1990 Kashmir Insurgency: An analysis of Geo-Political Security Situation

Kashmir Valley, known for its scenic gardens, picturesque landscape and exquisite lake was a popular tourist destination for people across the world in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Popular movie films were shot here and people across the world admired the serene beauty of the valley. But all this reversed in early 1980’s and the valley got occupied with insurgency and mass protests and killings which took at least 45,000 lives.

This paper will examine the geo-political security situation of the world that led the insurgency in 90’s. It will first examine the conditions under which J&K was acceded to India. Then, it will examine the reasons of the insurgency of 90’s and also access the Indian Government’s response. Towards the end, it will provide solutions to improve the situation in Kashmir.


The independence of British India happened amidst the Cold war. With Nehru being a socialist, the Anglo-American nexus decided to cultivate Pakistan as dependable member in order to contain communism in South Asia. When the princely-state of Jammu-Kashmir was given the option to either join India, Pakistan or remain independent, the Anglo-American nexus wanted Kashmir to become part of Pakistan or to remain independent so that it could remain within the sphere of their influence as part of strategy of containment.

Due to the Muslim-majority in the region, Pakistan also desperately wanted Kashmir. But Maharaja Hari Singh, then ruler of Jammu-Kashmir delaying his decision to join any country and opposition from Sheikh Abdullah, the popular Muslim leader, to join Pakistan feared Karachi. This led Karachi to plan a tribal invasion to make the state join Pakistan. With invasion in Kashmir, Lord Mountbatten and General Lockhart worked feverishly behind the scenes to prevent India retaliate the attack. They did not want the cities of Domel and Muzaffarabad, which shared borders with then communist Soviet Union, China and Afghanistan, to go in the hands of Indian troops. Furthermore, the Anglo-Americans wanted to woo the Muslim world after their mandate in Palestine.

They even advised India against attacking Pakistan citing ‘great risks and dangers’ but the Indian administrators insisted on action. With Britishers helping New Delhi evade infiltrators merely on purpose of ‘evacuating garrisons’, they deliberately took the case to United Nations as proper course of action and simultaneously promised full military preparations for counter-attack. Nehru, then Indian PM, accepted the proposal hoping to solve the conflict and hoping Britishers to keep their part of the agreement. But in the UNSC, British proposals were always supportive of Pakistan and Kashmir’s invasion and accession was hardly taken into account.

But UN resolution accepted the legality of J&K accession to India and called for withdrawal of invaders from Kashmir and a subsequent plebiscite. Thus, even though Jammu-Kashmir was formally integrated with India with the support of both Maharaja and Sheikh Abdullah, the efforts of the West left the princely state spit between India and Pakistan and called for asking ‘the will of the people’ after withdrawal of Pakistan’s troops. Since then, aspirations of Kashmiri’s for independence never disappeared from their consciousness.

Geo-political security Context

Since that time, Pakistan has waged many conflicts and fought wars over Kashmir but Kashmir remained calm till the early 1970’s. But a sudden demand of plebiscite and insurgency increased after 1975. The geo-political security atmosphere of the world is attributed to those factors.

During that time, USA was engaged in containing communism in Afghanistan. It used the policy of hybrid warfare to handle the situation and funds for the same were channelled through Pakistan, the US ally. Pakistan used these funds to train jihadis to bleed the red communists but the money was also used to increase insurgency in Kashmir. As a consequence of Washington’s massive funding and warfare tactics, the Red Army was defeated in 1989. This left the vacuum for the jihadis, trained during the ten-year (1979-1989) war in Afghanistan no war to fight, prompting the Pakistani generals to divert full tactics of Kabul in India. This is well-evident from the fact that insurgency and dissatisfaction of locals with the Indian Armed Forces was at its peak after USSR’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. Police found themselves outgunned by the militants who possessed sophisticated weapons like grenades and rocket launchers (Priyanka, Sumit). USA, well-aware of Pakistan’s tactics, wanted Kashmir to be boiling to prevent India from gaining access of the communist Countries.

Soviet Union, aware of American intentions, supported India in Kashmir issue at various instances. But with the sudden defeat of USSR in 1989 and demand of independence from various republics weakened its support to India. On the contrary, this boosted USA’s support and gave spirit to Kashmiris to fulfil their dream of independence. January 20, 1990 was set as independent day and on January 19, mass killings of Pandits took place to rid Kashmir of its non-Muslim population to aggravate its stance of joining Pakistan.

