On 14 February, tensions mounted between Pakistan and India over Kashmir following a terrorist attack on Indian troops at the border. At least 40 people were killed and a militant group based in Pakistan claimed responsibility for the attack. A few days later, the Indians responded with an airstrike on the Pakistani territory which damaged some trees. The Pakistani government decided to reach out to the UN to raise the issue since they consider this attack as an act of ‘eco-terrorism’.

The recent tensions reflect the protracted conflict between Pakistan and India with both claiming the region as a part of their national territory. When India was given independence by Britain in 1947, India and Pakistan were split into two separate countries. Under the British plan, Kashmir wasn’t given to either India or Pakistan. It was left up to the local ruler of Kashmir Hari Singh to decide. The plebiscite referendum established Kashmir as an autonomous part of India. The Himalayan region has become one of the most militarized zones in the world – The USA, the European Union and China have recently all called for both countries to calm the situation as soon as possible. 

Origins of the Dispute and the Birth of Terrorism

The conflict took root in the circumstance of independence from Britain in 1947 and has become increasingly threatening for the international security with the two parties acquisition of nuclear weapons. Other current trends in warfare such as proxy wars or the impact of transnational linkages are addressed here in order to paint a global, detailed and precise picture of the conflict. It should be noted that the dispute over Kashmir is a geopolitical issue since the region has a highly strategic geographic position. Yet, the importance of religion in this conflict cannot be overlooked since both parties draw on religious differences as device of violence.

In 1947, before the partition, the region was the largest of 562 of princely states in India and had been ruled by the upper-caste Hindu family which ethnically belonged to Dogras. Kashmir was one of the regions where the ruling elite belonged to one religion, and the subjects belonged to another one. It was also the only Indian territory where Muslim population constituted the majority and Hindu the minority: according to the British census of 1941 Kashmir was composed of 77% Muslim, 20% Hindu and 3% of people belonging to another religion. The 1947 Partition Act gave independence to India from the British Empire and established the creation of two distinct states: Pakistan and India. 

But the region of Kashmir, a princely state, had a different legal status and could choose to join either dominion or become an independent state. The ruler of Kashmir, Hari Singh, wanted to be independent but his hopes were dashed on October 1947 when Pakistan invaded Kashmir. Hari Singh appealed to the Indian government for military assistance and signed the Instrument of Accession ceding Kashmir to India on October 26, 1947. 

This event sparked the first war between Pakistan and India from 1947 to 1948. The ceasefire, signed on January 1, 1949, stipulated that 65% of the territory was going to be under Indian control and the remainder with Pakistan. Even though the ceasefire was believed to be temporary, the Line of Control (LOC) remains a de facto border between the two countries. 

The decades that followed are characterized by frequent conventional military attacks coming from both Pakistan and India – the region rarely remained in peace. Fighting broke out again in 1965 but was ended thanks to the Tashkent Agreement on January 1, 1966. 

The third war between the two countries took place in 1971 which resulted in the formation of Bangladesh, formerly known as East Pakistan. In the 1980s, the sympathy of the Kashmir inhabitants shifted towards Pakistan and pro-Pakistan guerrillas struck in the Indian Kashmir valley. As both actors acquired nuclear weapons in the 1990s, the Kashmir conflict became highly threatening for the international security. Instead of reaching for the UN, the conflict was ended by the US third-party intervention when the US President Bill Clinton and Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan’s Prime minister, met in Washington on July 4, 1999. 

Since the 2000s, the insurgencies between the two countries have been shaped by the new warfare which draws on transnational linkages and the aspect of proxy war. The last two decades are characterized by a gradual insertion of various insurgency groups in the conflict. For example in late March 2003, a terrorist organization, thought to be members of Pakistan-supported Islamic group, killed 24 Hindus in Kashmir. 

The terrorist activity sparks frustration among Muslims living in Kashmir and pushes them to demand more independence. The region is now faced with a large number of uprising by local groups and youth which leads to a massive deployment of Indian security forces. The growing separatist demands and the Muslim’s dissatisfaction are both highly threatening to the Indian’s government status quo. 

Current Insurgencies in Kashmir 

The current events in Kashmir underscore the topical nature of the conflict as neither party wants to give up on their geopolitical claims. Nowadays, sectarianism is deliberately and subconsciously encouraged by the ruling elite as a part of political strategy of Hindutva (Hindu nationalism) to mobilize Hindus against Muslims and therefore unify the Hindu electorate. The politicization of religious identities constitutes one of the main strategies of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Despite the fact that Hindus represent an overwhelming majority in the country, they often perceive Muslims as threatening them from within Indian society. 

There is no doubt that both actors behave in a very hostile way through fostering fear, violence and tensions among Muslims and Hindus in Kashmir. The colonial British administration, as well as the current Indian and Pakistani administration, use the different religious identities to foster sectarianism. 

Under the British Empire, Hindus embraced western education and culture: By learning the English language, they were offered services in the Government and became trusted subjects in the eye of the British. On the other hand, Muslims were reduced to poverty as a result of British rule. The British opted for Hindu partners as governing collaborators which created an unbridgeable gap between both communities.

The government’s involvement in Hindu-Muslim violence is a part of political strategy: there is a correlation between the election calendar and the cycle of riots targeted against Muslims. In fact, riots push the Hindu electorate to vote for BJP – a party that promises to protect them from Muslim violence. The emphasis on religious differences between Islam and Hinduism encourages gradually hostile behaviors within the two communities, undermining the possibility for them to cohabit peacefully.

