25 September 2016

The divided south Asian mountain state of Kashmir is like a volcano: forgotten when quiescent, but terrifying when it comes alive.

After the first India-Pakistan War in 1947, in which the British Indian Raj was divided into Hindu and Muslim-dominated states, India ended up with two-thirds of the formerly independent mountain state of Kashmir, and the new state of Pakistan with a scrubby, poor third known as Azad Kashmir.

Rebellion and attempts at secession have flared ever since in Indian-ruled Kashmir which has a restive Muslim majority, and minorities of Sikhs and Hindus. In fact, the Kashmir conflict is now the world’s oldest major crisis. The UN’s calls for a plebiscite to determine Kashmir’s future have been ignored by India.

A week ago, Kashmiri militants attacked an Indian Army brigade base at Uri that sits near the 1948-49 cease-fire line known as the Line Of Control (LOC). Seventeen Indian regular soldiers died along with four militants. New Delhi rushed 10,000 soldiers to Kashmir, boosting Indian military strength in the mountain state to over 500,000 men.

It is a grave mistake for the world to ignore Kashmir. My first book, “War at the Top of the World,” explored the Kashmir crisis and Indian-Pakistani-Chinese-Tibetan rivalries in the Karakoram and Himalaya mountain ranges ( a work inspired by my talks with the Dalai Lama). A decade ago I called Kashmir the ‘world’s most dangerous crisis.’ It remains so today.

India and Pakistan, both nuclear-armed states with powerful armed forces and medium-ranged missiles, remain at scimitar’s drawn over Kashmir for which they’ve fought two big wars and innumerable clashes.

I’ve been under fire twice along the Kashmir Line of Control and another time further north on the ill-demarcated border leading to the 5,000 meter high Siachin Glacier, the world’s highest war.

Most Azad Kashmiris want union with Pakistan (though a minority favor total independence of historic Kashmir, which is roughly the size of England. ) India insists Kashmir is an integral part of the Indian Union and not open to any discussion. Making matters even more complex, Pakistan gave a strategic chunk of vertiginous northern Kashmir called Aksai Chin to neighboring China. India claims it back. China claims Indian-ruled Ladakh, also known as ‘Little Tibet.’

India calls Kashmiri Muslim militants “terrorists” and accuses Pakistan of waging “cross-border terrorism.” Pakistan accuses India of savage oppression in Kashmir that includes extra-judicial killings, kidnapping, reprisals on civilians and widespread torture, charges supported by Indian human rights groups.

This dispute was not of international consequence until India, then Pakistan, developed nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them by missiles and aircraft. Both states are estimated to have around 100 nuclear devices deployed.

Over the past 20 years, India’s growing economy has allowed it to greatly expand its large military forces, now the world’s third largest. They now outnumber Pakistan by at least 2.5 to 1 in manpower, warplanes, artillery and armor. Granted, a portion of India’s military forces are deployed to watch the long Himalayan border with China. In my book, I suggested that the two Asian superpowers would eventually go to war in the Himalayas and over control of Burma (Mynmar).

Even so India could use its potent armored corps to cut narrow Pakistan in half within days. As a result, Pakistan developed tactical and strategic weapons to offset India’s crushing conventional superiority. So far, Islamabad’s nuclear strategy has worked. India’s government has repeatedly rejected the army’s requests to charge into Azad Kashmir and northern Pakistan Punjab after brazen Pakistani border incursions.

However, another border clash in Kashmir, such as last week’s attack at Uri, could ignite serious fighting between old enemies India and Pakistan, raising the risk of full-scale war and even intervention by China to rescue its old ally, Pakistan. This week, China conducted a small-scale training exercise in Pakistan, a clear warning to India.

For the rest of the world, the most frightening aspect of this tinderbox border, the world’s most militarized along with the Korean DMZ, is that both sides have only three minutes warning time of enemy air and missile attack.

That’s at best. Electronic systems in India and Pakistan are often unreliable and fault-ridden. A false alarm of incoming warplanes and missiles would force a ‘use it or lose it’ response. Risks of accidents are very high.

A nuclear exchange between Pakistan and India would kill or seriously injure tens of millions in South Asia, pollute its ground water for decades or longer, and release clouds of radioactive dust around the globe.

This is not some Hollywood apocalypse. Shooting is a daily event on the Line of Control. Fanatical hatred between India and Pakistan remains a constant. Nuclear war is more likely to start between India and Pakistan than anywhere else. Preventing one should be a primary diplomatic goal for the world’s powers.

Copyright Eric Margolis 2016

This post is in: Asia, China, India, Pakistan


  1. @Raj – So you admit the people of Kashmir, if given the choice, would choose Pakistan and your ‘solution’ is they migrate. That could only be possible if they werea minority. When you have a 90% majority, the people should determine their fate on which country they want to join, as per the partition plan of 1948. Isn’t that the democracy India touts?

  2. As I read this column, news updates arrived of an Indian attack on Pakistani troops near the line of control in Kashmir. Conventional wisdom would dictate that any retaliation from either neighbour would not escalate into full blown war because of China’s stern support for Pakistan and the fallout from a nuclear war which would impact the entire region, not something the diplomatic quarters of the world would ever allow. India, with a growing successful economy, would simply have too much to lose if they went to war with Pakistan. Unfortunately, wisdom is a four letter word when it comes to the mentality of these South Asian neighbours, whose hatred for each other has been shaped over centuries of brutal religious conflict.

    During his presidency, Bill Clinton remarked how shocked he was when secret conversations among top military and government brass in India and Pakistan were intercepted, revealing a mentality on both sides that left his administration speechless. Indian and Pakistani government officials calculated the human casualties that would ensue from a mutual nuclear strike on the other, with India remarking that they would come out the winner because they had more nuclear warheads, enough to wipe out the entire population of Pakistan, while their adversary only had enough nukes to wipe out half of India’s own population.

    The world has become accustomed to both countries ‘almost’ going to war but then backing off at the last minute through international diplomatic intervention. This fragile state of affairs may boil over in a overnight nuclear strike that will not give anyone enough time to intervene.

  3. whouston999 says:

    Is there any evidence that the Americans are helping stoke this conflict at some level? This seems like a perfect “fault line” for western actors to exploit to hinder the Eurasian integration project.

  4. Pakistan was formed in 1947 to house the Indian Muslims who wanted islamic administration and government.The formation pave the way for mass exodus of Indian Muslims from all over India to the nation that was created.Overnight the Indian Muslims became Pakistanis and started war against the land that was fed them.They made friend with communist China and send some sort of threatening signal to India that they are powerful militarily with a Communist country.
    Beside taking communist with them the Pakistan government joint hands with Islamic terrorist groups and gave asylum to Osama bin Laden. Kashmir is not a issue here it is Pakistan wanted to increase its size since its lost its Eastern part to Mujbur Rahman. If at all Azat Kashmiris not happy with Indian rule it is proper for them to migrate to Pakistan since it was created for the Muslims. The latest Pakistan terrorist attack on the Indian Army Brigade Base at Uri shows Pakistan has its powerful terrorist base in its soil.

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