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Deadly Kashmir Suicide Bombing Ratchets up India-Pakistan Tensions
Deadly Kashmir Suicide Bombing Ratchets up India-Pakistan Tensions
Report 70 / Asia

Kashmir: Learning from the Past

While its roots predate Indian and Pakistani independence, the Kashmir conflict’s current directions can best be understood in the light of the nationalism and state building that followed the end of British colonial rule.

Executive Summary

While its roots predate Indian and Pakistani independence, the Kashmir conflict’s current directions can best be understood in the light of the nationalism and state building that followed the end of British colonial rule. Domestic factors, including the imperatives of regime legitimacy and consolidation, remain important influences in both countries.

Evaluation of the failure of past and present Indian and Pakistani approaches suggests caution about any strictly bilateral process that disregards the regional and international dimensions of the crisis. Nor is any solution viable that ignores the sense of historical unity that underlies the social and religious diversity across the current Line of Control (LOC) dividing the former Dogra Kingdom into Indian and Pakistani-administered Kashmir.

This report examines the history of the crisis and past efforts to resolve it. ICG is releasing simultaneously two additional reports that lay out the public and private positions of the governments in Islamabad and New Delhi respectively on Kashmir and bilateral relations. An earlier report examined views from within the Kashmir Valley. Taken together, reports in this series analyse the positions and look at the constraints in terms of ending the conflict as they are perceived on all sides.[fn]ICG Asia Report N°35, Kashmir: Confrontation and Miscalculation, 11 July 2002; ICG Asia Report N°41, Kashmir: The View from Srinagar, 21 November 2002; ICG Asia Report N°68, Kashmir: The View from Islamabad, 4 December 2003; ICG Asia Report N°69, Kashmir: The View from New Delhi, 4 December 2003.Hide Footnote  A subsequent final report will offer extensive recommendations on how to move forward with a process of reconciliation between India and Pakistan and within Kashmir.

Past international endeavours to resolve the Kashmir crisis have failed largely due to Indian and Pakistani domestic constraints. Bilateral efforts by the parties have faltered in important part because Kashmiri representatives were excluded from the negotiating process and subsequent settlements. Given Kashmir’s internal dynamics, present Indian and Pakistani unilateral approaches also face serious obstacles. While international actors such as the United Nations can play an influential role in buttressing a peace process, any viable solution will ultimately hinge on the two parties’ domestic dynamics, particularly their willingness and ability to negotiate and then implement a compromise solution that also takes into consideration the nationalist aspirations and demands of Kashmir’s diverse population.

India’s preferred solution (privately but not yet publicly embraced) involves transformation of the LOC into an international border; internal reorganisation of Jammu and Kashmir within the Indian Union; reconciliation through autonomy and elections; and reliance on coercion to quell Kashmiri dissent and demands. The 2002 elections within Indian-administered Kashmir helped restart the political process, but on their own they are no solution. They failed to satisfy Kashmiri demands for consultation and participation on the many issues that divide New Delhi from the political and armed militants in Srinagar and the Valley.

Islamabad’s unilateral measures to integrate Pakistani-administered Kashmir have been accompanied by attempts – mainly through support for the cross-border insurgency – to force India to the negotiating table. Pakistan’s preferred approach has failed to gain any tangible concessions from India and indeed has been counter-productive. Its proxy war in Kashmir has undermined international support, and in the post-11 September environment, Pakistan faces increased international pressure to change its Kashmir policy.

If history is a guide, any sustainable solution will require Indian, Pakistani and Kashmiri negotiators to adopt a novel and far-reaching approach to the interlinked territorial and constitutional issues. A solution will have to take into consideration the two countries’ political and security interests as well as Kashmiri aspirations. Strategies for peace will be complex and require leadership and compromise on all sides. The concerned actors – India, Pakistan and the various elements of Kashmiri political opinion alike – will have to reconsider current policies and preferences.

Pakistan’s military leadership will have to change its policy of support for militant groups active in the armed struggle against India across the LOC and responsible for the continuing violence against civilians within Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistan will have to assert control over the militant organisations and persuade them to opt for talks instead of violence in their dealings with New Delhi.

