Image: SA 4.0
WHILE VALENTINE’S DAY is commonly commemorated with the celebration of romance and love, this year it has seen a marked flare in Indian and Pakistani tensions. On 14 February a Kashmiri national suicide bomber of the Pakistani based Jaish-e-Muhammed group struck a convoy of some 2500 Indian soldiers. The bomb’s blast, claiming the lives of at least 44 paramilitary servicemen, has been the deadliest of such attacks of roughly 30 years of Kashmir’s insurgency.Since the partitioning in 1947, India and Pakistan have had a blood-splattered history of hostilities and conflict that is centred around the ever-disputed Kashmir region. Kashmir is a point of con-tension between the two nations as they both claim that the whole of Kashmir belongs to them, however both nations govern only parts of the region.
The current struggle within the province and its militant insurgencies has resulted in around 500 dead in 2018 alone. Alongside the memorials and ceremonies that have been held in Delhi, militants attacked again in Kashmir on 18 February, killing an Indian army major and three soldiers. Protests from Indian ministers have arisen against the Pakistani government, with accusations that it is backing militant groups that conduct such attacks on Indian-held territory – Pakistan does indeed have a history and reputation of being cordial with terror. Since then, anger and jingoism have swept across the subcontinent, consuming both the people and government officials alike, with scenes of Pakistani flag burnings and the Indian finance minister Arun Jait-ley placing a 200 per cent tariff on Pakistani imports.The attack came in response to India’s use of surgical strikes into Pakistani-held territory, after a similar incident in September 2016 where 19 were killed at an Indian army camp in Uri.
With Indian PM Modi giving the Indian Defence Force free rein to respond, aircraft have conducted strikes for the first time since 1971, flying across the disputed ceasefire line and into Pakistani-held Kashmir, claiming to have hit a militant training camp. This marked a major escalation in tensions between the two countries. Following a Pakistani retaliation, Indian jets scram-bled to intercept Pakistani jets and after crossing onto the Pakistani side of the de facto Kashmir border, at least one Indian jet was shot down by the Pakistani fighters. The captured pilot was released on Fri-day by Pakistan as an “act of good-will”, but not before a video showing the airman blindfolded and bloody was released by Pakistan’s Ministry of Information, causing outrage in India.While localised skirmishes are common in Kashmir, both nations possess a significant nuclear arsenal and are naturally hesitant in acting too rash.
In the coming days, we will likely see an attempt by both sides to calm tensions while simultaneously not losing face. However, just hours after the attack on the 14 February and the days following, some 300 separatist activists have been detained by the Indian government, including Yasin Malik and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq. This suggests that there had been advanced preparation to act against militant groups when the opportunity arose, and it’s likely that terrorist organisations will reply in the same fashion as seen on this year’s Valentine’s day. This latest spat between Pakistan and India comes in the same year as India’s ruling BJP party seeks re-election. The government has been under pressure to send a firm signal to Pakistan, while being attacked by the opposition for politicising armed forces sacrifices, something the government has categorically denied.