My last post noted how skirmishes in the disputed Kashmir region last month have put a spanner in the promising rapprochement between India and Pakistan. This is a familiar theme in bilateral affairs. The exemplar of how military tussles in Kashmir can escalate into a wider confrontation and subvert important diplomatic initiatives is the 1999 Kargil mini-war. By sheer coincidence, new revelations about the conflict emerged in Pakistan just as the recent fighting broke out. With the country about to kick off a raucous electoral season, these disclosures have current relevance since they concern actions taken back then by Pakistani leaders who are still on the political scene. More fundamentally, however, they touch on the very essence of the Pakistani state. Continue reading
Despite the promising rapprochement (here and here) that gathered pace between India and Pakistan last year, disruptive military tensions are never far from the surface. This point was amply demonstrated by last month’s skirmishes along the 450 mile-long boundary – known as the Line of Control – separating the two armies in the disputed Kashmir region. The fighting, which left two Indian and two Pakistani soldiers dead, was the worst flare-up since an uneasy ceasefire agreement came into effect along the heavily-militarized LoC in November 2003 and has put a damper on the détente process.
The clashes are a stark reminder of how combustible the military rivalry in Kashmir remains and how even localized incidents there can have important ramifications for the broader relationship.* Accusations that Pakistan decapitated one of the dead Indian soldiers and carried off his head as a trophy provoked fury in New Delhi. The Indian army chief warned of “aggressive and offensive” reprisals in the event of further provocation and a senior leader in the Bharatiya Janata Party, the main opposition party, demanded that India “get at least 10 heads from their side” if the Pakistanis did not return the soldier’s head. An influential Hindu nationalist group even called for nuclear retaliatory strikes – a contingency that was underscored when Indian officials inexplicably advised residents in Kashmir to prepare for a possible nuclear war. And Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, a dogged champion of better ties with Islamabad, was forced to announce that “there cannot be business as usual with Pakistan.” One immediate consequence is New Delhi has put on hold a liberalized bilateral visa regime that had been hailed as an important milestone in relations. Continue reading