India will have to rethink its reluctance to accept Pakistan as a genuine party to the conflict and restart a peace process in Kashmir with it. India will also have to follow up its promising recent offer to engage in a dialogue with the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) by demonstrating that it is prepared to make genuine concessions to that group as well as other Kashmiri political representatives. Abandoning the emphasis on coercion by its security forces, India should support the Sayeed government’s efforts at political reconciliation, including by releasing militants held without trial.

Recent initiatives announced by the two sides, in particular India’s offer in October 2003 of a series of confidence building measures and Pakistan’s announcement on 23 November 2003, subsequently accepted by India, of a ceasefire along the Line of Control, have been universally welcomed though their substance remains to be tested. If and when India and Pakistan embark in earnest on a peace process, with Kashmiri consultation and acceptance, that process would benefit from international mediation and assistance. UN, U.S. and EU involvement, including the facilitation of communications and verification of implementation, could play a vital role in overcoming impediments during and after the negotiation process.

Islamabad/New Delhi/Brussels, 4 December 2003

People shout slogans during a protest against the attack on a bus carrying Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel in south Kashmir, in Jammu 15 February 2019. REUTERS/Mukesh Gupta
Q&A / Asia

Deadly Kashmir Suicide Bombing Ratchets up India-Pakistan Tensions

A 14 February suicide attack by Pakistan-based militants was their bloodiest strike in Indian-administered Kashmir in over three decades. In this Q&A, our Asia Program Director Laurel Miller warns that even a limited Indian retaliatory strike could spark a sharp escalation in conflict between the nuclear-armed neighbours. 

What happened in the Pulwama attack and how has India responded?

A 14 February suicide car bombing claimed by the Pakistan-based militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed killed more than 45 security personnel in Indian-administered Kashmir’s Pulwama district, some 30 km from the state capital Srinagar. The attack, which targeted a convoy of the paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force (CRPC), was the deadliest terror incident in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) for over three decades. Vowing revenge and accusing Pakistan of complicity, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government has warned Islamabad that support for jihadist proxies will no longer be tolerated. Threatening to isolate Pakistan diplomatically, Modi has called on the international community to take united, concrete action against terrorism and those who spread it. New Delhi has recalled its high commissioner (ambassador) from Islamabad and withdrawn Pakistan’s Most Favored Nation trading status. Islamabad also withdrew its top diplomat from New Delhi, accusing India of making allegations without investigations and denying any role in the attack.

As an already-tense relationship worsens, so too do the risks of conflict between the two nuclear-armed neighbours. With Indian general elections approaching this spring and emotions running high, the BJP government is likely to give its security forces an even freer hand than usual in squashing dissent in Muslim-majority, Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). The resultant alienation could lead more Kashmiri youth to join the ranks of militant groups such as Jaish-e-Mohammed.

Is Pakistan culpable for the Pulwama attack?

Rejecting Indian allegations of culpability, Islamabad claims that it has banned Jaish-e-Mohammed, which is led by Masood Azhar and is included in the UN Security Council Resolution 1267 sanctions list. Alongside Lashkar-e-Tayyaba/Jamaat-ud-Dawa, it is one of the most important anti-India Pakistan-based jihadist groups. Pakistan formally banned Jaish-e-Mohammed in 2002 following a December 2001 attack on the Indian parliament, but the group re-emerged under a changed name. Although Pakistan has taken actions against Jaish individuals responsible for internal attacks, such as on military ruler Pervez Musharraf in December 2003, the al-Qaeda linked organisation continues to operate freely – recruiting, fundraising (including through madrasa networks and charity fronts), and planning and conducting attacks in Indian-administered Kashmir. The permissive environment Pakistan has created for Jaish activities directed toward India can legitimately be seen as deliberate policy, regardless of whether specific attacks can be proved to be linked to Pakistani decision-making. 

Was Kashmiri homegrown militancy responsible for the Pulwama attack?

The 14 February suicide attacker, Jaish-e-Mohammed’s Adil Ahmad Dar (also known as Waqas Commando), was a young man from a village close to the attack site who had joined the group last year. His father claimed he had joined Jaish after Indian troops beat and humiliated him. India’s militarised response to growing local alienation and disaffection in J&K has resulted in an exponential rise in homegrown militancy and local support for the militants. The July 2016 killing of Burhan Muzaffar Wani, a young charismatic Hizbul Mujahideen militant, accelerated these developments.

