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Wednesday, May 22, 2019, 22:26 (GMT+7)
Tensions in South Asia

On February 14th 2019, the attack staged by the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorist group on Kashmir under India’s control provoked a series of military retaliations against each other between the two nuclear-weapon countries. It is believed that if not being opportunely relieved, tensions between the two sides will possibly lead to flashpoints across South Asia.

The bombing in Kashmir on February 14th (photo: Reuters)

The historical hostility between the two countries

Looking into the relationship between India and Pakistan comprehensively, experts believe that tension at is peak with armed conflicts between India and Pakistan has its origin in the history. As a British colony, India was divided into over 500 kingdoms ruled formally by local princes; however, in actual fact, these kingdoms were under the British rule. In August 1947, under the Mountbatten Plan, the UK decided to divide the South Asia into 2 independent countries, namely India populated mostly by Hindus and Pakistan populated largely by Muslims.

After the decision, 90 million people from the kingdoms were faced with a choice between the two new countries. While immigrating to their chosen countries, religious believers slaughtered one another, and hundreds of thousands of people were killed, which escalated the religious, ethical conflict between India and Pakistan. Shortly thereafter, in October 1947, the first armed dispute over Kashmir between India and Pakistan took place. As the war lasted without an end, on January 1st 1949, a ceasefire agreement mediated by the UN was signed; in this agreement, 65% of Kashmir’s territory belonged to India, and the rest was under Pakistan’s control. The Line of Control (LOC) has been established and seen as the border between India and Pakistan in Kashmir so far.

However, due to the fact that most of the Muslims in Kashmir under India’s control are not content with the Hindus’ rule, and that many Muslims are discriminated against when migrating to other regions of India, the religious, ethical conflict reaches its peak. For the sake of justice for the Muslim on the other side of the border, many armed groups have been established in Pakistan to conduct attacks on the Hindus; however, those attacks have merely made the relations between the two religions and countries more and more intense. More seriously, in 1965, Kashmir continued to be the theatre of the second conflict between India and Pakistan, particularly between the two religions, without any improvement in the situation. In 1971, the third conflict occurred when India sponsored the separatist movement in the East of Pakistan; as a result of the conflict, Bangladesh was founded. Obviously, the dispute and tension between India and Pakistan have continued to escalate.

Against that backdrop, to prove their military power as the deterrent, the two countries have entered a nuclear arms race. In the latest serious armed conflict (May 1999), in Kargil, the two sides threatened and intended to use their nuclear weapons. The reason was that Pakistan’s commandos penetrated Kashmir’s territory under India’s control in order to retake a valley on which Pakistan had claim. Geographically, Kargil is adjacent to the LOC between India and Pakistan established by the UN in Kashmir. This area is surrounded by high mountain ranges of military values, particularly to deploying reinforcements via the road connected with Skardu which is a town of Pakistan, 170km far from Kargil to the Northwest. If Pakistan took control of Kargil, it would control the whole Kashmir. During the initial stages of the war, Islamabad blamed the fighting entirely on independent Kashmiri insurgents. However, according to the investigations carried out the UN, Pakistan’s military forces were in charge of invading Kargil. America even stated that most of 700 troops penetrating the borderline of Kashmir belonged to the X Corps of Pakistan’s Army. Being determined not to lose the area of strategic significance, on June 6th 1999, India conducted the Operation Vijay. After more than one month of fierce skirmish, the two sides suffered heavy casualties of nearly 2,000; the Kargil dispute brought the two countries to the verge of a nuclear war, which was more dangerous than the 1962 event when the Soviet Union and America threatened to use nuclear missiles to deal with the issue of Cuba. Many countries around the world had to raise their voice to respond to the situation. In late June 1999, the then US President Bill Clinton and his security advisors had an emergency meeting to defuse the conflict. With the documents provided by investigations on Pakistan’s preparation for deploying nuclear forces, in his letter to the then Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, US President Bill Clinton stated that if Islamabad had not withdrawn its military forces, Washington would have withheld Pakistan’s 100 million USD loan from the International Monetary Fund. After many intense discussions, America managed to exert pressure on the Pakistani leader during his visit to Washington in early July 1999. On July 11th 1999, Pakistan withdrew its troops from Kargil, ending one of the bloodiest wars between the two nuclear-weapon neighbours in South Asia.

