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Written By: Florina Laza
Before India gained its independence in 1947, it was ruled by the British for nearly 200 years. First by the British East India Company, a trading organization, and then by the official Crown of the British Empire. But there was always a longlasting hope for independence and freedom within the Indian heart which culminated with many revolutionary movements through the majority of the British reign. The most famous campaign was led by Mahatma Gandhi’s peaceful and non-violent approach which made the Indian population align with the existing revolutionary ideas.
It’s been 70 years since colonial India gained its independence from the British and was divided into 2 separate states. At the time what it should have been a triumphant moment, the victory was overshadowed by a brutal and complicated mess which left a deep mark in each countries’ history.
The Indian Independence Act 1947 established India and Pakistan as 2 separate states primarily on basis of religion, having on one side a majority Hindu and on the other, a majority Muslim that had expressed their wishes for an independent country for ages before the famous partition. Both parties agreed with the creation of two new and independent states, but as the lines were drawing on the map, the problems began to surface immediately. And so, the actual partition was a brutal and complicated mess causing one of the largest human migration ever seen, leading to riots and violence across the region, because many displaced groups were not happy with the transition and often attacked each other. Moreover, the two new sovereign states began fighting just a few weeks after independence, particularly in one region: Kashmir.
The First Kashmir War, also known as the Indo-Pakistani War of 1947 was launched primarily because each country claimed territorial control over the much-disputed region of Kashmir. Even to this day, Kashmir represents the biggest point in the geopolitical conflict between the two countries. And so, since the partition of India, they have fought three wars leading to massive massacres among Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs with over one million people dead. As if it wasn’t enough, both countries are nuclear ready: India is currently estimated to have 110 nuclear weapons, while Pakistan is estimated to have 130. Even though the Indian government committed to a no first use policy claiming the nuclear arms have the sole purpose of sustaining peace with the outside world, neither of the two countries has signed onto the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty.
But how are things now? The bilateral relationship between the two sovereign rivals still wears the weight of the past. Different ideologies, religions, philosophy and foreign policies forged the lines between India and Pakistan once more. The problem is that each country has seen each other in a negative way for decades and they have known no other way. Each had engaged in weakening the other through armed conflicts, nuclear tests, arms competition and use of external and internal pressure in order to destabilize the region and create the perfect opportunity for growing insurgencies, terrorism, local and transnational religious extremism.
Following the current Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi’s though approach, tensions have risen to new heights. Modi’s political plan was to strengthen national security and to develop a major economic power from India, one that can balance China’s influence in Asia. India could not rise under threat of destabilization, and so he felt compelled to choose a hardline policy designed to weaken Pakistan. Also, India was not missing any economic benefits due to strained ties with Pakistan since it does not represent an economic value yet. This policy is at the same time designed to help India in Kashmir (a region that is currently controlled by both parties) by making the Pakistani irrelevant and weak.
Despite the mainstream media expressed hope and excitement for better relationships, especially since Modi’s invitation to this Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, the terrorist attack in Pathankot in January 2016 and Uri in September 2016 blamed on jihadist triggered national outrage and changed everything again. Dialogue with Pakistan bears the resemblance of uncertainty, and considering the growing friendship with China and the newly declared “alliance” China, Russia, Pakistan to which Iran may join because of Trump’s new foreign policy, Pakistan’s importance in South Asia could significantly rise and create new sparks of conflicts.
Taking into consideration the significant decline in bilateral relations, each unstable foreign policies combined with growing instability in the disputed region of Kashmir, terrorist attacks, recent political and geopolitical trends invaded by rising nationalistic feelings and religious majoritarianism, any high-fatality terrorist attack on a civilian target can generate a major crisis and the risks today may be higher than ever.
Ultimately, India and Pakitan and two-nuclear-armed states whose tense relationships rise complicated security challenges. A conflict can definitely spark between the sovereign rivals under certain circumstances, the scale of it is really the topic of debate.
Today, due to the rising trends in Hindu and Islamic nationalism reflected by the newly promoted policies from major political parties, only 10% of Indians have a favorable view of Pakistan, while the majority of Pakistanis “consider India a more serious threat to their country than Al Qaeda or the Taliban“. So, people are alarmingly negative in their views of each other.
What can they do to keep the peace? They should both embrace bilateral dialogue and engage in less tense foreign policies. A shift in geopolitical approach must be made despite their differences, a change in domestic politics and increasing efforts in changing public opinion must begin. Ultimately, for peace and prosperity to collide the regions of South Asia, geopolitics, regional and bilateral relations must be in sync.