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Published: Monday, 12/29/2008

Mumbai attacks underscore complex Kashmir history

The Mumbai terrorist attacks four weeks ago brought the disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir into sharp focus. It was reported that the terrorists were avenging, among other grievances, Indian rule in the Valley of Kashmir.

The Kashmir dispute is unfinished business from the partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947 into a predominantly Hindu India and a mostly Muslim Pakistan. One would think that with the passage of time and with the creation of ground realities, the ghosts of partition would have been long laid to rest. However, the collective memory of people is not short-lived. Hence, Kashmir has not faded away from the list of thorny issues that continue to bedevil the world.

The architect of this problem was none other than Lord Louis Mountbatten, the last viceroy of British India. According to the partition s framework, the areas with a Muslim majority population would become Pakistan and the rest of the country would remain as India. The Valley of Kashmir with an 85 percent Muslim population was to become part of Pakistan. However, imperial hubris, political intrigue, and a clandestine romance thwarted that eventuality.

Mountbatten, despite his carefully crafted and skillfully projected image of a superb administrator and a decorated soldier, was in reality inept, incompetent, and a megalomaniac whose only claim to real fame was his relation to the royal family. He presided over a disastrous partition that pitted age-old friends and neighbors against each other, resulting in 1 million dead and five times that many becoming refugees. It was the biggest humanitarian disaster in modern history.

His behind-the-scenes efforts to give Kashmir to India have come to light in official papers unsealed in recent years. Some British researchers, including Andrew Roberts (Eminent Churchillians, 1994) and Mountbatten s authorized biographer, Philip Ziegler (Mountbatten, 1985), also point to Mountbatten s complicity in the matter.

Adding another layer of intrigue to the whole sordid mess was the romance his wife, Lady Edwina, was having with Jawaharlal Nehru, prime minister-designate of independent India. Under normal circumstances, a romance between a viceroy s wife and an Indian political leader would have been an interesting footnote to the history of partition. But Mr. Nehru happened to be a party to the dispute that the viceroy was supposed to adjudicate. There was also the talk of impeachment upon Mountbatten s eventual return to Britain.

But after fighting two unsuccessful wars with India over Kashmir, Pakistan decided to pursue the disastrous course of helping the indigenous Kashmiri uprising in Kashmir. Flushed with victory over the Soviet Union in Afghanistan the mujahideen freedom fighters found another worthwhile cause to pursue.

Lashkar-e-Taiba, the organization responsible for Mumbai carnage, was one such organization that emerged from the decade-old war in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Most observers believe that one way to take the wind out of the sails of jihadists is to resolve the outstanding political and territorial issues that have been their cause celebre. While the Bush Administration maintained a hands-off approach to Kashmir and Palestine, incoming president Barack Obama understands the devastating effects these issues have had on the world order.

In an interview in Time magazine last week, Mr. Obama mentioned Kashmir as a priority in resolving the Afghanistan-Pakistan-India-Iran problem. He also emphasized the resolution of Palestinian issue.

Global terrorism will not disappear with solutions to those festering problems but resolving those issues will further isolate the jihadists from mainstream Muslims everywhere.

India and Pakistan each have their own self-serving and mutually contradictory partition narrative. But the person who presided over the disaster is long gone, victim of a bomb blast by Catholic terrorists in 1979 when he was out on his fishing boat on the Irish coast.

Perhaps it is time for the people of these two countries to look inwardly and, in a spirit of reconciliation, take the responsibility for their own misdeeds.

Some time ago, I proposed a monument at Wahgah, the only land crossing between India and Pakistan, showing a Muslim, a Hindu, and a Sikh with their heads hung in shame for what they have done to each other.

For the Pakistanis and the Indians, the proposal went over like a lead balloon.

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