Kashmir: The Powder Keg

“The most militarized zone of the world isn’t in Syria or Iraq, it’s in Indian administered Kashmir, where fighting has continued for thirty years. Despite more than half a million soldiers stationed, here there is still no peace, instead Kashmir may have reached a violent tipping point.” This is how Steve Chao, the host of 101 East on Aljazeera Television sums up the Kashmir situation while introducing a documentary film ‘Born To Fight’ by Karishma Vyas on the prevailing state of affairs in Kashmir, released recently. The documentary goes on to investigate whether “India’s hard-line policy” is creating a new generation of fighters in Kashmir.

The 26-minute reportage presents a chilling account of the happenings in Kashmir from ground zero. The factual presentation of events leaves little to imagination about the charged atmosphere in the region; alluding to the fact the place might not only pose danger to regional peace but to world peace as well. The comparison of the region with Syria and Iraq may not actually be out of the place in the program, in the sense that two countries involved in Kashmir conflict have nuclear weapons which otherwise regarded as deterrent to the full scale war may in unfortunate eventuality or miscalculation by either side turn catastrophic for the entire region and to world peace.

One of the aspects the documentary covers is the seething anger among youth in the Valley. A young person that Al Jazeera correspondent Karishma Vyas met talks about his desire “to become a suicide bomber” while expressing his frustration with government and forces’ excesses. During the thirty years of militancy in the Valley, the tendency of youth taking this path has remained minimal. And gauging from the anger on the ground it cannot be disregarded as an isolated case. This should sound alarm bells to everyone.

The local media in Kashmir has been reporting surge in militancy related incidents in Valley. The mass support the militants are receiving is also not hidden from anyone. The ‘iron fist’ response of government to quell the protests that erupted across Kashmir after Hizb commander Burhan Wani’s killing in south Kashmir in 2016 summer has also led to the surge in militancy. This has as ground situation suggests also led to the radicalization of youth, which is political in nature than anything else. Political dissatisfaction coupled with government’s hard line response is leading to more violence in Valley. While many commentators on Indo-Pak relations may see Kashmir conflict as a territorial dispute between India and Pakistan but for Kashmiris by and large, the conflict originates from denial of the right to self-determination to the natives of Jammu and Kashmir. Most of the anger also brims from the fact that despite the promises made to the people of Kashmir by Indian leadership they have not been fulfilled. There are of course other historical realities and current events that have made the conflict more complex now than before.

The situation has a potential to bring India and Pakistan once again into a direct conflict with each other. India and Pakistan have fought three wars over Kashmir. Neither of the two has been able to wrestle the whole state from the other. The power dynamics between the two countries (India and Pakistan) is such that none of them would be able to do so at present or near future. In circumstances when Kashmir is imploding, and rising incidents of armed conflict between militants and armed forces are taking place, the question is which way would the region be heading to? The region may actually be a powder keg that is more dangerous than Syria and Iraq. This has earlier also been acknowledged by former US president Bill Clinton, when in late 1990s he called the region “the most dangerous place in the world”. And at present with rapidly changing geo-political situation, any conflict between India and Pakistan may actually pose greater threat to world peace than the events elsewhere or more particularly in the Middle East. Neither India nor Pakistan is ready to lower its guard vis-à-vis each other.

The Indian efforts to isolate Pakistan in the world politics have not succeeded. China has stood with Pakistan in all international arenas. How far China is ready to side with Pakistan can be gauged from the fact that it recently blocked a US proposal to get Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar listed on a UN list of designated terrorists. China opposed the move that was co-sponsored by Britain and France by putting a hold on the proposal. Chinese official media later justified the hold by stating that India could increase its “military pressure” on Pakistan under the pretext of “counter-terrorism crusade” that might bring “other players” in the region. While we witness US and other major European powers leaning more towards India, China and Russia are putting their weight behind Pakistan, and more so while dealing with Afghanistan.

And to cap it all, the Indian Army Chief General Bipin Rawat’s recent admission on India’s Cold Start doctrine in an interview with India Today and Pakistan’s open admission to use Tactical Nuclear Weapons it has developed in case of Indian invasion should leave no one in doubt about the Kashmir being the volcano that has a potential to erupt if course correction is not done by both the nuclear powers in time.

Cold Start doctrine envisages that India keeps several division-size integrated battle groups on a standby alert so that they can surge deep into Pakistan and seize a portion of Pakistan territory, which could be later used to bargain with it. Pakistan’s response to the doctrine has shifted from strategic deterrence to “Full Spectrum Deterrence”. Simply put, the Pakistan could use low-yield nuclear bombs (tactical nuclear weapons) to halt the advance of Indian Army in case of a direct conflict. To the level of deterrence, all of this may sound reasonable, as long as both countries play it like the other sees it. But could it be the case in extreme situations. In the scenario of India invading some parts of Pakistan, it (Pakistan) would be using the tactical nuclear weapons on its own soil against the attacking army, thinking India will have no justification to use nuclear weapons against Pakistan.

Given the global geo-political environment, particularly the volatile situation in Kashmir valley, which is the main cause of friction between India and Pakistan, the Indo-Pak doctrines to counter each other’s military might should actually send chills down the spine. Any miscalculation by India or by Pakistan can have disastrous consequences for the whole region and for the world peace. After 1999 Kargil war, India and Pakistan have come close to direct conflict when both the armies stood eyeball-to-eyeball in 2001-2002 after Indian Parliament attack. World powers, especially the US has been instrumental in containing the escalation so far. But more importantly for now, US and the regional powers might be doing a lot of good to the people of the region and to world by pressing the countries to find the final resolution of the Kashmir conflict rather than containing the hostilities. There is a need to find the panacea for the actual disease that in this case is the Kashmir issue than treating the symptoms. This shall serve everyone’s purpose and lead the region towards development and prosperity. Otherwise the situation does not look promising for any of the players.