Why is Kashmir important to Pakistan

Domestic conflicts

Sandra Destradi

Prof. Dr. Sandra Destradi is Professor of Political Science with a focus on International Relations at the University of Freiburg.

The situation in Kashmir is very tense following the revocation of the autonomous status by the Indian government in August 2019. Relations with Pakistan have deteriorated further. At the border in Ladakh there were clashes between the Indian and Chinese armies.

Indian paramilitaries stand in front of a closed shop in Srinagar in Jammu and Kashmir, Dec. 17, 2019. Shortly before the announcement of the lifting of Kashmir’s autonomy, tens of thousands of additional troops were sent into the area and all major politicians in the region were placed under house arrest. (& copy picture-alliance, ZUMAPRESS.com | Idrees Abbas)

Current situation

After the clear victory of the Indian People's Party (Bharatiya Janata Party - BJP) in the parliamentary elections of 2019, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi consolidated his power and implemented some of the central projects of his Hindu nationalist program. This included, in particular, the lifting of the autonomous status of the Union state of Jammu and Kashmir in August 2019. Art. 370 and Art. 35A of the Indian Constitution, which granted the only Union state with a majority Muslim population, a high degree of autonomy, were repealed. The union state was dissolved and divided into two union territories (Jammu and Kashmir as well as Ladakh), which were placed under the control of the central government and thus enjoy significantly less autonomy. Now people from other parts of India can also acquire land in Kashmir, which could result in a change in the demographics of the region due to the influx of Hindus.

The abolition of the autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir was justified with the intention of "normalizing" the economically weak and politically unstable region and integrating it more closely into the rest of India. But in truth it was about bringing the region under the direct control of the Indian state. Shortly before the proclamation of the lifting of autonomy, tens of thousands of additional troops were sent into the area and all major politicians in the region were placed under house arrest. In order to nip resistance and unrest in the bud, the Indian government also imposed a curfew and cut off the region from all communication with the outside world. Telecommunications and Internet services have been blocked for months.

It was not until January 2020 that access to the Internet with low data transmission speeds was gradually made possible again. In the most militarized region in the world, the local population is massively suppressed, so that initially hardly any resistance to the measures was possible. Human rights organizations report that thousands of people have been detained and are missing. In the longer term, however, it can be assumed that the repression will lead to renewed protests and an influx of rebel organizations fighting to separate the region from India.

The change in the autonomous status of Kashmir also has international effects. For Pakistan, any change in the status of the region is a provocation as it affects an area that Pakistan also claims. As a result, the already strained relations between India and Pakistan continued to deteriorate. Bilateral tensions had already intensified from the middle of Modi's first term (2014-19) after attacks on Indian military facilities in 2016, for which India blamed terrorists backed by Pakistan. The Indian government responded with targeted air strikes against training camps of Islamist terrorists on territory controlled by Pakistan.

In February 2019, the terrorist organization Jaish-e-Mohammed carried out an attack on Indian security forces in Pulwama, Jammu and Kashmir, in which 40 Indian security forces were killed. This was followed for the first time by an attack by the Indian Air Force on training camps for militant groups on Pakistani territory. Since then, Indian-Pakistani relations have been extremely tense. On the controversial border between India and Pakistan there are repeated small firefights with fatalities among the civilian population and the military.

Modi used the conflict with Pakistan to mobilize politically in the 2019 election campaign. This fueled the anti-Pakistani mood in India to such an extent that India's rapprochement with Pakistan is becoming increasingly difficult. Since the change in the status of Jammu and Kashmir, violations of the ceasefire on the border between India and Pakistan ("Line of Control") have increased significantly.

The Chinese government also protested against the change in the status quo in Kashmir. China occupied the neighboring Aksai Chin region in 1962 and sees its territorial claims threatened by the creation of Indian Union territory in neighboring Ladakh. At the "Line of Actual Control", the controversial border between India and China, clashes between Indian and Chinese troops broke out in the summer of 2020 - with dozens of deaths on both sides.

Causes and Background

Kashmir has been at the center of the bilateral conflict between the two states since the independence of India and Pakistan in 1947. Independence came with the division of British India into secular India and Muslim Pakistan. Like other principalities, Kashmir had to decide whether to join India or Pakistan. The decision turned out to be particularly difficult because the ruler was Hindu, while the majority of the population was Muslim.

Kashmir initially wanted to become an independent state and therefore navigated between India and Pakistan. It was only when Pakistani irregulars wanted to create a fait accompli in Pakistan that the Maharajah accepted membership of the Indian Union. That was what New Delhi asked for in return for sending Indian forces. The war ended on January 1, 1949 with a UN brokered armistice that led to the de facto partition of Kashmir between India and Pakistan. The armistice line of 1949 corresponds to today's "Line of Control", the de facto border between the two countries.

To date, both India and Pakistan claim the entire area of ​​Kashmir for themselves. For historical reasons, both states saw Kashmir for a long time not only as an essential part of their own territory, but above all of their own identity. Pakistan claims Kashmir because of its Muslim majority population. Pakistan has been a state for the Muslims of South Asia since it was founded in 1947. With the independence of Bangladesh from Pakistan (1971) this self-image got cracks, but the claim has been maintained to this day.

India, on the other hand, is a secular state according to the constitution. For decades, this aspect was understood by the Indian government as an important distinguishing feature from its rival in the north-west, so that, from an Indian perspective, the fact that Kashmir belongs to India underlines the secular and pluralistic character of the Indian state. For a long time, the Kashmir conflict was therefore much more than a mere territorial conflict between two nuclear powers, but rather of importance for both states to establish their identity.

