“History repeats itself, that’s one of the things that’s wrong with history.” -Clarence Darrow

Understanding World Geopolitics & Its Impact On Kashmir

Vijay K. Sazawal, Ph.D.

22 February 1992

This article describes sweeping changes taking place around the world as a result of the demise of the soviet empire and the emergence of radical Islam, and both factors have serious implications on peace and security in Jammu and Kashmir.


On January 14, 1992, in an announcement that did not grab the world headlines, the United States (US) endorsed the assumption of power in Algeria by its military. This announcement, which perhaps did not get adequate attention in the Indian press, represented a stunning reversal of the political position advocated by the US only a day earlier. In that one day, the US made crucial decisions with far reaching implications. In fact, as will be discussed later, the US announcement on Algeria will prove to be a major debacle for Pakistan and its trained terrorist operatives in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir (hereafter called Kashmir). These repercussions far exceed anything that the “Operation Vikram” achieved or could have even under the best circumstances.

Enter into the world of international diplomacy and politics, where seemingly unrelated events are interlinked like the match pieces in an intricate global chess game. Here the winners are decided not by engaging in bloody military battles, but by the skillful art of negotiation and persuasion. For Kashmiri Pandits (KPs) this is particularly a fascinating arena, because like the diplomats, KPs have made up by their mental prowess what they have lacked in numbers in an increasingly hostile environment. Today that vision fits even more to the situation in Kashmir, where numbers do not bode well for India and the traditional methods of law and order have not yet yielded (and may not yield) the results hoped for. The turning point for India may come only if it wins decisively in the “invisible war” fought by the agile warriors armed with nothing more than sharp minds and worn out passports.

The political situation in Algeria, the outcome of the turmoil in Yugoslavia and Afganistan, the new initiative on Cyprus by the United Nations (UN) and the dissolution of the Soviet Union – all directly impact the shape of the things to emerge in Kashmir. Of all these events, the formation of the independent states in the former Soviet Union and the resurgence of the Islamic fundamentalism are more significant because these create both the menace (to destablize Kashmir) and the opportunity (to isolate Pakistan and its agents), provided India plays like a master chess player. How quickly India capitalizes on the changing world order, the emergence of a single super power, the growing role of the UN Security Council as the enforcer, and the new regional alliances will play an important role, and perhaps the dominant role, in bringing the law and order back in Kashmir. The influencing events reiterate the international dimensions to the Kashmir issue. In that sense, Kashmir is indeed like no other state in the Indian Union.

Kashmir’s Strategic Significance – A Historical Perspective

To understand the interest of big powers in Kashmir, it is important to understand the strategic significance of some key events from the recent history of Kashmir. In the 20 years preceeding Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s death in 1839, Britain was forced to reassess the strategic significance of the region that, on one hand, bordered with the Russian Empire in the north and the British Empire in the south, and on the other, was a geographical buffer between the Mongoloids in the east and the Caucasians in the west. The close proximity of the dates in signing the Treaty of Lahore and the Treaty of Amritsar, that resulted in the transfer of Kashmir from the Sikhs to the Dogras, was clearly no accident and in fact a reaffirmation of continuing British interest in keeping a close watch on Kashmir. Subsequent communist takeover of Russia gave credence to the British concerns. It did not take very long after Maharaja Hari Singh (the most Anglophile of all the Dogra kings) ascended the throne that the State Subject Rules were promulgated in 1927, which was intended to insulate Kashmir from foreign intrigue and machinations. Inspite of having the Resident to look after their interests, the British took no chances and Gilgat was put under the direct British rule in 1935. While India was given independence in 1947, the colonial rule in India really ended on 21st June 1948, when Lord Mountbatten finally left for good, but not before he ensured continuing British involvement in the Kashmir affairs. This he did by unilaterally raising the plebiscite issue while accepting the Instrument of Accession, something that was without precedent, even though the document that Maharaja Hari Singh signed invoked the same agreements that the other Maharajas did. Furthermore, Lord Mountbatten was instrumental in forcing Pt. Nehru to take the Kashmir issue to the UN, thus making sure that Britain would be a party to any decisions regarding the State. Subsequently, when the UN observers were permanently stationed in Kashmir, the dispute escalated to an international problem.

