanic eruption. This ominous prospect underscores the urgent need to draw lessons from history, acknowledge ground realities and milestones, and chart a pragmatic path forward. The imperative lies in moving beyond historical grievances and determining viable solutions that align with the contemporary aspirations of all individuals in the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir. Importantly, a resolute stance against human rights abuses and injustice must be maintained universally, irrespective of geographic or political boundaries.


The multifaceted dynamics of the Jammu and Kashmir issue, spanning over seven decades, have engendered a complex tapestry that intertwines historical grievances, geopolitical considerations, and the aspirations of diverse communities. The fluidity of the situation demands a nuanced approach that considers the evolving ground realities, acknowledges the diverse voices within the region, and charts a path forward that prioritizes peace, justice, and the rights of individuals. As the international community grapples with contemporary challenges, addressing the Jammu and Kashmir issue necessitates sustained dialogue, a commitment to human rights, and a recognition of the shared humanity that binds us all. 


Victoria Schofield is an historian and commentator on international affairs, with specialist knowledge and love of South Asia, having travelled widely in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. She is acknowledged as one of the leading international experts on the disputed region of Jammu and Kashmir and has given lectures on the subject in India, Pakistan, the United States, Europe and Australia

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