This lack of autonomy and political freedoms, combined with the heavy-handed security response, will likely lead to more violence and unrest in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir.

Rampant rights abuses amid a climate of impunity, highlighted in the June 2018 UN report on Kashmir, and draconian laws such as the Armed Services Special Powers Act serve as recruiting tools for both Kashmiri separatist groups and Pakistani jihadist outfits like Jaish-e-Mohammed. Clearing operations by Indian security forces such as “Operation All Out”, launched in mid-2017, led to 2018 becoming the bloodiest year in J&K in a decade. Around 500 people were killed in Kashmir’s conflict-related violence, including militants, civilians and security personnel. Although more than half of those killed were militants, many non-combatants were also killed, injured or disappeared in military operations, resulting in more support by local communities for the militant cause.

How will the Pulwama attack shape New Delhi’s policy toward Indian-administered Kashmir?

Domestic outrage at the killing of more than 40 security personnel by the Kashmiri suicide bomber with admitted links to a Pakistan-based jihadist group has further vitiated already tense relations between Hindus and Muslims in India. In J&K’s Hindu-majority Jammu and elsewhere, particularly in northern Indian states, Kashmiri Muslims have been harassed and attacked. Although failing to rein in such sectarian violence could further increase support for the militants in the J&K’s Muslim-majority areas, as elections approach the BJP will want to appease the sentiments of its hardline constituency that wants to avenge the Pulwama dead.

While security sweeps and arrests of scores of alleged militant sympathisers are further exacerbating tensions within J&K, there are few political avenues to assuage Kashmiri dissent. New Delhi has exercised direct rule in J&K since the governor dissolved the state assembly in November 2018. Although Kashmiri separatists want either independence or merger with Pakistan, even moderates are alienated by the gradual erosion of Article 370 of the Indian constitution, which provides for a special status of greater political autonomy for J&K and the abolition of which the BJP has strongly supported. This lack of autonomy and political freedoms, combined with the heavy-handed security response, will likely lead to more violence and unrest in J&K, which in turn will likely result in more efforts by New Delhi to forcibly suppress Kashmiri dissent.

Will Pakistan rethink support for anti-India jihadist proxies?

A Pakistani rethink on the longstanding policy of backing jihadist proxies, including Jaish, depends on a shift in its powerful military establishment’s internal and external cost-benefit analysis, which as yet appears more tactical than strategic. Since 2016, following attacks on the Pathankot military base in Indian Punjab and security personnel near J&K’s Uri town – which India attributed to Jaish – India has refused to revive its bilateral dialogue with Islamabad unless Pakistan takes decisive action against all such jihadist groups. Following the Pathankot and Uri attacks, India claimed to have launched surgical strikes on terrorist targets across the Line of Control dividing Indian and Pakistan-administered Kashmir. Though Pakistan denies that such strikes took place, there are almost weekly violations of the 2003 ceasefire line by Pakistani and Indian troops, claiming scores of lives of civilians and security personnel each year.

“We will give a befitting reply; our neighbour will not be allowed to destabilise us”, said Prime Minister Modi, giving his security forces “permission to take decisions about the timing, place and nature of their response”. While offering to cooperate with New Delhi in investigating the Pulwama attack, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan warned that his country would have no choice but to “retaliate immediately” if India attacked.

Concerned about heightened tensions, the U.S. has urged Pakistan to act decisively against all terrorist groups “operating on its soil”. However, Pakistan’s strategic location and the role it could play in bringing the Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table could lead the U.S. to lower its pressure. Islamabad’s closest ally, China, which has thus far blocked Indian efforts in the UN Security Council to designate Jaish leader Azhar a “global terrorist”, is also concerned about the outbreak of armed conflict between India and Pakistan. However, it is unlikely to pressure Islamabad given Beijing’s unwillingness to damage its relationship with Pakistan.

If New Delhi were to opt for even a limited military strike across the Line of Control or the international border with Pakistan, that would increase the risk of conflict spiraling rapidly between the two nuclear-armed neighbours.