Kashmir conflict is not just a border dispute between India and Pakistan

Tensions between India and Pakistan have diminished in recent days after repeated military clashes in Kashmir led to fear that the two nuclear powers could be on the verge of war.

Kashmir is a disputed territory divided between India and Pakistan but claimed in its entirety by both sides.

The latest Kashmir standoff was triggered by a Feb. 14 suicide bombing by Jaish-e-Muhammad, a militant group with links to al-Qaida and founded by the Pakistan-based cleric Masood Azhar. More than 40 Indian soldiers died.

India blamed Pakistan for providing moral and material support to the terrorist organization, which is banned in Pakistan but operates openly there. On Feb. 26, India launched air strikes against Jaish-e-Muhammad’s training camps on the Pakistani side of Kashmir.

Pakistan retaliated, claiming to have shot down two Indian fighter jets on Feb. 28. Indian sources said that just one Pakistani jet and one Indian jet had been downed, and an Indian pilot taken hostage by Pakistan.

Pakistan has since released the pilot, soothing tempers – for now, at least.

Why Kashmir?

The Kashmir issue has caused tension and conflict in the Indian subcontinent since 1947, when independence from Britain created India and Pakistan as two sovereign states.

Jammu and Kashmir – the full name of the princely Himalayan state, then ruled by Maharaja Hari Singh – acceded to India in 1947, seeking military support after tribal raids from Pakistan into the state’s territory.

The two countries have fought three wars over the region since.

The internal divisions of Kashmir. Central Intelligence Agency
The first, which began in 1947, ended with the partition of Jammu and Kashmir between India and Pakistan under a 1949 United Nations-brokered ceasefire. Wars in 1965 and 1999 ended in stalemate.

But Kashmir is not simply a bilateral dispute between India and Pakistan.

As illustrated in my recent edited volume on the history of this contested territory, Kashmir is a multi-ethnic region with several internal subregions, whose inhabitants have distinct political goals.

Pakistani Kashmir consists of Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan, jurisdictions that want to become formal provinces of Pakistan to gain more political autonomy over their internal affairs.

Indian Kashmir includes Jammu, Ladakh and the Kashmir Valley. While the first two regions desire to remain part of India, the Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley wants independence from it.