Thousands Flee Their Homes As Tensions Increase In Kashmir


 

On 20 November 2016, the government of Pakistan announced that three children were killed by Indian shelling and another three have been injured. The two girls and their brother, aged between 5 and 10 years old, were killed as their house was shelled in Kotli, which is in Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

The Prime Minister of Pakistan-Administered Kashmir, Raja Farooq Haider, announced on 16 November 2016 that the Pakistani government in Kashmir was forced to provide shelter to approximately 50,000 people. He explained that the internally displaced people were forced to flee their homes and villages in the Bhimber district due to shelling from Indian forces across the Line of Control (LOC), the de facto border between Pakistan and India. The announcement revealed that seven Pakistani soldiers had been killed by Indian shelling and that the villages were being evacuated due to fears of civilian casualties in the exchange of fire between armed forces.

Indian defence officials told an AFP reporter that the shelling by Indian forces was in response to unprovoked ceasefire violations by armed Pakistani men over the LOC. India reported a firefight between armed men and Indian forces, in which one of the armed men was killed, in Kakapora, Pulwama. In recent weeks, both sides have reported casualties. India has reported the death of soldiers from sniper fire and attacks from armed groups. Pakistan, however, has reported the death and injury of civilians, which are often children caught by stray shelling.

These attacks and ceasefire violations have increased and tensions have deepened between the two states since September when an attack on an Indian military camp left 19 Indian soldiers dead. It is alleged by Indian authorities that the attack was perpetrated by a Pakistani-backed terrorist group. In response to the attack, Indian defence forces have launched a number of “surgical strikes” against targets in Pakistan-administered Kashmir. Indian defence officials have explained that Pakistan is providing “launch pads” for terrorist attacks within Indian-administered Kashmir.

A diplomatic solution to the tensions does not appear to be forthcoming. Both states have recently expelled diplomatic officials amidst allegations of espionage and merely vindictive ‘tit-for-tat’ reactions, and Pakistan reports that its navy recently “pushed” an Indian submarine from Pakistani waters. There is a high likelihood, if things continue as they are, that “surgical strikes” and ceasefire violations will escalate into open conflict between the two nuclear-armed states over the disputed region.

The United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) is currently monitoring the situation in Kashmir, but there remains disagreement between the two states as to the extent of their mandate. As such, UNMOGIP is limited to observing the ceasefire, without a mandate to take action to preserve it. The recent election of Donald Trump to the U.S. presidency and the ongoing conflicts in Syria and Iraq, as well as the high-politics of Russian-U.S. tensions, means that India and Pakistan are unlikely to receive much assistance from the international community in the near term. As such, diplomatic channels between the two states should be opened to explore possible solutions to an ongoing and increasingly costly conflict.

Anton Anin