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Kashmir: India and Pakistan's bitter dispute

By Moni Basu, CNN
An Indian paramilitary trooper stands guard on a curfew bound street in Srinagar on September 24.
An Indian paramilitary trooper stands guard on a curfew bound street in Srinagar on September 24.
  • Territory under dispute lies in India's Kashmir Valley
  • Kashmir caught up in birth of India, Pakistan
  • Kashmir ruler eventually chose to join India
  • India and Pakistan have fought two of three wars over the territorial issue

(CNN) -- Violent protests erupted this summer in India's Kashmir region, resulting in the worst bloodshed in a decade. Many of the demonstrators want independence from India, while New Delhi has always said the unrest is fueled by Pakistani-sponsored extremists. Here is a brief look at the dispute.

What is Kashmir?

Kashmir is a Himalayan region that borders India, Pakistan and China. Known for its majestic landscape, Kashmir has figured prominently in the history and legends of the Indian subcontinent. It was known as "paradise on Earth" and before the insurgency, Indians flocked to Kashmir for vacations and blockbuster Bollywood movies were filmed there.

On the Pakistani side, Kashmir includes the areas known as Azad (Free) Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan.

The territory under dispute lies in India's Kashmir Valley, separated from Pakistan by the 450-mile Line of Control. That area is part of the northern Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir.

Indian Kashmir is mostly Muslim; Jammu is Hindu. The city of Srinagar is the summer capital of the state while the city of Jammu, further south and much warmer, serves as the winter capital.

How did the trouble start?

Kashmir's suffering is rooted in the painful birth of the two South Asian nations.

India's Muslim leaders demanded a Muslim homeland as a condition for independence in 1947. The British relinquished their hold on the subcontinent, giving way to a predominantly Hindu India and a Muslim Pakistan.

Kashmir was free to accede to either nation. Maharaja Hari Singh, the ruler of the kingdom, initially chose to remain independent but eventually opted to join India, thereby handing key powers to the central government in New Delhi. In exchange, India guaranteed him military protection and vowed to hold a popular vote on the issue.

How dangerous is the situation?

The South Asian rivals have fought two of three wars over the territorial issue -- in 1947 and in 1965.

A third conflict between India and Pakistan erupted in 1999 after Pakistani-backed forces infiltrated Indian-controlled Kashmir in the Kargil area.

Both India and Pakistan have fired across the demarcating Line of Control. Such incidents have become common but India has so far refrained from incursions into Pakistani territory.

In 1998, both nations successfully tested nuclear weapons, raising the stakes in the Kashmir conflict and in turn, overall regional and global security.

What do India and Pakistan say about Kashmir?

Islamabad has always maintained that majority-Muslim Kashmir should have been a part of Pakistan. A United Nations' resolution adopted after the first war called for a referendum allowing the people of Kashmir to choose which country they wanted to join, but that vote for self-determination has never been held. Pakistan wants that referendum to take place.

India claims that Pakistan lends support to separatist groups fighting against government control and argues that a 1972 agreement -- signed after the Bangladesh war -- mandates a resolution to the Kashmir dispute through bilateral talks.

Neither country wants Kashmir to become an independent nation.

What is the separatist movement?

Over the years, India sent thousands of security forces to Kashmir, making it one of the most highly militarized areas of the world.

In 1989, militants began an armed uprising against New Delhi's control, taking up guns for the cause of independence. India accused its arch-rival Pakistan of fueling terrorism by sponsoring the armed insurgency.

Among the larger separatist groups are the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), but it gave up guns for politics in 1994 and its power is believed to have declined. Key separatist groups now fall under the umbrella of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, which has engaged in talks with the Indian government. The last time the two sides met was in 2006.

India claims that organizations designated as terrorist groups by the U.S. State Department are involved in Kashmir's violence. They include Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, which was blamed for the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, and Jaish-e-Mohammed, blamed for an attack on parliament in New Delhi.

What happened to the insurgency?

Tens of thousands of people have been killed in Kashmir since the insurgency took hold.

Parts of once-idyllic Srinagar now look apocalyptic -- buildings are riddled with bullet marks and roads and infrastructure have not been improved in years. Children have grown up not knowing the meaning of peace. The "paradise on Earth," many say, has turned to hell.

When talks between the Indian government and the All Parties Hurriyat Conference began in 2004, the bloodshed declined. But the problem was hardly resolved.

In a poll taken earlier this year by the London think tank Chatham House, most Kashmiris listed unemployment as the most significant problem plaguing their lives. Joblessness along with a sense of alienation from India has added to popular discontent.

How do Kashmiris feel about India?

The Chatham House poll last spring found that between 74 percent to 95 percent of residents of the mainly Muslim Kashmir Valley, where the conflict is centered, would vote for independence. In mostly Hindu Jammu, that support dropped to 1 percent.

What triggered the latest uptick in violence?

Discontent with India has never gone away and manifests itself repeatedly in street demonstrations.

Human rights groups say that India's Armed Forces Special Powers Act -- which gives security forces wide-ranging powers to shoot, arrest and search in battling a separatist insurgency -- further alienates Kashmiris.

In June, the death of a teenager hit by a teargas shell, triggered a series of violent protests. Since then, angry mobs have taken to the streets chanting: "Freedom."