Is Independent Kashmir Possible?

Bilal Hussain

Over the decades, the people of Kashmir have expressed their desire to have an identity, a homeland, and a separate nation, in many forms at multiple times. However, the Indian state has so far successfully been able to convince the global community about the non-viability of an Independent Kashmir.Unabated curfews, clampdown on all sorts of communications including media gag, killings, and protests in Kashmir have become a norm since 1947—the year which saw the independence of India and Pakistan— when Kashmir lost its Freedom. Though, the region witnesses normalcy (lull periods) however, small untoward happenings in Kashmir have triggered massive uprisings leaving New Delhi and the state government dumb stuck. Why is it so and what brings people to the roads to pelt stones and protest?The fact is that the majority of the population in this region have been demanding freedom, as suggested by the findings of reliable research and media houses. According to an opinion poll conducted in 1995 by a credible Indian magazine (Outlook): 72 percent of respondents opted for Independence of the region as an option. Similar sorts of polls on the subject have been conducted by Chatham House, a think-tank in London, which showed that an overwhelming number of people: 74-95 percent in Kashmir region support independence.Till date, the state has experimented with many measures and to some extent have succeeded in containing the masses, however, the successive governments have failed miserably in winning hearts and altering the desires of the people. The huge percentage based on the polls can’t be wished away; reasonably, it needs some thinking.While the idea needs rational thinking, however, some concerns need to be addressed given the complexities that have engulfed the region. In the present day world-order and given the historical perspective, can Independent Kashmir [IK] exist? Moreover, regarding the small area and population of the region, will it be practical? Given the poor educational status, the IK could be a breeding ground for ‘Islamic Jihadist’. And the much talked about issues are: security, land locked region, economic dependency and many more which are often raised. The most obvious question to be followed should be: Is an Independent Kashmir practical and a viable solution? Let’s examine it through various dimensions:

Historical Perspective

In 1991, James Howley in a paper, ‘Alive and Kicking, The Kashmir Dispute: Forty Years Later’, mentions that in 1947, the economy of Kashmir was closely linked with Pakistan. Its best communications with the outside world lay through Pakistan by way of the Indus River and the road from Srinagar, the Maharaja’s summer capital, to Rawalpindi in Pakistan. The researcher lucidly states the economic ties of the region with Pakistan pre-1947.Similar views have been expressed in a techno-economic survey of Jammu and Kashmir by the National Council of Applied Economic Research which mentions that with the contentious accession of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) to the Indian union in 1947, all earlier roadways and waterways became entirely useless for the people of the state. The age-old economic ties of the people living in the state, particularly on its borders, with those living on the other side of the frontiers had been cut-off, thereby shattering the entire economic structure which was so laboriously and diligently built through centuries.Likewise, Joseph Korbel in his book titled ‘Danger in Kashmir’ published by Princeton University Press states that about 36% of the trade was with west Punjab and 64% with those areas which later on constituted what is now known as India. Prior to 1947, almost all export and import businesses of the state were carried on with or through west Punjab which later on became part of Pakistan. Besides blocking the historical routes of the state and splitting the territory, the conflict between India and Pakistan also led to the imposition of restrictions, through the Indus Water Treaty.Based on the culture and economy of the region, a well-planned Partition would have awarded the greater part of Kashmir to Pakistan. However, Kashmir, with its overwhelming Muslim majority, was controlled by a Hindu ruler of the dynasty known as the Dogra Rajputs, Alastair Lamb in his book ‘The Kashmir Problem: A Historical Survey’ mentions.More than anything else the accession of J&K to the Indian Union devastated the economic structure of a historically independent Kashmir (which was its own state until the merger with the Mughal Empire in 1586). In the past if an independent Kashmir existed why can’t it now?

Area and Population

Jammu and Kashmir, situated between 320 17′ N & 360 58′ N latitudes and 730 26′E & 800 30′ E longitudes, the total area of J&K is 222236 sq. Km of which 78114 sq. Km is under Pakistan and 37555 sq. Km under China. In addition, 5180 sq. Km area of J&K was given away to China by Pakistan. As per 2011 census J&K has 125.41 lakh population.Interestingly, the population of J&K is more than the individual populations of as many as 157 UN member [World Population Prospects, the 2015 Revision] nations and inhabited dependent territories. While J&K’s area is larger than that of 173 countries [CIA publication] globally. If these nations with so little area and population can survive, why can’t an independent Kashmir?

