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Back on the brink? India-Pakistan tensions escalate over Kashmir

India and Pakistan are back on war footing after two Indian soldiers were killed on the Kashmir Line of Control. But the ceasefire was always uneasy given the history of conflict.

Tensions between India and Pakistan are escalating as troops from each country have again clashed across the Kashmir Line of Control, with two Indian soldiers killed. India claims Pakistani soldiers took advantage of misty conditions yesterday to cross the 1949 Line of Control dividing Kashmir into Indian and Pakistan controlled areas about 220 kilometres north of the city of Jammu.

The clash was the sixth in the past week and followed 75 incidents in the region in 2012. Pakistan lodged a protest against India just days ago, after one of its own soldiers was killed in what it claimed was an Indian incursion across the Line of Control.

Relations between India and Pakistan had been slowly improving following attacks by Pakistani militants against the Indian parliament in 2001 and in Mumbai in 2008. The Pakistani cricket team is currently touring in India, indicating a degree of bilateral normalisation.

But the clash, in which one Indian soldier was reportedly beheaded, has stirred anger in India, with local media reporting the issue could threaten the Kashmir ceasefire agreement. There is now increasing concern of a return to war between the two nuclear-armed states.

The Kashmir dispute, over which India and Pakistan fought wars in 1965 and 1999, has continued as an unresolved source of conflict. The current ceasefire agreement cements positions in Kashmir. Pakistan occupies the north-west third of Kashmir, with India occupying the rest.

Kashmir was formally joined with India by its Hindu maharaja in 1947. However, Kashmir’s population was and remains overwhelmingly Muslim and there has been an anti-Indian insurgency underway in Kashmir since the 1980s, which has claimed over 50,000 lives along with allegations of extra-judicial killings by Indian security forces.

Pakistan continues to claim that Kashmiri’s should be given a vote to determine whether Kashmir should remain with India or join with Pakistan.

India has long accused Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency of supporting Islamist insurgents in Kashmir. Pakistan says it has not supported the Kashmiri insurgents since 2008. But the ISI was also accused of facilitating the presence of Osama bin Laden at Abbottabad in Pakistan, until he was killed by a US special forces team in May 2011, and there remains widespread mistrust of the agency.

The conflict comes at a time when the US, traditionally Pakistan’s ally, is increasingly distanced from the Pakistani government over drone strikes against Taliban militants in Pakistan’s border areas. Pakistan also enjoys friendly relations with China, while there has been a recent strengthening of relations between the US and India.

*Professor Damien Kingsbury is Director of the Centre for Citizenship, Development and Human Rights at Deakin University

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