It is easy to see that Kashmir is the focus of the dispute between the two countries. In fact, after the Kargil war in 1999, India and Pakistan made efforts to establish a more friendly relationship. Typically, in 2015, after winning the election, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi invited his counterpart Nawaz Sharif to attend his inauguration. After that, New Delhi initiated the process of reconciliation with its neighbour. However, before the plan between the two sides was realized, on January 2nd 2016, India’s Pathankot airbase had been attacked by the Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorist group. The newly-raised hope for peace was shattered.

The risk of a crisis in South Asia

The terrorist attack on India on February 14th 2019 once again worsened the dispute between the two nuclear-weapon countries and could lead South Asia to a crisis which would be hard to control. Blaming Islamabad for the bombing, New Delhi cancelled the Most Favoured Nation Trade Privileges for Pakistan, speeded up the construction of dams in the tributary of Indus River to reduce the water flow into Pakistan, and launched air strikes on the Jaish-e-Mohammed group’s facilities in Pakistan. It is the first time a nuclear-weapon country has staged air strikes on another nuclear-weapon country. In response to India’s strikes, Pakistan shot down 2 India’s aircraft, deployed 5 LY-80 (HQ-16) surface-to-air missile units and IBIS-150 air defence surveillance units and many drones to the border in order to threaten the opponent.

Regarding the military power of the two sides, Pakistan is now maintaining an active military force of 560,000 troops while India has a 1.2 million-strong army. In an emergency, New Delhi still has a reserve force which is much more powerful than that of Islamabad. India possesses about 3,500 tanks, including Russia’s T-90 most advanced tanks. Meanwhile, Pakistan has only about 2,500 tanks which are produced by mainly China. Pakistan now has 425 aircraft of all types made by France, America, and China while India possesses 800 aircraft, most of which were produced by the Soviet Union, such as MIG-21 and MIG-27. The power of India’s air force mainly depends on its 200 Su-30 aircraft provided with sufficient modern equipment and weapons. Concerning the naval force, India has more large warships than Pakistan. However, it should be noticed that although Pakistan is inferior to India in terms of military power, it has nuclear weapon which is as powerful as India. According to statistics, Pakistan has about 140-150 nuclear warheads while India has about 130-140 ones. Analysts believe that the two countries are placed on the “red alert” for a nuclear war. In Pakistan’s nuclear doctrine, the country’s only target for nuclear attacks is India. More dangerously, Pakistan advocates launching a first strike with its nuclear weapons to retaliate against a large-scale attack with conventional weaponry staged by India. Meanwhile, India has developed the “quick start” doctrine to readily retaliate against an unusual attack launched by Pakistan. Following this doctrine, India would mobilize half a million troops within 72 hours with the support of armoured vehicles and quickly occupy the targets below Islamabad’s nuclear threshold.

At present, major powers around the globe, particularly America, China and Russia are making every effort to prevent a comprehensive war in South Asia. Recent signals given by India and Pakistan have shown that the degree of hostility has gone far beyond the conflicts in their border. In other words, the risk of a large-scale armed conflict between India and Pakistan is very high. Studies have revealed that a nuclear war between India and Pakistan would kill millions of people in South Asia and bring a disaster to the world’s agriculture with a huge amount of smoke, ash, and dust plunged into the atmosphere, which could kill about 2 billion people around the globe.

According to experts all over the world, if India and Pakistan do not stop air strikes and artillery barrages against each other, there’s no going back for the two nuclear-weapon neighbours. The two sides still have a chance for a compromise if they yield to each other and negotiate for the common interests. The continuous militarization of the conflict only undermines the possibility for achieving a solution through negotiations. If leaders of each country fail to express their strong political will, disputes and violence will continue to be intensified to the new levels.

It is expected that with the support of major powers and international organizations, the two countries will solve the dispute by means of diplomacy and dialogue for the sake of peace and stability for not only the two sides, but also for the region and the world.

Lam Phuong

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