Sponsored in part by


The Indian government calls it "the pride of India." Pakistanis call it an occupied territory. All agree that the state of Jammu and Kashmir, with its dramatic snowcapped mountains and flowering valleys, is both an earthly paradise and the nuclear powder keg of South Asia.

Eye in the Sky

The question of who should rule Kashmir-its shorter name-lies at the center of sometimes bloody disputes between two of the world's most recent nuclear powers, and periodically threatens to plunge them into full-scale war. President Clinton recently said the Kashmir dispute makes the region "the most dangerous place on earth."


Tensions in the region escalated with the March 20 slaughter of 36 Sikh villagers, apparently by Islamic militants, who previously had targeted only Muslims in their campaign to overturn Indian rule in the bulk of the state. The attack coincided with a visit to India by Clinton, who also planned a brief stopover in Pakistan at the end of the week.

Both India and Pakistan claim jurisdiction over all of Kashmir and currently occupy parts of it. India charges that Pakistan provides arms and training to anti-Indian militants operating in the region. Pakistan admits its sympathies but routinely denies providing actual support.

Kashmir is high on Clinton's agenda during his March 18-25 trip-the first time in 22 years that an American president has visited India. In addition to pressing both India and Pakistan to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, Clinton hopes to gently nudge the two sides toward a resolution of their territorial dispute.


Where is Kashmir? Who lives there? And why are two countries preparing to fight a nuclear war over it?

Kashmir is a large, mostly mountainous region lying along the northwestern end of the Himalayan system. It is also traversed by the Karakoram Range and the Indus River. Covering 86,000 square miles, it is more than three times the size of Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg combined. In addition to India and Pakistan, its neighbors are China and Afghanistan.

The Indian-controlled population is 7.7 million; 2.8 million live in the northwestern portion, controlled by Pakistan. China occupies more disputed land in the northeast. Indigenous groups in the area include the plains-dwelling Dogras, the Pahadis hill people and two nomadic mountain tribes: the Gaddis and the Gujjars. The remote Ladakh region and its soaring mountains is populated by Tibetan-style Buddhists with their lamaseries and festivals featuring dances with masks and scarves to the accompaniment of flutes, cymbals and percussion instruments.


The scene of invasion and warfare for centuries, Kashmir's current troubles began with post-World War II events surrounding Britain's withdrawal from South Asia as a colonial power.

In 1947 Britain granted independence to India, a predominately Hindu country. At the same time it acceded to pressure from the largely Muslim population in the north by creating a separate country, Pakistan. While the boundaries of the two countries were still imprecisely defined, a faction of the predominately Muslim population of Hindu-ruled Kashmir demanded to be made part of Pakistan. War broke out when Pakistan invaded the area and was countered by Indian troops.

In 1949 a United Nations-arranged cease-fire was agreed to, and the region was effectively partitioned by a "Line of Control." Fighting broke out again in 1965 and 1971, and violence between Muslims and Hindus has continued through the 1990s.

The potential stakes of renewed warfare increased dramatically in 1998, when Pakistan responded to five Indian nuclear tests by carrying out six of its own. Both countries subsequently announced moratoriums on tests after the imposition of economic sanctions.

After almost a half-century, bickering and the threat of war continues over the future of Kashmir.

Eye in the Sky is a weekly series that brings you the story behind the headlines using satellite imagery, remote sensing, aerial photography, and maps. This feature is developed by National Geographic News with the sponsorship of the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA) and Earth-Info. Check out maps and imagery at

 Related Websites

More Information
• Prized for their softness, cashmere sweaters come from the domestic Kashmir goat, which is specially raised for the high quality of its wool.
• K2, at 28,250 feet (8,611 meters) the world's second highest mountain peak, is located in Kashmir's Karakoram Range.
• With 1 billion inhabitants (82 percent Hindu), India is the world's largest democracy and the second most populous country after China. The country covers 1.3 million square miles (3.2 million square kilometers), about a third of the size of the United States.
• Nearly twice the size of California, Pakistan has a population of 156 million, 97 percent of whom are Islamic.

More Information

The United States is a friend of both India and Pakistan-on paper, at least. The reality is that the friendships have been intermittent and, in the case of India, rarely warm.

As the United States and the Soviet Union settled into a cold war during the 1950s, India-just emerged from colonial domination as a proud new country-chose a path of non-alignment. At the same time the smaller, less powerful Pakistan, like India created in 1947, sought alliance with the United States.

Pakistan provided key assistance when the United States supported the Islamic mujahedeen's war against Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. India, on the other hand, refused to even condemn the Russian invasion in 1979. The United States rewarded Pakistan-ruled by military dictators for much of its existence-with military aid that sometimes was turned against India.


In November 1979, Iranian-inspired rumors that U.S. citizens were responsible for an attack on a Muslim holy place resulted in a mob storming and burning down the U.S. embassy in the capital of Pakistan, Islamabad. Two Americans and two Pakistani employees were killed.

The American-Indian relationship has been described with the Hindi word panga, which loosely translates as prickly and confrontational. President Carter cast a pall over the last presidential visit to India by making disparaging remarks about the Indian government into an open microphone. More recently, India has accused the United States-one of the nuclear super-powers-of hypocrisy in its insistence that India back away from its build-up of nuclear arms.

Relationships have thawed somewhat during the 1990s with India's loosening of trade and investment barriers. But the current state visit of President Clinton has been likened in India to the maneuverings of two porcupines interested in a closer relationship.