Ask an American about Kashmir and they'll usually assume you are talking about Cashmere wool sweaters. The wool for which now mainly comes from Cashmere goats raised in China and Mongolia. But the rioting reported in recent days in the news is in an area governed by India, more formally known as Jammu and Kashmir.
Most recently, the rioting was triggered by the famed threat to burn Korans by America's most famous (for now) religious bigot, the Reverend Terry Jones. That is an easy idea for Americans to dismiss: Islamic religious zealots misbehaving because they heard the words of hate directed to them by a Christian zealot.
I doubt the rioting in Kashmir has much to do with Reverend Jones. It has much more to do with the basic problems of Kashmir that have changed very little since the British Empire was forced out of the Indian subcontinent in 1947. While I believe that the U.S. should mind its own business, which has not been going well of late, Kashmir is a matter that should be better understood by every American citizen because it is part of a pattern of injustice that ties in with Palestine, Afghanistan, Somalia and overall Moslem perception that they are not being treated with respect.
The nation of India is a modern creation from a portion of the British occupation of the Indian subcontinent. Pakistan (later dividing into Pakistan proper and Bangladesh) was the other portion, and the two new states were designed to have separate religious identities: Pakistan Islamic, India Hindu. In addition to a few modern-minded people who do not subscribe to religious myths, each of the two nations not only had a number of minority religious groups (India is still 13.4% Moslem), but encompassed a patchwork of ethnic groups as well. In particular Pakistan included many in the Pashtun ethnic group, which is also the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan. There are even 11 million Pashtuns in India.
Relations between India and Pakistan got off to a bad start when ethnic (really religious) cleansing resulted in large scale atrocities as millions of Hindus moved from Pakistan to India and Moslems moved from India to Pakistan in 1947.
Kashmir occupies a special place in this mosaic. The British had not conquered India all at once. Along the way they made a variety of deals with the various local rulers. When they left the subcontinent [See also Partition of India] the recognized principalities that had never been fully incorporated into the British Empire were given the option of joining India, joining Pakistan, or becoming independent, but those that did not join India voluntarily or under pressure were later occupied and incorporated by military force. By Independence Day only Kashmir, Hyderabad, and Junagadh were still independent.
Contrast what happened in Junagadh with what happened in Kashmir. "Junagadh was a small seaport state on the coast of Kathiwar with a Hindu population and a Muslim nawab. The Nawab opted for Pakistan but after a few weeks Indian troops occupied the state and a plebiscite declared for Indian union. Pakistan took no action ..." [Percival Spear, A History of India, Vol. 2
page 241] Hyderabad also had a Muslim ruler over a Hindu majority population; India's tanks rolled in to take control in 1948. [Take note, Ghandi-freaks].
"There remained Kashmir which was in a class by itself. It was a fringe state, adjacent to both the new states, and could reasonably have joined either. It was also a mixed or conglomerate state, a state as it were by accident, formed through the chances of recent political history. It had a Hindu ruler; to the east it had a Hindu majority centre at Jammu, in the Vale of Kashmir itself the population was overwhelmingly Muslim ... The Hindu ruler played for time and still had not acceded to either side in October when a Pathan irregular force ... raced towards the capital Srinagar. In a panic the ruler acceded to India." And so a Moslem majority, Hindu ruled state was formed. "Pakistan called for a plebiscite to which initially Nehru agreed in principle. But he was never able to accept any proposals for carrying it out. A brief war flared up ... settled by a United Nations truce in 1948." [Spear p. 241-242]
Americans who often think its no big deal to be friends with people of many ethnic backgrounds, religions, and levels of wealth, have trouble comprehending that in other nations tribal, ethnic, religious and even caste identifications can remain very strong. They often overrule otherwise good people's ability to think fairly about human relations. But we do know that powerful people seldom want to give up power, and so governments almost never voluntarily cede territory no matter how right and just it is.
My hope would be that oppressed people in Kashmir can see that, in demanding their civil rights, they should uphold the civil rights of every person. Americans need some further work in that regard too. I am glad we stopped Terry Jones from burning the Koran. I believe that criticizing religions is part of our cherished freedom of the press and free speech. But if Mr. Jones is so sure Christianity is superior to Islam, he might try his luck and befriending Moslems and explaining what he sees as the difference. The real winner is the person exposed to two or more religions and modern rational thought who then makes a choice based on free will, not social coercion.