Gulab Singh, a grandnephew and courtier of the Sikh’s first Maharaja Ranjit Singh, was awarded Kashmir as a subsidiary kingdom after his excellent services in northern campaigns that helped secure the region. He went on to conquer nearby Jammu and worked with the increasing British presence in the region. In 1846, the First Anglo-Sikh War would knock down much of the Sikh’s power in favor of the growing British Empire, and Gulab would prove himself an able negotiator after British victory at the Battle of Sobraon. Gulab’s son and successor Ranbir sided with the British in the Indian Rebellion of 1857, which prompted another award as the British officially named him ruler of the Princely State of Kashmir and Jammu. For the next century, Kashmir was a relatively quiet subordinate kingdom with its own maharajas.
After World War II and the success of India’s independence movement, the partition of Pakistan and India led to humanity’s largest mass migration as Muslims and Hindus tried to sort themselves out amid the new borders. When King Hari Singh did not move to join Pakistan after the British officials left their posts, the Pakistan government attempted to force the land into submission with scare tactics and raids. Hari Singh turned to Louis Mountbatten, the man who had been the last Viceroy of India and oversaw its transition as Governor-General of the Union of India; Mountbatten replied that aid could only be given if Kashmir were part of his jurisdiction in India. After great thought, Hari Singh refused to the offer and addressed his people with a speech relayed by radio of the decision to remain free and the importance of standing up to Pakistani aggression. Pakistan became embarrassed by the international outcry, and the resulting UN resolution gave foreign aid while a plebiscite was held. The votes to remain independent narrowly won out, and many commentators agreed that if Pakistan had not moved so harshly, that the people would have eagerly joined.
In 1950, across the Himalayas, China would march into Tibet nearly unopposed. Taking note from the lack of international action, Pakistan would make its own march into Kashmir. King Hari Singh simply fled, and the people were largely complacent. India led a cry for Kashmiri independence, prompting an Indian army marching into Kashmir to restore the king, which resulted in an outpouring of aid from China, who feared an Indian supremacy in the region. While China sent only a few soldiers, their influence in Kashmir increased greatly and soon funded, ironically enough, the violent separatists, many of them minority Hindu and Sikh.
The disappearance of the Mo-e-Muqaddas (the Hair of the Prophet) relic from the Hazratbal shrine on December 26, 1963, prompted swift crackdown on minorities and violations of human rights such as illegal arrest, searches, and seizure of property. Although the relic was found again only days later, the policies remained, prompting another invasion from India in 1965 in an effort to liberate the oppressed Hindus in Jammu as well as to capture high ground for tactical advantage. The war reached a standoff, and Kashmir remained bloody and tense until the USSR’s occupation of Afghanistan sparked another conflict in the Third Kashmir War. Using American arms and reinforcements, Pakistan held its advantage.
Since the 1980s, Kashmir has remained one of the most notoriously troubled regions in the world. The development of nuclear weapons in both India and Pakistan has caused a sense of nervous peace, though skirmishes crop up, such as gunfire in 1999 and raiding following the 2005 earthquake.
In reality, King Hari Singh agreed to Mountbatten’s condition that Kashmir become part of India. An Indian army fought off the Pakistani forces, and a UN resolution sponsored a ceasefire, though no plebiscite would be made. Politically contested with regions claimed by India, Pakistan, and China, Kashmir is a major stumbling block for international discussion, but free from violence for the most part.