H. P. Srivastava, "Kashmir," Collier's Encyclopedia, 1998


KASHMIR , disputed area in the extreme north of the Indian subcontinent. India has claimed the entire area, which encompasses 85,806 square miles (222,236 sq km) and is bordered by Pakistan in the west, by Afghanistan in the north, by the Xinjiang Uygur and Tibet autonomous regions of China in the north and east, and by the Indian states of Himachal Pradesh and Punjab in the south. Pakistan and China dispute India's claims. Pakistan once claimed all Kashmir and now controls 30,476 square miles (78,932 sq km) in the northwest. China controls about 16,500 square miles (42,735 sq km) in the northeast. The Indian area is administered as the state of Jammu and Kashmir, which has an area of some 38,830 square miles (100,569 sq km). Much of the Pakistani area is administered as Azad ("free") Kashmir.

Physical Geography and Climate. Kashmir can be divided into several distinct regions. In the southwest, around Jammu city, is a narrow, severely eroded, barren strip of the Punjab Plain. The topography rises to the Siwalik foothills and the Lesser Himalayas (Pir Panjal Range) in the northeast. The Lesser Himalayas, with peaks reaching 15,500 feet (4,725 meters), form a boundary of the second region, the famous Vale of Kashmir. The Vale, or valley, is a large basin, about 85 miles (135 km) long by 25 miles (40 km) wide, with a mean altitude of some 5,500 feet (1,675 meters). It is the most heavily populated region in Kashmir, and contains the largest city, Srinagar, located on the Jhelum River near Dal Lake. Wular is the largest of several other lakes in the valley. Northeast of the Vale is the Great Himalaya Range. Its peaks rise more than 23,400 feet (7,135 meters) above sea level. Beyond the Great Himalayas is the Ladakh region, a high, mountainous plateau. Also known as Little Tibet, Ladakh is cut by the upper Indus River valley. North of Ladakh is the majestic Karakoram Range. The world's second-highest peak, K2, also known as Mount Godwin Austen and Qogir Feng, is in this range. K2 reaches an altitude of 28,250 feet (8,611 meters). There are many other lofty peaks. Beyond the Karakoram is the Aksai Chin Plateau, occupied by China. North of the Vale of Kashmir and west Ladakh are territories occupied by Pakistan. The terrain there is similar to Ladakh's.

The climate of Kashmir varies widely, even within small areas. Srinagar averages about 25 inches (635 mm) of precipitation annually, while Jammu receives about 30 inches (760 mm). Leh, the largest city in the Ladakh region, averages only about 3 inches (75 mm). Agriculture in the northern areas depends upon glacial runoff for moisture. Mean January and July temperatures in Srinagar are about 31F. (-1C) and 70F. (21C.), respectively. Temperatures are warmer in the south and colder in the north.

People. Reliable population figures are only available for Indian-held Kashmir, which had 7,718,700 inhabitants according to the 1991 Indian census. The population is predominantly rural, but the urban population has increased at a rapid rate, placing tremendous pressure on the cities of Jammu (pop. 1981, 206,135), the winter capital, and Srinagar (594,775), the summer capital. The Pakistani part of Kashmir contained about 2.8 million people in the later 1980's. Muzaffarabad is a seat of government there.

Kashmir is populated by several distinct ethnic groups. The people of the Jammu area are related to those of the Punjab. They are mostly Hindu, with a Sikh minority. Hindi, Dogri, and Punjabi are the most common languages. The principal religion in the Vale of Kashmir is Islam. The people there are descended from several central Asian groups, and the major languages are Urdu and Kashmiri. In Ladakh, a sparsely populated area, the inhabitants are related to the people of Tibet. Most are Buddhist. Balti and Ladakhi are the primary languages. Jammu and Kashmir is the only state of India with a Muslim majority.

Points of Interest. Kashmir contains many points of interest, notably several religious shrines. The Hazratbal Mosque in Srinagar is especially sacred to Muslims, because a reputed hair of the prophet Muhammad is held there. Hindu shrines include Amarnath Cave, northeast of Srinagar, and Vaishno Devi, outside Jammu city. Numerous Gompas (Buddhist monasteries) dot the Ladakh region.

Kashmir has been a summer retreat for rulers of India for centuries. The Mogul (Mughal) rulers of the 16th and 17th centuries left several gardens, the most famous of which are Nishat and Shalimar, at Srinagar. On Dal Lake are numerous houseboats, which were first brought there when the British colonizers were not permitted to own land in the region and therefore lived in boats. The hill stations of Pahalgam, Sonamarg, and Gulmarg were established by the British as summer administrative centers. Today they are popular vacation spots. Kashmir's educational institutions include the University of Jammu (in Jammu) and the University of Kashmir (in Srinagar).

