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Wednesday, 24 October, 2001, 09:13 GMT 10:13 UK
Analysis: Kashmir threat to coalition
Indian border guards patrol in Srinagar in Indian-held Kashmir
Kashmir may be the most volatile disputed territory
Daniel Lak

The America-led air strikes against Afghanistan - ostensibly backed by India and Pakistan - and the fear of a region-wide conflict has put the volatility of disputed Kashmir back in the spotlight.

For more than 50 years, the Kashmir dispute has been mired in mutual recrimination, violence and intricate semantics beyond the comprehension of anyone from outside the region

The killing of more than 20 Pakistani-based Kashmiri militants on Tuesday night, during a US raid on Kabul, also serves to draw attention to how the campaign in Afghanistan could have an impact on Kashmir in particular and the region in general.

During the recent visit of US Secretary of State Colin Powell, India carried out artillery barrages into Pakistani Kashmir, underlining just how fragile the "coalition against terror" is in South Asia.

With Kashmir on the long list of places that groups like al-Qaeda use to call for jihad, the Americans and everyone else will want reassurances that some lowering of tensions is possible.

Cause of conflict

Kashmir is perhaps the world's most volatile disputed territory, especially since 1998 when both India and Pakistan tested nuclear weapons.

The two countries have fought three full-scale wars since they were divided into two independent states in 1947.

Kashmir sparked two of those conflicts and very nearly a third in 1999 when Pakistan briefly occupied unmanned posts in Indian-controlled territory above the remote district of Kargil.

For more than 50 years, the Kashmir dispute has been mired in mutual recrimination, violence and intricate semantics beyond the comprehension of anyone from outside the region.

Long-running dispute

A Muslim majority state with a Hindu Maharajah, Kashmir was one of more than 500 "princely states" that never came under overt British rule during colonial times.

Both India and Pakistan - founded as a homeland for subcontinental Muslims - coveted the mountainous land so beloved of poets, Mughal emperors and Sixth-Century Chinese Buddhist pilgrims.

The Hindu ruler of Kashmir chose to join India when his territory was invaded by Pakistani tribesmen in 1947.

That sparked the first Indo-Pakistan war, the division of Kashmir and the first of a long series of failed international efforts to bring lasting peace to South Asia.

Divided territory

United Nations security council resolutions called on both countries to withdraw military forces from Kashmir and hold a plebiscite among the local people to decide between the two states.

Srinagar soldier and Muslim protester
India and militant groups have been accused of human rights abuses in Kashmir

To this day, stark disagreements over the meaning of those resolutions lie at the heart of hostility between India and Pakistan.

Further wars, in 1965 and 1971, went comprehensively in India's favour. But Kashmir remained divided.

India regards the entire territory as an integral part of its land mass, while Pakistan insists that it was meant to include all Muslim-majority areas in its territory.


In the late 1980s, a frustrated Kashmir people - used and manipulated by both Delhi and Islamabad - turned to violence.

Independent Indian analysts say attempts by Delhi to rig local elections in 1987 laid the groundwork for years of militancy.

Kashmir could cause a nuclear war. Yet the dispute has remained immune to attempts to resolve it

At the same time, a military government in Pakistan, flush with funds and ammunition to organise resistance against the Soviet military occupation of Afghanistan, began to encourage violent separatist forces in Indian-administered Kashmir.

The early 1990s were bitter and bloodstained with international and local human rights groups accusing both the Indian security forces and militant groups of atrocities.

Later, the militants bore the brunt of such accusations and foreign fighters poured into Kashmir in large numbers.

Local people remained alienated, their economy and lives in ruins.

No compromise

To India, this was cross-border terrorism on a grand scale.

Islamabad saw support for Muslim separatist groups as a way to offset India's far larger armed forces.

At international and regional forums, Indian and Pakistani diplomats fought fierce rhetorical and political battles on the Kashmir issue.

At home, politicians linked hardline support for rigid positions on Kashmir with patriotism.

Attempts at compromise failed as Delhi and Islamabad were fraught with domestic political instability throughout the 1990s.

Nuclear risk

The nuclear test explosions in both countries in 1998 were a wake-up call to the world.

Kashmir could cause a nuclear war. Yet the dispute has remained immune to attempts to resolve it.

There have been countless other summit meetings and high-level contacts that have been futile.

And most recently, a summit between Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf and India's Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee in Agra failed to make any real progress.

To lower tensions in the region will require discretion, creativity and patience, qualities long conspicuous by their absence among all the principal players in South Asia's most dangerous dispute.

The BBC's Frances Harrison
"The defence minister warned that India would be ruthless and would stop at nothing in facing the enemy"
See also:

16 Oct 01 | South Asia
India issues Kashmir warning
16 Oct 01 | South Asia
South Asia media focus on Powell
11 Oct 01 | South Asia
Tensions rise over Kashmir
09 Oct 01 | South Asia
Pakistan changes direction
03 Oct 01 | South Asia
Kashmir caught in war on terror
06 Jul 01 | South Asia
India and Pakistan: Troubled relations
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