Michael KreponKashmir’s Escalatory Potential

Quote of the week:

“Nonviolence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man.” — Mahatma Gandhi

I was relatively sanguine after the last spike in tension on the subcontinent in February, marked by a Kashmiri youth aiming a vehicle loaded with RDX against a cordon of Indian patrolmen, followed by the first aerial combat between Pakistan and India since 1971.

An earlier dustup ended when Rawalpindi declared that advertised Indian “surgical strikes” by commandos didn’t happen. This crisis ended when both governments declared victory after the Indian Air Force fared poorly. My takeaway was that (for now), New Delhi and Rawalpindi can both manage public opinion successfully as long as the outcome is not exceptionally and obviously bad. This is helpful for escalation control.

I was also thinking that the region would have a breather because Pakistan’s economy is a mess, with the country sinking in debt. Foreign direct investment has been scared off by the use of militant groups to keep Kashmir on the boil, actions that caused severe blowback at home. Pakistan’s current stance with respect to terrorism is being judged by the Financial Action Task Force, an outgrowth of the G-7; getting off its “gray list” this fall is essential to the country’s recovery.

All and all, it was a good time for improvement in India-Pakistan relations. Pakistani military and political leaders were willing to improve ties, but they wouldn’t and couldn’t be demandeurs. New Delhi had to take the lead, and after a crushing electoral victory, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his closest aide, Amit Shah, could do whatever they wanted.

Guilty, once more, of thinking optimistically. What Modi and Shah wanted and deemed necessary was to put eight million Muslims living in Kashmir in lockdown mode. In my view, the timing of this move has less to do with Donald Trump’s fatuous musings about playing the role of a peacemaker than with Pakistan’s political, economic and financial constraints. Modi, reflecting the national mood, is done with the Indian Constitution’s “special status” accorded to the state of Jammu and Kashmir after independence. We are now entering a period of even more intense alienation within Kashmir, India’s sole Muslim majority area.

India’s strength and weakness lies in its diversity. No democracy encompasses more and more diverse places, peoples, languages and religions. The biggest threat to the India I have learned about and marveled over is a Hindu nationalist majoritarianism that does violence to this patchwork quilt. A secular, democratic India is a beacon to the world. A Hindu nationalist India constitutes a danger to itself. Hindu nationalism is a work in progress; it’s also a recipe for tragedy.

Indian as well as Pakistani actions have contributed to this ongoing tragedy. Many who direct our attention to terrorism emanating from Pakistan do not have much to say about the violence perpetrated by Indian security forces in Kashmir. Gandhi and Nehru would be weeping at what India is becoming, including the super-majority in the Parliament waving the flag as Constitutional protections are trashed.

Expect, as always, Pakistani officials to shoot rhetorical volleys in defense of Kashmiris. But Pakistan doesn’t want and cannot afford a war. Also expect much more firing along the Kashmir divide. Levels of infiltration have been low; they might rise. That would be understandable. It would also be unwise. Pakistan needs to find light at the end of its own dark tunnel, not to extend it.

What will Modi and Amit Shah do if the crackdown in Kashmir becomes India’s version of a long, dark tunnel? Ground realities have been awful and are likely to worsen now. What is the exit strategy here? Is there one? Will Pakistan remain a reliable scapegoat? Will New Delhi seek to manufacture a larger crisis if Rawalpindi fails to oblige and Kashmir spirals downward?

We all know what the choreography of violence looks like across the Line of Control. We do not know what the choreography of aerial warfare looks like, because it has yet to evolve. Dogfights are risky, and outcomes can be unexpected. Longer-range stand-off weapons could well come into play. Shooting to miss or aiming badly was manageable in February, but not the next time.


  1. rajfortyseven @ Raj47 @ Vinayak (History)

    I expected more nuclear maturity from you.
    You failed me in displaying that in the heading itself.
    “Kashmiri youth aiming a vehicle loaded with RDX against a cordon of Indian patrolmen”
    What a blatant lie.
    It was a convoy carrying para-military personnel which was attacked.
    “All and all”?
    “The biggest threat to the India I have learned about and marveled over is a Hindu nationalist majoritarianism that does violence to this patchwork quilt.”
    These are bombastic words which do not convey anything at all.
    You have marveled over violence to patchwork quilt?
    Your musings are bemusing.
    I wish you had fathomed the correlation between firing at the LOC & infiltration.
    They both can’t rise simultaneously.
    You claim Pakistan to be a scapegoat?
    Pakistan is a country which has more nuclear stockpile & warheads than India since 2000.
    It transports terrorism all over the world.
    It threatens nuclear first use at drop of a hat.
    Can it ever be made a scapegoat?
    New Delhi has never “manufactured” a crisis till date.
    India has always faced all crises forced upon it very bravely.
    There is no need for India to “manufacture” any crisis at all.
    India does not want a war especially the one with “escalatory potential”.
    The threat was articulated by Pakistani PM, who can’t think beyond cricket & women.
    Rhetoric aside, he really doesn’t understand how to run the state as complicated as Pakistan.
    He takes his army’s advise and regurgitates in public whatever trash has been fed to him by their COAS.
    Outcomes will most certainly be unexpected whenever is the NEXT TIME!

  2. Raj Swamy (History)

    Does the author have children ? Here’s an analogy. Tell just one of the kids he’s special. Always let him make his own rules. He’s ‘part of the family’ but does his own thing. All other kids are to follow mummy and daddy. But not the special kid.

    Months and years pass. The kids dysfunctional. You decide it’s time to eliminate the special treatment. They all get treated the same. Certainly, you expect the kid to throw a major hissy fit. You prepare for it by organizing matters to minimize the blowback, because YOU are the parent, and you’re in charge of the matter and you decide whats the course of action.

    That’s the essential situation with the elimination of Article 370. The 8-million Kashmiri Muslims are just one of the hundreds or thousands of small ethnoreligious groups in India. It’s about time they were treated just the same as everyone else. Of course they’re going to throw a fit at the loss of their special status, and of course, it’s the job of the central government to control it.

    The author either has no children, or no idea of how to manage statecraft. Fatuous quotes about non violence are rather ironic, when you realize that the lockdown ensures a peaceful and orderly transition to the new circumstances without kneejerk violence (besides the kind made up by the BBC)

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