4 November 2016

Kashmir in Crisis—Again

In the latest cross border clash between Pakistan and India, an elderly woman and Indian soldier were killed and two others were injured, according to an Indian news agency. Press Trust of India also reported that, since September 29th, 60 such cross-border incursions by Pakistani militants have occurred across the Line of Control (LoC), the demarcation that separates the administrative control for India and Pakistan over the contested region of Kashmir. While India refers to these Incursions as “ceasefire violations,” it admitted to its own self-described “surgical strike” into Pakistani territory in the wake of an attack on an Indian army base near the city of Uri in September of this year. With both sides increasingly comfortable launching punitive responses, the risk of escalation is growing in a region over which the two countries have already fought three wars.

India and Pakistan have vied for control over the region ever since they split in 1947. If another war occurs, it will be between two nuclear armed states. To make matters worse, it would seem that neither side is very interested in negotiating. Pakistan plays down its involvement in the activities of Islamist militants in Jammu & Kashmir, while India is committed to a hardline approach. Seth Oldmixon, the founder of Liberty South Asia, told The Cipher Brief that “The isolation of Pakistan during the SAARC [South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation] Summit, the review of the Indus Water Treaty, and the tone of recent statements by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi… all indicate a preference for a punitive strategy toward Pakistan.”

The avenues for negotiation and common ground are shrinking, and international arbitration appears to be one of the few remaining viable options. Last Thursday, India expelled a Pakistani diplomat after accusing him of spying, and Pakistan responded by expelling an Indian diplomat. Speaking to The Cipher Brief, Sameer Lalwani, Deputy Director of the South Asia Program at the Stimson Center remarked on the growing impasse: “For the time being, the odds of future crises emerging in South Asia remain high. Militant groups continue to operate out of Pakistan, and Indian mismanagement of Kashmir creates further opportunities for cross-border violence.” As a regional power with strong ties to both countries and much to lose from an Indo-Pakistani conflict, Oldmixon says China could play a valuable role in moderating discussions to deescalate the crisis.

While negotiations could be useful for reducing tensions, they are unlikely to address the root causes of the conflict and only offer a short term solution. Pakistan’s indifference to, or inability to hinder, cross-border attacks by militants, as well as India’s imposition of martial law on its side of the LoC, are issues that complicate any sort of long-term resolution. In an effort to maintain order, India’s use of curfews has affected regional commerce and day-to-day life, while its use of non-lethal force against Kashmiri protestors has left many permanently disabled or disfigured. This in turn offers a bottomless well of grievances for militants to rally around, perpetuating the conflict.

While the prospects for a long term resolution to tensions are grim, the fact that this sort of tension has occurred in the past, could actually be a reason that further escalation is unlikely. According to Lalwani, “Crises are most dangerous when a product of unexpected events” and so “This history gives both actors familiarity with perceived escalatory thresholds in conjunction with an awareness of the script for possible moves and proportional countermoves.” While this may bode well for avoiding another war, it is likely to be little relief to a region that is nearing its seventh decade of conflict.

Will Edwards is an international producer at The Cipher Brief. Follow him on Twitter @_wedwards.

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