Why Kashmir means so much to both India and Pakistan

By CNN’s Jack Guy, Katie Hunt, Nikhil Kumar and Helen Regan

Kashmir is one of the world’s most dangerous flashpoints. Claimed in its entirety by both India and Pakistan, it has been the epicenter for more than 70 years of an often violent territorial struggle between the nuclear-armed neighbors.

Predominantly-Hindu India and Muslim-majority Pakistan have fought three wars since 1947, when the two nuclear powers both gained independence from the UK.

Wars in 1947 and 1965 were fought directly over Kashmir, and ongoing violence has killed more than 47,000 people since 1989.

This toll doesn’t include people who have disappeared due to the conflict, and some human rights groups and nongovernmental organizations put the death toll at twice that amount.

So why does the mountainous region mean so much to the two countries?

Kashmir initially remained independent and was free to accede to either nation. When the Hindu king of Kashmir chose to join India in exchange for military protection, Jammu and Kashmir state became the only Muslim-majority state in the country.

Jammu and Kashmir covers around 45% of Kashmir, in the south and east of the region, while Pakistan controls Azad Kashmir, Gilgit and Baltistan — which cover around 35% of the total territory in the north and west. Both countries claim complete ownership of Kashmir; also in the picture is China, which controls around 20% of Kashmir territory known as Aksai Chin.

The issue is also one of the oldest items on the agenda at the United Nations, where India and Pakistan took their dispute soon after independence.

Both countries agreed to a plebiscite in principle, to allow Kashmiris to decide their own future, but it has never been held because it was predicated on the withdrawal of all military forces from the region, which has not happened even decades on.

Both countries have maintained a fragile ceasefire since 2003, according to the Council on Foreign Relations, although the two rivals regularly exchange fire across the border.

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