Terror in Kashmir
November 26, 2006
by William P. Meyers

Cashmere sweaters can be had these days for $99.99 and sometimes less. That is what the economists call a benefit of globalization. Cashmere, of course, is the old spelling of Kashmir, a region that got caught in the gap between India and Pakistan when the old British Indian Empire split up. The cashmere goat has the remarkable wool that is spun into cashmere products. "Goat wool sweater" just doesn't have the same ring to it.

Apparently very little of the mass-market cashmere that becomes sweaters sold in the U.S.A. starts on the backs of Kashmir's goats. Caught between the ambitions of the Indian and Pakistani governments for over 50 years now, the people of Kashmir are in bad shape. According to an Economist article (November 25, 2006, p. 42), Doctors Without Borders conducted a survey in two border districts of Kashmir. One in ten people had lost immediate family members to violence; including extended families, the ratio rose to one in three. Almost everyone's house had been raided at least once.

Part of old Kashmir is in India, part in Pakistan, part in China. Geographically it is in the far north of Indian subcontinent, adjacent to China's Tibet region. To understand Kashmir you have to go a way back in history. The valley of Kashmir and the mountains that surround it were ruled by Muslims for about 4 centuries until the early 1800's. Then there was a period of Sikh rulers, followed by Hindi rulers who formed a principality under British rule. Like many princes who did not want to give up their relative independence under the British, in 1947 the maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir chose to remain independent. But when invaded by Pakistani militia he gave into Indian pressure and turned the territory over to India. When the fighting stopped Pakistan had about a third of the old kingdom and India had two-thirds, including the Kashmir Valley.

All kinds of people live in Kashmir: Sikhs, Buddists, Hindis and various Moslem sects. The majority are Moslem, so it is only the will of a minority ruler and India's army that allowed the area to come under Indian administration. Old Ghandi and his disciple Nehru weren't so keen on non-violence once they had the guns instead of the Brits.

The war goes on. Pakistan is accused of training militias ("terrorists") who fight the Indian army. Their goal is to make all of Kashmir a part of Pakistan.

Of course, if it were part of Pakistan, there is no reason to think the fighting would end. Pakistan lately has been at war with itself on a number of fronts.

It is a good argument for Anarchism. The problem is not really one of religion. A variety of religious groups have lived in the area for centuries, mostly getting along, sometimes fighting. The problem is big governments pushing their agendas on people who would be far better off left alone.

India is a big, world class nation with a world class economy. Kashmir is just an economic drain. A sane man would negotiate protections for the Hindi minority, then hand it over to Pakistan. Maybe then both Pakistan and India could scale back their military spending and do more for their still impoverished citizens.