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Kashmir: The New Cold War?

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The Himalayan region of Kashmir has been a bone of contention between India and Pakistan since Partition. Many efforts have been made by Pakistan to mitigate the issue through a peaceful settlement; however, all these efforts have been met with hostility by the Indian government. Likewise, all proposals passed by the UN Security Council have been in vain as the concerned parties fail to reach a middle ground over the solutions. Recently, China has been projecting its power across the Asia and along the disputed India-China border, which is eyed suspiciously by India and has escalated tensions between the two countries. As a result, Kashmir has become a hot-bed of conflicts.

On 5th August 2019, India abrogated the special status of Indian-occupied Kashmir by revoking Article 370 of the Indian Constitution that guaranteed special rights to the Muslim-majority state, including the right to its own Constitution and autonomy to formulate its own laws except in defense, communications and foreign affairs. This act ended any hope of dialogue between India and Pakistan concerning their long disputed territorial claims on Kashmir.

The abrogation of the constitutional provision was followed by a complete lockdown in Kashmir when thousands of additional troops were sent to the contested area. A complete communication blackout continues to date, and businesses and educational institutes are still shut down. The situation rapidly escalated and led to clashes between civilians and the armed forces.  Around 4,000 people have been arrested, including politicians, activists, and minors. Many were injured and the Indian governments issued instructions to keep the statistics down by quickly discharging wounded civilians and not issuing death certificates. India claims that it is ‘stabilizing’ the Kashmir region, yet the Indian government not only denied US Senator Chris Van Hollen's request to travel to Kashmir but has also restricted the movement of foreign journalists there.

Meanwhile, the Indian army has been violating the Line of Control between Pakistan and India which has caused death of Kashmiri citizens in Azaad Kashmir. Pakistan's Foreign Ministry issued a statement that: “The ceasefire violations by India are a threat to regional peace and security and may lead to a strategic miscalculation."

The Indian Deputy High Commissioner Gaurav Ahluwalia was summoned to condemn the incident. This was followed by Imran Khan’s historical speech at the 74th UN General Assembly where he warned that the rising tensions in Indian occupied Kashmir may lead to a ‘blood bath’ as the 900,000 troops deployed aren’t there for the ‘prosperity of Kashmir’, as claimed by Narendra Modi. Modi avoids discussing Kashmir at the UN General Assembly due to controversial acts of the Indian government in the region.

The rising ambitions of China have proven to be deadly for India as tensions between China and India have escalated on their disputed region of Ladakh which is which is claimed by India but mostly controlled by China. China has constructed a network of roads and tracks on its side of the Line of Actual Control, but has objected to India’s improvement of borderland infrastructure. The construction of the Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldi road in Ladakh by India cuts through mountain ridges as high as 16,000 feet. This road runs almost parallel along the disputed border of Chinese controlled Aksai Chin and touches Daulat Beg Oldi, an Indian controlled army base and landing ground for the Indian Air Force, about 12 miles from the Karakoram Pass which separates Ladakh from Xinjiang in China.

China saw the construction of this road as a threat to its national interests and a challenge to its growing aspirations in the region. Earlier, the abrogation of Article 370 by the Indian government was closely followed by the Chinese government and only added to the increasing tensions among the two. The Indian Home Minister Amit Shah stated that Pakistan controlled Kashmir and Chinese controlled Aksai Chin belonged to India.  This claim was rejected by Beijing; Hua Chunying, a spokesperson for China’s Foreign Affairs ministry, saw this move as undermining China’s territorial sovereignty and issued a warning.

However, India ignored the warning and placed Chinese controlled Aksai Chin in the new Indian map under the Indian border. The arrogance of the Indian government was soon met with  Chinese military movement that resulted in China’s capture of 40 square miles of Indian territory, including an area known as the Galwan River valley. This valley provided the Chinese Army eyes over the strategic Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldi road. As a result, China managed to strategically pressurize India while humiliating it over the loss of its territory.

Similarly, Pakistan’s government has vowed to raise the issue of Kashmir on international forums and has launched a proactive diplomatic campaign to highlight the human rights violations carried out in Indian Occupied Kashmir. As a result, this issue was touched upon during a video conference with SAARC members on 16th March and, as of 3rd March, the issue of Kashmir is at the top of the OIC agenda as well. Moreover, Imran Khan acting as a voice of Kashmir, raised the issue during a session at UNHCR and slammed the international community over its silence with regards to the human rights abuses on 26th June, the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture.

In retaliation to Pakistan’s diplomatic campaign to shun India, the Indian government expelled half of the Pakistani diplomats stationed in New Delhi, accusing them of being engaged in acts of espionage and maintaining dealings with terrorist organizations to aggravate domestic tensions in Indian occupied Kashmir. In response, Pakistan ordered a 50% reduction of Indian diplomats in Islamabad as well. This baseless allegation made by India is seen by Pakistani government as a desperate attempt to shift the focus of the international community from the humiliating defeat of Indian forces by the Chinese.

The current happenings in the Kashmir region can be viewed as part of the emergence of a New Cold War which will turn Kashmir into ground zero if the tensions between the concerned parties are not mitigated soon.