At this juncture, the Americans began to take interest, and looking at the world geopolitical situation, they came to the same conclusion that the British did in the early 1800’s, that there is more to Kashmir than meets the eye. With Pakistan firmly in the US camp (leading eventually to the CENTO alliance), it seemed rather abnormal to the Americans that Kashmir’s “maximum leader”, Shiekh Mohammad Abdullah, would not align with Islamic Pakistan. This was naively attributed by the US to Shiekh’s leftist leanings, and somewhat borne out by the pseudo Socialist-Marxist manifesto of the “Naya Kashmir” program promoted by the National Conference. This factor was in fact a key handicap in Shiekh’s persistent but unsuccessful efforts to arouse the American interest in him. Notwithstanding some public and some secret visits by the Americans to Kashmir in early 1950’s, including Amdassador Loy Henderson, Adlai Stevenson and others, the US interest stayed at a relatively low level.

The picture got considerably muddier when Soviet Union joined the act, and the Indian-Soviet alliance arrayed itself against the Pakistani-American alliance on local and global issues. Kashmir received special attention at the UN, resulting in a few vetos from the Soviet Union in the Security Council that endeared them to the Indian masses. A highlight of the special relationship during this period was the visit by Nikita Khrushev to Kashmir in 1955. The polarization between the East and the West was complete and both sides expended lot of effort and expense in pursuing the policies that emanated from the cold war.

In the global scheme of things, Kashmir problem fell into a stalemate and the big powers began to accept the defacto geopolitical situation in the Indian Subcontinent with a certain degree of acquiescence. The geographical boundaries, which had been drawn only a few decades earlier, suddenly became etched into historical significance. The big powers reinforced the sanctity of the post-colonial boundaries in the Subcontinent when both sides in the Indo-Pak war of 1965 were forced to go back to the established boundaries prior to the conflict. During this period, Shiekh’s incarceration and his trips to Algiers, Pakistan and else where were considered of minor significance in altering the basic geopolitical balance in the Subcontinent. The reason partly was because of the “self rule” provided to Kashmiris through the Article 370 of the Indian Constitution. This Article is considered a key factor in the existing geopolitical balance because it translated the UN resolutions on Kashmir to an acceptable political solution on the Subcontinent. Even though the UN resolutions were never implemented, the big powers were assured that Kashmir had an autonomous identity within the Indian Union and therefore no hasty decisions were necessary.

A major opportunity for altering the geopolitical balance in the Subcontinent arose with India’s military victory resulting in the creation of Bangladesh in 1971. However, India failed to translate the military victory into a political victory over Pakistan, and a major opportunity for change slipped by. With the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the world has changed dramatically, and Kashmir is again in focus in more ways than apparent.

Dissolution of the Soviet Union

The breakup of the Soviet Union brings Kashmir closer to the center of world turmoil, as the six southern Muslim states in the former USSR go their separate ways in fostering new political and economic relationships with their old and new neighbors. Even as India renews the Friendship Treaty with the Russian Federation (which has assumed most of the foreign treaties and obligations of the former union), the political significance of such an alliance is small in the new world order. The only glimmer of hope is that the new commonwealth will maintain a unified nuclear command. That is by no means certain because of the mistrust between the slavic Christian states to the north and the turkic Muslim states in the south. The territory that starts in Kazakhistan and curves south, encompassing Kirgizia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenia and Azerbaijan is part of a broader crescent shaped region extending through the Gulf region to the northern coast of Africa that forms a Muslim belt of nations undergoing considerable turbulence and volatility at this time. Even the Xinjiang province in China, touching the borders of Kirghizia and Kazakistan, is caught in the same vortex of political and religious upheaval.

