August 10, 2019

Two of the world’s most important powers, India and Pakistan, are locked into an extremely dangerous confrontation over the bitterly disputed Himalayan mountain state of Kashmir. Both are nuclear armed.

Kashmir has been a flashpoint since Imperial Britain divided India in 1947. India and Pakistan have fought numerous wars and conflicts over majority Muslim Kashmir. China controls a big chunk of northern Kashmir known as Aksai Chin.

In 1949, the UN mandated a referendum to determine if Kashmiris wanted to join Pakistan or India. Not surprisingly, India refused to hold the vote. But there are some Kashmiris who want an independent state, though a majority seek to join Pakistan.

India claims that most of northern Pakistan is actually part of Kashmir, which it claims in full. India rules the largest part of Kashmir, formerly a princely state. Pakistan holds a smaller portion, known as Azad Kashmir. In my book on Kashmir, ‘War at the Top of the World,’ I called it ‘the globe’s most dangerous conflict.’ It remains so today.

I’ve been under fire twice on the Indo-Pak border in Kashmir, known as the ‘Line of Control,’ and once at 15,000 feet atop the Siachen Glacier on China’s border. India has over 500,000 soldiers and paramilitary police garrisoning its portion of Kashmir, whose 12 million people bitterly oppose often corrupt and brutal Indian rule – except for local minority Hindus and Sikhs who support it. A bloody, bitter uprising has flared on against Indian rule since 1989 in which some 42,000 people, mostly civilians, have died.

About 250,000 Pakistani troops are dug in on the other side of the ceasefire line.

What makes this confrontation so dangerous is that both sides have important tactical and nuclear forces arrayed against one another. These are mostly short/medium-ranged nuclear tipped missiles, and air-delivered nuclear bombs. Strategic nuclear weapons back up these tactical forces. A nuclear exchange, even a limited one, could kill millions, pollute much of Asia’s ground water, and spread radioactive dust around the globe – including to North America.

India’s new Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, is a Hindu hardliner who is willing to confront Pakistan and India’s 200 million Muslims, who make up over 14% of the population. In February, Modi sent warplanes to attack Pakistan after Kashmir insurgents ambushed Indian forces. Pakistan shot down an Indian MiG-21 fighter. China, Pakistan’s closest ally, warned India to back off.

Modi is very close to President Donald Trump and Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu, both noted for anti-Muslim sentiments. Modi just revoked article 370 of India’s constitution that bars non-Kashmiris from buying land in the mountain state, and shut down its phone and internet systems.

The revocation means that non-Kashmiris can now buy land there. Modi is clearly copying Israel’s Netanyahu by encouraging non-Muslims to buy up land and squeeze the local Muslim population. Welcome to the Mideast conflict East. China is also doing similar ethnic inundation in its far western, largely Muslim, Xinjiang (Sinkiang) region.

In an ominous sign, Delhi says it will separate the high altitude Ladakh region (aka ‘Little Tibet’) from its portion of Kashmir. This move suggests India plans to chop up Indian Kashmir into two or three states, a move sure to further enrage Pakistan and thwart any future peace settlement.

There’s little Pakistan can do to block India’s actions.
India’s huge armed forces outnumber those of Pakistan by 4 or 5 to one. Without nuclear weapons, Pakistan would be quickly overrun by Indian forces. Only massive Chinese intervention would save Pakistan.

Meanwhile, Kashmir, the world’s longest-running major dispute, continues, threatening a terrible nuclear conflict. Making matters worse, both India and Pakistan’s nuclear forces are on a hair-trigger alert, with a warning time of only minutes. This is a region where electronics often become scrambled. A false alert or a flock of birds could trigger a massive nuclear war in South Asia.

India and Pakistan, where people starve in the streets, waste billions on military spending because of the Kashmir dispute. Now some of India’s extreme Hindu nationalists warn they want to reabsorb Pakistan, Bangladesh, and even Sri Lanka into Mother India.

