Can India and Pakistan find a resolution?
The initial partition of India following the 1947 conclusion of British rule over the subcontinent created two independent states: India and Pakistan. The inherently complex relationship between India and Pakistan has since grown increasingly contentious—often even violent.
At one point, the two countries were one, banded in opposition towards British imperialism and fighting to create an independent—but unified—country, with multiple regions and peoples peacefully coexisting alongside each other. In the last several decades, however, the two countries have been stuck in a seemingly endless cycle of quarrels, many of which are centered in the heavily-disputed Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). J&K sits on the border between India and Pakistan and is the only Muslim majority region within India. The two countries have continually fought to claim ownership of the area after India’s independence. Both nations hold responsibility in the current downward spiral of hostility occurring in the area. Pakistan views the region’s inhabitants as oppressed Muslim peoples, while India is attempting to control the region under a counter-terrorist agenda that has cost many local lives.
India and Pakistan are two nations which have the ability to mobilize weapons of mass destruction, which brings up the concern of potential nuclear conflict. The countries are estimated to yield between 130-140 and 140-150 stockpiled nuclear warheads, respectively. India first formed its nuclear program in 1946 and conducted its first tests in 1974 under an operation “Smiling Buddha”. The country currently has what is referred to as a “nuclear triad”: nuclear weapons that can be launched from the air, sea, and land. Pakistan began its nuclear program in 1972, and has a much larger, but less advanced nuclear arsenal. Nevertheless, Pakistan is easily able to launch attacks into India if conflict were to rise to such levels. Although neither country currently is currently believed to have these weapons deployed and ready for use, the risk of the escalation of smaller scuffles to nuclear standoffs is a possibility that is hard to ignore.
Pakistan’s neighbors continually accuse the Imran Khan’s government of turning a blind eye to terrorist groups operating in the country. In early February 2019, for example, a terrorist attack in Iran killed twenty-seven of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, an elite branch of the Iranian military. The Iranian government stated that the militants who carried out the attack, three of which were Pakistani citizens, were believed to have originated in Sistan and Baluchistan regions which lie on the border between the two countries. .Soon after, the Afghan government filed a complaint with the UN in regard to the Pakistani government’s meetings with Taliban representatives. The border between east Afghanistan and west Pakistan spans the full length of both countries. That same month, another terrorist group based in Pakistan executed a large bomb attack in Pulwama (a city in J&K), killing over forty Indian policemen and sparking what would culminate in a military exchange between the two countries. It is important to note the attacker was a Kashmiri local who joined a militant group in Pakistan, which helps to reveal the current status of the region and uncovers the faults of both countries. Pakistan’s lax regulation of extremist groups and India’s constant repressive actions over the Kashmiri populace has begun to sow resentment as well as promote powerful oppositionist efforts and actions.
The current Indian government under Narendra Modi, on the other hand, persists in working to suppress the Muslim minority in India. Before his election, the J&K region saw declining levels of violence between the various groups. However, because of Modi’s Hindu-nationalist policies and war on insurgency, violence in the region has steadily increased each year. The Indian government has allowed members of the Hindu majority to commit unmitigated anti-Muslim oppression. For example, in 2017, an Indian Army officer tied a Muslim villager to the front of his vehicle, utilizing him as a sort of human shield during the local election protests. Instead of denouncement, the officer received public praise.
In more recent efforts to suppress local activism in J&K, the Indian government has fortified its military presence in the Kashmiri province by increasing the number of troops stationed in the region.
In response to the 2019 Pulwama attack, the Modi administration ordered a preemptive airstrike on militant groups operating on Pakistani soil, to which Pakistan responded by dropping several bombs within Indian borders. Neither attack caused any meaningful damage to either country; however, they did pose the highest risk of sparking another war between the two nations since the last major conflict in 1971. After these exchanges, the two countries again found themselves in the throes of armed conflict. Indian and Pakistani airplanes engaged in a dogfight, ending with the Pakistani capture of an Indian pilot.
The government of Pakistan, however, showed willingness to end the short strife by treating the pilot with respect and returning him to India in good health. Modi, however, seemed undeterred in his opposition towards Pakistan, unwilling to express appreciation or good will towards his country’s historic foe until the country tightened its policing of militant groups.
In order for the two nations to mend relations and end their decades-long conflict, both governments must accept their shortcomings in reparations and develop meaningful policy to bring the dispute to a conclusion. In other words, both countries should avoid implementing nationalistic or oppressive policies, and endeavor to effectively maintain good relations between the two countries.
Indian policy in Jammu and Kashmir is incredibly important, as the region has seen a considerable increase in the power of the Hindu majority Jammu, and a reduction in influence of the Kashmir’s Muslim-majority population. Though the Indian government has accused Pakistan of causing unrest in the region, however, it clearly has served a large role in creating a larger rift between the Muslim minority and the rest of the population.
Khan and Modi share the dual responsibility of preventing tensions between the countries from escalating into a full-blown war between the two nations. When it comes to Indo-Pakistani relations, Modi has embodied the persona equivalent to a military strongman and has an unwillingness to forgive past events between the two enemies. Though he may be attempting to create a persona of national pride as a publicity stunt for the upcoming elections, his short-term actions and policies may have long term, devastating effects on the relations between Pakistan and India. It is in the best interest of both nations if Modi can find methods of withdrawing from overly nationalistic, oppressive control of Muslim Indians, and accept Pakistan’s attempts to improve relations.
It is also critical that Khan and his administration work with Modi in his goal of defeating insurgency by pursuing a policy to curb the power and actions of terrorist cells which operate in Pakistan. Parts of the country have, on several occasions, been seen as a safe haven for extremist groups by the country’s neighbors because of the government’s hesitancy to challenge them. If the Pakistani government fails to address its terrorist problem, it will not only destroy what little relations with India remain, but will also lose the crucial support of neighboring Afghanistan and Iran.
In the modern age of international dependency—in which both countries possess powerful nuclear weapons—a full war could have devastating and far-reaching consequences, not only to India and Pakistan, but to the international community. It is now necessary for both countries’ leaders to weigh the consequences of their actions and work to resolve their conflict; however, whether they can truly reconcile with one another remains to be seen.