Nuclear shadow looms over crisis in Kashmir

Tinderbox: The Kashmir conflict goes back to 1947, and has already resulted in three wars.

Could India’s latest move escalate into nuclear war? The vast Himalayan area of Kashmir is at the heart of a bitter struggle with Pakistan, making it the most militarised zone in the world.

The internet and mobile phone connections are down. Public gatherings of more than four people are banned. Tourists are ordered to leave. Families are staying indoors, stockpiling food.

Instances of protest and stone-throwing were reported and local leaders have been detained. Kashmiris in other parts of the country said that they were unable to get through to their families.

Tens of thousands of additional troops have been deployed, in what was already one of the world’s most militarised zones, and more troops have been sent since.

What started it?

On Monday, India’s government revoked a legal agreement, Article 370, that had granted Kashmir a certain amount of autonomy — its own constitution, a separate flag and the freedom to make laws.

Pakistan has today angrily denounced the move, called it illegal and vowed to fight it at the UN Security Council, the world’s top peacekeeping power. President Imran Khan says he fears “ethnic cleansing” by India.

Why is Kashmir so important?

The answer is the glaciers and the fresh water it provides to neighbouring China, Pakistan and India.

The glacial waters that flow through Kashmir provide water and electricity to a billion people in India.

Pakistan also relies heavily on the water to prop up its farms.

With a growing population and increased need for electricity, India has looked to the region to develop more hydro facilities.

Pakistan fears that India may divert water necessary for irrigation, and use water as a weapon.

Kashmir is, thus, a major national security issue for both nations. Controlling its water is a battle for survival.

Today, it remains one of the most militarised zones in the world.

Khan said yesterday he was worried that Kashmiris, angry over their new loss of independence, would soon launch an attack on the thousands of Indian soldiers and police officers stationed in Kashmir.

If the Indian government chooses to blame Pakistan for such an attack, a full armed conflict between the two nuclear-armed powers would be the end result, he warned.

And experts agree. “India and Pakistan are in a long-running and incendiary dispute, they are both nuclear powers, and crossing a confrontational threshold could ignite a nuclear war between them. Indeed, arms control investigators have long identified the subcontinent as one of the world’s likeliest nuclear flashpoints,” says International Relations lecturer Annie Waqar.

Going nuclear?

Many experts say it won’t happen because the stakes are simply too high. The combined nuclear arsenals of Pakistan and India are more powerful than those dropped on Japan in 1945, and could unleash staggering destruction if deployed on civilian targets. Indeed, even a constrained exchange of warheads between the two nations would, in a split second, be among the most calamitous ever.

Don’t be so sure, others point out. It was only in March, this year, that Indian prime minister Narendra Modi warned of a “crushing response” and launched air strikes on targets in Pakistan-controlled territory. It was not long before both sides were exchanging artillery fire and the conflict quickly escalated.

You Decide

  1. Is water the most important natural resource on the planet?
  2. Have nuclear weapons on balance been a force for good?

Activities

  1. Draw a map of India, Pakistan and China. Colour in Kashmir.
  2. Research the meaning of “partition” in relation to India and Pakistan using the Expert Links. Write a half-page summary about the aims and problems of partition.

Some People Say...

“It’s the most dangerous place in the world.”

Bill Clinton, 42nd US president, speaking about Kashmir

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
India’s government announced a presidential order revoking all of Article 370, apart from one clause which says that the state is an integral part of India. The order has now been made law by President Ram Nath Kovind. The special status of Kashmir is currently being debated in the lower house of parliament, where a bill relating to the division of Jammu and Kashmir into two distinct regions has been introduced. The bill was passed by the upper house on Monday.
What do we not know?
With a communications blackout, very little is known about what is happening inside the region. Many Kashmiris outside of the region are unable to contact their families. Amid this uncertainty, many rumours are spreading between locals inside the region, and on social media outside the region.

Word Watch

Revoked
Officially cancelled.
Autonomy
When a group wants to govern itself, or a person wants to make independent decisions, they are looking for autonomy.
Glaciers
Large areas of fallen snow, that over many years form into dense ice.
Irrigation
Method of controlled watering of plants, particularly important in dry areas and seasons.
Nuclear powers
India and Pakistan rank among two of the world’s biggest nuclear powers.
Nuclear arsenals
According to the Arms Control Association, India has 140 nuclear warheads; Pakistan has 160.
Calamitous
Disatrous, can be fatal and tragic.

Subjects

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