by Florine Roche
Mar 2: The Kashmir issue has once again brought India and Pakistan on the brink of a war- like situation. With the release of captured Indian pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman tensions between the two neighbors may thaw down and provide an opportunity for both countries to prevent further escalation of tension. One more trigger from either side would plunge both countries on the brink of war and with disastrous effect. The recent tensions between the two nuclear armed nations began with suicide bombing by a Kashmiri militant on CRPF convoy on February 14, 2019, one of the deadliest attacks on India. The roots of the conflicts have a long and convoluted history and it is not surprising that Kashmir is the major flashpoint of some of the major conflicts between these two nations.
There have been several armed conflicts between India and Pakistan and Kashmir since independence. Independence in 1947 which also led to the partition resulting in the creation of independent India and Pakistan based on religions lines. The partition was carried out with the division of three provinces namely Assam, Bengal and Punjab on the basis of districtwise Hindu or Muslim majority.
Pakistan’s claim over Kashmir has been a major flashpoint of conflicts between these two countries since independence. Of the four major Indo-Pak conflicts fought after independence (including Kargil war) three have been on Kashmir and the Pulwama attack is another addition to this list. The only other war, a decisive one, not involving Kashmir was the liberation of Bangladesh in 1971, leading to the partition of Pakistan.
When India finally got its independence from the British it paid a huge price in the form of partition of the country and also bloodbath that followed soon after. The division on religious lines was the culmination of the divide and rule policy which the British Empire followed in India in order to continue its colonial control. Many princely states were integrated to form Indian Union. As per the partition plan Kashmir was free to accede either to India or Pakistan. Hari Singh tried to remain independent but when Pakistani tribal group supported by Pakistan attacked Kashmir within two months of India gaining independence Hari Singh sought India’s assistance in return for it becoming an Indian territory. As required by the government the Maharaja signed the Instrument of Accession, as done by other princely states and Kashmir became an Indian territory. Such However, the IoA with Kashmir gave only limited powers to India.
Maharaja Hari Singh, a Hindu prince ruling the Muslim majority state of Kashmir chose to accede to India resulting in the first war between India and Pak in 1947. Pakistan could not digest India gaining control of Kashmir through the Instrument of Accession signed by the Maharaja and Pakistani army infiltrated Kashmir with the help of tribal forces tried to occupy Kashmir. Pakistan contended that Kashmir being a Muslim majority state should have become part of Pakistan but India defends Kashmir’s accession saying the ruler consented to become part of India.
The war which began in October 1947 lasted till December 1948 resulted in India having control of two third part of the state (known as Indian controlled Kashmir) whereas Pakistan got control of roughly about one third of Kashmir on the western sector, that came to be called as Pakistan occupied Kashmir. India finally approached United Nations and the conflict ended following UN brokered ceasefire. As per the ceasefire Pakistan was required to withdraw its forces and India was allowed to maintain minimum forces in the state to maintain law and order.
An important aspect of IoA is that while other princely states subsequently signed merger agreement with India, the relationship with Jammu and Kashmir continued on the basis of IoA that granted a a special status to the state with Article 370 of the Indian constitution. Article 370 bestows special status on Jammu and Kashmir though Dr B R Ambedkar, architect of Indian constitution was against such a move. However, at the insistence of the then Prime Minister Nehru this special status was granted to J & K. This was supposed to be a temporary arrangement but this historical blunder was allowed to be continued by successive governments, for which India has been paying very high price.
Pakistan’s obsession with Kashmir continued and once again in 1965 Pakistani army launched Operation Gibraltar resulting in the Indo-Pak war of 1965. It was codenamed so just to draw parallel from the Arab invasion of Spain from the Port of Gibraltar. A border disputed escalated into a fight and Pakistan even claimed victory. When Pakistan launched a covert offensive in Indian Kashmir once again India retaliated by crossing international border at Lahore. Both India and Pakistan suffered heavy casualties in the 17 day war and once again the UN sponsored ceasefire and intervention of super powers ended the war. As the conflict ended in a stalemate Pakistan claims victory and to prove this it holds a victory pageant each year on September 6 saying it repulsed a bigger enemy.
The 1971 Indo Pak war also known as the Bangladesh liberation war that resulted in the creation of Bangladesh can be termed as a decisive one when East Pakistan located on the Eastern side of India demanded independence from Islamabad. This is the only conflict between these two countries that did not involve Kashmir. The atrocities committed by Pakistan on East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) forced more than 10 million Bengalis of East Pakistan to take refuge in India forcing India had to intervene in the Bangladesh Liberation movement.
After a bitter war Pakistani forces in East Pakistan surrendered to the joint command of India and Bangladesh forces in Dhaka. India returned 90,000 prisoners of war and also the territories it captured as a goodwill gesture following the Simla agreement signed in 1972.
The situation in Kashmir worsened in 1989 following the arrival of Jihadi fighters in Kashmir after the Soviet Union pulled out of Afghanistan. Pakistan continued to give moral and diplomatic support to the Jihadi fighters apart from training and supplying arms and weapons to the militants.
The Kargil conflict of 1999 is still fresh in the minds of Indians as India was caught unawares when Pakistani backed forced infiltrated Indian administered Kashmir. India used both diplomatic and military offensive to oust the infiltrators and it took almost two months to free Kargil and retake the ridges occupied by the infiltrators. Fearing international isolation and further escalation of the conflict Pakistan had to beat a hasty retreat from Kargil. It was a major military defeat for Pakistan though India too suffered heavy casualties. The hijack of Indian Airlines Flight IC 184 enroute Kathmandu had resulted in the release of three dreaded terrorists including Maulana Masood Azhar along with Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh and Mushtaz Zargar in 1999. Azhar had travelled to Srinagar under a fake identity in 1994 was arrested by India but Indian government capitulated and released him. In 2000 he founded the Jaish-e-Mohammed with the main objective of liberating Kashmir and since then his outfit has carried out a number of attacks deadly attacks in India including the 2001 parliament attack (along with Lashkar-e-Taiba, Pathankot air base and Uri attacks of 2016 and the recent Pulwama attack.
Indian government carried out surgical strike in 2016 in response to the Uri attack and India responded to the recent Pulwama attack by pulling off a calculated precision strike in Pakistan to avenge the death of 40 of its men in uniform. The situation brought both the countries on the brink of war and efforts are now on to defuse the tension. The release of Indian Air Force pilot Abhinandan certainly provides the much needed pause for India and Pakistan, though it will not heal the wounds of Pulwama attack.
It is a matter of great concern that the consistent war mongering by the media on both sides at the height of uncertainty is indeed a cause to worry. Lies, subterfuges, rumours and misinformation was the order of the day and the competition among various television channels to come out with breaking news created confusion and total chaos. The media frenzy added to the prevailing tension and rumour-mongering and some politicians and political parties too did not conduct themselves responsibly during this period of military standoff.
A war is certainly not an option both for India and Pakistan whatever might be the domestic compulsions. Living on the edge has its own pitfall and neither India nor Pakistan prefers such a situation. Let us hope good sense prevails making way for peace and cessation of hostilities.