Economy. Tourism is a growing industry in Kashmir, but agriculture still supports about four fifths of the people. Major crops include rice, wheat, barley, chick-peas, millet, and maize. Fruit orchards are gaining in importance, and forestry provides important income as well. Kashmir is well known for its handicrafts, including hand-knotted carpets, carved wood, papier-mch items and silver and copper ware. The limited transportation facilities are concentrated at Jammu. Airports serve Jammu, Srinagar, and Leh.

History. Sitting astride old trade routes linking China, India, and central Asia, Kashmir has long been an area of strategic importance to dynasties centered in India. In the third century b.c., Kashmir was part of the Maurya Empire, and Buddhism was introduced by Asoka, a Maurya emperor. For several centuries thereafter the region was dominated by local rulers, and a synthesis of Hindu and Buddhist culture resulted.

Muslim rule in Kashmir began around the middle of the 14th century a.d., and continued under the Mogul (Mughal) empire when Akbar, a Mogul emperor, conquered the region in 1587. With the fall of the Mogul Empire, Pathan rulers controlled Kashmir from 1752 to 1819, considered by Kashmiris to be a brutal period in their history. The Jammu region was divided among numerous small principalities, many of which were later consolidated under the Dogra family. In 1819 the Dogra state was annexed by Ranjit Singh, the Sikh ruler of the Punjab during 1801-1839. In 1846, after the Sikhs had been defeated by the British in the First Sikh War, Gulab Singh, a scion of the Dogra family and a former minister at Ranjit Singh's court, bought the right to rule most of Kashmir from the British for 7.5 million rupees. The administration of the Hindu Dogras, who ruled under the "protection" of the British, was not popular in the Muslim-dominated Kashmir. Nevertheless, the Dogras remained in control of Kashmir until India and Pakistan became independent in 1947, despite agitation for democratic reforms by such leaders as Sheikh Abdullah.

British paramountcy in Kashmir ended with the Indian Independence Act of 1947. The princely state was then theoretically free to join either India or Pakistan. Hari Singh, the Hindu maharaja of Kashmir, was pressured by both India and Pakistan, and considered maintaining his autonomy. He arranged a standstill agreement with the two countries, but Pakistan subsequently imposed a blockade. At that time--1947--the only major road south from the Vale of Kashmir led directly into Pakistan. In October busloads of armed Pathans and Pakistani troops, both Muslim, entered western and northwestern Kashmir. The maharaja appealed for help from India, and on Oct. 26, 1947, agreed to become part of that country. The agreement resulted in warfare between Pakistani and Indian troops. Complaints were filed by the two countries with the United Nations, and a UN-arranged cease-fire took hold in January 1949. In mid-1949, India and Pakistan agreed to temporary boundaries of their areas of control. UN resolutions were later passed calling for troop withdrawals and a plebiscite to determine sovereignty, but no plebiscite has ever been held.

In 1959, Indian troops discovered a road built by the Chinese through the desolate Aksai Chin Plateau in northeast Kashmir. India saw this as part of an aggressive attempt by China to extend its influence in Kashmir. After sporadic fighting, China made a sudden military advance into Kashmir in 1962, then withdrew somewhat, retaining control in the region beyond the Karakorams.

There was renewed fighting between India and Pakistan in 1971, at the time of the secession of Bangladesh from Pakistan. India won a quick victory. The subsequent Simla Agreement of mid-1972 established the current dividing line between the Indian and Pakistani parts of Kashmir.

In the 1980's there was agitation in Kashmir by Muslim groups (including the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front) seeking independence for the region or accession to Pakistan. Tension increased dramatically in early 1990, as Muslims in Jammu and Kashmir organized mass demonstrations calling for an end to Indian control of the area. India responded with a violent crackdown. Bloodshed reached a peak in May, when Indian forces fired into the huge crowd of mourners at the funeral of Maulvi Muhammad Farooq, a leading Muslim cleric who had been assassinated. Because of the violence, many of the 150,000 Hindus living in the Vale of Kashmir fled the area for temporary resettlement camps. Tension remained high in 1991, with deadly clashes occurring in the Srinagar area in May.

Copyright 1997 Collier Newfield, Inc., all rights reserved.


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