The most disturbing outcome from the dissolution of the Soviet Union is the creation of new nuclear states within the region. The largest Muslim state, Kazakhstan, is a major nuclear power with SS-18 missile fields, strategic airbases and launching sites (Baikonur Space Center), and an established nuclear weapons complex involving research and production facilities (Semipalatinsk Test Site). In fact, as late as December 20, 1991, a six-warhead SS-l9 intercontinental nuclear missile was test fired from the Tyuraton test ground in an apparent violation of the strategic arms reduction treaty (START). Khazakistan has gone on record that it intends to retain its nuclear weapons as long as Russia remains a nuclear power. It is not surprising then that Pakistan and other Muslim countries are working hard at fostering new relationship with Kazakhistan and the neighbouring Muslim states of the communist empire with a mix of Islamic fervor and financial assistance that will prove highly potent and deadly in the long run. Already the changes are evident. At the meeting of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), held in Dakar (Senegal) in December 1991, Kazakistan and Azerbaijan were in attendance and supported the Pakistani resolution that condemned India’s treatment of the Muslims in Kashmir.

Looking at the Islamic crescent from the east to the west, it is clear that the fundamentalist zealots are attempting to create a nucleus of an Islamic strategic bloc extending from China to Turkey and beyond. Among the Muslim settlements, only Kashmir and Afganistan stand in the way to a complete Islamic fundamentalist hegemony in the region. Both are undergoing a severe test of survival at this time. Afganistan has a section of the Muslim populace willing to stand up to the fundamentalists, but lacks the world recognition and support. In Kashmir, the reverse is true. India could bring the recognition and support if only a section of the Muslim majority could muster courage to stand up to the fundamentalists.

Islamic Fundamentalism

Islamic fundamentalism is Kashmir is a very small part of a bigger and a much more sinister problem. At the heart of the issue is the decadent life style of the Muslim ruling class around the world and the widening gap between the masters and the subjects on important issues of economy, human rights, politics and the way of life. The resurgence of Islamic fundamentalism is a manifestation of growing sense of helplessness in the Muslim people who desire to return to the purity, simplicity and the family values espoused by their religion. This is a powerful ideology, and with communism in its last throes, Islam is quickly replacing it as doctrine of the times that has universal relevance to the economic, social and moral ills of the present day society. In its idealistic form it indeed offers true salvation to its believers.

The fundamentalist’s greatest handicap, however, is his inability to distinguish between the spiritual demands imposed by the religion and the secular outlook necessary in dealing with the rest of the society and the world in general. The result is turmoil and mayhem, and the fallout is evident in all the major Muslim countries like Egypt, Indonesia, Morocco, Pakistan, Algeria, Tunisia, etc. Algeria is a case in point – recently Muslim fundamentalists rode a wave of discontent over its soaring unemployment, government corruption and inflation and scored major election gains with a simple slogan, “No constitution and no laws. The only rule is the Koran and the law of God.” While Algeria’s secular army, with a quiet nod of approval from the big powers, swiftly cracked down on the fundamentalists, the issue has by no means been resolved and the whole Muslim world is waiting for the next chapter in this episode. The Muslim rulers and leaders around the world are keenly watching the Algerian situation because it is a precursor for the events that will be repeated elsewhere. Those particulary skilled in the art of survival will not only look for ways to retain their grip on the masses, but should be able to harness the discontent to their advantage.

The result is a fierce battle being waged to capture the hearts and minds of the Muslims around the world. The warring factions are led by Saudi Arabia on one side and Iran on the other. Behind the scenes, these two nations are locked in a serious combat for the supremacy of the fundamentalist Islamic movement. For Saudi monarchy, the “custodian of the two holy places”, the money it doles out to hundreds of mosques, religious schools and related causes world wide ensures its survival and a prominant place in the Muslim world inspite of the the fact that most Muslims are uncomfortable with the Saudi royal family for its un-Islamic (extravagant) life style. The fact that the Saudi royal family, like the majority of Muslims, are Sunnis makes it easy for the masses to accept their dominant role, though even in Saudi Arabia a cadre of young fundamentalists is opening challenging the royal family. Iranians, on the other hand being Shias, make up in fervor what they can not in numbers, and are determined to become the world leader of Islam. Their Imams have displayed the charisma and dedication to challenge the established order, winning new converts to their cause. They see the the next world war to be between Islam and Christianity and are building up regional alliances much like the political activity that preceeded World Wars I and II.

