The State of Jammu and Kashmir has historically remained independent, except in the anarchical conditions of the late 18th and first half of the 19th century, or when incorporated in the vast empires set up by the Mauryas (3rd century BC), the Mughals (16th to 18th century) and the British (mid-19th to mid-20th century). All these empires included not only present-day India and Pakistan but some other countries of the region as well. Until 1846, Kashmir was part of the Sikh empire. In that year, the British defeated the Sikhs and sold Kashmir to Gulab Singh of Jammu for Rs. 7.5 million under the Treaty of Amritsar. Gulab Singh, the Maharaja, signed a separate treaty with the British, which gave him the status of an independent princely ruler of Kashmir. Gulab Singh died in 1857 and was replaced by Rambir Singh (1857-1885). Two other Maharajas, Partab Singh (1885-1925) and Hari Singh (1925-1949) ruled in succession.

Gulab Singh and his successors ruled Kashmir in a tyrannical and repressive way. The people of Kashmir, nearly 80 per cent of who were Muslims, rose against Maharaja Hari Singh’s rule. He ruthlessly crushed a mass uprising in 1931. In 1932, Sheikh Abdullah formed Kashmir’s first political party—the All Jammu & Kashmir Muslim Conference (renamed as National Conference in 1939). In 1934, the Maharaja gave way and allowed limited democracy in the form of a Legislative Assembly. However, unease with the Maharaja’s rule continued. According to the instruments of partition of India, the rulers of princely states were given the choice to freely accede to either India or Pakistan, or to remain independent. They were, however, advised to accede to the contiguous dominion, taking into consideration the geographical and ethnic issues.

In Kashmir, however, the Maharaja hesitated. The principally Muslim population, having seen the early and covert arrival of Indian troops, rebelled and things got out of the Maharaja’s hands. The people of Kashmir were demanding to remain Independent . The Maharaja, fearing tribal warfare, eventually gave way to the Indian pressure and agreed to join India by, as India claims, ‘signing’ the controversial Instrument of Accession on 26 October 1947. Kashmir was provisionally accepted into the Indian Union pending a free and impartial plebiscite. This was spelled out in a letter from the Governor General of India, Lord Mountbatten, to the Maharaja on 27 October 1947. In the letter, accepting the accession, Mountbatten made it clear that the State would only be incorporated into the Indian Union after a reference had been made to the people of Kashmir. Having accepted the principle of a plebiscite, India has since obstructed all attempts at holding a plebiscite.

In 1947, India and Pakistan went to war over Kashmir. During the war, it was India, which first took the Kashmir dispute to the United Nations on 1 January 1948 The following year, on 1 January 1949, the UN helped enforce ceasefire between the two countries. The ceasefire line is called the Line of Control. It was an outcome of a mutual consent by India and Pakistan that the UN Security Council (UNSC) and UN Commission for India and Pakistan (UNCIP) passed several resolutions in years following the 1947-48 war. The UNSC Resolution of 21 April 1948–one of the principal UN resolutions on Kashmir—stated that “both India and Pakistan desire that the question of the accession of Jammu and Kashmir to India or Pakistan should be decided through the democratic method of a free and impartial plebiscite”. Subsequent UNSC Resolutions reiterated the same stand. UNCIP Resolutions of 3 August 1948 and 5 January 1949 reinforced UNSC resolutions.