By Siddharth Sastri and Avani Venkateswaran, Class of 2019
It is often said that there are two things that unite a country as diverse as India quickly and wholly – cricket and Pakistan. The cricket world cup starts in May, but the unification decided it couldn’t wait that long. The last few weeks have certainly been eventful for India and Pakistan’s relations – a recent attack on Indian paramilitary forces by Pakistani militants that left 40 dead was one of the deadliest in decades and triggered swift, retaliatory measures from both countries.
A brief history and recap of the last few weeks
The two countries have a tumultuous history that has its roots in the British strategy of Divide and Rule and the Partition of 1947. Since then, four wars have been fought, most notably in 1971 which resulted in the creation of independent Bangladesh (from formerly East Pakistan). Post that, the conflict and tension has centered around the state of Kashmir, which both India and Pakistan claim in entirety and which is also the site of the most recent incident.
On February 14th, 40 Indian paramilitary police were killed in a bomb attack by Kashmiri militants on their convoy while traveling in Pulwama, within Indian-administered Kashmir. Media reports indicate that a car carrying between 660-770 lbs of explosives struck a convoy of 70 vehicles that was transporting 2,500 troops to the Kashmir Valley. Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), a Pakistan-based group, has claimed responsibility for the attack. JeM is designated a terrorist organization by the UN, India, US and the UK.
While there has been a recent spike in violence in Kashmir starting in 2016, this incident was hard-hitting because of the level of casualties as well as its implications in terms of response by both countries. India has long accused Pakistan of backing JeM, and claimed that they had evidence of Pakistan’s involvement in the attack - an allegation that Pakistan vehemently denies. However, the situation rapidly escalated as both countries engaged in a series of retaliations. Political leaders from both sides participated in a war of words (often on Twitter) and ambassadors were recalled to their home countries; India revoked Pakistan’s favored status in trade, imposed a 200% duty on all Pakistani imports, and also decided to not uphold the Indus Water Treaty in giving Pakistan it’s share of waters from the Indus tributaries. These actions mirror India’s usually moderate response to Pakistan.
This time, however, the retaliations weren’t limited to keyboards and economics alone - The Indian Air Force (IAF) crossed the Line of Control (what is effectively a proxy for the Kashmir border) for the first time since 1971 and dropped a payload in Balakot on what the IAF claimed was a JeM camp. India and Pakistan disagreed heavily on whether there was a JeM camp, and the level of casualties, but Pakistan declared it a grave aggression and retaliated with subsequent air strikes of their own. During an ensuing pursuit and dogfight, an Indian pilot was forced to eject from his plane in Pakistan and captured by Pakistani forces. After spending 60 hours in captivity, he was returned to India as a “peace gesture” - which seems to have partially worked. Amidst international clamor to refrain from war, the two countries seem to have eased off a little. India is demanding that Pakistan take action against the terrorist groups that they believe are in Pakistan - and Pakistan to their part are claiming that they’ve arrested 44 people so far, and will not “allow anyone to "use the Pakistani land for terrorism against any country”.
More questions than answers
While the situation seems to be defused for now, this doesn’t seem to be a stable equilibrium. Another incident like Pulwama has the potential to bring the countries to the brink of war, which some people may believe is warranted. However, the authors of this piece strongly believe that war isn’t likely to be a panacea, given the backdrop of nuclear capabilities, global alliances, and potential for massive casualty counts. But it’s unclear what a solution for long term peace can be.
To further complicate matters, general elections loom in India. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), India’s reigning political party, has faced some uncertainty in their re-election given their recent defeat in five state elections and their previous election campaign of ‘development for all’ having had mixed and unclear results. It is likely that the recent conflict and retaliation against Pakistan, always a hot-button, will be used to strengthen their position for the upcoming elections.
The situation is made far murkier by the absence of a consistent narrative and facts. Both India and Pakistan make claims that directly contrast with each other in terms of the impact of the raids and attacks conducted in the last few days, and the presence of evidence against one another. News agencies from both countries paint very different pictures, making it near impossible to gain a holistic understanding. Anecdotally speaking, the map of India that the authors saw throughout school had a Kashmir border very different to what Pakistan’s map of India looks like.
The last thought, which is less incontrovertible, is that the people who undisputedly suffer by being caught in the middle are the residents of Kashmir. Immediately after the Pulwama attack, Kashmiri students and businessmen across India were the subject of violence, as reports of Kashmiris being threatened, harassed, and beaten up poured in. Several Kashmiri students in multiple states were asked to vacate their rental properties as homeowners feared attacks, while traders in the Eastern state of Bihar were attacked by a mob. At the same time, border shelling by both countries resumed after the attack, which has claimed several Kashmiri civilians as victims.
Given the spike in violence, and reports about Kashmiri youngsters being turned to militancy, the question does arise - how can the leaders work to address the problems of the common Kashmiris and prevent them from suffering by being caught in an environment of spiraling violence and a lack of opportunity?