by Foivos Voulgaris, member of the International Relations & Foreign Policy Research Team

Kashmir, a part of the Jammu and Kashmir state, an area most known for the special fabric that its sheep produce, has long been a bone of contention between two rivaling states -India and Pakistan. This research will examine the obstacles to the resolution of the conflict stemming from external involvement during the period of the Cold War, when the interests of the Great Powers were expanding to every continent of the world.

Kashmir, since the partition of British India in 1947 into India and Pakistan and up until the end of the Cold War, has been the cause of at least two major wars (1947, 1965), and many incidents directly connected to it (1971). The problem first arose when, following the decolonization of India and according to the encouragement of the then-Viceroy Lord Mountbatten, the princely states of former British India were to choose to accede to either India or Pakistan and were denied independence as there were no British forces to ensure it any longer (Farrell B., 2002). Despite that provision, Kashmir decided to enter a Standstill Agreement with Pakistan and didn’t choose accession to India either. However, a series of tribal attacks on Kashmir presumably from Pakistan, and without a doubt supported by it, forced Kashmir to change its position on the matter. India assured the Maharajah of Kashmir that was his princely state to accede to India, it would aid it militarily. As a result, the Maharajah decided to sign the instrument of accession. At this point it is necessary to clarify that the acceptance of that act by the Indian side, which was needed for the accession to become legitimate, was accompanied by a proposal for a plebiscite. Nonetheless, since it wasn’t a requirement for the accession, it never took place, but the accession was still in force. Thus, India, fulfilling its commitment to Kashmir, deployed its military forces to it and consequently started the first direct confrontation with Pakistan over the princely state, as the Indian forces tried to counter the tribal forces which were pouring into it. In the end the United Nations, after the request of India for the Security Council to examine the situation in Kashmir, and the sending of the UNCIP (United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan) to Kashmir for field analysis, intervened so as to broker peace. After a lot of attempts to reach an understanding, the negotiators managed to achieve a ceasefire and a pledge of peaceful resolution of differences between India and Pakistan, however, there was an impasse on the matter of Kashmir. The result of that first conflict was that part of Kashmir became Pakistan administered, which is now commonly known as Azad Kashmir (Free Kashmir). Things settled down for a while until the next big crisis which came about in 1971. More specifically, at that time, India intervened in former East Pakistan and Pakistan invaded Kashmir to shift the focus of India away from it. This led to another war with Pakistan which ended with the win of India. The product of this battle was the Simla Agreement which specified, once again, that the matter of Kashmir would be resolved peacefully. However, the new element of the agreement was that the issue of Kashmir would be negotiated only bilaterally, thus barring external intervention (Mohan A., 1992). 

There have been many developments that heightened tensions in the area, including attacks by Pakistani infiltrators and the development of nuclear weapons by both India and Pakistan, but they are beyond the scope of this research and so are left as a topic of examination for another time. Nonetheless, it must be mentioned that every time the government in either of the opposing countries changed, either peacefully or aggressively, most of the time the problem resurfaced (Indurthy R., 2005).

A point that needs to be stressed so as to better understand the international environment is the timeframe in which all these developments took place. That environment was the Cold War which was raging between the United States and the Soviet Union (and their respective allies). In essence, according to realist perspectives of international relations, there existed a bipolar international system, which is commonly known to increase the competition between the two opposing blocks and limit the power of International Organizations. In that framework of international anarchy, while a degree of solidarity among members of the same group is retained, states tend to work alone so as to promote their national interests.

At this point, it is worth examining the obstacles created by external involvement to the solution of the conflict in Kashmir. It is argued that the main obstacle was the will of third parties to further their national interests in the area. Apart from that, the loss of time is also regarded as a hindrance to its resolution. In order to ascertain the aforementioned claims the examples of the involvement of China, the United States of America and the United Nations will be explored.

