Escalating violence in Kashmir as India and Pakistan square off

Changes in domestic politics in both India and Pakistan has led to a series of clashes in the disputed border region of Kashmir that have grown in intensity in recent days. It is the most serious fighting along the border in more than a decade

About 20,000 civilians have fled the fighting and several have been killed.


A total of nine Pakistani and eight Indian civilians have been killed since fighting erupted more than week ago in the mostly Muslim Himalayan region. Kashmir is claimed by both countries and has been a major focus of tension in South Asia.

Each side has accused the other of targeting civilians and unprovoked violations of a border truce that has largely held since 2003.

While exchanges of sporadic fire are common along the de facto border dividing the region, civilian deaths are unusual. Three Pakistani and two Indian civilians were killed on Wednesday.

"We are all concerned and want an early solution to it (the fighting)," India's Air Chief Arup Raha told reporters. "We don't want to let the issue become serious."

A senior border security force official said Indian forces had retaliated to machine gun and mortar attacks on about 60 positions along a more than 200-km (125-mile) stretch of the border on Wednesday.

Some 18,000 Indian civilians have fled their homes in the lowlands around Jammu due to the fighting, and have taken refuge in schools and relief camps.

"If India and Pakistan troops have hostility, let them fight. What have we done to them?" said Gharo Devi, 50, in Arnia, where five civilians were killed on Monday.

"We left our homes in the dead of night and are living here in this school in a wretched condition. We have no food. We want end of the firing so that we can return home."

Pakistani Major General Khan Tahir Javed Khan said the number of mortar rounds and bullets fired had surged in recent weeks.

"It is the most intense in decades," Khan said of the fighting. "My message to them would be please de-escalate."

As if the world weren't in enough trouble already, the prospect of conflict between the two nuclear armed states in South Asia raises the temperature everywhere. And the reasons for it are the result of a perfect storm of politics in both countries:

The fighting comes at a time of changing power dynamics in South Asia, with Pakistan's army taking a more assertive role in politics and India's new nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi promising a more muscular foreign policy.

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has been weakened by opposition protests that started in August. He won the army's backing but in the process ceded space to the generals on some issues, including relations with India.

Modi is following through on a promise to take a harder line with Pakistan in its border disputes after being elected in May. Although Sharif came to Modi's inauguration, the Indian leader has since cancelled a round of talks with Pakistan, and in a further snub did not meet Sharif at a U.N. meeting in New York in September.

"This unrest is a logical consequence of worsening political relations between India and Pakistan," said Michael Kugelman, Senior Program Associate for South and Southeast Asia at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

"What's particularly worrisome is that Pakistan's military appears to now be in the driver's seat of India policy - and the military has much less enthusiasm for reconciliation."

That's a nice way of saying that the Pakistani military might be willing to go to war to settle their differences with India over Kashmir once and for all.

It's hoped that cooler heads will prevail and both sides will pull back. But we've had that same hope elsewhere in the world recently and it hasn't worked out so well.



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