The Kashmir conflict under nuclear threat

Published 23.09.2019 00:00

The conflict between India and Pakistan over Kashmir started in 1947 after the British government decided to withdraw from the region. Britain wanted to conduct a referendum to let the people decide Kashmir's status during its pullback.

Although 90% of the Kashmir population was Muslim, Kashmiri Prince Maharaja Hari Singh decided Kashmir would become a part of India. Since that day, there have been different levels of conflict between parties. It has caused the deaths of 95,000 people and hundreds of thousands injuries.

Although the Kashmir region officially became part of India with the prince's decision, it was given a special status under Article 370 within the Indian constitution by the government.

According to this article, the Kashmir region is independent in domestic affairs but dependent on the foreign level. Despite the special status of Kashmir, there have been different forms of tension between the Indian and Pakistani governments, and the Kashmiri people who reflect on the relationship between both sides. Pakistan and Indian officials blame each other of provoking the circumstances in Kashmir from time to time.

While discussions keep going, the special status of Kashmir was recently changed on Aug. 5 by the Indian governing party, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is the Hindu nationalist party.

The BJP has long opposed Article 370 and promised to abolish the rule during its election campaign in 2019. The Hindu nationalist party's policies are constituted based on the populist politics that caused polarization and concerns among society.

After the declaration of the abolition of the special status in Kashmir, the region was blockaded by Indian forces, telephone and internet wires were cut off, leading politicians were placed under arrest and public gatherings were banned. Tourists in the area were informed to the leave with short notice.

Why did the crisis rekindle?

This attempt by India re-escalated the conflict between India and Pakistan and led to increasing tension at the local, regional and international levels, particularly after both countries' politicians often mentioned their nuclear weapons potential in their speeches. Although the international community, particularly the U.N., NATO, and the U.S., has been involved in the issue, there has been no concrete resolution. It seems that the international community has no chance to keep silent since the possible use of nuclear weapons can create dramatic results.

Meanwhile, Kashmir is located in the middle of three nuclear powers; India controls 45% of the land, Pakistan is 35%, and China is 20%. That's why the conflict has not only regional dimensions but it is also one of the leading issues remaining on the international agenda.

Although the U.S., the U.N., and NATO are also getting involved in the issue from time to time, there have been no concrete resolutions given by these international powers.

The international community wanted the issue to be solved by bilateral agreement, however, that was criticized by several authorities and people in the region. The United Nations Security Council refrained from calling for an emergency session in August.

Although members of the Security Council expressed their concerns about human rights violations happening in Kashmir, the United Nations has still not taken concrete steps.

The U.N. position

The United Nations' position in the Kashmir conflict is considered a failure by several international actors and people living in the region. The U.N. is yet to play its full role in the issue and apparently, its non-implementation policy has not been enough to find a common ground between parties. On the other hand, human rights violations and different forms of violence will continue to occur in different parts of the region unless the conflict is resolved.

The Kashmir issue does not only cause human rights violations but it also has some serious risks at the regional and international levels.

Although the Indian government assured their "no first use policy" regarding using nuclear weapons in 2003, which has been accepted as a fundamental principle by regional and international actors.

Defense Minister Rajnath Singh gave hints to revise the policy in his recent speech. In the "no first use policy" the Indian government claims that it won't be the first to use nuclear weapons at any time or under any circumstances. On the other hand, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan threatened India that it will use nuclear weapons while addressing the Kashmir conflict.

Wider impact

Another reason why the conflict is not only regional but also an international issue is that some of the extremist armed groups from different parts of the world have been getting involved in the issue and supporting Pakistani forces.

For example, al-Qaida's members fought against India in Kashmir, claiming that the U.S. unofficially supports India.

The dispute between India and Pakistan over Kashmir are hard to resolve since both sides are not retreating from their decisions. Since nuclear weapons are one of the first topics of international actors, they may have to take this issue more seriously.

At this stage, the international community's position and attitude are very crucial to get a peaceful resolution. Particularly the Security Council, the U.S. and NATO, which are the leading powers in the international community, should guide the comprehensive road map to facilitate the peaceful mediation processes between the parties.

* Researcher at Sabancı University

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