How to Stop Kashmir from Spiraling into All-Out War

October 3, 2016 Topic: Security Region: Asia Tags: IndiaPakistanTerrorismKashmirDefense

How to Stop Kashmir from Spiraling into All-Out War

India and Pakistan shouldn’t gamble with nuclear war.

But let’s assume for a moment that Kashmiris were one day allowed to vote on their future status and that those favoring union with Pakistan, Muslims in the Valley and elsewhere, prevailed. Hindu-majority Jammu and the Buddhist majority (over 75 percent) in Ladakh’s Leh district—its other district, Kargil, has a Shia Muslim majority—would refuse to accept that outcome.

Only one realistic option remains: managing the Kashmir problem in ways that maximize stability and minimize violence and human-rights violations, as well as the probability of war.

For that to happen, India must take steps to protect Kashmiri Muslims from mistreatment, even death, at the hands of the Indian army, the CRPF and the local police. The army and the police are now virtually unaccountable because of the immunity provided by the 1958 Armed Forces Special Powers Act, which was extended to Kashmir in 1990.

As for Pakistan, it must stop arming the insurgents and rein in the radical Islamist groups that launch attacks on India. Its claim that it has no role in the insurgency is no more credible than its insistence that it does not support the Taliban.

Nearly seventy thousand people have died since the Kashmir insurgency started, the majority of them civilians. As long as it continues, India will take military countermeasures, regardless of what the outside world says. The historical records shows that states use pitiless methods to quash secessionist movements—consider the American Civil War—and India has demonstrated that it won’t be an exception. Forget about a Czechoslovakian-style velvet divorce (a rarity in world politics anyway) between India and Kashmir.

As for Pakistan, it seeks to tie Indian forces down in Kashmir and to bloody them by arming and training the insurgents. Nuclear weapons may have increased its confidence that it can pursue this strategy with greater vigor because India will hesitate to escalate. But when militants cross the LOC and launch attacks, India has struck back and Pakistani leaders have come under pressure—especially from the armed forces—to respond in the name of national honor. The crises produced by this pattern of behavior have generally been contained. But it would foolish to assume that they always be.

Some experts worry that someday a tit-for-tat spiral, triggered by a clash in Kashmir between India and Pakistan, could end in a full-blown war in which nuclear weapons are used. Others side with the late Kenneth Waltz, who famously argued that the iron logic of nuclear deterrence worked in the case of the United States and the Soviet Union and will also restrain other nuclear-armed adversaries. Perhaps so. But the two superpowers never fought a large-scale conventional war (or even a minor one). Nor have any other states that possess nuclear weapons. The 1969 border skirmishes between the Soviet and Chinese troops fell short of that. So did the 1999 fighting between Indian and Pakistani forces in Kargil; in any event neither country had an operational nuclear capability then, even though both conducted nuclear tests the previous year.

It would be dangerous to trust an untested theory that would have calamitous consequences if proved wrong. Some theories are best left unverified; this one is for sure.

Rajan Menon is Anne and Bernard Spitzer of International Relations at the Powell School, City College of New York/City University of New York. He is a senior research fellow in the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies at Columbia University. He is the author, most recently, of The Conceit of Humanitarian Intervention (Oxford University Press, 2016).

Image: An Indian Agni-II intermediate range ballistic missile on a road-mobile launcher. Wikimedia Commons/Antônio Milena