Things Get Rough in Kashmir
50 years later the struggle continues
by Ben Snowden
This article was posted in June, 1998.
"If we want to save not only South Asia from nuclear war, but the world as a whole, Kashmir is the root."
India and Pakistan's continuing dispute over the Kashmir region is as old as the countries themselves. Both countries were formed in 1947, when British India was partitioned into two separate countries. In the face of a Muslim revolt, the Hindu maharajah of the mostly Islamic Kashmir placed his state under Indian control. Indian troops fought Pakistan-backed rebels in Kashmir until a 1949 U.N. cease-fire divided it into regions of Indian and Pakistani control.
Pakistan and many of Kashmir's Muslim inhabitants never accepted the division; the tensions between these neighboring countries erupted into war in 1966 and 1971. The current border between Indian and Pakistani Kashmir —which leaves India in control of about two thirds of the territory— runs through the Himalayas, along the 740 kilometer (463 mile) cease-fire line drawn in 1972.
In May of 1998, India conducted a series of undergound nuclear tests. Pakistan responded two weeks later with tests of its own. In April of 1999, both states also tested nuclear-capable ballistic missile systems, seriously raising the possibility that another war between the two powers could quickly escalate into a nuclear conflict.
Insurgent forces—which Pakistan claims are autonomous Kashmiri "freedom fighters"—have in recent months made incursions into Indian-controlled territory. According to New Delhi, these troops are actually Pakistan army regulars and Muslim mercenaries; most of the major world powers have agreed to this interpretation. India has fought back with air bombardment, as well as thousands of ground troops.
Aware of the risks that war between these nuclear neighbors would pose, world leaders have urged restraint on both parties, and encouraged outside mediation of the conflict (which India has long rejected). Though the stability of the subcontinent rests on a peaceful resolution to the conflict, a solution—which would require the diffusion of racial, political, and religious tensions at least as complex and intractable as those at work in the former Yugoslavia—is nowhere on the horizon.