The Saudi influence of Islamization of Kashmir also started in the same period. A Muslim conference was organized by Saudi religious people in 1979 and Jhelum Valley Medical College was established in 1980. The JV medical college served as a measure source through which large sums of money were channelled into Kashmir and planted the seeds of Islamic fundamentalism in Kashmiris. The doctors and staff in the college further spread these messages. In 1980’s, there was clearly an orchestrated campaign to change the Kashmiri people. Several madrassahs and mosques were set up that trained the jihadists and propagated these agendas. Jagmohan, then Governor of the state noted the violence to perturb particularly on Friday nights as crowd dispersed from the mosques. ‘Islam is in Danger’ was the sentiment that mobilized the youth that period. This further brewed hated towards the Kashmiri pandits. 

With the 1979 Iranian Revolution and the triumph of Ayatollah, who talked of liberating the enslaved Muslim world, further gave confidence to the secessionist movement. The Jamaat-I-Islami party of Kashmir spread rumours that Ayatollah’s ancestors had come to Kashmir and that he was related to Kashmiri Muslims. These developments became a matter of pride for Kashmiris who did not even mind the Shia factor of Tehran.

Thus, Pakistan, with the support of Americans and Saudi world resorted to the ideology of communalism and proxy war to win Kashmir. Several operations such as Operation Tupac and Ripe Apple theory were launched to fight for the cause of oppressed Kashmiri Muslims. With increase in Islamabad’s defence cost and the low-cost proxy war, Pakistan wanted to bleed India and make it inefficient to control situation in the valley, prompting Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan. In 1990 almost a thousand of the elite Kashmiri Muslims were on the payroll of the ISI and in 1989, the Indian government estimated that about 10,000 Kashmiri youth had gone to Pakistan to undergo training.

While Indian government, involved with its own political crisis and change of governments, did not intervene much in the matter. In 1977, when Indian government withdrew its support of National Conference (NC), even Sheikh started speaking about the plebiscite and independence. In 1980, Sheikh’s government started Islamization of Kashmir and began changing names of about 2500 villages and delivered communal speeches in mosques. In his autobiography, Sheikh referred Pandits as ‘mukhbir’ or ‘the informers of Indian government’. The 1987 rigged elections further increase the support of the insurgency. The uneducated, unaware youth, engulfed with unemployment got sentimental in believing the communal speeches and into believing that liberation of Kashmir would help his cause.

All these external and internal influences played an indispensable role in Kashmir for youth to dream about independence who started perpetuating insurgency throughout Srinagar. When the Kashmiri youth dissatisfied with their plight were offered arms and money by Pakistanis, they became the reason of insurgency. All this happened till 9/11 attacks when foreign influences and funding to Pakistan halted and many youths gave up arms and started seeking alternatives to fulfil thrust for autonomy. But even today, Kashmir faces the problem of insurgency and the grievances of youth remain unresolved.

India’s strategy

Despite the influence of both external powers and domestic factors in aggravating the problem in Kashmir, India has taken various steps to control the rising insurgency.

According to Jagmohan, between January 1 and January 19, 1990, 319 violent acts were reported in Kashmir. This led Indian government to impose Presidential rule and impose Armed Forces Special Powers Act in the valley in 1990. There was deployment of massive troops, and paramilitary forces. Around 20,000 militants were killed and the militancy was managed to a great extent. All these strategies led insurgents to give up violence and fed up of the countering, they stopped attempting violence. Several cases of violent activities have still been noted after 1990’s but they are of much less momentum.

Way Ahead

Kashmir can become an integral part of India if proper resources and policy measures are introduced in the valley by both the national and local governments. The need is to bring the requisite infrastructure, educational and employment opportunities for its resident along with boosting the tourism industry. Alternative employment opportunities and psychological trainings to militants should also be provided. Despite the enormous cost spend on fighting terrorism, the government now needs to shift the focus of this cost to alleviate poverty and bring good opportunities for the youth.

With the removal of Article 370 and the introduction of J&K Reorganization Act, the region has come directly under Centre’s rule and has started receiving socio-political equality, education, jobs, reservations and other rights enjoyed by people in other parts of country. All these steps would lead to stability and peace and is inviting private ventures and businesses in Kashmir that would lead to development of the region, creating employment for the youth. The rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits back in the valley and the provision of domicile rights to POK refugees have further aggravated the process of bringing and recognizing different religions and ethnicities in the valley. The government inviting ‘misguided’ youths for employment opportunities is also a step in the right direction.

With the direct control of centre government in Kashmir, militancy could be also contained by undertaking physical and preventive measures with the help of military in the short-run. But rather than bringing a revolution, evolutionary measures need to be adopted by the stakeholders through conducive measures. All this would slowly but surely bring an evolution in Kashmir.

Liza Gupta
Liza Gupta
Liza Gupta is a student currently pursuing Masters in Diplomacy, Law and Business from O.P. Jindal Global University. She is fascinated about the Kashmir issue and the gender issues and wants to pursue doctoral studies in the subject.