Tensions in Kashmir: The Beginning of the Fifth Indo-Pakistani War?

Written by: McKenna Ross

On February 14, 2019, a suicide bomber killed 40 paramilitary Indians in the Kashmir region of India. The Indian government accused the Jaish-i-Mohammed, a Pakistan-based militant group, for the attack, but Pakistan denied the group’s presence in their country. Although Pakistan was willing to cooperate in an investigation, India chose a more aggressive approach. On February 26, two Indian jets entered Pakistani airspace and allegedly bombed a militant training camp. Pakistan denies the attack on the militant camp but acknowledges a bombing occurred. The next day, Pakistan released a video of them shooting down and capturing an Indian pilot, who they released the next day in a gesture of peace. Invasions of Pakistani air space have stopped, but bombings along the Kashmir border have continued.

India and Pakistan have been in conflict over Kashmir — the northern, Muslim-majority region of India — for decades. Pakistan, a majority-Muslim nation, insists that Kashmir should be part of Pakistan. Hindu-majority India insists that it should control the territory despite these religious tensions. The nationality of Kashmiris is something no one can agree on. Kashmiris themselves do not have a voice, being stuck between two powerful nations.

This conflict began when India gained independence from Britain, which let individual states decide if they wanted to be a part of Hindu India or Muslim Pakistan. The Kashmir region had a majority-Muslim population, but had a Hindu monarch. The monarch, Hari Singh, chose to remain neutral, which led to revolts across Kashmir. Pakistan joined the conflict in support of the rebels, and the Kashmiri government promised to join India in return for aid. This sparked the first Indo-Pakistan war in Kashmir. The UN Security Council established a ceasefire and divided Kashmir into Pakistani and Indian areas, but neither country fully retreated from the region. Pakistan insisted that the majority-Muslim population belonged with Pakistan. India argued that the monarch gave Kashmir to India. Kashmiris never got a chance to vote on which country they want to join.

The second Indo-Pakistan War started in 1965 in Kashmir. A ceasefire orchestrated by the US and the Soviet Union ended the fighting, but the line of division remained. Then, in 1971, the third Indo-Pakistan War broke out in eastern India. India helped the Muslim majority fight for independence. Pakistan lost the area now known as Bangladesh because of protests for freedom. This lead to the Kashmir region being even more important to Pakistan since they had lost land. Kashmir then became one of the most militarized places on earth. In 1987, India rigged a Kashmiri election to elect pro-India Farooq Abdullah. Kashmiris took to the streets to protest the occupation of Kashmir by the Indian military. India responded with harsh resistance. As the killings of Kashmiris increased, protesters became violent. Pakistan then introduced radical Islamic militant groups to fight for pro-Pakistan forces.

Pakistan and India gained nuclear capabilities in 1998. In 1999, the fourth Indo-Pakistan war began. It ended in yet another ceasefire, but that did not stop the violence between Pakistan and India. A horrible cycle began. As the Indian government cracked down on the Kashmiri people, more citizens sided with militant groups fighting the Indian government. This only lead to more violence by the Indian government. The Kashmiri people are stuck in the middle of all the fighting. This violence spreads to ordinary Kashmiris and turns them towards drastic actions. One example of this violence is when the Indian police in Kashmir rubbed Adil Ahmed Dar’s face in the ground, humiliating him, and later shot him during a protest. He left home to join Jaish-i-Mohammed, a radical Islamic militant group, and killed himself and 40 Indian soldiers in the latest suicide bombing. He is an example of how the violence of India and Pakistan affects Kashmiris. His story applies to many Kashmiris. Fed up with violence by the Indian police, they turn to Pakistan for governmental support and to Pakistan-based terror groups. 

In past issues over Kashmir, India and Pakistan had ground weapons but nothing with the massive destruction capabilities of a nuclear bomb. Negotiations between the two nuclear powers have stalled during this latest conflict. The issues between Pakistan and India raise questions about how modern day territorial disputes are settled. By ignoring the heart of the issue, both countries leave themselves vulnerable to further conflict. Pakistan claims victory after releasing the Indian pilot. India claims victory after a successful airstrike. Each country focused on their little victories rather than addressing the greater conflict dividing Kashmir. Several scholars have called Kashmir the flashpoint for a nuclear war because of these high tensions. Pakistan and India have waged wars over Kashmir before, and they are willing to do so again since neither country in willing to fix the root of the problem. Both Pakistan and India allow terrorist groups targeting each other to continue to operate, which can only escalate tensions. This time, both countries possess nuclear weapons that can cause destruction on a much larger scale. 

The real victims of this conflict are the people living in Kashmir, trapped between two nuclear powers. Terrorist groups, the Indian military and various militias occupy Kashmir. The violence extracts a toll on the Kashmiri people who want to live in peace. In the end, the Kashmiri people wish to vote for themselves and avoid further conflict. Whether Kashmir becomes part of India, Pakistan, or an independent state should be decided by the Kashmiris themselves. But Pakistan and India continue to ignore the wishes of the people in favor of gaining more land for themselves. The Kashmiri are stuck in a cycle of violence that now has the chance to escalate. India and Pakistan are two nuclear capable countries that do not listen to Kashmiris and refuse to compromise, a recipe for another Indo-Pakistani war. The only way the conflict in Kashmir will end is if the Kashmiri people finally get a chance to vote for themselves on where they belong. The vote was promised to them decades ago, and it’s time for India to deliver.