Indo-Pakistani Conflict: the Underlying History of Border Armed Conflicts

by Jessie Jin

Image: Tor Lundgren/Flickr

In November 2020, a major exchange of gunfire occurred in the disputed region of Kashmir, marking the latest development in an ongoing series of armed clashes between India and Pakistan known as the India-Pakistan border skirmishes. The November border skirmishes have left at least 22 dead, including 11 civilians. This dispute took place along the Line of Control, the area between India and Pakistan that is a military control line – a line unrecognized as legal international boundaries, but has the the purpose of an area that countries can enforce laws over. The recent exchange of fire, however, is only the tip of the iceberg for an entire history of complex conflicts between the two nations that has culminated into intensive disputes, also dealing with international relationships, historical disputes, as well as allies/enemies relationships between many countries. 

As for the most recent skirmish in November, intensified conflict occurred around the border as early as August 2019, following a deployment of tens of thousands of additional troops and paramilitary forces to the region and the Indian government’s removal of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status in Article 370 of the Indian constitution. Both countries have maintained a fragile cease-fire since 2003, regularly exchanging fire across the contested border or the Line of Control. After every skirmish, both sides accuse the other of violating cease-fire, and claim to only be shooting back in response to the attacks. An uptick in border skirmishes that began in late 2016 and continued into 2018 killed dozens and displaced thousands of civilians on both sides of the Line of Control. In September 2016, a group of armed military members from Pakistan attacked an Uri Indian Army, which happened to be close to the Line of Control. The violence in the military base resulted in eighteen Indian soldiers dead, which caused a significant rise of tension between the two countries. Although the skirmishes cannot be considered huge political conflicts, the frequency of exchange and rising tension in the border makes it an important topic to address. 

 A history of Indo-Pakistani conflicts surrounds the Line of Control. Kashmir has long been a subject to violence and heightened threat of terrorist activity by Pakistan-based militant groups, and historically there have been tensions and concerns in the region. Territorial disputes over the Kashmir region sparked two of the three major Indo-Pakistani wars in 1947 and 1965, as well as a limited war in 1999. There are a few factors that might have caused the increased frequency of skirmishes since 2016. The history of Pakistan and India is a defining one. After dissolution of the British Raj in 1947, India and Pakistan formed into two new nations. India had a Hindu majority, whereas Pakistan had a Muslim majority. The relationship between the two countries have been complex and hostile due to the differences in religious and cultural differences, unaccepting of the other. Furthermore, Kashmir has been subjected to territorial disputes by India and Pakistan since the early 20th century, building more into the conflicted relationship. For 2020, the current pandemic is contributing to the need of borderline meet-ups; the two countries rely on each other for medical supplies in treating patients of coronavirus, resulting in increased border activities. It has been speculated to be a big reason for the increased fire exchange currently, as the frequency of encounters increases. 

China also played an important role in the long Indo-Pakistan conflict. As a strong ally of Pakistan, China and Pakistan have “ganged up” on India in the border dispute  in the 1900s. China’s goal in this is not simply to support their ally, instead using Pakistan as a political tool. Their strained relationship with India means they want India weaker. By supporting Pakistan in the territorial dispute, they are battling India’s growth as a powerful nation in Asia. However, since the 1980s, China’s policy on Kashmir has shifted from a clear pro-Pakistan stance to a more neutral one; their support for internationalizing the Kashmir conflict has diminished significantly over time. Despite China’s shift of attitude in recent years, their role in exacerbating the tension between the two countries contributed to the exchange of fires in the Line of Control. They have played a significant role in the conflict both historically and currently. As of recent years, Beijing works closely with Washington to mitigate regional tensions during crises, prioritizing war prevention rather than supporting allies and detering competitors. 

The Indo-Pakistani conflict seems to hold signs of a long-lasting conflict. Though its rates of conflict have increased due to various circumstances in recent years, its instilled root from the two countries’ historical relationships suggests that it might not be something that can be solved easily. On the other hand, I believe mitigation plans from other countries will impact the Indo-Pakistani conflicts to a certain extent. As suggested previously, China’s stance towards the conflict shifted towards a more balanced approach; the decisions or approaches allies of both countries take on their relationship will impact how the conflict plays out. Additionally, the major powers working alongside the UN to mitigate rising conflicts might benefit from re-evaluating their methods to regulate this conflict, given the recent rises in tension. Although the Indo-Pakistani conflicts in recent years can be seen as political skirmishes, country relationships are crucial towards international affairs and impacts their allies’ towards international disputes as well. I think it is important for the United Nations and other world powers involving themselves in mitigation policies to see this in a more urgent scope, and propose new solutions that will be more effective. 

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