A new crisis erupts in Kashmir between nuclear powers India and China-backed Pakistan

Special to WorldTribune.com

By John J. Metzler

UNITED NATIONS — A deadly terrorist bombing in the disputed Indian province of Kashmir has reignited tensions between both India and Pakistan.

In the broader sense, the suicide bomb attack by the Islamic militant Jaish-e-Mohammed which killed 44 Indian para-military police, has brought the nuclear-armed neighbors to a renewed level of mistrust, hostility, and unease as democratic India prepares for general elections in May.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, urgently appealed “to the Governments of both India and Pakistan to exercise maximum restraint to ensure the situation does not further deteriorate.”

Indian fighter jets crossed the ‘line of control’ in Kashmir and attacked ‘terror camps’ in Pakistan as tensions between the nuclear powers escalated. / Prakash Singh / AFP / Getty

Though the Pakistani government has staunchly denied any involvement in the Pulwama incident, it’s common knowledge that Pakistan’s military and secretive “deep state” Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) has supported a gaggle of terrorist movements ranging from Jaish-e-Mohammed or Army of Mohammed to Afghan Taliban factions.

A UN Security Council statement but NOT a resolution “condemned in the strongest terms” the heinous and cowardly suicide bombing in Jammu and Kashmir and “reiterated that any acts of terrorism are criminal and unjustifiable, regardless of their motivation.”

India’s northernmost region of Kashmir has long been a deadly flashpoint with neighboring Pakistan. In the chaotic twilight of the British rule in 1947, the partition of India moved along largely religious lines with the Hindu Princely states choosing to stay with India and the Muslims opting to join Pakistan. Though having a Muslim majority, Kashmir’s ruler chose to stay with India. Both rivals have since fought two wars over the disputed region.

A long forgotten footnote in the conflict remains that in 1948, the newly established United Nations passed a Security Council resolution calling for a plebiscite to be carried out to allow the Kashmiris to formally choose whether to stay with India or join Pakistan. The vote was never held. Today many inhabitants would opt for neither; instead choosing independence.

Fast forward to the present.

Indeed both countries share the territory which is separated by a UN monitored Line of Control. Indian Kashmir has seen periodic violence and has been a hotbed of jihadi terrorist groups. India currently stations 250,000 troops in the resource-rich region.

India’s nationalist Prime Minister Narenda Modi faces national elections in May. Though Modi has modernized and rejuvenated the Indian economy and fostered close political ties with Washington, no leader can look the other way to such a deadly attack on national sovereignty.

Prime Minister Modi warned that those behind the attack would face a “jaw-breaking response.” With elections on the horizon one can nervously ponder whether New Delhi’s response will go beyond rhetoric?

“An act of war by Pakistan’s Deep State, which Pulwama clearly is, certainly demands an appropriate hit back. This is not war-mongering; it is justice,” writes Barkha Dutt in the Hindustan Times.

Not many years ago, Pakistan had been politically swerving into the status of being a failed state. Happily in recent times the government has gone back to the center line with the election of Imran Khan, a less ideological and pragmatic Prime Minister. Nonetheless, Pakistan’s growing dependence on China, both militarily and economically through Beijing’s Belt and Road initiative, has given the Islamabad government renewed geopolitical clout to counterbalance a militarily stronger India.

Shishir Gupta opines in the Hindustan Times, “Pakistan’s relationship with iron brother China is clearly tactical with no ideological or religious basis barring Beijing’s antipathy to India.”

Much of the bitter rivalry between largely Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan is rooted in what the late political scientist Samuel Huntington described as the Clash of Civilizations, in other words less political ideology than historic ethnic/religious antipathy.

So shall this long simmering conflict coming to a boil formally be brought before the UN Security Council which is responsible for “the maintenance of international peace and security?” Not likely.

China firmly supports Pakistan’s position but will veto such a case, which contains strong undertones of separatism and independence. Such political genies released in Jammu and Kashmir could easily inspire and reawaken similar sentiments inside the Chinese Mainland itself from the suppressed Muslim minority in Xinjiang province, to Tibetan Buddhists, or for that matter, the free wheeling Chinese democracy on Taiwan. Beijing prefers to see such spirits best kept bottled up.

The United States has firmly condemned the terrorism but doesn’t wish to become involved in a brewing South Asian crisis. Yet the Preventive Diplomacy doctrine of UN Secretary General Guterres perfectly fits the Kashmir imbroglio; namely defusing any simmering conflict before it widens.

But are the Kashmiris willing to wait? Hopefully.

John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014). [See pre-2011 Archives]