Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has to realize that the world, and India, are going through major changes. Photo: AFP

Tensions between India and Pakistan are at their highest level in decades, and many fear the nuclear-armed neighbors are on the brink of yet another war over the disputed Kashmir region. But the latest eruption is different from its predecessors.

The two countries’ struggle over Kashmir began in 1947. After Pakistan supported a Muslim insurgency in the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir, the state’s Hindu ruler, Maharaja Hari Singh, decided to cede the territory to India in exchange for armed assistance. Since the state’s population was predominantly Muslim, however, Pakistan cried foul and sent in troops, which India countered with more troops of its own.

The war resulted in a stalemate, with the United Nations helping to secure a ceasefire in 1949. As part of the deal, the state was divided between India and Pakistan – and remains so to this day.

The fight over Kashmir picked up again in 1965, when Pakistan sent troops to an Indian-controlled area to encourage locals to revolt against their “occupiers.” But instead of spurring a rebellion, Pakistan elicited a major offensive by India. A 17-day war ensued, but the status quo prevailed.

The two sides fought again in 1971, though Kashmir was not the focus. After the civil war pitting West Pakistan against the Bengali freedom fighters of East Pakistan fueled a wave of refugees from the east, India began supporting rebel groups there. West Pakistan was forced to surrender, and East Pakistan became the independent state of Bangladesh.

Then, in 1999, another Indo-Pakistani skirmish over Kashmir erupted, after Pakistan sent troops to the Indian-controlled district of Kargil. India responded forcefully, launching air strikes and threatening all-out war. The conflict was cut short when US president Bill Clinton persuaded Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif to withdraw his forces from the area.

Whereas Pakistan provoked previous Indo-Pakistani conflicts, India is driving the current one. To be sure, the escalation was triggered by an attack on Indian paramilitary police: on February 14, a young militant in Indian-administered Kashmir carried out a suicide bombing that killed 40. The next day, the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) terrorist group claimed responsibility for the bombing.

India’s government pledged retaliation not just against JeM, but also against Pakistan, though most analysts agree that this decision does not reflect a fair assessment of the situation. While JeM is technically based in Pakistan, it has developed a strong following among young people – like the February 14 suicide bomber – in Indian-controlled Kashmir.

Modi’s government has made the state one of the world’s most militarized areas, with 250,000 armed personnel present. The excessive force used by those personnel has driven many young people into the arms of extremist organizations

The reason is simple. In an effort to control the insurgency in Kashmir, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has made the state one of the world’s most militarized areas, with 250,000 armed personnel present. The excessive force used by those personnel has driven many young people into the arms of extremist organizations.

For Modi, however, ignoring this reality and blaming Pakistan is politically expedient. He and his Bharatiya Janata Party are engaged in a tight election campaign. A landslide victory in 2014 enabled the BJP to form a government on its own, breaking India’s decades-long pattern of coalition rule. But in the past year, the BJP has lost several state elections. Modi was thus eager to satisfy BJP supporters when many took to the streets carrying signs bearing slogans like “Attack Pakistan. Crush It.”

India’s retaliation quickly escalated from economic measures – a 200% tariff on Pakistani imports, for example – to an air strike near the Pakistani town of Balakot, which India claims targeted a JeM training camp. The next day, a dogfight between Pakistani and Indian warplanes left a downed Indian pilot (who has subsequently been released) in Pakistani custody.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, meanwhile, continues to deny any responsibility for the initial attack and to call for dialogue; this, together with his government’s decision to release the captured pilot, could go a long way toward easing tensions. In fact, Khan is a very different kind of Pakistani leader – at the head of a different kind of political party – than those who previously stoked conflict in Kashmir.

Khan’s party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, has the support of a large share of Pakistani young people – a huge cohort in Pakistan, where the median age is just 24 years. When up to 60% of young people voted for Khan and the PTI in last year’s election, they were concerned not with recapturing control of Kashmir; they wanted a government that would deliver quality education, health care and employment.

As Fatima Bhutto, niece of the assassinated Pakistani politician Benazir Bhutto, wrote, though Pakistan’s “recent history has been bloody,” the country’s “long history with military dictatorships and experience of terrorism and uncertainty means that my generation of Pakistanis have no tolerance, no appetite, for jingoism or war.” As Bhutto acknowledges, Khan seems to understand this. “My question [to the Indian government],” he said in a televised address, “is that, given the weapons we have, can we afford miscalculation?”

Fighting in Kashmir may summon a sense of déjà vu, but the fact is that the dynamic has been reversed, with Pakistan now the side vying for peace. It is up to Modi’s government to look past short-term political considerations and allow tensions in Kashmir to ease. If it does, perhaps the next Indian government can take advantage of the shift that has occurred in Pakistan to work for the stable, long-term peace that Kashmir’s people deserve.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2019.

Shahid Javed Burki

Shahid Javed Burki, a former finance minister of Pakistan and former vice-president of the World Bank, is currently chairman of the Shahid Javed Burki Institute of Public Policy in Lahore.

Join the Conversation


  1. I believe that is among the so much important info for me.

    And i am glad reading your article. But want to statement on few normal issues, The web site taste is ideal, the articles is in reality excellent : D.
    Excellent activity, cheers

  2. That is a great tip especially to those new to the blogosphere.
    Brief but very precise information… Many thanks for sharing this one.
    A must read article!

  3. I’ll right away snatch your rss feed as I can not in finding your email subscription hyperlink or newsletter service.
    Do you’ve any? Please permit me recognise so that I could subscribe.

  4. Hi there I am so delighted I found your blog page, I really found you by mistake, while I was researching on Bing for something
    else, Regardless I am here now and would just like to say many thanks for a remarkable post and a all round entertaining blog (I also
    love the theme/design), I don’t have time to go through it all at
    the minute but I have saved it and also added your RSS feeds, so when I have time I will be back
    to read more, Please do keep up the awesome jo.

  5. Hi there! Do you know if they make any plugins to assist with SEO?
    I’m trying to get my blog to rank for some targeted keywords but I’m not
    seeing very good results. If you know of any please share.
    Many thanks!

  6. Spot on with this write-up, I honestly believe this web site needs far more attention. I’ll probably be returning to read more,
    thanks for the advice!

  7. Aw, this was a really good post. Taking a few minutes and
    actual effort to generate a good article… but what can I say… I
    put things off a whole lot and don’t manage to get anything done.

  8. Have you ever considered publishing an ebook or guest authoring on other blogs?

    I have a blog centered on the same topics you discuss and would
    really like to have you share some stories/information. I know my subscribers would enjoy
    your work. If you’re even remotely interested, feel free to
    send me an email.

  9. Do you mind if I quote a few of your posts as long as I provide credit and sources back to your blog?
    My blog site is in the very same area of interest as yours and my users
    would definitely benefit from some of the information you present
    here. Please let me know if this alright with you.
    Thank you!

Leave a comment