Mitigating crisis in Jammu and Kashmir
Indian and Pakistani troops exchange gifts to mark the New Year, January 2022 (photo via Twitter @manaman_chhina)
Situated in contested border areas between India and Pakistan, Jammu and Kashmir has been a region of confrontation and conflict for decades. The area has witnessed sporadic outbreaks of violence and clashes between communities, leading to damage to property and loss of life. Rather than a formal border, the region is separated by a heavily militarized “Line of Control” (LoC), and in recent years, there has been a significant increase in tensions, particularly following the revocation of Article 370 by the Indian government in 2019.
Incidents along the LoC maintain the potential for escalating into full-fledged hostilities between the two countries. As such, understanding the sources of conflict and available crisis management mechanisms are essential for mitigating escalation cycles. This article details those sources and mechanisms while exploring options that can enable the two sides to resolve incidents and establish more peaceful conditions. This examination offers key lessons and best practices that can inform future efforts to prevent escalation in Jammu and Kashmir, as well as other disputed border areas.
Background on the India-Pakistan Dispute
Conflict between India and Pakistan is rooted in a complex history that dates back to the partition of British India in 1947. At that time, the state divided into two separate and independent countries: India, with a Hindu majority, and Pakistan, with a Muslim majority. The partition led to the displacement of millions of people and resulted in widespread violence and bloodshed. Several disputes over a range of issues have since lingered between India and Pakistan, including those over border delimitation, water sharing, terrorism, and the status of the contested territory of Kashmir.
Jammu and Kashmir, along with other disputed border areas separated by the Line of Control (LoC)
The Kashmir dispute is perhaps the most contentious and long-standing issue between India and Pakistan. Both countries claim sovereignty over the area situated in the northernmost part of India that borders Pakistan and China. India administers two-thirds of the territory, while Pakistan administers the remaining third.
The Kashmir conflict began soon after the partition of India, when the ruler of the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir, Hari Singh, signed an instrument of accession to India. Pakistan, however, rejected this and sent troops into the region, which resulted in a war between the two countries. The war ended in 1949 with a ceasefire line (the LoC) that divided Kashmir into Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistani-administered Azad Kashmir.
Since then, there have been several wars and skirmishes along the LoC separating the two sides. Exacerbating the situation has been a rise in non-state militancy and terrorism, with groups operating from Pakistan carrying out attacks in India.
The most recent escalation in tensions between the two countries occurred in February 2019, when a militant group based in Pakistan carried out a suicide bombing in Pulwama district of Kashmir, killing 40 Indian security personnel. India responded with airstrikes on a militant training camp in Pakistan, which led to a dogfights between Indian and Pakistani fighter jets.
The tensions between India and Pakistan have continued to simmer as sources of conflict remain. This has led to the occasional cross-border firing incident and other acts of violence. However, both countries have also peacefully endeavored to employ dialogue and negotiations to resolve their disputes.
Internal issues between Jammu and Kashmir and India
Complicating the interstate situation is the fact that Jammu and Kashmir has had a complex relationship with the Indian government. Over time, a range of internal issues have contributed to the myriad sources of conflict and tension. Some of the key internal issues between Jammu and Kashmir and the central government include the following:
1) Autonomy: The issue of autonomy has been a long-standing friction point between Jammu and Kashmir and the Indian government. Jammu and Kashmir was granted special status under Article 370 of the Indian constitution, which gave it a certain degree of autonomy. However, in August 2019, the Indian government abrogated Article 370 and reorganized the state into two union territories. This move escalated tensions between Jammu and Kashmir and the Indian government.
2) Human rights violations: Human rights violations have been a longstanding issue in Jammu and Kashmir, with allegations of extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, and torture. The government of Jammu and Kashmir has been accused of using excessive force against protesters, as well as suppressing freedom of expression and limiting access to the internet and other communication channels.
3) Political representation: There have been concerns about the representation of the people of Jammu and Kashmir in the Indian political system. While Jammu and Kashmir was given special status under Article 370, it was not granted full statehood, and many argue that this limited its representation in the Indian parliament.
4) Economic development: The state of Jammu and Kashmir has long struggled with economic development, with high levels of poverty and unemployment. The Indian government has been criticized for not doing enough to address these issues, including through the provision of infrastructure and other development projects.
5) Sectarian tensions: Jammu and Kashmir is a diverse region, with significant populations of Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists. There have been sectarian tensions between different groups, and the Indian government has been criticized for not doing enough to address confrontation and promote interfaith harmony.
Given the risk of non-state actors contributing to potential crises in the region, these internal issues have been created additional challenges for de-escalating situations in and along Jammu and Kashmir. Addressing these issues will require sustained efforts from both sides to promote greater understanding, dialogue, and cooperation.
A demonstrator raises the stakes in Jammu and Kashmir (photo via Crisis Group)
Distrust as a source of conflict between India and Pakistan
The relationship between India and Pakistan has been characterized by mistrust, suspicion, and hostility since the two countries formed in 1947. Both have different perspectives and narratives about their relationship, which influence their views of each other.
From India’s perspective, Pakistan may be seen as a neighbor that supports cross-border terrorism and provides safe havens to terrorist groups that carry out attacks in India. Some Indians view Pakistan as a country that seeks to destabilize it and create instability in the region. The Indian government also accuses Pakistan of attempting to internationalize the Kashmir issue while supporting separatist movements.