 The conflict is characterized by both radicalization and fatigue: the population is increasingly tired of the conflict, while the actors involved in the conflict become gradually radicalized. This marks the urge for the conflict to stop and find a sustainable peace solution that would satisfy both states and the populations living in the area. 

The complexity of the conflict is also defined by the gradual use of proxies on the conflict polarizing the battle field as well as the political claims. The more actors with diverging claims are involved, the more complicated the resolution of the conflict seems since finding a ‘win-win’ situation becomes almost impossible. 

Both sides support insurgent groups which conduct violent actions against their enemies, increasing the level of violence in Kashmir. India involves some proxies, such as the right-wing Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) to destabilize the region. The group is considered the ideological arm of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. The RSS challenged the legality of the article 35A stipulating that land can only be owned by long-term residents.

 By filing a petition in the Indian Supreme Court emphasizing that the article is discriminatory, the RSS wants the Hindu newcomers to access land in Kashmir and reverse the land-ownership power balance in the region where most of the land is owned by the Muslim long-term residents.From the Pakistani side, the aim of proxy war is to create an ethnic and sectarian divide and trigger a communal backlash. 

The ceasefire violations are not random accidents but calculated strategic moves. As far as Pakistan and their proxies are concerned, the terrorization of Hindu population in Kashmir provokes a sustained expulsion of non-Muslims from the state, weakening India’s territorial claims. It is clearly a counter-strategy to the BJP’s attempt to populate Kashmir with more Hindu inhabitants.

Firstly, chasing Hindus living in the region amounts to erode the electoral base of Narendra Modi’s government. Secondly, the politics of fear spread by the Pakistani proxies, can constitute a moral boost to disruptive activities in the Kashmir Valley or divert attention from some large-scale infiltration attempts or other social/political unrest in other parts of the country. Each party aims at populating Kashmir with inhabitants belonging to their preferred religion and hopes to use the fact of the demographic predominance as a relevant argument in the discussion about Kashmir. 

 How to end a seven-decade long conflict? 

There is no single solution which could satisfy the demands for peace. The priority should be to set a cohesive peacebuilding agenda encompassing several points in order to end the conflict, change people’s mindsets and achieve a sustainable peace. 

Firstly, the major point seems to be the shift in both parties mindsets. A new atmosphere of trust and support is needed to end the cycle of violence. Developing a more open-minded perspectives about ‘the other’ seems the only solution for the populations and governmental actors to curb prejudice and detestation.

The first step in this process is to deradicalize the proxies involved by Pakistan and India and change the national discourse in both countries. The more hate messages are spread, the more the conflict becomes tense. Ceasing the politicization of religious identities should be the first step in order to play down the hatred among Muslims and Hindu. 

Since both countries use misconceptions about the other party’s religious beliefs as one of their main techniques in escalating the conflict, this may seem hard to be achieved, yet it is absolutely necessary. That is why the burden of deradicalization should not be carried only by the governmental actors but also the civil society. An implication of religious leaders, enhancing religious tolerance and inclusivity, is crucial in the conflict operating in a religiously diverse landscape. 

The ability for the populations to critically discuss their religious interpretations as well as developing the capacity to be more tolerant regarding other religious beliefs is essential in this particular conflict where actors draw enormously on the religious differences between Muslims and Hindus. Not only the ordinary individuals but also the members of various insurgent groups should engage in a process which would allow them to be more open-minded. Deradicalization of the insurgent groups should encompass primarily the ability of religious tolerance. 

Other than that, the chances of culturally appropriate and effective intervention should be taken into account. Instead of adopting the Western model of a ‘quick-fix’, the peacebuilding should rely on the specific cultural traditions and values enabling a more cohesive bottom-up approach. Drawing on Duffey’s research, solutions should be derived “from cultural resources, relying on local actors, including the local understanding of the conflict and its resolution”. This is especially relevant in the conflict where the local population has been overlooked and threatened for decades. Another solution ‘about us, without us’ should be avoided at any cost in order to establish a long-term peace. 

Local non-state actors are more apt to identify concrete problems such as “the economy, the environment, the humanitarian situation, and ways to peacefully advocate and press government leaders for a comprehensive solution to the conflict”. Changing current mindsets is especially important taken into account that the conflict has been ongoing for many decades affecting several generations provoking a long-term animosity in the region. The grievances of both Muslim and Hindu community need to be addressed to diminish frustration and resentment of the parties. 

Alternatively, the peacebuilding agenda should be implemented in domains that affect both parties such as economy. As Jackson emphasizes, trade can prevent war because “international trade alliances are considerably more effective than military ones”. Therefore, the domain that should be improved is the economic cooperation between the two states in order to strengthen the bonds between the two of them. 

The fact that India is one of the fastest growing energy markets in the world can be a great advantage. An economic cooperation based on an increased initiatives in the energy trade could be beneficial to both parties and ultimately to the resolution of the conflict. Having Pakistan as a potential transit route for oil would satisfy India’s growing energy requirements and at the same time allow Pakistan to stabilize its economy. The attempt of the Indus Waters Treaty should be reviewed in order to design a new energy agreement that would “withstand mutual suspicions”. 

Even though both countries have never officially recognized that they possess nuclear weapons, this information is a ‘public secret’. The heated debate between New Delhi and Islamabad exacerbates the tensions between the two countries which are centered around the Kashmir region. 

The international community had already intervened in Kashmir in the past and is now vigilant regarding the current insurgencies in the region. The potential use of nuclear weapons poses a threat to the international security and so some international actors such as the USA or China have already encouraged the governments to find a peaceful solution.

Featured Image Source: Hindustan Times

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