As regards the case of China, this research will examine its strategies in South Asia under Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. It is important to keep in mind the geopolitics of the area, so as to better understand the Chinese interests. China neighbors Kashmir and India. Under Mao, it saw India as a possible antagonist in areas such as Tibet and sought to create a counterbalance to it (Garver J., 2004). This led to a pro-Pakistani stance, both in rhetorics, supporting a plebiscite (Pakistan position), and in material support, both developmental and militarily. The pro-Pakistani policy became more complex as the new leadership of Deng saw the enemisation of India as a factor that increased the Chinese military spending, halting its economic drive. It publicly announced a policy of neutrality while at the same time devising a strategy to ameliorate its relationship with India in rhetorics, by ceasing its call for a plebiscite and supporting the bilateral solution of the matter (whilst Pakistan aimed for its internationalization). Its goal in following that strategy was to gain leverage over India so that it would avoid policies that would be unfavorable to China. Despite the support in rhetorics though, even during times of conflict between India and Pakistan, it still continued providing support to the latter (Garver J., 2004). The essence of this strategy was to retain the existence of a strong Pakistan as a counterbalance to India while at the same time decreasing the necessary military presence in China’s borders with India. The effect it had on the Kashmir issue was that, since China wished to play the role of an external balancer, it supported Pakistan during the Kashmir crisis. In turn, that support equalized the two opposing forces resulting in an impasse which was followed by a ceasefire. Thus the strategic interests of China were against the solution of the conflict as they were connected with the preservation of the status quo in South Asia and if Kashmir were to be integrated into India that would be disrupted.

In the case of the United States their policy was a construct of the era. After the partition of British India the United States started supplying arms to Pakistan so as to counter the influences of the Eastern bloc in the area. As a result, Pakistan became a valuable ally. Meanwhile, India chose to retain its non-alignment policy and feared that those arms might be used against it (Mohan A., 1992). However, the US did not wish to further aggression in the area but rather hoped to create a united front between Pakistan and India to counter China in South Asia (Indurthy R., 2005). This aspiration drove them to try to find a way to remove the main thorn in the two states’ relationship – Kashmir. In the following years, the US tried, through the UN Security Council and a number of mediation attempts, to resolve the conflict and many of its diplomats offered their good services but to no avail (Farrell B., 2002). 

Under the above-named circumstances, it is theorized that even though the effort of the US was reconciliatory in nature, it sought to change the status quo in the area and as a result can be considered as one of the reasons that prompted China to be against a resolution of the conflict so as to prevent that. Consequently, the USA’s involvement on the matter of Kashmir was also to a certain extent indirectly damaging to the resolution of the conflict.

From everything mentioned so far, it becomes clear that the involvement of China and the US and their policies on Kashmir created obstacles to the solution of the conflict, as they steered the developments in the area to suit their national interests. Contrary to that approach, there existed an actor who did indeed have pure intentions, but whose inability to act decisively only served to prolong the issue. That actor was the United Nations and more specifically the Security Council, which at the time was nearly constantly paralyzed due to the Cold War (Shakoor F., 1998). In spite of that, it would not be fair to just dismiss its efforts, as most of the present commonly accepted positions on Kashmir, for example the ceasefire line, were produced through the good services it provided. Even though it was time-consuming, it did produce lasting points of agreement.

In conclusion, the hypothesis of the obstacles created by external involvement is proven only partly correct. It is true that the resolution of the conflict was hindered by China’s policies and up to an extent those of the US, as has been already explained. However, at the same time, in the case of the UN, the time it invested does not seem truly ineffectual, as its achievements regarding the perception of aspects of the conflict are still influential. Moreover, it should be noted that it would be impossible for two states to completely avoid the involvement of third parties in their affairs, especially in cases when there is little hope that the problem can be solved bilaterally, as proven by the multitude of incidents related to Kashmir and the nuclear arms race which was part of the more general conflict between the two countries. Nonetheless, such cases of frozen conflicts shouldn’t be a matter for third parties to decide on either. This study concludes that the case of Kashmir is an example that teaches states that it is they who should decide on a matter of a frozen conflict, while at the same time being open to international opinion and avoiding its enforcement, which usually reflects the interests of third parties.


[1] Farrell, B. (2002). The role of international law in the kashmir conflict. Penn State International Law Review. 21(2), pp. 293-318 

[2] GARVER, J. (2004). China’s Kashmir Policies. India Review, Vol 3, No 1, pp.1-24. Available here

[3] Indurthy, R. (2005). The Turns and Shifts in the U. S. Role in the Kashmir Conflict since 1947: Today’s Propitious Times for a Facilitator to Resolve It. Asian Affairs: An American Review, pp. 31-56. Available here

[4] Mohan, A. (1992). The historical roots of the Kashmir conflict. Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, pp. 283-308. Available here.

[5] Shakoor, F. (1998). UN and Kashmir. Pakistan Horizon.51(2), pp. 53-69.