The Global Peace Index (GPI), 2016 identifies South Asia as one of the least peaceful regions in the world. Out of the nine regions (in the world) South Asia positions at eighth. Globally, India ranks at 141 and 5 in South Asia.
According to GPI, 2016: “India’s scores for ongoing domestic and international conflict and militarization have deteriorated as the country remains vulnerable to acts of terror and security threats at its shared border with Pakistan.”
The terror attack on the army base in Uri (closely located near Line of Control) in Kashmir that killed 17 Indian security forces, made it clear that peace is still a distant prospect for South Asia’s most volatile frontier – Kashmir. The Uri attack was carried out by Fedayeen militants and is considered to be the deadliest attack on security forces in Kashmir in two decades. The initial probe by the Indian Army indicated the role of a Pakistan based terrorist group Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) behind the attack. Perhaps it was again another audacious step of Pakistan to create a war like situation and constraint India on the ground of its nuclear capabilities. Not to mention that three of the four conventional wars between India and Pakistan have been fought over the Kashmir issue.
As pressure mounted for a suitable response following the Uri attack, India launched ‘surgical strikes’ against suspected militant launch pads across the defacto border with Pakistan in Kashmir. With India’s claim for surgical strike, it is being apprehended that it will escalate the ongoing tension, and South Asia is at the brink of a nuclear exchange. Although a nuclear war in this backdrop is less likely to happen, the present security standoff between the two countries has given rise to a fresh arousal to the dormant fears in the global arena. However, Pakistan’s denial that India’s surgical strikes ever took place tends to de-escalate the current situation. Nonetheless, the present security standoff reflects that prospects for peace and an improved or stable security situation continue to deteriorate for India and for South Asia.
Over the years, the number of deaths caused by externally organized terror strikes has risen – indicative of the fact that South Asia’s most volatile frontier – Kashmir does not reflect any signs of peace which is durable and lasting. Besides, the Uri attack has done nothing but pushed India-Pakistan relations, which is already under a strain due to previous attacks on Indian side.
The attack in Uri has occurred as the Prime Minister of Pakistan headed for the annual meeting of the heads of governments at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), where both India and Pakistan countered each other on the issue of terrorism. In the earlier occasion, at the 33rd session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), India accused Pakistan of being the “global epicenter of terrorism.”
It is undeniable that the proxy war from Pakistan poses serious implications for India’s internal security stability. The data compiled by South Asia Terrorism Portal until Sept. 11, 2016, shows that there have been 165 casualties in terrorist related violence that includes 111 terrorists, 46 Security Force Personnel and eight civilians in the state of J&K. Such casualties underline the continuing threat that India has been experiencing from time to time. Besides, there have been regular infiltration attempts across LoC (a line of control that demarcates the boundary between Indian and Pakistani-controlled parts of Kashmir). According to the Minister of State for Home (India) Hansraj Ahir, “there is an increase in infiltration bids by terrorists from across Indo-Pakistan border in Jammu and Kashmir in 2016 as there had been 90 infiltration attempts until June 30 compared to 29 attempts in the corresponding period in 2015” (quoted from Indian Express).
Public opinion reveals that Pakistan is still perceived as a greatest threat for Indian security in the next ten years. A detailed report by Vivek Chadha from the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) mentions that “the Indian army, in its security assessment, sees a rise in terrorist violence in the coming years, given the availability of trained and willing terrorist cadres in Pakistan, who are more over likely to increasingly turn their attention towards India after the de-induction of US-led forces in Afghanistan.”
In September 2014, al-Qaeda made the announcement of a new ‘branch’ in Indian Subcontinent which has become a major concern for India’s security environment. Also, the rise of a probable South Asia dimension of Islamic State and the current strained relation with Pakistan has caused India to focus more on its neighbor for its internal stability.
Rising Concerns over Kashmir
In the most recent incident, another Indian army camp was attacked by terrorists in Baramulla district of north Kashmir on Oct. 2, 2016, leaving one security personnel killed. This depicts that the Indian State is fighting against a guerrilla war in South Asia’s most volatile frontier – Kashmir. Such guerilla type attacks with an element of surprise have become a regular affair and continue to destabilize the environment of peace and security. Instead of becoming a dividend in on-going unrest in Kashmir, peace has become a casualty.
Following the killing of a militant leader (Hizbul Mujahideen commander) Burhan Wani, curfew had been imposed in the region for more than 80 days, disrupting the normal life that followed civilian protests against Indian state. As the agitation continued, the death toll of persons including civilians and police reached more than 80 and thousands have been injured. Some of the observers and commentators on the Uri terror attack including the Jammu and Kashmir’s Chief Minister argued that the Uri attack was a designed provocation to further violence to the civil unrest in the region.
The Uri attack might be Pakistan’s attempt to internationalize the Kashmir issue, but this shows a peril of any peace prospect in Kashmir. For Kashmir it has to be understood that imposing curfew disrupts the normal life but so does the separatists’ call for shut down as well. On the other hand, Kashmir unrest that shaped from the youth rage to a full-blown uprising indicate a looming future for India. Kashmir is a political issue and, considering the present deteriorating prospect for peace and security, the government of India could consider a mix of diplomatic and multilateral response including dialogues for restoring normalcy and peace. However, a diplomatic solution to Kashmir’s decades-old conflict seems a distant prospect for now.
As far as India and Pakistan are concerned, at the diplomatic level, India has been successful in isolating Pakistan in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). Along with India, countries like Afghanistan, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have called off to attend the upcoming SAARC summit in Islamabad, which eventually resulted in putting off the summit by Pakistan.
If not at the global level, India’s campaign to isolate Pakistan has been successful at regional level. However, SAARC is an association of developing countries. How effective will it be to isolate Pakistan regionally when SAARC itself has yet to live up to its expectations from the people of the region? But this has given rise to a fresh start for regional consensus on the issue of state sponsored terrorism which cannot be tackled with bi-lateralism alone.