Security Concern

People have been arguing that as per the UN resolution, there is NO provision for Independent Kashmir. Besides, both India and Pakistan will fight the idea tooth and nail. An independent Kashmir will also be up for grabs geo-politically as it will share its borders with other countries like Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, China. Add to this a strong US presence in the region and the state becomes vulnerable to big-power rivalry and exploitation.A neutral opinion on these can be argued in a proposition: The Independent Kashmir has the potential to act as a buffer state lying between two hostile nuclear powers i.e. India and Pakistan. Rather than escalating tension on borders as is the case now, the buffer state’s existence can prevent conflict between all the countries sharing boundaries. Take the case of Uruguay that served as a demilitarized buffer-zone between Argentina and the Empire of Brazil during the early independence period in South America. Similarly, The Far Eastern Republic was a formally independent state created to act as a buffer between Bolshevik Russia and Imperial Japan. Also, Poland and other states between Germany and the Soviet Union have sometimes been described as buffer states. Many such practical examples exist globally.

Secular State

At a time when a curfew was on, the Kashmiri Muslims have defied restrictions to attend the funeral of a Kashmir Pandit family. According to a report by Indian Express, published from New Delhi, on July 17, 2016: “The residents of Sheikh Mohalla in Maharaj Gunj rushed to help Deepak Malhotra and his family perform the last rites of his mother, who passed away on Saturday morning, a police official said.” This should say a lot about Kashmiris and the existence of religious harmony in the region. So why is it considered a breeding ground for ‘Islamic Jihadist’?A Kashmiri novelist, Dr. Nitasha Kaul, in an article in Open Democracy (Kashmir: A Place of Blood and Memory) says ‘India is demographically a Hindu majority state, and for all its talk of ‘unity in diversity’, it is intolerant towards its minorities. That discrimination and intolerance flourishes in Pakistan or China or the West is no justification for ignoring this fact in India. For instance, there is a violent ongoing repression of the tribals, there is recurrent and extreme state brutality in Kashmir, there have been orchestrated pogroms against the Muslims (Gujarat 2002), violence against the Sikhs (Delhi 1984), the Christians (Orissa 2007-08), add to which, there is a constant ongoing broad-ranging discrimination against people in terms of their religion, caste, class, gender, sexuality.’She also talks about historical religious harmony the region possesses which nobody talks about. ‘The biggest myth of recent times is that of seeing Kashmir historically in terms of Muslims versus Hindus, instead of Muslims and Hindus. Kashmiris did not see themselves in these terms until they were classified as such by the political games of the later part of the twentieth century. The centuries-old tradition of ‘Kashmiriyat’ bears testimony to the identity of Kashmiris as a people who did not let their religious affiliations overwhelm their ethnic and regional commonality.’ In so many ways, Kashmir was ‘special’. The Kashmiri political voice and consciousness was different from that of the rest of India. The Kashmiris of an earlier generation – up until the 1980s – saw themselves as ‘Kashmiris’, in spite of everything. Kashmiris as a people have historically shared language, mannerisms, speech inflections, customs and even some festivals such as the springtime ‘Badaamwari’.An author, Rahul Pandita in his book ‘Our moon has blood clots: the exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits’ writes at a time when the rest of India was ravaged with the violence of Partition, Mahatma Gandhi saw the only ray of hope in Kashmir. When Mahatma Gandhi could see a ray of hope in Kashmir, why can’t today’s leaders in India see it?

Landlocked Nations

A lot has been written on J&K being a landlocked region however thorough research presents an altogether different case. Kashmir acted as a significant trade transit linking undivided India with Central Asia through the Silk Route. A book, ‘Central Asia and Kashmir: A study in the Context of Anglo-Russian Rivalry’ by K. Warikoo, writes about how due to its geographical proximity to Central Asia and linkage with the Silk Route system, Kashmir acted as an important transit emporium in the bilateral Indo-Central Asian trade.The restoration of old trade links and opening of new trade links will certainly boost the economy of Independent Kashmir. Besides, Kashmir due to its physical contiguity with India and Pakistan, water resources, physical access with the Great Silk Route has a great geo-political, economic, strategic and military importance for both countries; argue researchers Kalis and Dar in “Geo-political Significance of Kashmir: An overview of Indo-Pak Relations” published in IOSR Journal of Humanities and Social Science.