Therfore it is important to realize that Islamic fundamentalism is a world wide phenomenon, germinated with the best of the intentions, but along the way was exploited by the decadent rulers of Saudi Arabia and the fiery Imams of Iran who have vested interest in continuing exploitation of the Muslim masses.

The Muslim states of the former Soviet Union is the new frontier in this battle. Iranians have the advantage of proximity to the scene, and a marriage of convenience has taken place whereby the Muslim states are trading the military weaponry of the former Soviet Union (that Iran sorely needs) against the cash and food, both of which are in short supply in the region. There are reliable reports that Iran recently allocated $130 million to step up their religious and political activities within the new frontier. There is also a rumor, denied by the parties, that Iran paid $150 million to purchase 3 nuclear weapons from Kazakhistan (allegedly at the very same time that Iran was openly negotiating with India for the purchase of nuclear technology for civilian use, creating a convenient distraction), and has hired 50 nuclear experts for its clandestine nuclear program.

Kashmir, sitting on the fringes of this troubled region, is getting its share of the turbulence. Pakistan, universally recognized as the surrogate of the Saudis, has been the “arms and legs” for the Saudi causes in many parts of the world, not just in Kashmir. In fact, it is leading the charge for the Saudi monarchy, and against Iran, in the former Soviet states using the tactics that were tested and honed in Kashmir. A key element in the Pakistani strategy is the Jackyl and Hyde approach, whereby they come across as pro-Saudi but anti-American, thereby keeping balance between the masters and the masses, without exposing the Saudi hand.

Fundamentalism Worldwide

Islamic fundamentalism is a source of great concern not only to India, but to all the big powers, who see the spreading extremist doctrine to be the greatest threat to the modern secular way of life. The fall of the Shah of Iran, the assasination of Anwar Sadat and the destruction of the American Marine barracks in Lebanon provided a psychological boost to the international Islamic fundamentalist movement in its infancy resulting in a political and social virus that has infected most Muslim countries and is now spreading to countries with large Muslim population. Stopping the virus from spreading further will require isolationary measures, beginning with the Muslim countries themselves. Therefore it is of great interest to see how modern Islamic societies in Turkey, Eqypt, Algeria and elsewhere will control, and eventually, cool the fervor down. In the Muslim countries the fundamentalists are waging a battle amongst their own religious order and the outcome will have far reaching implications for the rest of the world.

It would be a grave mistake to assume that the fundamentalism is confined to the Muslim religion or nations only. The world wide economic, moral and political chaos is giving rise to extremist religious and political movements elsewhere. In Europe, the emerging political rehabilitation of neo-nazis in Germany, Austria, Italy and Bulgaria has generated considerable right wing hysteria against foreigners in general and Muslims immigrants in particular. In the US, Ku Klux Klan is on the verge of becoming a mainstream Christian movement that espouses white supramacy and hatred towards blacks (many of whom are Muslims). Another group called the Aryan Nation is advocating armed struggle against Jews and others. These movements are a manifestation of public frustations against the established order much like the Islamic fundamentalism.

The Indian Subcontinent, suffering from the same economical malaise, is also a fertile breeding ground for the fundementalists. In India the recent emergence of the so called “right wing” religious and political parties is consistent with the trends seen worldwide. The political leaders of such organizations see a constituency of voters willing, and in fact eager, to reaffirm their religious roots and prejudices, much like the way that Mr. David Duke is capitalizing on the public discontent with the current economic and moral upheaval in the US. Both the “Nizam-E-Mustafa” movement in Pakistan and “Hindutva” movement in India are revivalist campaigns trying to mobilize public opinion towards religious assertion. While the differences in the two movements come from the differing demands imposed by the two religious orders, the underlying appeal is basically the same. The world it seems is being swayed by a new crop of populists who are skillfully exploiting religion to advance their political agenda. The problem in Kashmir today is indeed the problem of the world in the next century.

