World War III in the Making? India and Pakistan Exchange Blows
When people think about the possibility of World War III, Europe, the United States, Russia, and China are the first countries that come to mind. However, the next “Great War” might not even involve these more traditional superpowers, but instead India and Pakistan, two bitter arch rivals armed with nuclear weapons and massive armies. If they went to war, the possibility of more countries being drawn in can't be ruled out, and right now they are once again trading blows.
Over the past several weeks tensions between Pakistan and India have ratcheted up considerably. At the end of September, elite Indian commando units infiltrated the “Line of Control” that separates Pakistani Kashmir from Indian Kashmir. The commandos were going after terrorists who were using Pakistani territory as a staging ground for attacks on India. Just weeks earlier terrorists had launched an attack that claimed the lives of 19 Indian soldiers.
In the ensuing battle, it's believed that as many as 50 terrorists were killed. Pakistani troops also became involved, and an unknown number of Pakistani and Indian troops were killed. Pakistan claims that no terrorists were present and that it was a border skirmish involving soldiers, while India claims that their goal was to eliminate alleged terrorists.
India Launches Attack, Destroys Four Pakistani Military Posts
Over the past weekend, India launched a large attack on Pakistani military posts in Kashmir. It's believed that as many as 20 Pakistani soldiers died. This time around, the fighting broke out after Pakistani based terrorists killed an Indian soldier and mutilated his body. While the terrorists were retreating from India, Pakistani soldiers provided covering fire.
Many believe that these “terrorists” are closely linked to and supported by the Pakistani government. At best, Pakistan has been turning a blind eye to their activities. Most likely, Pakistan is offering at least some support.
Just hours before the terrorist attacks, the Indian military had launched a barrage of attacks on Pakistani positions. Allegedly, Pakistani forces had violated ceasefire agreements. Apparently that on Friday, an Indian soldier was killed by the Pakistani military itself. Of course, getting reliable information out of the Line of Control in Kashmir is difficult as both sides have a tendency to exaggerate casualties to suit their needs and to point fingers at one another.
Kashmir is perhaps the most tense on-going border dispute in the entire world. The conflict originated in 1947 when India and Pakistan were emerging as independent countries, both from the British Empire and each other. The ruling prince of the Kashmir region was Hindu, while most of the population was Muslim. Pakistani leaders felt that Kashmir belonged in Pakistan, so Pakistani militias invaded. The Hindu prince then acceded to India in exchange for support.
Pakistani and Indian forces clashed, but there was no clear victor and the country was essentially partitioned.
Pakistan Destabilizing? India At Fault?
Wars are sometimes started not from a position of power, but instead result of destabilization. Pakistan, unfortunately, is an unstable country, and the risk of military coupes, or radical politicians seizing power through democratic elections, cannot be ruled out. Further, given that India is often blamed for instability in Pakistan, if the country were to collapse, tensions would only increase.
This past spring, Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif accused India of trying to undermine his country’s economic corridor with China. Among other things, Pakistani officials believe that Indian spies are spread out across Pakistan, trying to foment insurgencies and otherwise destabilize the country. The Indian government, of course, generally denies the claims and accuses Pakistan of engaging in similar activities in India.
Outside of alleged Indian efforts, Pakistan is still struggling to deal with the Pakistani Taliban, and other restive groups. Kashmir, of course, remains a point of contention, and politically, the country is highly fractured among multiple political parties which often face disparate world views. In other words, stability is hard to come by.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has suffered scandals related to his family’s wealth, which allegedly has been acquired through corruption. With Pakistan struggling economically, and seeming to be falling further behind its arch-nemesis India, he’ll likely slide further in the months ahead. This raises the risk of a coupe, protests, and demands for the Prime Minister to step down.
If Pakistan were to completely destabilize, it could spell disaster. Who knows what type of leader would seize control. While a nuclear equipped Taliban remains unlikely, more hard-lined or radical elements could seize control. If that were to happen, would war between India and Pakistan break out? Could nuclear weapons be deployed? Would India launch a preemptive counterstrike?
So many questions, but there are no clear answers.