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Kashmir is a highly contested region situated between the nuclear powers of Pakistan and India, and the conflict brewing has escalated greatly in recent days. On Wednesday, Pakistan said that it had shot down two Indian fighter jets and captured one of their pilots. This comes only a day after Indian planes struck Pakistani territory for this first time in fifty years. Although Kashmir has long been a flashpoint between the two nations, recent tensions are due largely to a suicide bombing that killed 42 people in an Indian paramilitary convey in the region two weeks ago. Escalating hostilities between India and Pakistan may be extremely destabilizing for the region, with the possibility of leading nations once again towards war.
In this highly tense atmosphere, the Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has urged diplomacy and caution. In a televised speech he stated that “All big wars have been due to miscalculation. No one knew how the war would end, my question to India is that given the weapons we have, can we afford miscalculation?” Prime Minister Khan added that “if we let it happen, it will remain neither in my nor Naredra Modi’s control.” Despite PM Khan’s protests, there is doubt among experts regarding the potential efficacy of democracy. Alyssa Ayres of the Council of Foreign Relations said that “There’s a real exhaustion and fatigue with Pakistan in India, the same fatigue that is felt by nations around the world,” continuing that, “there’s been a real hardening on whether talks can provide any benefits and whether Pakistan is genuine in its calls for dialogue.” Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, for his part, has drawn the ire of opposition politicians. Twenty-one opposition parties issued a joint statement on Wednesday, saying that Mr. Modi “had no qualms capitalizing on a national tragedy” and further, “politicizing terror.”
The first major war in Kashmir since its partition erupted in 1965. In the intervening fifty-year tensions have remained high spiking notably in 1971 and 1999. For a conflict with such deep historical roots, there is no easy solution for peace. Each side is unwilling to back down and as a result, appear cowardly in front of domestic populations. Perhaps the nearest example in our modern international system to the conflict in Kashmir is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As in Kashmir, Israel and Palestine each lay claim to the same territory and are unwilling to engage in meaningful compromise. However, unlike conflict in the Levant, fighting in Kashmir is between two nuclear powers. Restraint in this circumstance is absolutely vital. If war is to break out, nuclear weapons could wreak devastation on a massive scale. Of course, the likeliness of this scenario does not seem particularly high. The use of nuclear weapons by one nation would certainly mean retaliation on an equivalent scale by the other. Although compromise seems unlikely in this circumstance, it should not be allowed to escalate to a full-blown conflict.
The issue of Kashmir has persisted since 1947, when, at the conclusion of British rule, the territory was partitioned into spate dominions of India and Pakistan. As with other Western imperial partitions, the division of Kashmir did not account for ethnic and cultural realities. As a result, much of the Muslim population, which shared contiguity with the population of the Pakistani Punjab, was situated in Indian administered territory. Immediately following British departure from the region, war broke out between Pakistan and India establishing today’s boundaries. The subsequent conflict has resulted in a stalemate, as each nation has proven unwilling to back down and unable to make meaningful progress.
Decades of conflict have ultimately been in vain for both India and Pakistan. Boundaries set in 1947, no matter how unsatisfactory, have remained intact, as have fundamental tensions. These tensions are particularly concerning given that both nations are nuclear powers and have bared arms against each other in the past. Restraint must be exercised, and diplomacy must not be discarded no matter the internal political pressure or the past failures of negotiation.