Scholars Take

India is holding onto Kashmir by paying through nose and a time will surely come when there will be no option left for India but to break the golden chains. As rightly said by the famous novelist, Arundhati Roy, in her article, ‘Land and Freedom: Kashmir is in Crisis’ published in The Guardian, India needs azadi from Kashmir just as much as – if not more than – Kashmir needs azadi from India.Similarly, Philip Spratt, an English journalist, editing a Bangalore journal MysIndia, wrote in 1952 that India should abandon its claim over Kashmir, and allow Sheikh Abdullah to realize his dream of independence. Spratt wanted the Indian army to be withdrawn from J&K and all loans to the state written off. Spratt wrote, ‘Let Kashmir go ahead, alone and adventurously, in her explorations of a secular state’.Even Indian historian and writer— Ramachandra Guha, in ‘India After Gandhi’ writes, “Spratt’s solution was tinged with morality, but more so with economy and prudence. Indian policy, he argued, was based on ‘a mistaken belief in the one-nation theory and greed to own the beautiful and strategic valley of Srinagar’. The costs of this policy, present and future, were incalculable. Rather than give Kashmir special privileges and create resentment elsewhere in India, it was best to let the state go.”Similar views were recently expressed by the chairman of the Hurriyat Conference (M), Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, in an open letter to the people of India on the Kashmir issue published in The Hindu which stated, “Indeed, the Kashmir conflict is a direct threat to your prosperity. With more than 800 million people in India still living on less than $2 (Rs. 120) a day, surely the estimated $37-47 billion a year that goes as military expenditure (which is 2 to 2.5 per cent of GDP) could be put to much better use towards initiatives to lift more and more people out of poverty. If the Kashmir issue is resolved, not only would this costly arms race come to an end, it would open up the multipliers of economic cooperation and trade. Certainly, ensuring lasting peace and stability is the greatest foundation for your future prosperity, economic growth and development.”Recently, in a report by Kashmir Life, a weekly published from Kashmir, Professor Noam Chomsky, the legendary American philosopher and intellectual, has said that the Indian Army should leave Kashmir in the face of ‘horrible atrocities’ committed in the region. “Indo-Pak conflict is ridiculous for both,” he said. “Both nations should agree to a federal structure which gives more or less Independence to Kashmir.”

International Independent Agencies

The International Crisis Group — an independent, non-profit organization, working to prevent and resolve deadly conflict— in one of its reports on Kashmir ‘Steps Towards Peace: Putting Kashmiris First’ mentions how ‘India and Pakistan have consistently subjected Kashmiri interests to their own national security agendas and silenced calls for greater autonomy. With the start of their composite dialogue – comprehensive negotiations to resolve all contentious bilateral issues, including Kashmir, launched in February 2004 – both appeared willing to allow more interaction across the Line of Control (LOC) but failed to engage Kashmiris in the process. As a result, they did not take full advantage of opportunities to enhance cross-LOC cooperation by identifying the most appropriate Kashmir-specific confidence-building measures (CBMs), and bureaucratic resistance in both capitals resulted in uneven implementation of even those that had been agreed.’The United States Institute of Peace– an independent, nonpartisan organization that works to prevent, mitigate, and resolve violent conflict around the world— in one of their reports on LoC trade talks about economic coloration (Promoting Cross-LoC Trade in Kashmir: An Analysis of the Joint Chamber) states that “one of the most promising recent developments has been the formation of the Federation of Jammu and Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Joint Chamber), the first formal joint establishment across the Line of Control, which is poised to play a central role in future efforts at increasing economic collaboration.”Again, Conciliation Resources in its report ‘Bridging Divides: towards effective disaster preparedness and response in Kashmir’, argues that preparing for and allowing collaborative responses to take place across the Line of Control which divides Kashmir would make disaster responses vastly more effective. It would save lives and facilitate confidence building among diverse constituencies and stakeholders, contributing to peace-building in Kashmir and to the peace process between India and Pakistan.


As per the National Census 2011, literacy rate of the state is 68.74% with 78.26% male literates and 58.01% female literates. Similarly, for Pakistan-administered Kashmir the literacy rate is 74% which is pretty decent.At present, Azad Kashmir have five public universities, two private universities, two public medical colleges and one private medical college. Higher education or research institutes in Jammu and Kashmir include the National Institute of Technology, Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences, Government College of Engineering and Technology – Jammu, Government Medical College – Srinagar and Government Medical College – Jammu. University-level education is provided by University of Kashmir, University of Jammu, Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology of Srinagar, Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology of Jammu, Islamic University of Science & Technology, Baba Ghulam Shah Badhshah University, Shri Mata Vaishno Devi University, Institution of Technicians and Engineers (Kashmir), Government Degree College for Boys Anantnag, Central University of Kashmir located at Ganderbal and Central University of Jammu located at Raya Suchani in the Samba district of Jammu. Given the present infrastructure, status and facts, the population of Independent Kashmir is literate enough and better placed in terms of education as were India and Pakistan at the time of their independence.

