India and Pakistan: Tumultuous Pasts, Tumultuous Futures
The following article was an exchange written for Davis Political Review by Berkeley Political Review
BY SHREY VASAVADA, MEREDITH MOUNTJOY
On February 14, a suicide bomber from the Pakistan-based militia group Jaish-e-Mohammad killed 46 police and military officers in Pulwama, Kashmir--a highly disputed border region between India and Pakistan. This attack marks the deadliest attack in decades, despite attacks in the region being an already frequent phenomenon. In the aftermath of this attack, India has accused Pakistan of fostering extremist groups like Jaish-e-Mohammad within its borders, and has subsequently threatened military and economic action. The Pakistani government claims no involvement in the attack, but the Indian government is skeptical. The Indian government argues that simply harboring the militia group in Pakistan correlates to involvement, or more drastically, support for the extremist organization. Since this event tragically occurred, India and Pakistan have been playing a dangerous chess game, using their militaries, economies, and politics as chess pieces.
The relationship between India and Pakistan has long been a turbulent and violent one. Discrepancies began in the Partition of India in 1947, which controversially split up India and Pakistan into separate territories. At the time, there were heated disputes over multiple regions, namely Junagadh and Kashmir. In Kashmir-- the site of the recent bombings-- there was a Muslim-majority population, but a Hindu-ruled government. The Kashmir state had a decision to make: they could join Muslim-majority Pakistan or Hindu-ruled India. They eventually merged with India, but the dispute over the territory has remained. Since 1947, there have been three wars over the disputed areas, and even the ceasefire that has been in place in Kashmir since 2003 has not stopped the occasional military skirmishes, bombings, and other violent attacks.The fighting has not only taken a toll on the lives of civilians military officers, but has severely depressed the economic health of Kashmir. A culmination of these events, along with the February 14 attacks, has forced India and Pakistan to maneuver against one another. Their next actions are of utmost significance, since they can dictate the future of bilateral relations, as well as their place in the international community.
There are several actions that India and Pakistan can take, including economic isolation, political isolation, and/or military action. There are numerous permutations of these potential policy actions, and each of these permutations has its own implications for India-Pakistan relations going forward. However, they can broadly be put into those three categories in order to assess each party’s next move.
Due to recent events, it seems logical to the begin our discussion of India and Pakistan’s foreign policy options with military intervention. On February 26, the Indian government authorized airstrikes against Jaish-e-Mohammad-- an Al-Qaeda affiliate group-- camps in Pakistan, bombing apparent military training facilities. The implications of military intervention at the bilateral and global stage are highly subjective; they depend on individual states’ current relationship with each country. In general, however, military intervention is usually regarded as a swift, yet risky, tactic. India and Pakistan have periodically fallen into bloody conflicts throughout their history, and this is something India hopes to avoid. Beyond that, India is constrained by its relationships and involvement in international bodies, such as the United Nations, and wants to avoid drawing the ire of their allies. However, India decided it needed to send a message to Pakistan on February 26. Their bombing of Pakistan was an aggressive signal to Pakistan that they needed to address the problem of extremism within their borders.
Unlike India, Pakistan is much more loosely constrained by multinational diplomatic bodies. The effect this has on its decision calculus is clear, as in the aftermath of the Indian retaliatory bombing of Kashmir in February of this year, Pakistan took the--so to speak--’nuclear option.’ Pakistan called together its National Command Authority, the body that oversees Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, and told the nation to “prepare for all eventualities.” While both sides in this situation exchanged hefty threats, Pakistan escalated their threats much more quickly than India. Fortunately, though, these threats seemed to be only threats, indicating Pakistan’s awareness that an escalation to violent conflict with India would do them more harm than it would do to India.
In the case of the India-Pakistan conflict, a combination of painful memories of long, bloody conflict and fear of international retaliation have made the use of military intervention limited, if utilized at all. The whole world anxiously watches them as they exchange threats and small acts of violence, fearing war’s reemergence. Unless either India or Pakistan experiences economic troubles and social unrest to the extent that their political leadership is threatened, broad-based military action is unlikely to be undertaken by either party.
India has already taken steps to begin the process of economic isolation. Two years ago, India recognized Pakistan with a “Most Favored Status” (MPS). This “Most Favored Status” ensures that they will treat Pakistan with equality in terms of international trade, and not impose special tariffs or import quotas. Due to the escalation of violence that has existed between the two states, economic policy change is perhaps the best way to peacefully engage with one another. Thus, it is no surprise that the first action India took was to remove Pakistan’s MPS status, effectively allowing India to impose tariffs and/or import quotas. In fact, trade was entirely suspended. India’s Finance Minister Arun Jaitley even said that India would “initiate all possible steps to ensure [Pakistan’s] complete isolation from the international community.”
This action caught the attention of the international community, and India suffered some degree of criticism from its allies. Pakistan, however, was relatively hopeless to fight back economically. The strategy of economic isolation works best coming from the direction of the more economically powerful and well-connected nation. If Pakistan were to retaliate, it would only be shooting their own economy in the foot, and potentially stoking social discontent. India will likely continue to add economic pressure to Pakistan in the hopes that Pakistan will eventually fall limp to their will.
Many factors go into the process for deciding which policy actions to implement in times of conflict, including domestic support for elections, rallying international support, and establishing a consistent foreign policy that a state can rely on for future decades. Pakistan’s political maneuvering in the wake of the Kashmir bombings is a perfect example of trying to rally international political support. On April 7th, 2019, Pakistan accused India of plotting an additional attack against them, and claimed to have thorough intelligence proving their intentions. As the international community desires nothing less than for the India-Pakistan conflict to reignite, this tactic for Pakistan is strategic. With Russia and China’s support already behind them, Pakistan only needs to divide Western powers’ opinions on the issue in order to gain massive leverage against India. Perhaps, if persuasive enough, Pakistan could even convince an international body, such as the United Nations, to apply economic punishments on India.
India’s political maneuvering is focused mainly on framing Pakistan as supporting extremist groups. If India gets out of hand with rhetoric framing Pakistan as a stronghold of extremists, they could lose international political capital. India walks a fine line between being the righteous and the oppressor when they fire airstrikes upon Pakistan at will. Even if civilians are not killed, if they pursue these kinds of violent actions without complete evidence against the Pakistani people, they could easily be framed similarly to how Israel is seen in the United Nations-- an unapologetic oppressor state. India should avoid violent action and pay greater attention to the international political game that is taking place, or else they may find themselves suddenly lose their comfortable alliances in the United Nations. Unfortunately, Indian officials’ recent comments on the events in Kashmir seem more impetuous than calculated.
Looking to the Future
The recent events in Kashmir have left the entire world wondering whether we will all soon be facing another full-scale conflict between India and Pakistan. Fortunately, it seems that international pressure, conflict-averse political calculus, and pure utilitarianism on behalf of both sides has changed India-Pakistan relations for the better. While by no means peaceful, India-Pakistan relations today rely more on economic and political action than military action. This prevents the eruption of war between Pakistan and India, but the growing involvement of other nations on each side of the conflict may increase the potential for war erupting on an international scale. Arms sales to both Pakistan and India have escalated multiple-fold over the past decade, demonstrating that the India-Pakistan conflict is no longer just a matter of events like the recent ones that occurred in Kashmir. Concerningly, it is becoming more and more a matter of diplomacy through proxy by actors such as China, Russia, and the United States. While India and Pakistan’s actions in the aftermath of the recent events in Kashmir require our attention, the actions that affect the lives of civilians in Pakistan and India the most may just be those of outsiders like China, Russia, and the United States.