Will Kashmir and Kabul kindle the old India-Pakistan flames?

July 11, 2008

Soldier salutes on Siachen/2003 photo by Pawel KopczynskiAre tensions over Kashmir and Afghanistan returning to haunt relations between India and Pakistan?

At first glance, it looks unlikely. The two countries have more or less managed to hold to a ceasefire agreed at the end of 2003 on both the Line of Control (LoC) dividing Kashmir and on Siachen, and they have a slow-moving peace process which at least has India and Pakistan talking rather than fighting each other. India is far too interested in winning itself superpower status to let itself be distracted by some embarrassing fighting on its border. And Pakistan has enough problems dealing with al Qaeda and the Taliban on its western  border with Afghanistan, without having to cope with trouble on its eastern border with India as well.

On the Indian side of the LoC in Drass/2007 photo by Fayaz KabliBut there have been signs of a new strain in relations this week. The two armies exchanged fire across the LoC  in a violation of the ceasefire. That in itself might not be too troubling, were it not for the fact that long-simmering resentment in Kashmir against Indian rule has burst into the open again. A decision, subsequently reversed, by the state government to transfer land to the Hindu Amarnath Shrine Board sparked some of the biggest protests since the Kashmir separatist revolt erupted in 1989 and has now brought down the state government.

At the same time, the bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul has exposed the rivalry between India and Pakistan over Afghanistan. Afghan authorities hinted that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) was behind the attack — prompting Indian analysts to say that the ISI was sending India a message to get out of Afghanistan. Before the fall of the Taliban in 2001, Pakistan regarded Afghanistan as its own preserve — a place that would offer it “strategic depth” against India.  Since 2001, it has been forced to watch in frustration as India builds economic and political ties  with the government of President Hamid Karzai in Kabul.

So will Kashmir and/or Kabul become the slow burning fuse threatening relations between India and Pakistan? Or is the peace process well enough entrenched to douse the flames?

(Update: Thanks to readers for pointing out the obvious error in the original post which wrongly said that Afghanistan was on Pakistan’s eastern border and India on its western border. I have now corrected above).


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