Trade Imbalances

It has always been argued by some that due to the high trade imbalance, imports exceed exports in J&K, food security is thus an important issue. Let’s see how India and Pakistan are surviving.According to a research firm, Trading Economics, India recorded a USD 6.27 billion trade deficit in May of 2016. Balance of Trade in India averaged -2118.52 USD Million from 1957 until 2016, reaching an all-time high of 258.90 USD Million in March of 1977 and a record low of -20210.90 USD Million in October of 2012. India has been recording sustained trade deficits since 1980 mainly due to the high growth of imports, particularly of crude oil, gold and silver. In recent years, the biggest trade deficits were recorded with China, Saudi Arab, Iraq, Switzerland and Kuwait. India records trade surpluses with US, Singapore, Germany, Netherlands and United Kingdom.Pakistan meanwhile recorded a trade deficit of 227733 PKR Million (Data by Research firm: Trading Economics) in May of 2016. Balance of Trade in Pakistan averaged -26918.32 PKR Million from 1957 until 2016, reaching an all-time high of 6457 PKR Million in June of 2003 and a record low of -279186 PKR Million in August of 2014. Pakistan has been running consistent trade deficit since 2003 mainly due to high imports of energy. Since 2012, China has emerged as Pakistan’s largest trading partner replacing the United States. In recent years, the biggest trade deficits were recorded with China, India, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Malaysia. Pakistan records trade surpluses with the United States, Afghanistan, Germany and United Kingdom.If these nations can feed their population with these trade deficits and survive for all these years, why can’t Independent Kashmir?

Economic Opportunities

Agriculture has been the mainstay of J&K’s economy. More than 70% of its population depends upon agriculture for their livelihood. Even though the contribution of agriculture to GSDP is only 17.49% it has forward and backward linkages with other activities particularly the agro based activities. As per Census 2011, out of 100 main and marginal workers, 41 are engaged in agricultural activities.Similarly, Agriculture is a major part of Azad Kashmir’s economy. There are mineral and marble resources in Azad Kashmir close to Mirpur and Muzaffarabad. There are also graphite deposits at Mohriwali. There are also reservoirs of low-grade coal, chalk, bauxite, and zircon. Local household industries produce carved wooden objects, textiles, anddhurrie carpets. There is also an arts and crafts industry that produces cultural goods such as namdas, shawls, pashmina, basketry copper, rugs, wood carving, silk and woolen clothing, patto, carpets, and silverware. Agricultural goods produced in the region include mushrooms, honey, walnuts, apples, cherries, medicinal herbs and plants, resin, deodar, fir, maple, and ash timber.J&K has abundant potential crops like Apple, Almond, Mango, Walnut, Cherry, Apricot, Plum, Kiwi, Litchi, Olive, Citrus, etc. which have high commercial value. High growth in horticulture sector can contribute to the generation of gainful and permanent employment to a sizable number of people. Kashmir’s agriculture has an international identity. Saffron, an agriculture produce, is cultivated in Pulwama and Budgam districts. J&K ranks 1st in India in the qualitative production of saffron. J&K has 27781 km length of rivers/streams facilitating fish farming of more than 40 million tons. Fish production is continuously increasing. During the year 2013-14, 2 lakh quintals fish production was recorded and revenue receipts from fisheries were INR 513.11 lakh (0.77 million USD). Both production as well as export of handicraft goods have made a substantial performance over the years. The production of handicraft goods reached INR 2017.82 crore (302.67 million USD) during 2013-14 from INR 821.53 crore (123.22 million USD) in 2003-04 recording more than two-and-a-half-fold increase during this period. Similarly, export of handicrafts increased from INR 595.00 crore (89.25 million USD) in 2003-04 to INR 1695.65 crore (254.34 million USD) in 2013.14 i.e. it has increased by about three times during this period. In the export figures, share of woolen shawls was highest 34.19% followed by carpets 32.55% during 2013-14.Tourism is not only a growth engine but also an export growth engine and employment generator. The sector has a capacity to create large scale employment, both direct and indirect, for diverse sections of society from the most specialized to not so specialized work force. J&K has a great promise for development of tourism in view of its inherent potential.Energy is one of the key drivers of the economy. J&K is richly endowed with vast water resources having hydel power potential. The estimated hydel power potential of J&K is 20,000 Megawatts. Out of the identified 16475 MW power potential, only 2813.46 MWs or 17 percent has been exploited so far. A former chairman of the State Engineering Corporation, Engr. Hussain Ahmad Siddiqui Azad Kashmir mentions that the state has tremendous potential for hydro-power generation, estimated at over 18,000MW. The J&K is endowed with tremendous mineral resources covering an area of 13334 sq. kms out of which 60% are reported to be commercially viable for mining.

Final Word

With a positive score on almost every front, I will end the write-up by saying that Kashmir can be independent for the greater good of the whole region.

Bilal Hussain is a journalist, and writer. In past he attended the McGraw-Hill Personal Finance Reporting Program Courses, supported by The International Center for Journalists. He was associated with the premier English Daily, Kashmir Times. His principal interests are capital markets, developmental sector and ecological economics. He can be reached at [email protected]

This piece first appeared on Counter Currents in August, the original can be accessed here. 

Leave a Comment