Peace in the Valley? Ceasefire in Kashmir
The region of Jammu and Kashmir (generally referred to as Kashmir) has been the focal point of rivalry between India and Pakistan since the countries were created in 1947. Scarred by generations of military conflict and insurgency, Kashmir sits in limbo, split between the biggest powers in South Asia. However, the recent ceasefire agreed by New Delhi and Islamabad may suggest change is coming.
In a radical shift of relations a ceasefire has been agreed upon between India and Pakistan, whose troops have been regularly exchanging fire at the 740km long border in Kashmir since the last agreement failed in 2003. The ceasefire came under effect at midnight on the 24th of February 2021.
This change has come as a surprise to many, due to mounting tensions over Kashmir since 2019, with airstrikes, bombings and even an aerial dogfight. It is a very welcome surprise, with conflict at the border costing many lives every year.
In early August 2019 the government of India revoked Article 370 of the constitution, which granted special status to Kashmir and had been in place for 70 years. Under Article 370 the state government of Kashmir had the right to its own constitution and the freedom to create its own laws on all matters except defence, communication and foreign affairs.
In the lead up to this dramatic move the Indian government flooded the state with thousands of soldiers, completely cut off telecommunications and internet and conducted mass arrests. Over 4,000 people, including 170 prominent Kashmiri political figures, have been detained. The communications shut down imposed by India has been described as the "longest ever imposed by a democracy", a tactic associated with the authoritarian regimes of China and Myanmar.
The shutdown was met with mass protests in Indian governed Kashmir, as well as protests outside Indian embassies in major cities outside the country, including London. These protests continued throughout 2020.
The move heightened tensions with Pakistan, who see it as India consolidating territory which rightfully should be theirs. However, rather than responding with aggression, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, issued a statement. He promised the people of Kashmir that if they voted to join Pakistan in a UN organised referendum, he would allow a second referendum on Kashmiri Independence.
The International Dimension
There are two other major international players which have stakes in this ceasefire: China and the United Nations (UN).
China and India also share a highly contested border within the Kashmir region which, just like the Indo-Pakistani border, has been the site of much conflict. The most major of which being the 1962 Sino-Indian war, in which China seized control of the disputed Aksai Chin region.
With a common enemy found in India, there has been an implicit alliance between Pakistan and China, with a great degree of rhetorical, diplomatic and military alignment.
Just as with Pakistan, Sino-Indian relations heated after the revocation of Article 370, culminating in regular exchange of fire, and casualties, throughout last year. However, on September the 11th, Chinese and Indian officials agreed upon a 5 point de-escalation plan, and violence has subsequently reduced significantly.
This, again, appears to be a case of concordance in Pakistani and Chinese policy, both mounting and then easing pressure on India's borders.
Conflict in Kashmir has been a thorn in the side of the UN since 1948, only three years after the organisations' founding. The UN Security Council (UNSC) was approached by the belligerent parties and tasked to settle the dispute. This resulted in UNSC Resolution 47, which among other things called for an impartially regulated referendum in Kashmir on either joining Pakistan or India. This referendum has never happened.
In the following 73 years, the UN and the UNSC have collectively failed to stabilise the region, and is thus a stain on their record and calls into question the institutions' ability to perform its mission statement: the maintenance of international peace and security.
For this reason, any movement towards reconciliation between India and Pakistan may finally give the UN the opportunity to enact its seven decade old Resolution.
The UN has also been applying pressure on the Government in New Delhi, releasing reports documenting possible human rights abuses in Kashmir, since the shutdown.
Whether or not this ceasefire lasts, which may not be as long as the UN would like, it is a reprieve for the real victims of the conflict: the people of Kashmir. What comes next depends greatly on how India's Prime Minister, Narendra Mohdi, will respond to domestic and international pressure to undo the revocation of Article 370.
Photo Credit: K.M. Chaudary/AP