Dispute Over Kashmir Region Topic of Discussion at Convention

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As part of UC Berkeley's 17th Annual South Asia Conference, experts on Indo-Pakistani relations spoke Friday at the International House about existing tensions over the Kashmir territory.

Sumit Ganguly, professor of Asian studies at the University of Texas at Austin, said Kashmir is a "reservoir of discontent that has yet to be drained."

"A set of policies pursued by the government of India which involved systematic malfeasances, (were) tolerated by generations of Kashmiri simply because of the extraordinarily low level of political consciousness," Ganguly said.

Kashmir, approximately the size of Idaho, is nestled in the Himalayan foothills and is a disputed territory bordered by Pakistan to the north and India to the south. While both countries claim Kashmir, it is predominately administered by India.

Even as India began to invest in higher education there and promote mass-media exposure to the region in the 1980s, a generation emerged in Kashmir that found India's policies intolerable, he said.

"Finding few other avenues for the expression of discontent, (the Kashmiri) resorted to violence," he said.

Violence erupted because of threats directed toward both India and Pakistan's "territorial integrity," said Pradeep Chhibber, associate professor of political science at UC Berkeley.

India had to preserve control over the region to "ensure that the integrity of (India's) nation-state was maintained," he said.

Though Hindu Indians historically clash with Muslim Kashmiri in the region, Chhibber said tension over the region was a territorial issue, not a religious conflict, as other scholars have said.

Chhibber said Pakistan could pursue bolder policies than India, which faced a defensive struggle to maintain control of Kashmir. Pakistan would keep its territorial integrity if Kashmir gained its independence or fell under Pakistani rule. India, however, must preserve its control of the region to remain regionally dominant, he said.

According to speakers at the conference, the delicate territorial balance maintained in Southeast Asia will continually cause tension and violence unless the United States intervenes.

Neil Joeck, a staff member for the U.S. state department responsible for Indo-Pakistani relations, said one reason the United States is so interested in the region is because both India and Pakistan have access to nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.

Joeck emphasized the importance of dialogue between the two countries and said the United States has offered to intervene upon request.

"The U.S. will provide assistance to both Pakistan and India if it is requested, which has not happened," he said.

Chandni Patel, a UC Berkeley student in the department of South and Southeast Asian studies, said she agrees the tensions in the region are due to a lack of communication. She proposes Kashmir become independent.

Chris Plummer, of the Center for South Asian Studies at UC Berkeley, coordinated Friday's panel to increase public awareness over the ongoing conflict in the area.

"South Asia is a region that has not been historically well-understood by the American public," he said.


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