On 14 February, a suicide bombing was carried out against an Indian military convoy in Kashmir. The Washington Post reports that there were 40 casualties from this attack claimed by Jaish-e-Mohammed, a Pakistan-based group that is officially banned in the country. It has also fanned the flames of the long-running enmity between India and Pakistan over the status of the Kashmir region which has caused several wars between the two countries. The rhetoric from both sides since the attack has frightened locals of the Pakistan-held Kashmir who are familiar with the retribution that often follows such attacks. Indian officials have done nothing to quell these fears, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi promising a “befitting reply” and one government minister speaking of an “unforgettable lesson” according to the Washington Post. Pakistan’s government has denied India’s claims that it had a hand in the bombing. While Prime Minister Imran Khan did not seek to officially condemn the attack, he offered to act if Pakistan’s involvement was proven. Despite the gravity of the words exchanged by the two nations, these increased tensions have been felt most strongly at the local level.
Reuters reports that the border village of Chakothi in Pakistan held Kashmir is preparing for the brunt of a possible Indian response. This is considering the recent blackout and construction of bunkers. As the village is just three kilometres from the line of control, this is not a foreign situation for residents. While schools and bazaars stay open, this could soon change. A resident of Chakothi, Jamila Kathoon told Reuters: “We are scared for our children when they go to school” and indicated that a school in the area had been hit by shells in the past.
Meanwhile, the effects of the dispute are being felt by the Kashmiris who live in India. Reuters has reported a case of 30 university students hiding in a room for two nights to hide from an angry mob that accused them of being terrorists and traitors. Though they managed to escape unharmed, this was not the only similar case. The head of the Kashmir Traders and Manufacturers Federation, Mohammad Yasin Khan has told Reuters that more than 500 students and 100 businessmen have returned to Kashmir with more to come.
The unbelievable human impact of this recent attack, not just on the victims and their families but also on the people of Pakistan-controlled Kashmir speaks to the deep-rooted nature of this conflict. Unfortunately, it seems to be unfolding in a manner reminiscent of past disputes in which one attack begets retaliatory attacks, escalating violence and extremism on both sides. The current situation needs the Indian or Pakistani government or both to be willing to break this cyclical violence by taking a measured approach. Regrettably, this does not seem likely with Khan already promising a retaliation to any potential Indian retaliation. If this happens, a pattern of violence will continue to hurt the innocent, such as the students in Kashmir or the villagers in Chakothi, while achieving very little.