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Will rivalry and repression start a nuclear war over Kashmir?

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Issue 2523
Indian security forces patrol Kashmirs capital Srinagar
Indian security forces patrol Kashmir’s capital Srinagar (Pic: Flickr/Austin Yoder)

India and Pakistan stand on the brink of major confrontation over the disputed territory of Kashmir.

An attack by armed militants on an army base in the Indian-controlled part of the region last week killed 18 soldiers.

The Indian government blames Pakistan, insisting that the fighters are backed by the country’s secret services. It urged its army to take on the rebels along the “Line of Control” that separates the two countries.

Fighting has raged since then, with many civilians caught between the two sides.

The general secretary of Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party calls for more blood. He posted on Facebook to demand, “For one tooth, the complete jaw. Days of so-called strategic restraint are over.”

India and Pakistan have fought two fully fledged wars over Kashmir. Both are nuclear powers. It would be disastrous if the current situation escalated into another major military confrontation.

Ordinary Kashmiris—Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists—have endured three months of crackdowns and curfews.

Security forces have been battling with protesters against India’s military occupation in Indian-administered Kashmir since July. They have killed more than 80 people and wounded thousands—including many blinded by pellet guns.

They injured dozens and killed a 22-year-old farmer when they fired at stone-throwing protesters on Friday of last week. Hundreds of villagers came into the streets in response, chanting, “We want freedom”.

Troops have brought life in the region to a standstill, even blocking worshippers from attending Friday prayers at the largest mosques.

All major markets, educational institutions and public transport as well as other businesses are closed. But the protests show no sign of abating.


The tensions could draw in more countries after Modi vowed to Pakistan, “We will isolate you”.

India arrested and detained leading Kashmiri human rights activist Khurram Parvez earlier this month, stopping him speaking at the United Nations human rights council.

China’s government fears the clashes could threaten its development of the Pakistani port of Gwadar.

Chinese prime minister Li Keqiang last week urged Pakistan to “reinforce prevention on the security risk” and “provide safety protection”.

The ruling classes of both India and Pakistan are happy to stoke tensions, believing that sabre-rattling will make them popular at home.

The wishes of the Kashmiri people are furthest from their considerations—as they have been since British India was partitioned into two states, India and Pakistan, in 1947.

The imperialist lobby in Britain demanded its local allies, the heads of the princely states, be allowed to decide for themselves which to join. The vast majority chose India—and Indian troops occupied the two areas that chose Pakistan.

Kashmir’s ruler Maharajah Hari Singh tried to avoid the decision. Pakistan sent troops to invade, but India seized the capital, Srinagar.

Then there was a serious secular movement that fought for independence for Kashmir from both Pakistan and India. Some still hold to that goal.

The only way out of this dangerous spiral towards war is for workers to unite across the religious divides—in India, Pakistan, and Kashmir.

The left should demand self-determination for the region, and fight to make real the possibility of independence.

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