The Big Powers and Kashmir

When the US changed its posture towards the imposition of the military rule in Algeria on January 14, 1992, it publicly recognized Islamic fundamentalism as a greater threat to world peace than the lack of democratic process. The decision was reached after careful analysis of the world geopolitical situation and has a direct bearing on the Kashmir issue. As an immediate benefit, it provides India greater flexibility, and more importantly additional time, to bring the situation in Kashmir under control. This is the good news. The bad news is that Kashmir has high visibility on the world stage. Both Thomas Pickering, the US representative to the UN (and soon to be ambassador to India) and Douglas Hurd, the British Foreign Secretary, have been quoted in the last few months to state that “The position of Kashmir cannot be placed indefinitely on a back burner.” Even the usually pro-India Senator Claiborne Pell, Chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, stated recently that “If Yugoslavia and Soviet Union can split into prior sovereign states, why not Kashmir?” Kashmir’s strategic importance, along with the recent upsurge in violence, have brought renewed attention to the area.

In the era of “global village”, the advances in communications technology allow unprecedented coverage of news even from the remotest regions of the world. No where is this highlighted better than in the western world where a combination of competitive journalism and access to high technology has provided public with new awareness of the world. This has allowed world leaders to be well informed of the Kashmir situation, independent of the official pronouncements from India and Pakistan. The three scenerios on Kashmir (in the increasing order of complexity) generally played in the world press are as follows:

  1. “Religious Strife in the Subcontinent” – This is the business-as-usual scenerio advocated initially by the British that the Subcontinent is inherently unstable because of warring castes and religions. Tragic as this evaluation is, this simplistic view is shared by a large number of observers who cite Kashmir problem as yet another manifestation of the anarchy prevalent in the Subcontinent. This naive assessment is actually favorable to India because it does not distinguish Kashmir as a separate issue that Pakistan has tried to portray.
  2. “Repeat of 1971” – This scenerio compares Kashmir’s alienation with India akin to Pakistani debacle in Bangladesh. Implicit in this scenerio is the inhuman suffering by the oppressed people prior to their liberation.
  3. “Changing World Order” – In this scenerio Kashmir situation is bracketed with the changes currently underway globally. For example, Kashmir is compared to the breakaway Croatia (mostly catholics) from Yugoslavia dominated by the Serbs (mostly orthodox). Implicit in this scenerio is that multi-ethnic states are inherently unstable, and can fall apart with overt and covert assistance from the neighboring countries. The neighboring countries offering assistance to Croatia are Germany and Austria, both with majority catholic population. (Northern Ireland has been historically compared to Kashmir, but the similarities are limited. Besides, no country is officially supporting the Irish Republican Army.)

There is a general recognition world wide that Pakistan (along with Afghan mujahideens) are training and arming the Kashmiri youth to fight the administration in Kashmir. Why it has not led to hue and cry is that in the final analysis, It is India that has to demonstrate to the world that it can face up to such challenges and keep the Union together. In other words, it is up to India to bring back peace and tranquility in Kashmir. The general assessment by the big powers is that even if the external influences were to cease, the situation in Kashmir will not return to normalcy without serious political dialogue and adjustment with the secular minded leaders of the rebellion, whose cooperation is essential in putting out the fundamentalist fires. From that perspective, the clock in Kashmir is ticking. If the issues of human rights and Islamic fundamentalism continue to dominate the Kashmir scene, it will not be long before the Kashmir issue is taken up by the UN again. That would be unfortunate not only because it will provide a psychological victory to Pakistan and its cohorts, it will also undermine the Shimla Agreement, the autonomous identity of the state within the Indian Union under the Article 370, and the basic geopolitical balance in the Subcontinent. The big powers are keenly aware of the potential threat posed by the nuclear weapons in the next conflict between India and Pakistan and would like to see the two nations continue with the bilateral talks as long as possible. Unless events in Kashmir dictate a new sense of urgency, the time is still in India favor but the situation can not continue in the present state indefinitely.

At the tier below the UN debate, there is a possibility of the US or the UN backed discussions either like the highly visible Yugoslavian initiative or like the less visible, but equally demanding, Cyprus talks for which the US has appointed a trouble shooter who is currently engaged in discreet negotiations with warring Greece and Turkey. Underlining the diplomatic process is the basic conviction that political process must overtake military options. In Kashmir, unless the issues are resolved by political discussions now, the next window of opportunity for peace will not reappear for another 15 years. The lesson from Lebanon is that it was aging, not foreign intervention, that finally defeated the militants. As the newer generation grew increasingly dischanted with anarchy and violence, the movement basically fell back to the original generation of warriors who could not sustain it on their own. As the Beirut bandits of 1970’s advanced to the middle age in 1990’s, they suddenly came face to face with changing priorities of life. Unfortunately Lebanon is a vast grave yard today and Kashmir is too beautiful to be sacrificed in the same manner.

