The conflict between Pakistan and India is often overlooked — like many conflicts that have been going on for decades, it’s easy to slip out of the limelight when it sounds like the same news is getting reported over and over. However, the Pakistan-India tensions have had some serious fallout: they have had massive tank battles the likes of which hadn’t been seen since WWII, suffered devastating losses on both land and sea, and have had the highest number of POWs taken since WWII in one war up until that point. They have edged closer to nuclear war than most nuclear powers out there.
Kashmir is a disputed area to the north, but both countries definitively control their sides of the “border.” The de facto border between the two is known as the “line of control,” and it runs through Jammu and Kashmir, a line that is over over 2000 miles long, cutting through the massive Himalayan mountains.
A brief history of the conflict:
After the close of WWII, India and Pakistan both gained independence from the British. The idea was to have a Muslim state entirely separate from India, though it wasn’t an easy split since the Muslim population was not so clearly defined geographically — what was supposed to be a clear and easy division was anything but. Lines were drawn and borders were built, but Kashmir remained a disputed territory, and both countries claimed it as its own. The local leadership chose India, but there was a majority Muslim population that wanted to be a part of Pakistan (to put it simply).
Since then, multiple wars have broken out over the ownership of Kashmir. Significant wars have erupted in 1947, 1965, and 1999. Countless incidents of smaller battles have occurred outside actual wars, that always threaten to boil up and over into yet another major conflict.
In 1998, India successfully tested their nuclear warheads delivered from the air; later that year, Pakistan did the same, and the stakes have continued to rise ever since. The Kargil War — which claimed the lives of hundreds of soldiers on both sides and thousands of wounded in two months — particularly caught the eyes of the world because of both countries’ nuclear capabilities.
This does not include the war in 1971, which was between Pakistan and India and resulted in the creation of Bangladesh. While it was not a product of the disputed territory of Kashmir, it is yet another indicator of the complex and tumultuous relationship between the two countries.
The two countries have sustained a cease fire since 2003, though tension remains high and accusations of one country breaking the agreement are common. For example, Indian news outlets have reported a violation as recently as late December, 2017. Long fence-lines in tangent with mine fields line the Indian side, garnering much criticism from the Pakistanis. Bill Clinton once referred to this line of control as the most dangerous place on earth.
I lived in Pakistan for nine years as a child, and five of those were spent in Kashmir in the town of Gilgit, just west of the Line of Control. We lived nestled in the enormous mountains, next to the raging Gilgit River in the late 90s until I left for boarding school in Murree, Pakistan in 2001.
My family and I were there during the Kargil War — the helicopters were flying back and forth, transporting casualties to and from the front line (we eventually left for a couple months, for unrelated reasons). There had been fighting on the border before, but the it was reaching new levels of violence and bringing nuclear weapons into the mix was a scary addition. I was a little too young to really grasp the severity of the situation, but I did feel that looming danger of nuclear war. It’s a pretty ominous feeling for the average civilian on the ground, simply subject to the thoughts and struggles of the powers that be. I would imagine many felt that way during the Cold War as well. We all live with proverbial guns to our heads now, in the nuclear age where superpowers have the ability to snuff out all life on earth if they so choose. However, those subconscious fears bubble to the surface when two nuclear powers are actively engaged in armed conflict not far from where you live. That became a reality for me during the Kargil War, known then as the “kargil jang.”
We would later find out from Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf (who was a general at the time of the war) that Pakistan’s nuclear capabilities didn’t actually involve delivering nuclear payloads via air at the time, so they were essentially just bluffing.
However, from a cultural perspective, the aggression toward India tended to unite the locals in a strange way. In a country rife with internal conflict, it gave them an external enemy to concern themselves over (not saying it’s a good thing, because it is most definitely not, just the way that it is). There always seemed to be some type of conflict or another going on at all times — we had to leave several times when tensions between Sunnis and Shiites reached a boiling point. Most of my time there was in the 1990s, so the Taliban were generally over the border in Afghanistan, but their troubles would bleed over into Pakistani territory every once in a while. Their problems certainly came rushing our way after 9/11 and the war began.
I hope that one day Pakistan, a place close to my heart, finds relative peace and can begin to really move forward.
Featured image: In this July 10, 1999 file photo, Indian artillery guns are engulfed in smoke in Dras, some 155 kilometers (96 miles) north of Srinagar, India as Indian troops fight Pakistani intruders in the disputed Kashmir. In 1999, less than four months after Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee revived peace talks and took a groundbreaking bus ride to the Pakistani border town of Lahore to meet his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, Sharif’s army chief, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, sent armed invaders into Kashmir to capture some mountain peaks. The move provoked two months of air strikes and ground attacks by India, ending after Sharif ordered the fighters to withdraw. (AP Photo/Aijaz Rahi, File)