The Hindu kingdom of Kashmir was mentioned in the Mahabharata and the valley became a major centre for Buddhist learning under the Emperor Ashoka in the 3rd century BC. Kashmiri mural artists travelled across the Himalaya, creating fabulous monastery murals in Ladakh, Lahaul and Spiti. Sufi mystics brought Islam to Kashmir in the 13th century and Hindu and Buddhist culture went into rapid decline. The Mughals consolidated their hold on the valley during the reign of Sultan Sikander (1389–1413), who ordered the destruction of most of the Hindu temples and Buddhist monasteries in the valley. Followers of Buddhism fled east towards Ladakh, but the Hindu pandits were granted protection under Akbar (1556–1605) and the Kashmiri style of painting found a new expression in the lavish interiors of Srinagar’s mosques.
By the time the British arrived in India, Jammu and Kashmir was a loose affiliation of independent kingdoms, nominally under the control of the Sikh rulers of Jammu. After the British defeated the Sikhs they handed Kashmir to the Hindu Dogra dynasty, who ruled from 1846 until Independence.
Most of the current problems in Kashmir began with Partition. Although the princely state of Kashmir had a majority Muslim population, its maharaja initially refused to sign up with either India or Pakistan. After months of equivocation, an invasion by Pashtun tribesmen, backed by the new government in Pakistan, persuaded the maharaja to throw in his lot with India. Pandit Nehru, himself a Kashmiri Hindu, sent troops to secure the border, sparking the first India–Pakistan war.
By the end of the conflict, two-thirds of the state was under Indian control, including the majority-Muslim Kashmir Valley, while the remaining third was held by Pakistan. This sparsely inhabited area has been the main cause of tension between India and Pakistan ever since. In 1949, the UN established a tenuous border – known as the Line of Control – but Pakistan invaded again in 1965, triggering another protracted conflict.
Hindus and Buddhists were generally content with Indian rule, but the Muslim population grew increasingly restive. When promises of increased autonomy failed to materialise, a militant fringe turned to armed rebellion. The Indian army responded with brutal force, increasing resentment in the valley. By 1990, the state was awash with freedom fighters, some from Kashmir but rather more from Afghanistan and Pakistan, ensuring a pro-Pakistan agenda.
In fact, most Indian Kashmiris would rather be independent of both India and Pakistan. Most of the mainstream political parties, including the ruling Congress–Jammu and Kashmir People’s Democratic Party coalition, are working towards autonomy or full independence for Kashmir. However, the conflict has also become a cause célèbre for Islamic radicals. The two most active insurgent groups – Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad – were founded by Afghan mujahideen with the aim of restoring Muslim rule over India. The claim that militants are fighting for the rights of Kashmiris is undermined by the treatment of women in militant-controlled areas. Every year, dozens of Kashmiri women are executed for perceived transgressions against Islam or mutilated as a warning to families who fail to support the insurgency.
In 1990, Kashmir was placed under direct rule from Delhi, triggering 16 years of bloody unrest. Massacres and bomb attacks by militants were matched by human rights abuses by the Indian army, including the unexplained disappearance of 4000 people. Elections in 1996 led to calls for the division of Kashmir along religious lines, but this was rejected by Delhi.
Following a series of nuclear tests by the Indian government in 1998, tensions in the region rose almost to breaking point. Pakistan responded with its own tests, then mounted an incursion across the Line of Control near Kargil, before the UN talked the two countries back from the brink.
Subsequent elections have led to increasing autonomy for Kashmir, matched by a significant reduction in levels of violence across the Line of Control. India and Pakistan were forced together by the devastating Kashmiri earthquake in October 2005. As this book went to press, the leaders of Pakistan and India had agreed in principle to abandon their claim to the other portion of Kashmir.
However, militant attacks on soldiers, civilians and domestic tourists continued throughout 2006. Travellers should be aware of the ongoing security risks in Kashmir and plan accordingly.