David has taught college history and holds an MA in history.
Mine, Not Yours
When the media or films invoke ideas about nuclear war, they generally refer to the United States and Russia. Yet the greatest threats of nuclear war today may not be either of these nations but instead a conflict in the Asian subcontinent between two rival nuclear powers, India and Pakistan. Their disagreement about the political control of a border region Kashmir has brought them to the point of war several times although they have not yet used their nuclear arms.
A Very Old Struggle
Like many other global conflicts, the disagreement between India and Pakistan dates back decades to their era of living under colonial rule. Great Britain maintained both Pakistan and India as one colony between the 19th and 20th centuries, but after decades of independence movements by figures like Mahatma Gandhi they decided to award freedom to these two nations. British officials created a partition plan, giving some degree of autonomy to princely states (like Kashmir) about whether to join the Hindu-majority nation of India or the Muslim-majority nation of Pakistan.
The maharaja (prince) of Kashmir, however, preferred to be independent of either nation. He feared that the religious disputes between the two nations would create violence in mixed-faith Kashmir. However, being on the border of a powerful nation means that you don't easily get what you want, and Kashmir was quickly sucked into violence when India and Pakistan were awarded independence in 1947. India won the war decisively with a larger and stronger military, and would win the two further wars fought by these nations during the 20th century, which were also over the question of borders. Today, Kashmir is officially a member of India, having been pressured to join them prior to the first war between India and Pakistan.
The question of Kashmir remains one of the great areas of dispute between India and Pakistan today, who are two of the most powerful nations in southern Asia. India maintains that Kashmir is rightfully part of their nation, while Pakistan argues that the Muslim majority of the population have pro-Pakistan sympathies and would choose to join them if given the chance (as they were supposed to be allowed in the first place upon receiving independence). In fact, the Google map of Kashmir appears different depending on which of the two nations you're in! Pakistan directly and indirectly supports separatist movements in Kashmir, including terrorism against civilians, while India has attempted to clamp down hard on the region to put a stop to the fighting. Many international bodies, including the United Nations, have tried and failed to stop the fighting.
Violence over Kashmir has been a major foundation of both nations' nuclear weapons programs. India successfully tested a nuclear bomb in 1974, while Pakistan followed suit in 1998. Both nations have signed a variety of nuclear weapons treaties and maintain a ''no first strike'' policy, meaning that they would only use their nuclear weapons after the enemy has used them. Even so, it's all too easy to imagine a situation, or even an accident, where fighting escalates all the way to nuclear war.
The Future of Kashmir
Many outside diplomats agree that the people of Kashmir would be best served with the vote for one nation or the other, which was promised to them upon the partition nearly a century ago. Many Kashmiris would doubtless choose independence over remaining in India or becoming a part of Pakistan. However, the political leaders of India and Pakistan do not much care about the actual people of Kashmir: it is too important for their national agenda and reputation that they control this area even though it is not particularly rich or strategically valuable.
The roots of the Kashmir conflict on the Indian subcontinent lie with the independence awarded from Great Britain in 1947. India fought for and claimed Kashmir even though many Kashmiris are Muslim and would prefer to be part of Pakistan. Pakistan today supports separatist movements throughout Kashmir, including violence, and many worry that the two nations will fight a war, even a nuclear war, over this area.
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