On the other hand, Pakistan often sees India as a hegemonic power that seeks to dominate the region and suppress the aspirations of the Muslim population in Kashmir. The Pakistani government views India’s actions in Kashmir as a violation of human rights and international law. It has also accused India of supporting separatist movements in Pakistan while carrying out covert operations in its territory.
Both countries have a history of militarized conflicts, fighting four significant wars in 1947, 1965, 1971 and 1999. Those conflicts further reinforced negative perceptions of one another. This is exacerbated by divergent political and economic systems, with India being a secular democracy and Pakistan being an Islamic republic.
A Pakistani convoy travels to the frontlines of the first Kashmir War, 1947 (photo via Pakistani Army)
Crisis management mechanisms for Jammu and Kashmir
Despite these sources of conflict, there have been attempts by both countries to improve their relationship through diplomacy. Since 1991, the two governments have negotiated and implemented no fewer than six crisis management- and peace-related declarations, the most recent of which came in February 2021. These have dealt with eliminating miscalculation related to military maneuvers and airspace overflight, reducing the risk of nuclear accidents, and employing established communication mechanisms along the LoC, among other issue areas.
For its part, the international community has attempted to support crisis management and conflict resolution since the first outbreak of hostilities. In 1948, the UN Security Council established the UN Commission for India and Pakistan to investigate and mediate the fighting that broke out as a result of the partition. In 1949, the UN dispatched peacekeepers to supervise the ceasefire in Jammu and Kashmir via the UN Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan, or UNMOGIP. This mission is still in effect today.
Still, progress has been slow and often derailed by incidents such as terrorist attacks and military escalation, requiring sustained efforts from both India and Pakistan to address the underlying issues that have fueled conflict. This will mean pursuing progress in the following areas that can support crisis management and de-escalation:
1) Addressing internal issues in Jammu and Kashmir: While interstate challenges exist, the Indian government can reduce tensions and mitigate the risk of unintentional incidents by resolving the various internal issues that exist in Jammu and Kashmir. A good faith approach to addressing regional problems can prove crucial for preventing unwanted escalation and ensuring cooperation in crisis management.
2) Employing crisis management mechanisms: The two sides must implement crisis management mechanisms such as those prescribed in the 2003 ceasefire agreement and the direct communication channels established between local commanders on both sides. In their 2021 joint statement, both sides reaffirmed the necessity for employing these lines-of-communication, and it will be essential for the on-scene military commanders to exercise these off-ramps to escalation should incidents occur.
3) Creating and implementing confidence-building measures: Confidence-building measures (CBMs) can help reduce tensions and build trust between India and Pakistan. CBMs could include measures like the release of prisoners, the reduction of military presence along the LoC, and the opening of new trade routes through disputed areas.
4) Presenting opportunities for cross-border cooperation: Cross-border cooperation can help in the development of the region and improve the lives of people on both sides of the border. Both India and Pakistan can work together on issues such as disaster management, tourism, and environmental protection.
5) Delivering humanitarian aid: Humanitarian aid can help alleviate the suffering of people in Jammu and Kashmir and Azad Kashmir. India and Pakistan can work together to provide aid to people affected by security incidents, including refugees and those living in areas of conflict.
6) Facilitating third party oversight: While the international community has remained invested in advancing peaceful conditions in Jammu and Kashmir and the surrounding region, UNMOGIP has had several difficulties over the years. This has included restricted access to certain regions along the LoC, limitations on its freedom of movement, and accusations of bias from both India and Pakistan. As a result, the mission's influence on the ground has remained minimal. The parties have an opportunity to leverage this long-standing third party oversight, but it will take political commitment from both sides to embrace a useful tool for crisis management despite its inevitable imperfections.
7) Allowing international mediation: International mediation can help create an environment for constructive dialogue between India and Pakistan. The international community can play a role in facilitating talks between the two countries and encouraging them to find a lasting solution to the Kashmir issue.
8) Pursuing sustained diplomatic engagement: Ultimately, diplomatic engagement is foundational to resolving the conflict in Jammu and Kashmir. The previous seven methods can all support de-escalation and crisis management, but both India and Pakistan will need to engage in meaningful dialogue to address sources of conflict, reduce distrust, and find a lasting solution to the Kashmir issue. A constructive dialogue between the two countries can help build trust and confidence while eliminating the factors that present the risk of confrontation and conflict.
What has already been a long-term process will require even more time to achieve a final resolution. Addressing the underlying issues that have fueled the conflict in Jammu and Kashmir will require a sustained effort from both India and Pakistan to eliminating sources of conflict while employing all available options for crisis management and de-escalation. Although the implementation of these mechanisms will not be an easy task, good faith engagement from both India and Pakistan can help create an environment for de-escalation and peaceful resolution of the conflict. By working together, it is possible for the two countries to find a lasting solution to the Kashmir issue and ensure a peaceful and prosperous future for the people of Jammu and Kashmir.
Neeraj Singh Manhas is the Director of Research in the Indo-Pacific Consortium at Raisina House, New Delhi. He has authored three books and has diverse research interests covering Sino-Indian border issues, China in the Indian Ocean; India-China Foreign Policy; Water security; Defence and Indo-Pacific studies. His recent edited book is “Analysing the Current Afghan Context” (Routledge 2022). His writings have appeared in the Institute for Security & Development Policy (ISDP), Observer Research Foundation (ORF), Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, The Hindu Business Line, The Pioneer, Financial Express, and other online platforms. He tweets at @ The_China_Chap.