Two of the world’s most important powers, India and Pakistan, are locked into an extremely dangerous confrontation over the bitterly disputed Himalayan mountain state of Kashmir. Both are nuclear armed.
Kashmir has been a flashpoint since Imperial Britain divided India in 1947. India and Pakistan have fought numerous wars and conflicts over majority Muslim Kashmir. China controls a big chunk of northern Kashmir known as Aksai Chin. (see map below)
In 1949, the UN mandated a referendum to determine if Kashmiris wanted to join Pakistan or India. Not surprisingly, India refused to hold the vote. But there are some Kashmiris who want an independent state, though a majority seek to join Pakistan.
India claims that most of northern Pakistan is actually part of Kashmir, which it claims in full. India rules the largest part of Kashmir, formerly a princely state. Pakistan holds a smaller portion, known as Azad Kashmir. In my book on Kashmir, ‘War at the Top of the World,’ I called it ‘the globe’s most dangerous conflict.’ It remains so today.
I’ve been under fire twice on the Indo-Pak border in Kashmir, known as the ‘Line of Control,’ and once at 15,000 feet atop the Siachen Glacier on China’s border. India has over 500,000 soldiers and paramilitary police garrisoning its portion of Kashmir, whose 12 million people bitterly oppose often corrupt and brutal Indian rule – except for local minority Hindus and Sikhs who support it. A bloody, bitter uprising has flared on against Indian rule since 1989 in which some 42,000 people, mostly civilians, have died.
About 250,000 Pakistani troops are dug in on the other side of the ceasefire line.
What makes this confrontation so dangerous is that both sides have important tactical and nuclear forces arrayed against one another. These are mostly short/medium-ranged nuclear tipped missiles, and air-delivered nuclear bombs. Strategic nuclear weapons back up these tactical forces. A nuclear exchange, even a limited one, could kill millions, pollute much of Asia’s ground water, and spread radioactive dust around the globe – including to North America.
India’s new Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, is a Hindu hardliner who is willing to confront Pakistan and India’s 200 million Muslims,