This Saturday an Indian soldier was killed in Kashmir when Pakistani troops shelled Indian Army posts along the border, violating the outstanding cease-fire. Lance Naik Mohammed Nasir, a 35-year old servicemen native from the Jammu and Kashmir region, was hit and later died from his injuries, the Indian news outlet NDTV reports.
The Indian Army responded to the mortar strike by attacking Pakistani lines beyond the border. There are also reports of another soldier being injured by a grenade hurled by so-called terrorists this morning. Earlier this week, two more Indian soldiers have been killed in similar incidents. Although such shootouts are not new in the region, the context in which they are happening is somewhat concerning.
This state of affairs comes just a few days after New Delhi refused a Chinese proposal to mediate a bilateral negotiation with Pakistan regarding the ongoing Kashmir conflict. According to Al-Jazeera, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs insists that it is prepared to discuss any resolution with Islamabad directly and does not require any third-party meddling.
It should be noted that the Chinese themselves are not necessarily impartial in the Kashmir affair. Beijing is Pakistan’s closest ally, with vast interests of its own in Kashmir, Afghanistan and along the Indian border, which makes the Indian refusal for mediation understandable from their point of view.
Nevertheless, the rather limited scope of the conflict within Kashmir belies its broader implications. Beijing and New Delhi stare at each other across their common borders and engage in a rather complex political game of chess in the wider Asia-Pacific region.
The modern root of the conflict in Kashmir can be pinpointed to the independence of India and Pakistan, in 1947, when the old British colony was divided along ethnic and, especially, religious lines. The Hindu portion became India, while the Muslim territories became Pakistan and Eastern Pakistan (the latter part becoming Bangladesh after the War of 1971).
India came to claim Kashmir as well, although the region has a predominantly Muslim population. Kashmir is quite fertile, with an important agricultural output, but there are also rich hydrocarbon reserves.
The Kashmir Valley itself stands in a privileged geographical location, being the northernmost part of the Indian subcontinent and an important hub to neighboring territories. Thus, the region presents a great potential for economic and military development.
Indian and Pakistani claims led to several shooting wars among these countries. The first, in 1947, established in broad terms the current borders. Islamabad took Azad-Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan, in the north and west, while New Delhi annexed the Kashmir Valley itself, as well as Jammu and Ladakh, in the south.
Moreover, China eventually asserted their own claims and occupied portions of Ladakh, leading to its own war against India. Eventually Beijing would come to control Aksai Chin in the eastern side of the region, and the Trans-Karakoram Tract, conceded by Pakistan.
Although the larger regional powers keep forcing their influence upon each other, the local Kashmiri also play their role. Militias, treated as ‘terrorists’ by the Indian authorities, have been fighting bitterly against New Delhi’s presence. Their allegiances vary, though. While some vie for unification with Pakistan, others hold to the idea of independence, being against all foreign claims.
This conflict gained a grimmer context when all the intervening parties gained access to nuclear weapons. The standoff between India and Pakistan in 2001 and 2002 is still considered one of the closest calls of all times regarding a possible nuclear war.
Although the confrontation between these two players is mostly local, the same cannot be said on how India and China see each other and their relative objectives.
In recent decades Beijing has asserted itself as a global power. It is suspected that the Chinese plans imply a major role both in the South China Sea, where tensions have been building up with the neighboring countries and the U.S., and also in the Indian Ocean.
Just a few days ago Chinese military personnel departed to a new base in Djibouti, north of Somalia. Beijing has declared that it was built to provide humanitarian aid to the populations and support for peacekeeping operations in Africa and the Middle East, the BBC reported.
However, it does allow China to further spread the influence it has been gathering over Africa. To India, this also means Beijing is making strong efforts to encircle it. One should keep in mind that New Delhi sees the Indian Ocean as its backyard, and does not take lightly other nations, especially rivals, asserting their influence there.
In order to bypass India, China has tightened its relation with Pakistan, to gain access to its shores and ports. To further such advantages, it has also been building roads and railroads into that country.
The increasing tensions caused by such a back and forth can be observed on the Sikkim region, along the eastern border of India, where elements from the Indian and the Chinese armies have been stuck in a standoff for some days. The Chinese authorities have referenced the war of 1962 between both countries and the Indian General Rawat has even declared that his country could take both China and Pakistan in a war, a rhetoric described as “irresponsible” by Beijing, says the Hindu.
This is why the clashes in Kashmir are important. Not as one more tragedy in an endless regional conflict, but especially because of how it is part of a wider confrontation.
India and China are the most populous countries in the world, and have powerful armed forces. The potential for dissuasion is great. Moreover, both are also keen in defending their respective interests. Curiously enough, a spokesman from the Pakistani Foreign Office came forward to inform that his country in interested in resolving any outstanding issues through dialogue.
[Featured Image by Channi Anand/AP Images]