Women sitting in Kamal Kote village near the Line of Control, in the Indian Administered Kashmir. (Photographer: Amit Bhargava/Bloomberg News)

Where the Latest India-Pakistan Conflict May Lead

(Bloomberg) -- Escalating tensions between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan are centered -- not for the first time -- on the disputed region of Kashmir. The latest conflict was sparked by a Feb. 14 terrorist attack that killed dozens of Indian paramilitary troops. India blamed Pakistan, which denied involvement, triggering an escalation that’s included Pakistani fighter jets shooting down two Indian aircraft. It’s the most serious security challenge for India Prime Minister Narendra Modi since coming to power in 2014 and is unfolding during the run-up to a tightly contested general election due by May.

1. Why do India and Pakistan distrust each other? 

India and Pakistan were created out of the bloody partition of British India in 1947. The tensions before and after the drawing of new borders uprooted 14 million people and erupted in mob violence that killed as many as 1 million Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs. The two countries have gone on to fight three major wars since independence. Pakistan’s founders believed India saw the subcontinent’s partition as temporary and hoped to absorb the territory that had become Pakistan at the first opportunity. India has been frustrated by what it sees as Pakistan’s support for terrorists that continue to strike inside its territory, particularly in Kashmir.

2. What’s so special about Kashmir?

Two of the countries’ three wars have been over Kashmir, an area in the Himalayas that is claimed in full -- and ruled in part -- by both India and Pakistan. At the time of partition, India and Pakistan courted the subcontinent’s various princely states to join their respective fledgling nations. The Hindu ruler of Muslim-majority Kashmir couldn’t decide which new country to join. Pakistani irregulars invaded, India intervened, and the two countries fought to a stalemate. Roughly 70 years later, the two sides remain in a tense stand-off along a de facto border known as the Line of Control, one of the most heavily militarized zones in the world.

Where the Latest India-Pakistan Conflict May Lead

3. What sparked the latest unrest?

At least 37 members of India’s Central Reserve Police Force were killed and others injured in the Feb. 14 assault on a convoy in Indian-controlled Kashmir. Jaish-e-Mohammad, a Pakistan-based terror group, claimed responsibility for the attack that took place near the state capital of Srinagar. The countries have had numerous border disputes -- in 2016, an Indian military camp was ambushed near the Kashmiri town of Uri, prompting India to attack what it said were terrorist staging grounds in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir. But the actions that have followed the Feb. 14 attack rank this as the most serious conflict since Pakistan and India fought a war in 1971. Jaish-e-Mohammad is a jihadist group dedicated to Kashmir becoming part of Pakistan and was connected with the 2002 murder of U.S. journalist Daniel Pearl.

4. Does India risk starting another full-scale war?

Probably not. Although there is enormous domestic pressure to respond forcefully, India has long been constrained by the fact both countries have nuclear weapons. After the 2016 attack on Uri, Modi’s government authorized limited strikes and made sure the situation didn’t escalate -- a predicament helped by Pakistan’s denials that any cross-border attacks even took place. However, this latest attack comes as Modi’s party slumps in the polls ahead of the elections, possibly heaping greater pressure on the prime minister to retaliate.

5. Where are we likely to go from here?

Pakistan is likely to come under renewed diplomatic pressure. The White House called on Pakistan to “end immediately the support and safe haven provided to all terrorist groups operating on its soil.” The attack may also put pressure on China, a close ally of Pakistan, to alter its position at the United Nations Security Council, where Beijing has blocked India’s attempts to list Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar as a designated terrorist. The Chinese Foreign Ministry reiterated its call for India and Pakistan to exercise restraint.
Pakistan has sought help from the United Nations to de-escalate the situation, while India reached out to countries including U.S., U.K., China, France and Russia and urged the government in Islamabad to take action against terror groups based in the country.

Where the Latest India-Pakistan Conflict May Lead

The Reference Shelf

  • A story on the most recent attack on a convoy in Kashmir.
  • A story on the 2016 attacks that killed 18 Indian soldiers.
  • A look at the potential economic power of a friendly India and Pakistan.
  • A QuickTake on India’s election and another on the U.S. relationship with Pakistan.

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