India and Pakistan fought 4 times for Kashmir since the partition of the subcontinent in 1947. The area is seen of vital importance for both countries. The Indus river, as any other rivers that irrigate the Punjab plain in Pakistan, goes through Kashmir. Control the Kashmir and you control the water. But it is mainly for matters of ego that the two countries have been fighting for nearly 60 years on a glacier located at 6400 meters’ altitude.
The election of Nawaz Sharif in May 2013 in Pakistan and Narendra Modi in India a year later, appeared willing to restore the peace process between the two countries. Less than a year later, the hope for peace is buried alive to make way for a new escalation of violence across the border.
On 2 January 2016, six terrorists launched an attack over the Indian base of Pathankot, 34 km from the border, killing 7 Indians soldiers. The Indian government blamed the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), a jihadist organization based in Bahawalpur, Pakistan. In spite of this incident, New Delhi and Islamabad managed to maintain a peaceful dialogue. Then, on September 19, a commando of four terrorists infiltrated a barracks in Uri, in Indian Kashmir, killing 19 soldiers. Once again, the JeM is pointed. Indian media and public opinion raged and asked for retaliation against Pakistan, calling for the dismantling of all the Pakistani terrorist organizations.
The conflict between India and Pakistan over Kashmir is deep rooted in the past of both countries and their tumultuous relations since 1947.
In the mind of the first Indian leaders, keeping Kashmir, the only majority Muslim state, within the Indian Union was a proof that the very existence of Pakistan, a secessionist country created to accommodate Muslims North India, was an error.
On its side, while refusing to accept Kashmir as belonging to India, Pakistan has encouraged political manoeuvres in order to cause a resurgence of Indian repression in Kashmir, justifying the need to create a “nation” for Muslims “persecuted by the Hindu majority.”
The successive Indian governments have long treated the Kashmiri secessionist rebellion as a “fifth column” of Pakistan, resulting the reinforcement of hostility of Muslim Kashmiris against India. Pakistan, meanwhile, has profited from these Indian policy mistakes by massively supporting secessionist forces: by irredentism first, but also after his defeat against India in 1971 (in which it then lost half of its population with the creation of Bangladesh) mostly desire of revenge.
With the deterioration of the relations between the two countries, each square centimetre of territory becomes a matter of national pride. When, in 1984, the Indians suspect the Pakistanis to outfit with high altitude equipment, they position hastily their troops on the glacier, without even waiting for the warmer months, launching the “Meghdoot” operation (Cloud Messenger). Result: 30 dead, all stricken by the cold. The Indians won’t ever leave their positions, despite two Pakistani attempts to remove them.
Since the late 1980s, A force of inertia adds to the unrealistic hope of exhausting India economically in the counterinsurgency in Kashmir. Indeed, it appears to be far more expensive, not to say hazardous, to give up years of anti-Indian nationalist propaganda and to ditch jihadist groups proliferating in Pakistan than to let the situation in the current state. Demonstrating the ideological values on which both States were born is still relevant.
The One million dollars question
Does Pakistan really support Jihadist groups or, on the contrary, does he truly fight those terrorist groups based on its national territory?
The Pakistani armed forces have always practiced the traditional “divide and rule” policy. The funds proposed to militant groups able to raise troops and carry out guerrilla warfare in Kashmir were sufficient enough to be attractive. But over the years, some groups have become difficult to control or were involved in sectarian violence and started to conduct terrorist attacks against Westerners or Christian and Shia minorities in Pakistan. In addition, some commanders, cut off from their Pakistani hierarchy, became autonomous when in Indian Kashmir.
We can assess that the Pakistani government, for various reasons, does not wish or cannot do more than to try to contain the infiltration of these groups across the Line of Control (LoC).
It is also important to keep in mind that these groups can have massive financial and political support far beyond simple Pakistan authorities. Many can have direct support from the Gulf monarchies side and/or rich businessmen of the India-Pakistan diaspora.
Can India destroy the jihadist groups?
This is not the first time that India is the target of jihadist attacks. In 2001 the JeM had tried to storm the parliament in New Delhi. Following this aggression, the Indian government had imagined a military response on the very Pakistani soil. But the mobilization of troops, too slow, had left time for Pakistani forces to prepare.
Strategists and Indian officers have masterminded a lightning invasion plan. A joint military operation would have the mission to conquer some territory pockets within 100 km from the border. These occupied areas would serve as a bargaining chip in future negotiations with Islamabad to dismantle the jihadi networks. The offensive would last no more than few days, to do not allow time for the enemy to gather its nuclear arsenal. But here is the thing: in order to counter this kind of threat, the Pakistani army has acquired tactical nuclear missiles. Less damaging, faster to deploy, they are conceived to be used against Indian forces on the battlefield in order to deter them from advancing. This arsenal was made public in 2011 with the test firing of the missile Nasr. In case of invasion, the Pakistani armed forces always claimed that they would use these vectors.
The risk for a nuclear escalation
If Pakistan engaged its tactical missiles, it will trigger a perilous spiral. India would use its nuclear doctrine, advocating massive retaliation in case of unconventional attacks against its armed forces. India has enough military plutonium and enriched uranium to make a hundred nuclear warheads. Enough to vitrify the whole Pakistan. Except that an attack of this magnitude would not be enough to annihilate the enemy nuclear arsenal. In recent years, Pakistan has dispersed, hidden and buried its ballistic missiles and nuclear warheads. Its Mirage 5 and F-16 fighter squadrons can also carry nuclear bombs. Indian strike would trigger retaliation against large cities like New Delhi and Bombay, causing over 30 million dead.
As any hint of invasion flirts dangerously with the Nuclear Apocalypse, the Indian strategic community desperately seeks another way to dismantle the jihadi groups.
On September 29, the Indian military has claimed incursions into Pakistani Kashmir that have destroyed several jihadist positions on the border. Some strategists advocate for more bold raids like those ones, and recommended the creation of special units to conduct helicopter-borne operations on the model of the US Navy Seal against bin Laden’s home in Pakistan in 2011.
Another possibility is the use of the Scalp cruise missiles provided by France along with 36 Rafale air fighters ordered late September this year. With a 250 to 400 km range, high accuracy and shooting accuracy, they will provide India the possibility to strike jihadi bases located in a radius of 200 km from its borders.
Islamabad and New Delhi will continue to be cautious about the use of their nuclear arsenal. The greatest danger is that the Pakistani nukes fall into the hands of a jihadist group.
The Kashmir issue is unlikely to find a resolution soon and will continue to be carefully monitor by the International Community.