Most of those active or interested in foreign affairs, are used to hear periodically news from the Kashmir conflict – nothing nice but not something really disturbing world peace on a larger level. This might have (and I fear: it has) changed on 06 August, exactly 74 years after the nuclear explosion in Hiroshima. The Indian Parliament took a decision, which might lead to a nuclear confrontation with Pakistan.
We all know, that Kashmir is a disputed territory in the Himalayas and one of the most beautiful parts of the world. It is divided between India (43%), Pakistan (37%) and China (20%). It is is one of the world’s most militarized zone and has seen last century three major wars between India and Pakistan. In the Indian-administered part, clashes are frequent: arrests, human right violations, disappearances. Since 1989 more than 60,000 citizen have been killed.
To overcome certain tensions in the 1950ies, an article 370 had been introduced into the Indian constitution, giving a special status to the region of Jammu and Kashmir, allowing it to have a separate constitution, a state flag and autonomy over the internal administration. That meant concretely that the state’s residents live under a separate set of laws related to citizenship, ownership of property, and fundamental rights, meaning among others that Indian citizens from other states could not purchase land or property.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Hindu nationalist party which won the national elections this year, promised in their election manifesto to abolish those Kashmiri related articles, as they are a discrimination against non-permanent residents and would be an obstacle for the development of that state.
This week, the BJP-led government proposed that they had announced during the election campaign and it was voted that all the clauses of Article 370 would be inoperative, in addition that the state should be divided into two Indian union territories to be called Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh.
This vote is interpreted by the the local Kashmiri as the sign that demography will be used to make them a minority in their own region (similar to what has happened in so many places in the world, not only in Tibet, Palestine and Western Sahara). Plans are on the table to give now special access to land to former Indian soldiers, to families of refugees who had to leave Pakistan in 1947 and to Hindu fundamentalists. To calm down the fears and tensions, India airlifted immediately 8,000 additional troops to Kashmir, cut internet and mobile phone and declared all demonstrations as illegal.
The UN are leading those who criticise the Indian vote – but the local players are adding additional tensions: Islamabad downgraded diplomatic relations, suspended bilateral trade, announced the partial closure of its airspace and send their Foreign Affairs Minister to Beijing. The three main actors in Pakistan, Government, military and Secret Service, seem more divided than ever how to retaliate. Islamist militant groups like Jaish-e-Mohammed seem to prepare suicide attacks like the one in Pulwama (14 February 2019, Valentine’s Day) which killed 40 Indian military and led to military aircraft confrontation. Beijing considers Ladakh as their territory and warns Delhi to give a new status to that region, Delhi tells everyone “stay out of our internal matters”.
And the European Union? No statement yet from the European External Action Service (EEAS).
If the level of violence on the Indian administered territory (or in India itself) will raise dramatically, the Indian army will follow their logic to be obliged to attack the infiltration of Islamist fighters over the Line of Control, the quasi-border. The Pakistani army will then see themselves obliged to respond, but will not have the means to resist too long. With a five time higher military budget, India has in all sections more means: from army, air and navy personnel, from tanks to artillery, from aircrafts and aircraft carriers to submarines and frigates. Only in armoured personnel carriers and in the number of nuclear warheads, the Pakistani side has an advantage.
As military analysts predict that Pakistan will not be able to resist longer than a week to their much stronger neighbour, Pakistan will then be tempted to use some of their 135 nuclear warheads, prompting a nuclear reaction from Delhi.