Previous Indian leaders have been cautious. But not PM Modi. He is showing signs of power intoxication.

Copyright Eric S. Margolis 2019

This post is in: India, Pakistan


  1. Raj Sathya says:

    With the abolition of article 370, the non Kashmiries are allowed to procure land and properties in Kashmir.The dalits who were brought in from Punjab as government sweepers in 1957 are eligible to apply for better jobs from now onward. With the announcement from Ambani and Tata, the business tycoons of India, Kashmir will be seen as a tourist destination for the world. The revocation of special status to Kashmir under article 370 is a suicidal for Pakistan as Kashmir will be under the federal rule of India and the terrorist movements would be closely watched. Modi was wise to sign the $5.4 billion arms deal with its ally Russia in October last year made Moscow very grateful to New Delhi by voicing support for India.Russia become the first among the permanent members of the UNSC to formally state that abrogation of Article 370 is an INTERNAL MATTER of India. China, the close ally of Pakistan advised Pakistan seek for a peaceful solution via UN; to make matters worst the UNSC turn down Pakistans request to include Kashmir in Any Other Business on the UNSC agenda. The US,another close friend of Pakistan, who offered to mediate the Kashmir matter with India took a neutral stand.While UAE and Maldives defended India, Taliban slammed Pakistan for linking heightened tensions between India and Pakistan over Kashmir with the situation in Afghanistan. While its economy is not favoring for any military action against India, Pakistan may go back to its traditional way – using an array of militant groups as proxies to keep neighbors in check.

  2. Thank you for the honest and transparent analysis on the situation in Kashmir. Indeed, the majority of the 12 million inhabitants are opposed to Indian rule, and have been since the princely state’s ruler chose India over the people’s preference to join Pakistan. After three wars between the countries over Kashmir, a military solution is off the table. The international community, including leaders of the Muslim world, have been shamefully mute on Kashmir.

  3. Vincent Jay says:

    It looks like India is planning a major campaign in Kashmir:

    “India wants Excalibur for use against a small number of specific Pakistani targets along the northwest (Kashmir) border.”

    If they use high-accuracy artillery shells to take out Pakistani strong points, they could gain an advantage which allows them to win any future conflict in Kashmir.

  4. Vincent Jay says:

    Maybe it’s not all about anti-moslem prejudice. Maybe the Pakistani military keeps the Kashmiri pot boiling to distract the people from the fact that the military is really in control of the Pakistan government.

  5. I read this column with great interest, since our family lived in what was then called West Pakistan in the 1960s. Also, I attended an American Christian missionary boarding school outside of Murree and near the border of Azad Kashmir (though my parents were not missionaries). We could usually see clearly the snow-capped peaks of the Himalayas well to the east of us. Eric, you note that the more extreme Hindu nationalists in India would like to see their country re-take Pakistan and Bangladesh, but I doubt that the more level-headed people of India would be interested in trying to do that. It turns out that the partition of the subcontinent was really a blessing in disguise for India, because governing either Pakistan or Bangladesh over the past several decades would have been a nightmare for the government in New Delhi. As it is, India has enough problems of its own without having to look after Bangladesh, which is a virtual basket case from the social, economic and political perspectives (and Pakistan should be happy that East Pakistan was forcibly separated from it back in 1971) or engaging in the impossible task of trying to subdue the Baluchis and Pathans in the mountains of Pakistan.

  6. peter mcloughlin says:

    Eric Margolis’s expertise on Kashmir makes his article a very interesting read. And he has some qualification to call it ‘the globe’s most dangerous conflict’. He raises the alarming specter of a localized nuclear war. New Delhi appears to moving closer to Washington in the developing confrontation with China, and Russia. In all likelihood war between India and Pakistan would trigger a broader nuclear conflict. What would connect events leading to world war is China; Beijing and New Delhi also have territorial disputes and are nuclear rivals. In such a scenario India would have to use part of its arsenal against China. China would retaliate and also attack major adversary, the US…the nuclear dominos are falling.

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