KASHMIR CRISIS: TENSIONS BETWEEN INDIA AND PAKISTAN EASE
By Donnelly McCleland
The military escalation between India and Pakistan appears to be winding down for now. On Friday [1 March], Islamabad handed over Indian pilot Abhinandan Varthaman, whose plane the Pakistan Air Force had shot down two days earlier. New Delhi declared it is committed to “maintaining peace and stability in the region”, suggesting it is not planning any more air attacks deep in Pakistan’s territory. Meanwhile, crossfire on the Line of Control (LoC), which divides Indian- from Pakistan-administered Kashmir, has also decreased. (Al Jazeera)
The history of India-Pakistan interactions is marked by drastic swings in relations. Both countries know the risks when pressure mounts. Since the partition of British India in 1947 and creation of modern states of India and Pakistan, the two countries have been involved in a number of wars, conflicts and military stand-offs. Kashmir has been the main cause of all major conflicts between the two countries with the exception of the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 where conflict originated due to turmoil in what was then East Pakistan (now Bangladesh).
Tensions on the border last week pushed the two nuclear-powered South Asian adversaries closer to conflict than at any point in the past two decades. The 14 February suicide attack in Indian-administered Kashmir which resulted in the deaths of 40 security personnel was the trigger for a dramatic deterioration in relations as the Pakistan-based Islamist militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) claimed responsibility for the attack. India blamed Pakistan for the attack, however, Pakistan condemned the attack and denied any connection to it. Pakistan has long been accused by its neighbours India and Afghanistan, and western nations such as the United States and the United Kingdom of its involvement in terrorist activities in the region and beyond.
Historically, India has responded to Pakistan-linked terror attacks within its borders, with restraint, but on this occasion, India launched an aerial strike within Pakistan territory, which many analysts see as a definite shift in India’s unstated policy of “strategic restraint”. The 26 February air raids against a suspected JeM camp by the Indian Air Force (IAF) marked the first time Indian fighter jets crossed deep into Pakistan territory since the 1971 Indo-Pakistan war.
Pakistan’s sustained efforts to de-escalate the crisis, including several conciliatory statements by Prime Minister Imran Khan, seem to indicate that the Indian air raids clearly rattled Pakistan’s decision-makers. Meanwhile, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who faces a difficult general election next month, seems to have taken this opportunity to reinforce his ‘strongman’ image and to prove he can deter Pakistan from “fomenting terrorism” in India.
Why Kashmir remains a flashpoint
Despite the apparent de-escalation in tensions between the two nations, the issue of Kashmir remains a flashpoint which will invariably flare up at some stage again. Central to the animosity seems to be the control of India of a Muslim-majority region. Kashmir is a 222,738 square kilometre region in the Himalayan and Karakoram mountain ranges. India (45%), Pakistan (35%) and China (20%) all claim partial or complete ownership of Kashmir. India and Pakistan have been fighting over Kashmir since both countries gained their independence from Britain in 1947. Under the partition plan provided by the Indian Independence Act, Kashmir was free to accede to India or Pakistan. The maharaja (local ruler), Hari Singh, is said to have chosen India, but Pakistan forces already in the region did not accept this and a two-year war erupted in 1947. India and Pakistan agreed to withdraw all troops behind a mutually agreed ceasefire line, later known as the Line of Control (700km in length). A subsequent war broke out in 1965, while in 1999 India fought a brief but bitter conflict with Pakistani-backed forces, but by this time India and Pakistan had both declared themselves to be nuclear powers. Sporadic clashes have continued in the region ever since.
The population of the Indian-administered state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) is more than 60% Muslim, making it the only state within Hindu-majority India where Muslims are in the majority. Many people in the territory do not want it to be governed by India, preferring either union with Pakistan (a Muslim-majority nation) or independence (which is considered to be a highly unlikely prospect). Despite the region being predominantly Muslim and seeming to be a more natural ‘fit’ with Pakistan, India has remained resolute in their claim to the region.
There are those who speculate that the motivation is heavily nationalistic in that the ruler of the region at the time of partition was a Hindu and thus India had a natural claim to it (along with the Instrument of Accession wherein Hari Singh signed an agreement with India), but others speculate that the mountainous region acts as a natural protective barrier to invasion and is thus of strategic benefit to India. A third reason for India’s interest in maintaining control in Kashmir would be an economic one: the three major rivers that flow through Indian-administered J&K are Jhelum, Chenab and Indus. According to the Indus water treaty, these rivers are controlled by Pakistan. However, as these rivers originate in India, India can use them for irrigation, transport and hydro-power generation. Thus, control over Kashmir gives India the control over its rivers and by extension gives them an edge in geopolitical issues facing the region.
FROM A CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE
The ongoing conflict in Kashmir is an earthly reminder of the spiritual battle which rages in the region for human souls. Two highly populous nations, one a Hindu-majority nation (India), where over 2,000 ethnic groups are said to be ‘unreached’ with the Gospel of Christ; and the other a Muslim-majority nation (Pakistan), where more than 400 ethnic groups are said to be ‘unreached’. Both countries have a sizeable Christian population (India 2.5-5.8%; Pakistan 0.6-2.5%), and although both nations allow for freedom of religion in their constitutions, Christians in both countries face tremendous opposition in terms of sharing their faith and in various forms of discrimination.
The Lord said to Peter that He will build His Church and that the gates of hell will not prevail (conquer or overcome) against it (Matthew 16:18). The Lord is building His Church in India, and He is building His Church in Pakistan, and despite what rages against them, they will prevail, and they will stand. They are lights in the midst of the dark forces of fundamentalism, violence and extremism; and they offer hope to millions around them. India is in the top ten of missionary-sending nations. Believers in India and Pakistan need the support, prayer and encouragement of their brothers and sisters around the world, as they fulfil their calling in very difficult circumstances.
- For the leaders of India and Pakistan
- For the Church in India and the Church in Pakistan as they face tremendous challenges
- For the Lord to continue building His Kingdom in the region