45 Years Later: Are India and Pakistan ready for war?

Independence of India and Pakistan being celebrated August 13, 2013.  (Umair Kahn/Flickr Creative Commons)

India and Pakistan have been rivals since the separation of East and West Pakistan from the subcontinent in 1947. The migration that ensued following Pakistani independence was one of the largest migrations in human history, with 15 million people uprooted from their homes and at least 1 million people left dead. 

Relations between Muslims and Hindus were tolerable before the partition, however the partition solidified the difference between them. The creation of West and East Pakistan (what is now Bangladesh) created a harsh divide between “us and them,” and was the ultimate cause for the tense relations between the nations in the years to follow.

As the British have done so often in the past, they left the situation without a backward glance, and after Aug. 15, 1947, the British played no role in conflict resolution.

Perhaps the largest mess left for the Indian and Pakistani governments to deal with was over the disputed territory of Kashmir. The history surrounding the ensuing debate is both gripping and confusing, and has led to three wars since 1947. Although these wars have been draining in both resources and lost lives, the conflict is nowhere near resolved today.

Currently, Kashmir is divided into two regions: Azad Kashmir, the land owned by Pakistan, and Jammu and Kashmir, the land occupied by India. Because this is still internationally disputed territory, India and Pakistan have agreed to use what is called the Line of Control (LoC) as a de-facto border between the two halves of Kashmir. The LoC constitutes no man’s land, and each individual border (be that Pakistan’s side or India’s side) is guarded by armed military bases at all times.

As recently as Sept. 19, an attack across the LoC killed 19 Indian soldiers in the Uri army base. The Pakistani government has not claimed responsibility for the attack, which was the worst attack over the border in over a decade. Tensions have risen between India and Pakistan for quite some time, and the recent attack caused Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to get on the offensive, after much disappointment from party-supporters for the non-hostile approach India has taken over the past few years.

Both India and Pakistan are nuclear powers which have gone to war in the past over much less. Although Modi has made conscious efforts to calm the situation, rather than proceed to an offensive stance, growing unrest in the nation has forced him to make public moves that would appease his constituents. The most public included The Indian Motion Picture Producers’ Association’s move to ban any Pakistani actor, singer or technician from coming to India to work on a film “forever”, according to President T.P. Aggarwal. In response to this hostility, Pakistan has banned Indian films from all cinemas across the country.

When everything is said and done, India does not have the economic capability to go to war with Pakistan right now. The economy is the fastest growing in the world, and waging war against Pakistan for the first time in 45 years would set the country back to a point that may not be recoverable in the next decade. Unfortunately for the Indian government, the primarily non-hostile response toward this attack did not go unnoticed, and there is a general outcry of disapproval from Indian citizens. At the end of the day, Modi cares more about reelection and public approval than a slight set-back to the economy. This doesn’t mean he’s willing to go to war, but it does mean that he’s willing to take a more offensive stance, and he has.

On Sept. 28, India conducted “surgical strikes” against Pakistan along the LoC, killing numbers in the “double digits,” with full numbers not yet disclosed by either government. The goal of the mission was an anti-terrorist preemptive strike, to keep attacks like the one on Sept. 19 from happening. Although this was supposedly a “one-time thing,” the Indian government has declared that they are prepared to attack again if needed. Furthermore, India has begun construction on underground bunkers along the LoC, indicating for hostilities to come.

It is clear that regardless of the fact that India cannot economically afford a war at this point in time, it is approaching the region swiftly. Tensions are worsening by the day, and any attempts at non-hostile solutions to the problem, such as banning Pakistani artists from working on films, have only worked to worsen the conflict. Both Pakistan and India are developing new nationalisms, which center around hatred for the other side. This hatred alongside nuclear power and recurring conflict over Kashmir at the LoC has brewed up the perfect conditions for war. The next attack may very well be the spark that sets it off.

Gulrukh Haroon is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached by email at gulrukh.haroon@uconn.edu.