However, under the BJP-led government of Prime Minister Modi, secularism has lost its importance. Instead, a Hindu-nationalist majority discourse has established itself, which goes hand in hand with the increasing marginalization and persecution of the Muslim minority. The Hindu nationalist ideology ("Hindutva") is based on equating Indian identity with Hinduism. It is propagated by a large number of Hindu nationalist organizations from the BJP environment, including the cadre organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

These organizations not only helped Modi to win the election, but were also responsible for the anti-Muslim public opinion in recent years. For example, there were more cases of lynching against Muslims who were accused of killing cows, for example. Radical Hindu nationalists are mobilizing against a "love jihad" of Muslim men who allegedly seduce young Hindu girls. On social media, Hindu nationalist organizations with troll armies denigrate all critics as "anti-national". Hindu nationalists want to control Kashmir more closely as a predominantly Muslim area and, among other things, bring it into line with the rest of India through the settlement of Hindus.

The Hindu nationalist ideology also pretends that India should be a "strong state" that pursues a more determined foreign policy than in the past. India should be more self-confident, especially towards rivals Pakistan and China. As a result, the Modi government is even less willing to negotiate on the status of Kashmir than the previous governments.

Finally, the neglect of Kashmir by the Indian state is also worsening the conflict. Younger people in particular are affected by unemployment and a lack of prospects. The official unemployment rate in Jammu and Kashmir is the second highest in all of India (the front runner is the state of Rajasthan). The massive militarization also contributes to the dissatisfaction of the population. Meanwhile, the estimated presence of at least 700,000 Indian security forces in the region is likely to have increased further. For decades, the local population has suffered from a security law, according to which security forces can only be prosecuted with the permission of their superior authorities (Armed Forces Special Powers Act - AFSPA).

Processing and solution approaches

Since the first Indo-Pakistani war from 1947 to 1948, attempts have been made to find a solution to the conflict. In 1949, the UN called for a referendum on the future of the region, but this has not yet been carried out, partly because India has decidedly opposed it. In addition, the UN sent an observer mission to monitor the armistice declared on January 1, 1949. The mission called UNMOGIP [1] has been extended again and again since then, but is not very effective.

India and Pakistan have very different approaches to conflict resolution. While Pakistan insists on compliance with existing UN resolutions, India wants to solve the problem bilaterally - to the exclusion of representatives of Kashmiri groups and without international mediators. The most significant and most promising approach to date has been the "Joint Dialogue" launched in 2003 by Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee. The basic idea was to deal with as wide a range of topics and problems as possible - including questions of trade and transport, for example - and not to focus exclusively on the cashmere question.

The joint dialogue led to a significant improvement in bilateral relations between 2004 and 2008, until the process was interrupted by the attack by a Pakistani terrorist group on the Indian metropolis of Mumbai in November 2008. After a slow normalization, relations on both sides have deteriorated again since 2014. The Modi government is pursuing a much tougher course with Pakistan. In addition, anti-Pakistani sentiment is being fueled in (social) media in particular, which could lead the government to react even more decisively in the event of a renewed attack. At the same time, Prime Minister Modi appears to be anxious to avoid further escalation of the conflict with the neighboring nuclear armed state.

History of the conflict

After the first war for Kashmir in 1948/49, the Indian part of Kashmir became the union state of Jammu and Kashmir in 1957. The Union state was granted far-reaching autonomy rights. The Pakistani part of Kashmir consists of the autonomous region of Azad Kashmir and the special territory of Gilgit-Baltistan. China is also involved in the conflict over Kashmir, as it conquered the highland area of ​​Aksai Chin in eastern Kashmir in 1962 and controls it to this day.

The second Kashmir War, which Pakistan began in 1965 in the hope of conquering the entire territory, did not change the course of the border. In 1972 India and Pakistan signed the Shimla Agreement, in which they declared that they would respect the ceasefire line known as the Line of Control and negotiate a final solution for Kashmir bilaterally without the involvement of other actors.

In 1999 India and Pakistan fought another brief armed conflict in the high mountain region of Kargil. After the two countries tested nuclear weapons in 1998, there was limited military confrontation between the two countries in 1999. The Kargil conflict, in which Indian troops and Pakistani-backed units fought each other, remained regionally limited and ended with the withdrawal of Pakistani units from the previously occupied areas. The situation in Kashmir remained unchanged.

In addition to the Indo-Pakistani conflict, Kashmir has been affected by the activities of several armed groups for decades. These include separatists who want to form an independent state from parts of Kashmir on both sides of the Line of Control, as well as Islamist groups supported by Pakistan who operate in Jammu and Kashmir. The unrest in the Indian part of Kashmir, which has flared up repeatedly since 1989 in particular, is primarily incited by the massive human rights violations by the Indian army. The protests and acts of resistance take place largely without Pakistani support.


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Ganguly, Sumit (2016): Deadly Impasse: Indo-Pakistani Relations at the Dawn of a New Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Jacob, Happymon (2020): Toward a Kashmir Endgame? How India and Pakistan Could Negotiate a Lasting Solution. Special Report No. 474, United States Institute for Peace.


Amnesty International, India 2019

South Asia Terrorism Portal, Jammu & Kashmir: Assessment - 2020Reports and analyzes of the International Crisis Group on Kashmir

United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan