Kashmir Continues to Test Relationship Between India and Pakistan
India and Pakistan have held various talks about
the disputed territory of Kashmir, which is the issue at the base of their
chronic antagonism and their displays of nuclear strength. India controls
two-thirds of this Himalayan region, which is the only Indian state that
is predominantly Muslim.
The Indian Air Force launched air strikes on May
26, 1999, and later sent in ground troops against Islamic guerrilla forces
in Kashmir. India blamed Pakistan for orchestrating violence in Kashmir by
sending soldiers and mercenaries across the so-called Line of Control that
divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan. Pakistan countered that the
guerrillas were independent Kashmiri freedom fighters struggling for
India's ouster from the region. Most international sources agreed with
India's assumption that Pakistan was arming the soldiers. In Aug. 1999,
Pakistan was forced to withdraw, but fighting continued sporadically
during the coming year.
In Oct. 2001, violence again broke out in the
region when a suicide bombing by a Pakistan-based militant organization
killed 38 in India-controlled Kashmir. India retaliated with heavy
shelling across the Line of Control. India, angered by Washington's sudden
coziness with Pakistan following the Sept. 11 attacks, took the
opportunity to point out that, while Pakistan might be helping the U.S.
fight terrorism on the Afghan front, it was simultaneously supporting
terrorism on its own borders with India. On Dec. 13, 2001, suicide bombers
attacked the Indian parliament, killing 14 people. Indian officials blamed
the deadly attack on Islamic militants supported by Pakistan.
Hope for a peaceful solution to the conflict in
Kashmir was raised in Nov. 2002, when a newly elected coalition government
in India-controlled Jammu and Kashmir vowed to reach out to separatists
and to improve conditions in the state. But hopes were dashed in March
2003, following the slaughter of 24 Hindus in Kashmir. Officials blamed
the massacre on Islamic militants. Days after the violence, both India and
Pakistan test-fired short-range missiles capable of carrying nuclear
warheads. Two bombs exploded in Mumbai (Bombay) in August, killing more
than 50 people and injuring about 150. Indian officials blamed
Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistan-based militant Islamic group. But in Nov.
2003, India and Pakistan declared their first formal cease-fire in 14
years. The cease-fire applied to the entire Line of Control dividing
Kashmir. Relations between the two countries have continued to thaw,
though no real progress has been made.
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