Uri tension threatens India–Pakistan relations

Tuesday, 2016-10-04 12:25:28
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A woman lights candles during a vigil on September 20, 2016 at a school in Jammu for soldiers who were killed in an attack at an army base in the town of Uri in Kashmir. (Credit: Reuters)
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NDO—A recent attack in the Kashmiri town of Uri in which eighteen Indian soldiers were killed has left relations between India and Pakistan at their lowest point in years.

Indian soldiers in Uri, in the disputed region of Kashmir, recently engaged attackers in a heavy gunfight. The fighting in Uri has risked pushing the two largest countries in South Asia to the brink of war if they fail to restrain themselves and satisfactorily handle their disagreements.

The India–Pakistan relationship, which has gone through many ups and downs, is in the midst of a serious escalation of tensions following the unexpected attack in Uri in the Indian-controlled portion of Jammu and Kashmir on September 18, killing eighteen Indian soldiers.

It was the worst attack on the border between the two countries in the last fourteen years. The Indian side immediately made the accusation that the gunmen behind the attack had come from the portion of Kashmir controlled by Pakistan.

Ten days after the attack, the Indian military launched an assault targeting terrorist forces across the Line of Control (LoC)—the line partitioning Kashmir between the two countries—in order to prevent a conspiracy to attack major cities in India.

The raid lasted four hours and killed nearly 40 gunmen and two Pakistani soldiers, and injured nine people. Officials in the Indian states bordering Pakistan, viz. Punjab, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Indian-controlled Kashmir, have imposed a state of emergency, asking their residents evacuate from areas bordering the two countries and along the LoC.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi vowed to make the attackers and masterminds behind the Uri attack pay. At a meeting with the commanders of India’s joint armed forces, Indian Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar asked all forces to respond to any border intrusion plot with the full force of their power.

In response, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif criticized Indian military raids into Pakistan’s territory along the LoC. The Pakistani Foreign Ministry summoned Indian High Commissioner Gautam Bambawale to protest the cross-border raid by the Indian side.

Not stopping there, in recent days soldiers of the two sides at the LoC have traded heavy gunfight. Furthermore, the Pakistani army also held a large military exercise simulating a scenario of war at the division level and with the highest operational coordination in its border areas with India’s Rajasthan State, with the participation of more than 15,000 soldiers and 300 from the military reserves.

India’s border security force in areas bordering Pakistan has been placed on the highest alert to closely monitor developments related to the Pakistani exercise, as well as to deal with intrusions across the border. The Indian air force also carried out large-scale military exercises in the western region of the country, which borders Pakistan, to improve combat readiness. The Indian navy plans to organise a large military drill in the Arabian Sea, Pakistan’s sole maritime trade route, in the coming weeks.

This “tit-for-tat” sabre-rattling in the relations between India and Pakistan has also spread to the areas of culture, trade and diplomacy, not only negatively affecting cooperation between the two but also having a direct impact on the environment of peace, security and cooperation in the region.

The United Nations has expressed concern about the escalation of tensions in Kashmir, urging India and Pakistan to exercise restraint and recommending that the two parties continue efforts to resolve their differences peacefully through dialogue.

The US has urged both India and Pakistan to enhance information exchanges and avoid increasing tensions. Washington also expressed its hope that Islamabad would take action to effectively deal with and not legitimise individuals and entities named as terrorists by the United Nations. Meanwhile, China has been in contact with both countries to help cool tensions, requesting that the parties adequately handle disagreements and work together to maintain peace and security in the region.

The disputed region of Kashmir has been the cause of costly wars between the two nuclear-armed countries in South Asia. The 720km-long LoC divides Kashmir into two parts, controlled by India and Pakistan, but both countries claim sovereignty over the entire area.

In 2003, the two countries reached an agreement on a landmark ceasefire on the LoC, but since then gunfights have still occurred in this area and the two sides have accused each other of provoking such fighting. Aware of the immeasurable damage to both sides that would result if a war occurred, in recent years India and Pakistan have made some important progress in the pursuit of diplomatic solutions to the dispute, contributing to the region’s stability.

Unfortunately, while the relationship between India and Pakistan has maintained its stability, the Uri incident has fanned the flames of the dispute and threatened an all-out war between the two countries if they fail to restrain themselves and handle their disagreements satisfactorily.

The public has asserted that only through dialogue and continuing efforts to build trust and resolve conflict and disputes through peaceful negotiations can India and Pakistan escape the vicious cycle of conflict and extinguish the flames of war smoldering beneath the relationship between the two countries.