Options for India

The key to Indian diplomatic success is flexibility. For India to isolate Pakistan as an outlaw nation building a clandestine Islamic nuclear bomb, exporting terrorism, sponsoring Islamic fundamentalism, persecuting non Muslims and engaged in world wide drug trafficking, will require an agressive and proactive campaign that demands the best brains and brawn that the country can offer. At the core of the new initiative should be a realistic foreign policy based on strategic vision for the future and India’s rightful place in the leading nations of the world. Recent decisions by India, like the recognition of Israel, would indicate a fundamental shift in the foreign policy, but it is only a start. In the world of real politick, how the big powers will react in India’s favor will depend, to a large extent, on how successfully India can negotiate the give and take on controversial issues like the immigration and Africa (with Britain), Tibet and Russia (with China) and nuclear proliferation and trade (with the US).

In terms of regional alliances, besides Israel India must place high priority on establishing closer diplomatic and economic relationship with Turkey because of its immense influence over the Muslim states of the former Soviet Union, who all speak turkic and are trying to emulate the Turkish model of government and economy. India must continue its alignment with Afganistan and Iraq (at low key until Saddam Hussain’s departure) and settle its differences with China quickly. China, more than any other big power, is keenly sensitive to Islamic fundamentalism within its borders and will be open to joint agreements in this regard. Finally, the bilateral talks with Pakistan must continue, if only to keep the Shimla Agreement alive and the Kashmir issue away from the UN.

Eventually though, India has to recognize and acknowledge the root cause for the problems in Kashmir today. Indian tax payers, who have seen billions pumped into the deficit Kashmiri economy over the last 40 years deserve to know why the majority of the people in the state are dissatisfied with India. The tragedy of Kashmir is how closely it mirrors the Iranian situation where the Abdullah family is compared to the Pahlavis and India to the “great satan” America. India, by investing all the trust in a liege and his coterie of power hungry associates (about 50 Muslim families), who usurped all the judicial and constitutional processes in the State for their personal financial gain, alienated the masses and provided a breeding ground for the Islamic fundamentalists. Worse still, when the fundamentalists appeared to be gaining an upper hand, the government (both the State and the Center) stayed indifferent, making the fundamentalists even more daring and ruthless. Along the way, the entire community of Kashmiri Pandits paid for their allegiance to the nation by being forced out of their homeland into the unwelcome arms of the Center. The situation is not easily reversible now, but one can hope that in the end sanity will prevail and political negotiations will take place.

India’s worst offense will be to believe in the second coming of the past Kashmiri leaders (who are currently making rounds in Delhi under various political affliations), ignoring the fact that these are the people who created the problem in the first place. A bold new vision is needed to bring all the parties involved (for example, the ignored Kashmiri Pandits and a broader Muslim participation including those in the jails) to a conference table, and no solution is possible without compromises on all the sides. A model of civility is the debate underway in Canada, where Quebec province is trying to secede from the union. Inspite of grave provocations from the sovereignty seeking Parti Quebecois, the confrontation has been limited to a “war of words” so far.


The grave situation in Kashmir demands a new political offensive by India at local, regional and international levels. The crucial test is the success of local initiatives in order to pre-empt any international moves that are detrimental to the Indian interests. Meaningful negotiation, not aimless confrontation, is the key to a successful outcome. It is all a matter of timing and diplomacy.

This article also appeared in the iakf.org Please click here to view the same.


About Me

Dr. Vijay Sazawal is a policy analyst and a commentator who specializes in local governance and intra-community issues affecting political dynamics within the Kashmir valley. He has written extensively on the current political turmoil in Jammu and Kashmir (commonly referred to as Kashmir), arguing for new and innovative approaches in understanding and resolving the simmering discontent in all communities and regions of the State.


Jammu & Kashmir Map