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, of the attack, but Pakistan denied the group’s presence in its country. Pakistan was willing to cooperate in an investigation, but 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 its military shooting down and capturing an Indian pilot, who it 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 the region’s religious affiliation. Kashmiris themselves do not have a voice and are stuck between these two powerful nations.
This conflict began when India gained independence from Britain, the terms of which allowed individual states to decide if they wanted to be a part of Hindu India or Muslim Pakistan. The Kashmir region had a majority-Muslim population but a Hindu monarch, Hari Singh, who chose to remain neutral. This led to revolts across Kashmir, which Pakistan actively supported. Eventually, the Kashmiri government promised to join India in return for aid. This action sparked the first Indo-Pakistan war in Kashmir. The UN Security Council established a ceasefire and presumably divided Kashmir into separate Pakistani and Indian areas, but neither country fully retreated from the region. Pakistan insisted that the majority-Muslim population belonged with Pakistan, while India argued that the monarch gave Kashmir to India. Kashmiris, once again, never got a chance to vote on which country they wanted 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 and Pakistan lost the area now known as Bangladesh, meaning that the Kashmir region became even more important. Following this war, Kashmir became one of the most militarized regions in the world. 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, which 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.
In1999, the fourth Indo-Pakistan war began. It ended in yet another ceasefire, but that did not stop the vicious cycle of violence within the Kashmir region. As the Indian government cracked down on the Kashmiri people, more citizens sided with militant groups fighting the Indian government, which only lead to more violence by the Indian government.
This violence inevitably influences the lives of ordinary Kashmiris and turns them towards drastic action. One example is when the Indian police in Kashmir not only rubbed Adil Ahmed Dar’s face in the ground, humiliating him, but also shot him during a protest later on. Dar then left home to join Jaish-i-Mohammed, a radical Islamic militant group, and recently killed himself and 40 Indian soldiers in the latest suicide bombing. This is not an uncommon story for Kashmiri citizens — fed up with violence by the Indian police, many are forced to turn to terrorist groups for support and action.
Pakistan and India both gained nuclear capabilities in 1998, raising important questions about how modern-day territorial disputes between nuclear powers should be settled. Pakistan and India have waged wars over Kashmir before, and they may be willing to do so again but 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, who are trapped between two nuclear powers in an increasingly violent environment. As a result, 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-Pakistan 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.