Have a decent awareness of the news today and you will probably have been exposed to coverage of war-ravaged Syria, fighting in North Africa and perhaps news on the Colombian civil war.
So it seems troubling that this conflict between two nuclear armed, well resourced and wealthy countries is now flaring up yet again almost unnoticed by the UK media and public awareness. This long and bitter conflict is between India and Pakistan over a vast swathe of the Himalayas called Kashmir. To understand the troubled relationship requires an understanding of the history of hostilities between these two powerful nations.
Issues began during the period of the “Winds of Change” after the Second World War. In 1947 the countries were granted independence from the British Empire by Prime Minister Clement Attlee and after a series of referenda and votes, boundaries were drawn roughly based on religion in an attempt to reduce any potential post-independence sectarian violence under the ‘Mountbatten Plan’. Pakistan was predominantly Muslim, India predominantly Hindu and Sikh and Burma predominantly Buddhist. However the boundaries were drawn up poorly and forced huge exoduses- uprooting some 14 million people, more than four times the number of Syrian refugees removed by the Syrian war- causing huge riots. An estimated million people were killed almost exclusively on the Pakistan-India border.
Watered down, the reasons for such a long and desperate conflict are remarkably simple; Pakistan sees India as a threat to its existence and India believes terrorist attacks in Indian controlled Kashmir are being backed by the Pakistani government. Three separate wars have been fought, mainly over Kashmir, which has issues over governance since the Mountbatten plan was put into place- it was a Muslim majority state ruled by a Hindu government. The Indian army intervened in a Pakistani irregular invasion from the north and both sides fought to a stalemate. This created a so called “Line of Control”, allegedly one of the most militarised zones in the world- as I can testify. Having been to Indian Kashmir I have witnessed the fragility of the situation. To add to the mix several insurgent groups have been fighting a war against India since 1989, fighting for Kashmiri independence – which has left over 47,000 people dead. The Pakistani Government also supports several of the groups who want Kashmir to join Pakistan.
So 68 years, three wars, one insurgency and with millions dead we arrive in 2016, when the conflict appears to have died down to an uneasy peace. So when 18 Indian soldiers were killed by Pro-Independence militants in the Kashmiri town of Uri on the 18th September it came as a shock, and angry fingers were pointed at Pakistan, who were believed to have supported the militants, but whose government has denied involvement. India’s home minister Rajnath Singh labelled Pakistan a “Terrorist State” and hundreds of millions of furious Indians bayed for revenge. Prime Minister Modi – elected on promising a hard line against Pakistan – was under pressure to strike the aggressors.
Last week he gave the go ahead for Indian forces to strike beyond the line of control to attack so called terrorist “launch pads”. Pakistan claims two of its own soldiers died in cross border shelling and claims an Indian soldier crossed the border and was captured by security forces – disputing Modi’s claim the strikes were ‘surgical’. Relations between India and Pakistan have deteriorated and thousands of villagers have fled the border towns of Punjab fearing an escalation of the situation.
And all this comes against a backdrop of anti-Indian violence in the region, following the death of a pro-independence militant leader and the subsequent killing of 80 anti-government protesters over two months. Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif claims India is hiding serious human rights abuses and the strikes were “unprovoked and naked aggression”. So the war of words continues. Ad whilst all-out war seems unlikely at best, the situation is certainly far from over.
So two nuclear armed countries fuelled by angry populaces and festering suspicion continue to shake their fists and clash over a decades’ old dispute. The rest of the world can only watch with baited breath and wait for a peaceful solution; and we may be waiting a very long time for that indeed.
By Chris Sinclair
This article represents the views of the author, and not the views of the Politics Society, nor of Bishop Wordsworth’s School.