In Salman Rushdie’s panoptic novel Midnight’s Children, the character Tai claims that if you “put a gun in a Kashmiri’s hand… it will have to go off by itself – he’ll never dare pull the trigger. [Kashmiris] are not like Indians, always making battles”. Later, Aadam Aziz – the protagonist’s grandfather – tells the reader, “I started off as a Kashmiri and not much of a Muslim. Then I got a bruise on the chest that turned me into an Indian”. The recent flare-up of South Asia’s long-running sore; jurisdiction over Kashmir, has once again been characterized by a media narrative that contrasts two equally compelling claims for sovereignty. Given that both nations possess nuclear weapons, it is perhaps understandable that this is what captures global attention. Yet it is worth remembering that prior to 1947, Kashmir was an independent princely state, with, as Tai suggests, independent cultures and customs. Though the region is predominantly Muslim, this does not represent any inherent claim by Pakistan. Indeed, more Muslims live in India than across the Line of Control. A ‘nuclear exchange’ – maybe the blandest euphemism in a strong field of nuclear-related-jargon – would be calamitous for India, Pakistan, and the world. But whilst the conflict remains conventional, it is the Kashmiris who suffer the brunt of it.
Given that both nations possess nuclear weapons, it is perhaps understandable that this is what captures global attention.
Aadam Aziz receives the bruise that turns him into an Indian at the Amritsar Massacre, when two-hundred demonstrators were shot by British authorities in the Punjab. Today’s conflict between India and Pakistan has much to do with their colonial past. The line of partition is both a physical and psychological scar across the subcontinent. It not only divided Kashmir, but villages and families too. When partition came into effect on 15 August 1947, as many as two million people were murdered as border communities attempted to cleanse themselves of their respective minorities. Partition provided a military infrastructure for Hindu-Muslim grievances to continue and intensify, and the new nations immediately went to war over Pakistan’s attempt to annex Kashmir. Since then there have been three more full-scale wars – the last in 1999 – woven together with regular cross-border gunfire. The latest escalation comes after a suicide bomber killed 46 policemen in Indian-administered-Kashmir. In retaliation, India bombed what it claimed were training facilities inside Pakistan-administered-Kashmir, used by Jaish e-Mohammed, the jihadist group that Delhi blames for the attack. In what appears to have been a blessing in disguise, (that disguise being possible Armageddon), Pakistan downed an Indian warplane, but have since returned the pilot in a self-professed gesture of goodwill.
Today’s conflict between India and Pakistan has much to do with their colonial past.
Bill Clinton once said that thinking about India and Pakistan was what kept him up at night. That the country which harboured Bin Laden sits atop a nuclear arsenal is a disconcerting thought. Though the news that Pakistan has begun fitting its missiles with smaller warheads sounds like a step forward, these ‘tactical warheads’ increase the chance of a nuclear conflagration; as they can be used in a warzone rather than on a city. It cannot be denied that Pakistan – or rather its highly independent intelligence agency the ISI – supports Islamist insurgents, both in Kashmir and Afghanistan. The most powerful part of the Taliban; the Haqqani Network is based in Pakistan, along with the leadership of Jaish e-Mohammed and other organizations. The motive for Pakistan’s patronage is twofold. Firstly, it gives the ISI a veneer of deniability as it attempts to mastermind the insurgency in Kashmir. Secondly, it keeps Afghanistan unstable, which Pakistan believes is vital so as not to be flanked by a strong India-aligned Afghan government. It also provides strategic depth, so that in the event of an all-out Indian invasion, the Pakistani army could retreat across the border and counterstrike from the Hindi Kush. In short, the country’s entire doctrine is predicated on support for Islamist groups, many of which view Hindus as infidels. Whilst the current government of Imran Kahn is fairly pragmatic and populist, its surrogates are anything but.
With general elections in April, there are suspicions that the government is manufacturing a war to whip up support
In contrast, India’s governing Bharatiya Janata Party makes no effort to hide their Hindu nationalist ideology. With general elections in April, there are suspicions that the government is manufacturing a war to whip up support. As hardline Hindu fundamentalists, conflict with Muslim Pakistan is likely to galvanize their base. BS Yeddyurappa – a prominent member of the BJP – has even admitted that the ongoing aerial contest could help win his party seats at the next election. Though Tai’s generalization about Indians might apply to the country’s current government, the crisis has raised questions about the fitness of the Indian Army. Less than the downing of its jet, the discovery that it was a Soviet-era MiG-21, and that India could only supply its army for ten days of intense fighting, have all been rather embarrassing revelations. With elections around the corner, Indian Prime Minister Nerandra Modi is unlikely to tolerate an embarrassing end to the affair. More concerning still are the litany of human rights abuses occurring in Kashmir. In the febrile atmosphere that followed the suicide attack, the Indian government withdrew police protection from prominent separatist leaders, leaving them vulnerable to nationalist and sectarian mobs.
Ultimately, nuclear war is not likely. Whilst we should be concerned about it, we should not let it distract us from the plight of the Kashmiris; caught between terror attacks and the reprisals of a sectarian government. Pakistan and India’s long history of conflict has produced lines of communication to mitigate the possibility of a mistake resulting in annihilation. On the bright side, if my prediction turns out to be wrong, there won’t be anyone left to tell me.